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M12N Amlogic S912 Octa-core TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

August 24th, 2016 1 comment

Shenzhen Shiningworth MXQ Plus M12N is one of the first TV box powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor also bringing a faster GPU, VP9 and HDR support compared to the earlier Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already shown the device, its accesories, and its internal degisn in the first part of MXQ Plus M12N review, so today I’ll spend time reporting my finding testing features and performance with Android 6.0 firmware.

MXQ_Plus_M12N_TV-Box_HDD_Onkyo_AV_Receiver

Setup Wizard and First Impressions

Since there are only two USB ports, I connected my USB hard drive to one, and used a USB hub to connect input devices including two RF dongles for an air mouse, and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also added Ethernet and  HDMI cable, and finally connected the power supply to boot it up.

M12N_Setup_Wizard_LetterboxBut as you can see from the picture the very first boot was not quite as expected, as all I can see what a mini version of the user interface in the top left corner of my TV (please ignore the vertical line(s) in my pictures, as it is a problem with my LG 4K TV). I contacted the Shenzhen Shiningworth about this issue, and they told me to try to reboot the device… To my surprise, the issue was gone, and I’ve never been able to reproduce it.

MXQ-Plus-M12N-Setup_Wizard

The very first screen will be a welcome from the setup wizard. Select/Click on Next to select the language.M12N_Wizard_Language_Settings

You’ll only have four choices at this stage: English, simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, or Japanese. M12N_Wizard_Overscan_Settings

The Next window is for overscan compensation in case you have black zones on the edges of your TV.M12N_Wizard_Network_SettingsThe final settings in the wizard is for Network. If you have connected an Ethernet cable just click Next, but if you want to use WiFi instead set Wireless from close to open, select your access point, and enter its password. Both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (802.11ac) networks are supported.

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Once everything done you get to the main launcher with icons for Google Play, Kodi, YouTube, Netflix, “Local” apps, All apps, a Game app (KO GameBox), and a links to Settings. There’s also a customizable bar at the bottom for favorite apps. Boot is normally achieved in less than 30 seconds.

M12N_Android_AppsThe pre-installed app are mostly pretty common, except some IPTV apps – BangTV, Mobdro, and Show Box – which I’m not familiar, and check out later in the review.

MXQ-PLus_M12N_SettingsThere are 6 main menus in the settings:

  • Networks – Wireless, Ethernet, Broadband (PPPoE), and wireless hotspot
  • Device – BlueTooth, Keyboard, HDMI CEC control, Sound settings (PCM, SPDIF passthrough, or HDMI passthrough)
  • General – Device Name (default: MXQ Plus), Date & Time, Language, and More settings (Android 6.0 settings)
  • Security – Security redirecting to Android 6.0 Security Settings, Add Account
  • Display – Adjustment, Resolution, Wallpaper, Screensaver
  • MXQ About – Device Name, System Info, Developer mode, ROM update, and Restore factory status

About_MXQ_PlusI haven’t had any problems with neither WiFi or Ethernet connectivity, and I could setup HDMI output up to [email protected] Hz, however the system would almost always revert to 1080p60 after a reboot. The mow usual annoyance that I can’t turn off my AV receiver while it’s connected to the device still occur, even if I disable HDMI CEC. I could not find any HDR options in the settings.

While we have the most useful option in Settings app,  you can still access Android 6.0 settings via General->More settings, and set other parameter like accessibility, printing, developer options, Languages and Input (with many languages), and so on.

Like most new devices to the market, the TV box has a unified partition for apps and data with 11.87 GB storage, and at the end of the review I had only used 2.99 GB with all installed apps and some files copied to the download directory. So there will be enough space for the requirements of most people.

Going to About MediaBox section shows MXQ Plus running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is not rooted. The company told me that OTA firmware is supported, but it won’t work through UPDATE&BACKUP app, which reports OTA failure connecting to server, and instead you’d have to go to Settings->MXQ About->ROM update. I have not been able to confirm whether it works since the company has not release a new firmware since I’ve received the device. [Update: The company has now pushed a new firmware on their OTA server, and I’m tested it. See section below]

While I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review, I’ve also quickly tested the infrared remote control, and it works with a range up to 10 meters.  Google Play store worked well, except for BLE (Bluetooth LE) app such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband, which I had to side-loaded. I had no problem installing the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

Power handling is OK with a short press on the power button of the remote control making the device go into standby, and a long press, popping up a window to power it off cleanly. I could also use the remote control to power it back on.

I measured power consumption in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 0.4 watt
  • Standby – 0.4 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 to 3.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.4 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.0 watt (HDD LED was turned off)
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

All good numbers, and behaviors. Unless you consider the 30+ watts consumed by my A/V receiver which I can’t power off while connected to MXQ Plus M12N…

Thermal design as seen in the teardown post with two thick thermal pad connecting the processor to the metal case, was not very convincing, but during use the case does not get very hot. After Antutu 6.x, top and bottom temperatures were both 41°C max, and after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes, the temperatures only went up to 43°C and 45°C respectively. The game frame rate was also constant during the whole duration of the game.

Considering Amlogic S912 is a brand new processor, and putting aside the very first boot letterbox issue. my first impressions were quite good with MXQ Plus M12N with the stable and responsive firmware most of the time. Other small annoyances and bugs included the lack of status and notification bars, the device preventing me from turning off my A/V receiver, and in two or three occurrences having the system ask whether I wanted to close or wait for an unresponsive app.

A Quick Look at IPTV apps

As previously mentioned 3 IPTV apps are installed.

BangTV plays Chinese TV stations in Mandarin, but also some in foreign languages (Russian, French, Arabic…) in SD resolution.

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Mobdro app categorizes live video feeds by Channels, News, Shows, Movies, Sports, and Music, and more.

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Once you enter a category, you will be presented by a list of channels with logo and descriptions.

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I could play Sky Sports F1 from the list in SD resolution, and it worked well, except the quality was rather low. Watching sports on TV is often a paying endeavors, so I assume this may not be legal everywhere…

Finally Show Box app starts in the News section, which you can navigate to access various entertainment news about movies and TV shows.

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But you can also select Movies and TV shows in the left sidebar, which brings you to a list of movies.

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I selected one, and it looks like it’s pointing to stream or download the movie through bittorrent.

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I’ve checked Tarzan for two minutes and it could stream fine at 720p (with somewhat low quality)… Again it may not be fully legal in all locales…

OTA Firmware Update

Note: this section had been added after the review since the company only pushed the new firmware one day later.

So soon after starting the device, I got a pop-up window prompting for an Update together with a short changelog.

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I clicked “Yes” and then… nothing. I asked the company if this was normal, and was informed that download occurs in the background, and a down arrow is shown during the process.

Amlogic_S912_Firmware_Update_Icon

So I minded my own business doing other things for a few minutes, and finally I got another pop-up asking me to applying the update.MXQ_Plus_M12N_Firmware_Download_CompleteI clicked “Yes”, the system rebooted, applied the update, and then complete the installation for a reboot. Around 5 minutes later everything was completed, and I still had my files and apps. So no problem and it went smoothly.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM information

I’ll switch to local video playback. The first time you start Kodi, you’ll be asked whether you want to install Add-ons. I selected “Not install” myself, since I don’t need it for review.

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Kodi 16.1 is installed, probably a custom version built on July 4, 2016.

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I’ll play all videos from a SAMBA share over an 100Mbps Ethernet connectivity, unless otherwise stated (HDD = played from USB hard drive).

I’ve started with some Linaro media samples, and Elecard H.265 videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode), 1080p – some frames are skipped
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I enabled automatic refresh rate in Kodi, but this did not work well.

Videos with various bitrates were next:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Not 100% smooth (software decode)
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Audio only, stays in UI
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

The worry here is that the system can’t play some videos with software decode that could be played without issues in Amlogic S905X devices like MINI M8S II, so it could be the CPU is throttling under load.

I also tested PCM output (stereo downsampling) via Kodi and MX Player/MoviePlayer app using my TV’s speakers, and HDMI pass-through in both using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver for advanced audio codecs.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 detected, but audio starts with noises, video not smooth OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1, but with 3 audio cuts OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio no audio Video plays in slow motion without audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 2 audio cuts DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 1 audio cut DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1

No audio with PCM output using apps other than Kodi is expected since the processor is Amlogic S912, and not Amlogic S912-H with the proper Dolby and DTS licenses. HDMI pass-through is still in a sorry state, especially in Kodi. It’s still usable in other apps, as long as you are satisfied with 5.1 audio.

4K video playback is pretty good however, at least for supported HW codecs:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Slow motion, and many artifacts (Not supported by S912 VPU, software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not perfectly smooth for either NTFS or exFAT partitions
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK watchable but not 100% perfectly smooth.

I had already written about 4K video playback on Amlogic S912 SoC, and if you haven’;t seen it already you can watch some of the videos above playing in M12N in the embedded video below.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso (non encrypted) Blu-Ray ISOs, and two MPEG2 1080i videos could all play without an issues. I was expecting Amlogic S912 to handle 1080p 10-bit H.264 video software decoding thanks to its 8 cores @ 2.0 GHz, but while a 720p Hi10p would play perfectly with audio, video and subtitles, the 1080p Hi10p video was not perfectly smooth, and even suffered from artifacts and audio cuts from time to time. The culprit could be M12N specific thermal design, so the issue will have to be confirmed or disproved with some other S912 models.

My TV does not support 3D videos, but I normally still checked if the TV box can decode the videos, and Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver is capable of detecting 3D content (shows 3D icon) for MVC videos as shown in  Zidoo X1 II review, so I check whether the 3D icon is lit up:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only, stays in UI.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver

I completed Kodi videos testing by playing various VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV 720p and 1080p videos from my library and all could play fine. I also played one complete video for 2 hours without issues.

I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, and MXQ Plus got 895 points, which is quite similar to the 909 points achived on MINI M8S II. The best devices normally get over 1,000 points.

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DRM info shows only Widewine Level 3 is supported. No surprise here.

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YouTube works fine, but is limited to 1080p max.

Video samples used in Kodi for this review can be downloaded via links in the comments section of my video sample post.

Network Performance

I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage test WiFi performance, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac @ 433 Mbps.

M12N_802.11ac_WiFiResults are below average, and during the 802.11n test, I even got a stalled and failed transfer. Performance is also asymmetric with “downloads” (SAMBA-> flash) faster than uploads (flash to SAMBA). 802.11n achieved 1.6 MB/s on average, while the file was transfered @ 1.9 MB/s over 802.11ac on average.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

For Fast Ethernet, I instead ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test full duplex transfer, a worse case scenario, and performance is good:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

After pairing my Android smartphone with “MXQ Plus” I could transfer a couple of photos over Bluetooth. I side-loaded Mi Fit, and it recognized and sync data with Xiaomi Mi Band 2 fitness band, however the app was displayed in portrait mode.

Xiaomi_Mi-Fit_Portrait

I skipped Sixaxis app test with my PS3 Bluetooth game controller clone since the firmware is not rooted, and for some reasons the TV box completely failed to detect my Bluetooth headset.

Storage

My Seagate USB hard drive with 4 partitions got NTFS and exFAT partions recognized and mounted  and a FAT32 micro SD could also be moutned in read/write mode.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

Once I tried to copy a file from NTFS to exFAT in ES File Explorer but it failed due to permissions issues. I had not such issues with File Manager app. A1SD bench app shows fast sequential read speed in both partitions with 30MB/s (NTFS) and 33.86MB/s (exFAT), but write speeds are on the low side at respectively 6.42MB/s (NTFS) and 23.83MB/s (exFAT). I checked the NTFS partition with ntfsfix in my PC, and repeated the benchmark but the write speed was still very low.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

I repeated the test for M12N Samsung eMMC flash, and the results were excellent with 99.00 MB/s read speed and 69.40 MB/s write speed, which really makes me wonder why the box are the “unresponsive” app issue.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Gaming

I’ve already written a specific post about Gaming on Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance is clearly better than on Amlogic S905 TV boxes. The included retro gaming app “KO Gamebox” is also interesting. You can see the performance in several games in the video below.

MXQ Plus M12N Benchmarks

I’ll refer to you to the post entitled M12N Amlogic S912 TV Box Benchmarks for details, but let’s say results are disappointing, and I was expecting a larger performance jump compared to Amlogic S905 platforms.

Antutu_6_Amlogic-S912_M12N

Conclusion

MXQ Plus M12N works reasonably well with a stable and responsive firmware, good 4K video playback in Kodi, and decent gaming performance, however it feels like the device does not fully leverage Amlogic S912 processor performance based on benchmark results and video software decoding performance, and it still has some bugs like lack of HDMI audio pass-through in Kodi, and no automatic frame rate switching, problem with remembering HDMI resolution, slow WiFi, and so on.

PROS

  • Recent, stable, responsive (most of the time) Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good 4K videos playvack for VP9, H.265 and H.264 in Kodi
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in Video Player/MoviePlayer
  • One of the fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV boxes leading to reasonably fast boot (< 30 seconds)
  • Good 3D gaming performance
  • Proper power handling, and low power off, standby, and idle power consumption
  • OTA firmware update support
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters
  • Bluetooth file transfer and BLE are working

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi. Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Disappointing performance compared to Amlogic S905 TV boxes (only ~ +10/15% boost in many benchmarks), and some videos (10-bit h.264) are not playing as well as in Amlogic S905X devices using software decode. Possibly a thermal design issue
  • User set HDMI output mode is not always remember, often falling back to 1080p60 after a reboot, even if I set it to 4K 60Hz previously.
  • “App not responding” issue appearing from time to time (not too often, but still noticeable)
  • Poor WiFi performance
  • Likely HDMI CEC issue as the device will not let me turn off my A/V receiver even after disabling HDMI CEC or automatic HDMI output
  • Bluetooth audio may not be working
  • Lack of status and notifications bars
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through)

The manufacturer, Shenzhen Shiningworth, provide the sample for review, and wholesalers and distributors can contact the company to purchase in quantities. They also sell the MXQ Plus M12N to individuals on Aliexpress for $69.90. Alternatively you can buy their customers’ design, with a slightly different firmware, such as Acemax M12N for $65 on GearBest, or $69.99 on Aliexpress, as well as ENYBOX X2 sold on GeekBuying for $79.99.

M12N Amlogic S912 TV Box Benchmarks

August 17th, 2016 15 comments

Since Shenzhen Shiningworth MXQ Plus M12N is my first TV box powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor, I’ve decided to write a separate post to show system information with CPU-Z, and benchmark results with Antutu 6.x, Vellamo 3.x, and 3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme. Please note that it may not be representative of all Amlogic S912 boards, as mentioned in the teardown post, there are some concerns about the thermal design of M12N TV box.

M12N / Amlogic S912 System Info

I’ve merged CPU-Z’ SOC, DEVICE and SYSTEM data into a single table.

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The app correctly detects an 8 core Cortex A53 processor @ 100 MHz to 2.02 GHz with an ARM Mali-T820 GPU. The brand for this particurlar device is MXQ, and Model m12n. Frame buffer resolution is 1920×1080, and memory and storage data are both OK for a box with 2GB and 16GB flash. The device runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29.

M12N / Amlogic S912 Benchmarks

With 8 cores and a faster GPU, I was expecting a much higher Antutu 6.x score with Amlogic S912.

Antutu_6_Amlogic-S912_M12N
The box however only achieved 41,303 points in Antutu 6.2, which compared to 38,032 points on Amlogic S905 based MINIX NEO U1 running Android 5.1 with the same Android 6.x benchmark. The 3D score is naturally higher because of the fast GPU, and also begin the MaliT-820MP3 GPU also supports OpenGL ES 3.1, which was skipped on Amlogic S905. UX, CPU and RAM scores are about the same, or slightly lower in Amlogic S912. So there’s a problem here either because of thermal design, or Android 6.0 Amlogic SDK still needs some work. I launched the benchmark again another day, and got 38,798 points.. 3D was a little higher (9,353), UX and CPU slightly lower (14,088 + 12,414), but RAM test collapse d to 2,943 points.

Vellamo 3.2 offers some more perspective, and one of the Multicore tests failed (see yellow “warning” triangle) because of a “Sysbench issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode”.
Vellamo_AMlogic_S912_M12N
For reference, MINIX NEO U1, one of the fastest and most stable Amlogic S905 TV boxes, got respectively 1,587, 1,235, and 2,157 points for Multicore, Metal, and Browser scores. Again, that’s not a pretty picture for Amlogic S912 or M12N TV box.

3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme provides a slightly more positive picture.

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M12N achieved 5,752 points, against only 4,327 points for MINIX NEO U1. You’ll also note the CPU frequency appears to maxes out at 1.5 or 1.6 GHz instead of the claimed 2.02 GHz. M12N score is quite lower than the 7,512 points achieved in Rockchip RK3288 (ARM Mali-764 GPU) based Tronsmart Orion R28 running Android 4.4, and released in 2014.

Results are quite lower than what I would have expected, so there could be a problem with cooling (despite the rather short Android benchmarks), and/or Android 6.0 Amlogic SDK or M12N firmware might need some more work.

GOLE1 mini PC Tablet Review – Part 2: Android 5.1 and Windows 10

August 14th, 2016 6 comments

GOLE1, also called GOLE1 F1, is an interesting device because it’s quite difficult, it’s like the offspring of a mini PC and a tablet with a smallish  phone-like 5″ capacitive touch screen. It also dual boot Windows 10 and Android 5.1. I’ve already discussed about the hardware, and taken picture of the device, accessories, and motherboard, in the first part of the review, so today I’ll report my experiences with Windows 10 and Android 5.1, as well as the potential use cases. Since I’ve already reviewed Intel Atom x5-Z8300 mini PCs, as well as a dual boot Windows and Android Intel mini PC, I’ll focus on what makes GOLE1 different in this review.

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GOLE1 Dual Boot and Use Cases

I normally check my emails on my smartphone while having breakfast in the morning, but one day the charging micro USB cable was not connected properly to my phone, so I decided to try using GOLE1 has a portable device, as I had connected it a few days on my desk without actually booting it.

After pressing the power button a few couple, the device will boot and show GOLE logo with a Setup icon to access Aptio Setup Utility (UEFI / BIOS), and a couple of second later, you’ll be presented with a choice of using Android or Window, which default to the previously selected opertating system if you don’t press any keys after a 10 seconds timeout.

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You’ll notice my pictures are in portrait mode, simply because if GOLE is placed on its back on a flat surface it will boot in portrait mode by default. If you decided to enter Aptio Setup Utility, there’s no way to rotate the display here, and there’s no HDMI output either. If you want to use the more convenient landscape mode, you’d have to boot the device by holding it in the right position….

The very first I played with it, Windows was selected by default, so I decided to go ahead to use it to check my email, however I first found the display hard to read (I have breakfast outdoors), so I had to set brightness to 100%, and it was a little better, but not quite perfect, so I’d say the screen is poor for outdoor use due to the reflections.

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The second and even more frustrating issue that’s using Windows 10 on 5″ display amounts to torture as everything is so small, at least with the default DPI settings, as text is very hard to read, and everything is so small it’s difficult to tap with any accuracy… So after playing with it for 5 minutes, I decided to reboot, and switch to Android 5.1 instead.

GOLE1_Android_Tablet_Mode

That was much more usable. The display has a 1280×720 resolution so don’t expect an amazing experience, and viewing is rather poor even at maximum brightness, but at least I could use it to check my emails with gmail, and read some news. I used it for about 30 minutes, and I have to say it’s a little heavy, so it might not be ideal over longer period of time. If I had my phone sufficiently charged with me, I would never consider using GOLE1 as a portable device.

But maybe it’s better as a mini PC with dual displays support thanks to its extra HDMI port. So I connect a whole bunch of USB devices including two RF dongles for air mouse and gamepad, a USB 3.0 harddrive to the USB 3.0 port, and a USB hub for USB keyboard and mouse, plus the usual cable for TV (HDMI), display, and power. I first placed the mini PC flat on the table, and it will show in portrait mode in both the 5″ display and TV (Please ignore the vertical lines on the television, as it is the TV’s problem).

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That’s just a small issue, as you can move the device around to switch to landscape mode.

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The next problem is that it will automatically enter sleep mode after a few seconds of inactivity. That’s annoying, but there a simple fix, as you can disable sleep mode in the display menu. You can also change video output up to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz or 4096×2160 @ 24 Hz if your TV supports it.

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This won’t change the user interface / frame buffer resolution however, which is set to 1280×720, and with the DPI settings used (fixed in firmware), text looks quite big on the TV. There’s also no option to force landscape mode, so you’d probably have to install Set Orientation app using Googke Play to make sure the screen is in landscape mode. The unusual position of the status bar on the right while in landscape mode, and the fact that both the 5″ display and TV display would be turned on during might be an annoyance while playing videos for example. So GOLE1 can be used as an Android TV box, but I don’t find it to be doing a good job at it. Extended display, i.e. different content on either screen, is not possible in Android.

So let’s boot Windows 10 instead in the same configuration, and by default the system is using mirroring mode.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Windows 10 works fine, but by default the resolution set to 1280×720 on the TV too in that mode, so it’s not ideal. You can change it to whatever output you want however, and I did manage to change it to 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz. The text becomes completely unreadable on the small display, but it’s pretty good on the large disaply. You may want to force the orientation to landscape in Windows options so the 5″ screen don’t rotate to portrait mode.

I also tested Extended Desktop in Windows with the TV screen used as the primary display, and set to the resolution I want, e.g. 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz (up to 4K @ 30 Hz), while the 5″ display remains at 1280×720 resolution.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

This works, but just like in portable mode, the text on the 5″ display is hardly readable, and when you launch an app from the TV screen, it may launch in the small display, so you may have to drag it to the big screen to use it. I think this setup is most useful in very specific applications, where the 5″ display would be used with a remote app, and the big display showing whatever the user want, something like a digital signage system with the user being able to select options from the built-in touchscreen, and info shown on the large monitor. For most people, the best option might be to select Single Display mode to turn off the 5″ display completely.

I have not tried Ubuntu, but Brad Linder of Liliputing did, and actually successfully loaded both Ubuntu 16.04 and Remix OS operating systems from a USB stick. Built-in WiFi and Audio did not work, as expected since you need to work a little harder to enable Audio and Wifi, so he used a USB audio card and an external USB Wifi dongle… Mirroring did not work, but Extended Desktop was usable.

GOLE1 Android 5.1 Info and Benchmarks

Now that we’ve gone through the different configurations / use cases made possible with GOLE1, I’ll report some more information about the operating systems themselves, starting with Android. Note that while I’m mostly used the device in landscape mode, I took the screenshots in portrait mode, because it is more convenient for the review, as text would often be split over multiple screens in landscape mode.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The device runs Android 5.1 on top of Linux 3.14.37. I had no trouble using Google Play, and browsing, but as mentioned previously the screen resolution and density use makes it really big on the large screen. Using it as an Android tablet was better, although the screen is small, and device heavy. I have not evaluate the battery life, because I got an early sample with a smaller battery.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

CPU-Z shows an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad core CPU up to 1.84 GHz with Intel HD graphics is used by the device called “AOSP on Intel Platform (cht_cr_mrd_w)”. Screen resolution is 720×1280 with 294 dpi, with 3847MB total RAM, and 4.82 GB internal storage.

GOLE1 got a decent 49,457 points in Antutu 6.0 (in landscape mode), but remember that the 1280×720 resolution will have posively affected the 3D graphics results compared to platforms running at a more common 1920×1080 resolution.

GOLE1_Antutu_6.0

The 64GB flash was expected to be faster than most 8/16GB flash used in TV boxes, and the results obtained with A1SD bench are indeed pretty good with 58.82 MB/s sequential read speed, and 46.03 MB/s write speed.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Normally, I’d also measure USB hard drive performance here, but none of my USB HDD partitions would show in Android.

I could use the Fast Ethernet connection without issues in Android, but WiFi performance varies much more between device, so that’s what I measured it connected to my 2.4GHz router. The device could also find my 5 GHz access point (802.11n only, no 802.11ac). WiFi throughput is tested by transferring a 278MB file over SAMBA back and forth using ES File Explorer. Download speed was acceptable at around 2.2 MB/s, but I got some stalling issue during one upload, and generally was slower, around 1.5 MB/s when no connection loss. The average was still a rather weak 1.8 MB/s.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

GOLE1 Windows Info and Benchmarks

Windows 10 desktop in GOLE1 is completely standard, apart that the resolution is 1280×720 on your monitor or TV by default.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

One of the reason of adding an often useless 5″ display to a mini PC is to get it into the “tablet with small screen” category with Microsoft, so that you can install Windows 10 with a free license… So that’s no surprise Windows 10 Home 64-bit is activated in the device, although I though it was not valid for 4GB. If Microsoft was not such an obscure company people could check themselves whether the license is right, but AFAIK the license conditions are not published publicly.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The system info windows also shows the model is GOLE1 (F1) powered by Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor @ 1.44 GHz with 4GB RAM.

My USB hard drive connected to the USB 3.0 is still not detected in Windows 10, and I can only see the 49.6 GB partition. There’s 33.8 GB free, but I took the screenshot at the end of the review.
GOLE1_C_DriveWhile storage performance was very good for an Android TV box, Windows based mini PCs often achieve well over 100MB/s (up to 400 MB/s) sequential read and write speeds, and relatively fast random I/Os, which is not really the case here.

GOLE1_CrystalDiskMarkHWiNFO64 reported information is pretty standard.

GOLE1-HWiNFO64At first, I decided to skip Windows 10 benchmarks, because Intel Atom x5 processors performance is well known, so I only ran AIDA64 Extreme System Stability Test for 10 minutes, while monitoring thermal throttling stage, CPU cores frequency and temperature with HWiNFO64.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The CPU temperature was rather high for all 4 cores at over 80 C, but HWiNFO did not report any throttling. However, when checking the maximum CPU frequencies, it’s obvious something is very wrong, because it never went over 1,200 MHz, while Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor base frequency is 1.44 GHz, and turbo frequency is 1.84 GHz.

So I changed my mind about benchmark, and after letting the system cool down for a while, I installed and ran PCMark 8 HOME ACCELERATED 3.0 benchmark.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

GOLE1 got 1,254 points, which compares to 1,354 points on Atom x5-Z8300 based Tronsmart Ara X5, so about 7% slower which could be caused by the slower eMMC flash or some throttling, although the processor did not overheat, and frequency got up to 1.84 GHz during the benchmark.

I left GOLE1 connected to the mains all day during Windows 10 testing, and strangely, I could see the system reporting the battery was “Not Charging”.

GOLE1_Charging_IssueHowever, I also checked later, and the battery level went up to 40% still not charging, and latter down to 33%. So it looks like the system will not always charge to battery while Windows 10 is running, and you have to turn the mini PC off to charge it.

Conclusion

In theory, GOLE1 is an awesome little device which can be your Windows or Android tablet, Android TV box, or Windows 10 mini PC, as you see fit. But in practice, Windows 10 is really hard to use on a 5″ screen, Android works better, but the screen is high reflective making it poorly suited to outdoor use,  when you connect the device to your TV with Android, the resolution is limited to 720p, and you have to hack your way out to make it usable. In Windows 10, it’s a little better when using a TV in either Single Display, Mirroring, or Extended Display mode. The 5″ screen is still unreadable in most modes, so Single Display might be the best option. GOLE1 can do many things, but none of them very well. It might be useful in some specific applications, where you may want a touch screen display with a control app, to let the user access info or play videos on the large screen, or simply use it as a control panel for some machines without external display.

PROS

  • Innovative design combining tablet and mini PC
  • Dual boot of Windows 10 Home (activated) and Android 5.1
  • Affordable price

CONS

  • Windows 10 is close to unusable on a 5″ screen with the default resolution 1280×720 and DPI settings.
  • 5″ screen has poor visibility outdoors even with maximum brightness
  • GOLE1 is a rather heavy as a portable device
  • Poor WiFi performance, and unreliable at times
  • My USB 3.0 hard drive was no recognized in either Android or Windows (power supply issue?)
  • The system appears to default to Portrait mode when placed on a flat surface
  • Battery does not appear to be charging continuously in Windows 10
  • Minor – Android set to sleep very fast (a few seconds) by default, which is a real annoyance when connected to TV (Settings changes fix this)
  • GOLE1 is throttling under heavy load after a couple of minutes.

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is probably appropriate for GOLE1 F1. I’d still like to thank GOLE for giving me the opportunity to review GOLE1. You can purchase the device for $99 with 2GB RAM/32GB flash, and $154.99 with 4GB/64GB (as reviewed here) on GearBest (GBGF4 or TENOFF coupons may lower the price further). You’ll also find both models sold as “GOLE F1” on Banggood.

NEXBOX A95X (Amlogic S905X) TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 and Kodi 16.1

August 5th, 2016 41 comments

Last week I publish the first complete review of an Amlogic S905X device with MINI M8S II TV box review, and while the device work in a smooth and stable manner, some features did not work as expect such as HDMI audio pass-through. I’ve now had the change to compare  it to another S905X with NEXBOX A95X, not to confuse with its “homonym”: NEXBOX A95X with Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already taken pictures of the device and accessories, and checked out the hardware in the first part of the review,  so today, I’ll report my finding playing with Android 6.0 firmware, Kodi video and audio capabilities, and check whether bugs and issues found on MINI M8S II are also present in the device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

NEXBOX A95X is really a tiny device, so it’s no surprise that it only comes with two USB 2.0 ports, and I used one with my 1TB hard drive, and connected a USB hub to the other with 2 RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The typical 30 second boot is a little faster than on MINI M8S II, possibly thanks to faster eMMC flash, or more optimized firmware. I was also happy to see a different launcher for once.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size (1920×1080)

The top row of the user interface shows the current time, network connectivity status, and weather for your selected city. The Home screen has 8 pre-definied (and non customizable) icons for Kodi, YouTube, File Manager, Browser, Google Play, Kodi Center (add-ons installer), Netflix, and a shortcut to All Apps.NEXBOX-A95X_IPTV_Video_Streaming

The “Recommend”, “Online” and “Local” tab are folder where you can add or remove your favorite apps. The Online tab comes with HGTV Watch, HuffPost, Hulu, Pandora, and Plex by default.

NEXBOX-A95X-S905X_Launcher_Setting SystemInfo will show a summary of the device specifications and firmware, Other will only allow you to disable/enable “touch sounds”, Weather is used to set your city,  and Settings points to the usual Amlogic settings.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Again it’s very similar to other box, but like on MINI M8s II, it adds the HDR (High Dynamic Range) option, and storage also shows external storage like the 4 partitions of my USB drive. HDMI-CEC is also missing, which is a problem as I can’t disable it, and the box will prevent me from turning off my Onkyo A/V receiver.

NEXBOX_A95X_HDR

The one extra options I found on NEXBOX A95X is “Power key definition” to select either “suspend and resume” or “shutdown” when pressing the power key on the remote control.

Android_Power_Key_Definition I personally recommend using “Suspend and resume”, as you can also power off the device with a long press on the Power button.

If you are using a USB drive, the following window should show up a few seconds after the boot is complete. That’s a little annoying since it will happen for every boot, but there’s an extra option compare to M8S II, as you can setup the hard drive as internal storage.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

That’s great, unless you already have data on your hard drive, as it requires it to be formatted. So I skipped that step. But if you are going to use that hard drive permanently with the box, then that’s a good option, as you’ll have very large storage for app and data, and I assume you won’t be shown the “USB drive connected” after each boot.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

So instead I setup a class 10 micro SD card as internal storage, and formatted it as shown above. Android complained that “This USB drive appears to be slow” however, but I could carry on, and was asked whether I wanted to “Move data to SanDisk SD card”, which I accepted by clicking on “Move now”. Once this is done you’ll strangely see the device storage with a total of 32GB, instead of 16+8 = 24GB, but at least that mean available storage has been increased thanks to the added micro SD card. I understand this is a new feature of Android 6.0.

Android_6.0_Internal_Store_micro_SD

About_NEXBOX-A95XThe flash on NEXBOX A95X (S905X) has a 16GB capacity, at least on my model, and is partitioned as a single unified partition for app and data with around 1.41GB used after the first boot (with micro SD card used as internal storage yet).

Another identical behavior between MINI M8S II and NEXBOX A95X was that HDMI output was set to 4K SMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz) by default. I set it manually to 4K 60 Hz (3840×2160) manually, but I noticed it would sometimes fall back to 1080p60 after a reboot. It’s quite easy to notice since the mouse pointer is much smaller (maybe too small) when 4K output is selected. Those common issues are likely due to Amlogic SDK, so I’d expect most Amlogic S905X TV boxes to suffer from those.

I clicked on “More settings” to enter Android 6.0 settings and access other options like Accounts, Language & input, Printing, and so on… The “About MediaBox” section reports NEXBOX-A95X running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware used for review is NEXBOX-A95X-AP6330-6.0.1 dated July 15th, 2016. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update is not supported.

The included remote control has a decent range as it worked up to 8 meters (but not 10m), and the IR learning function works well as I was able to register and use the power, input selection, volume, and mute keys of my TV remote control. However, as usual MINIX NEO A2 Lite was my favorite input device since beside acting as a remote, I also use it as a mouse and keyboard, and is much more convenient to use in various parts of Android and apps.

Google Play worked fairly well, except it would not install Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband apps, possibly because of Bluetooth LE requirements. All other application needed for review could be installed from the store. I also downloaded Amazon Underground with the web browser to install the free version of Riptide GP2.

Power implementation is bit better than on MINI M8S too, mostly thanks to added option to go to standby mode. That means I could go into and out of power on/off, and standby using the remote control. Power consumption was measure with a power meter in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 0.4 watt
  • Standby – 0.4 watts
  • Idle – 2.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.1 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 0.4 watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.1 to 5.2 watts

It looks rather good. The only oddity is that Power off with USB hard drive consumes more than in standby, and there does not appear to be advantages (in terms of power consumption) of going into power off mode, instead of standby. Standby will also save you some time, as you don’t need to wait for 30 seconds to boot. Power off might be a little safer for your data, depending on how the firmware has been implemented.

When I opened NEXBOX A95X the thermal design seemed OK, except the processor and heatsink were pointing down, instead of up, so in theory the heat could be end up being trapped inside the device. During use, the case gets a little hotter than MINI M8S, but not that much as the maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6 was respectively 45°C and 52°C max, and after 15 to 20 minutes playing Riptide GP2, the tempeatures went up to 50°C and 56°C. However, performance (e.g. frame rate) was constant during game play.

My first impressions with NEBOX A95X were pretty good, with the device running a stable and responsive firmware, and the main downsides were small annoyances like the USB drive connected windows after each boot, and the device preventing me from turning off my A/V receiver. The lack of OTA firmware support with the Update & Backup app reporting “Check Failed! Check Your OTA Servier Agent” (sic.) was also a disappointment, but a common problem with cheaper devices.

Audio & Video Playback in Kodi 16.1, and DRM Support

I can also see piracy add-ons pre-installed together with Kodi 16.x with more an more devices, and NEXBOX A95X is no exception.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The box is using Kodi 16.1 like in M8S II, but the build date is different, so there may have been some modifications.

NEXBOX_A95X_Kodi_16.1

I’ll get straightaway with 4K video testing from a SAMBA share over 100M Ethernet, unless otherwise stated (HDD = USB hard drive):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): OK; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): OK; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Network: Audio cuts during playback, then silence; HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: System hangs after a few frames
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, except for ~5 seconds period @ 2:08 with severe artifacts.

NEXBOX A95X does not suffer from poor video playback when 24 fps videos are played using 4K SMPTE (24Hz) video output, any improvement over MINI M8S II, but streaming over Ethernet may not be as good, as one 51.4 Mbps video suffered from audio cuts due to buffering. The system also completely hanged with a very high bitrate (243 Mbps) video played from the USB hard drive. The artifacts in one VP9 videos occurred at the exact same time on both devices.

I enabled automatic frame rate switching in Android and Kodi, but sadly this does not work.

Audio testing looked much more promising when I went into Kodi Audio output settings with not only AC3 and DTS options, but also TrueHD and DTS-HD options present in the settings.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The results however were disappointing, so I also used HDMI audio pass-through using MX Player / MoviePlayer app too through my Onkyo AV receiver that can handle TrueHD, DTS-HD and Dolby Atmos.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (DD 5.1) but video not smooth OK (DD 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio DD 5.1, but two short audio cuts OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio Video Plays in fast forward mode, system has no time to setup audio output
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and lots of “audio farting”. Continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio, and video not smooth DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio DTS 5.1

Not really the results we want to see, even for new devices…

I also played a 2-hour H.264 1080p videos over Ethernet to test stability, and I had no problem there.

NEXBOX A95X supports Widewine DRM Level 3 only. This has to be expected however.

Nexbox_A95X_DRM

Click to Enlarge

Download links to video samples used in this review can be found in the comments section of this Video/Audio sample post.

Network Performance

I’ve tested both 802.11n and Fast Ethernet by transferring a 278MB file between SAMBA and the internal flash a few times, and averaged the results. WiFi supports both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (no 802.11ac), the connection is stable, but the performance is rather poor with average transfer rate of around 1.6 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The same test with Ethernet shows a more standard performance of 6.7 MB/s for a Fast Ethernet interface.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth worked reasonably well, and I could transfer a few pictures after pairing NEXBOX-A95X to my Android smartphone, and get Xiaomi Mi Band 2 data after side-loading Mi Fit app. So that means Bluetooth LE is working. I could not use my Bluetooth headset, as the system kept on asking for a pin code during pairing, something my phone, and most other Android devices have never asked for that headphone.

Storage

If you’ve been following my reviews of Amlogic TV boxes, you may know my expectation of getting write support on my USB hard drive are pretty low, ever since Amlogic moved to Android 5.1 SDK and the “10MB bug”. But when I realized NEXBOX A95X would actually allow me to copy files and run benchmarks on some of the partitions of my USB hard drive I felt like the second was coming, and could barely control my emotion with tears coming out of my eyes after around 10 months of hardship :).

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

Contrary to MINI M8S II, the hard drive partitions are apparently detected as SD cards in NEXBOX A95X, so they were also listed as in A1 Bench, and I could run the benchmark on both NTFS and exFAT partitions of the driver with a very good 37 MB/s sequential read speed for both, and less impressive 6.78 MB/s & 17.66 Mb/s write speed respectively.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read (Bluet) and Write (Red) Speed in MB/s

exFAT used to have very poor performance across devices, so maybe Android 6.0 improve exFAT support a lot.

The 16GB eMMC flash performance is OK with 45.8 MB/s read speed, and 15.24 MBs write speed.

Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Gaming

I’ve focused on Riptide GP2 only, playing it with Mars G01 wireless gamepad. The game was perfectly playable using default settings, but not quite as smooth as I like when settings the graphics settings to “max resolution”. I kept playing the game for 15 to 20 minutes, and performance was OK, and constant over time. Amlogic S905X is not the ideal processor for gaming, but it’s good enough for casual gaming.

NEXBOX A95X (Amlogic S905X) Benchmarks

Before running running benchmark, let’s have a look at the info reported by CPU-Z.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Amlogic S905X processor is again confirmed as a quad core Cortex A53 processor running between 100 MHz and 2.02 GHz, and with an ARM Mali-450MP GPU. Internal storage partition capacity is 11.87GB, total RAM 1775 MB, and the frame buffer resolution is set to 1920×1080.

Despite having the exact same CPU frequencies, we’ve already seen in our Amlogic S905 vs S905x benchmarks comparison that Amlogic S905X did not performance quite as well. But with NEXBOX A95X the results are even lower possibly due to its non-optimal thermal design as previously discussed.

NEXBOX-A95X_Antutu_Amlogic_S905X

The device achieved 28,519 points in Antutu 6.x, against 33,553 for MINI M8S II.

NEXBOX_A95X_S905X_Vellamo_3.x

The picture is the same with Vellamo with Multicore, Metal and Browser being respectively 1,184, 824, and 1,641 against 1,491, 910, and
1,885 points for MINI M8S II.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme score @ 3,703 points is also lower despite the CPU running at 2.0 GHz for most of the benchmark during. MINI M8S II achieved 4,183 points in that same test. So the system is slower, but it’s hard to pinpoint what happened.

Conclusion

NEXBOX A95X (S905X) firmware was stable and felt fast, although benchmarkls indicate a lower performance compared to competitors. Video playback in Kodi 16.1 for 10-bit and 8-bit H.265, H.264, and VP9 videos up to 4K @ 60 fps was also good, and I like some details like the ability to set the power button behavior, and setup external storage (micro SD or USB) as internal storage.

PROS:

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Kodi 16.1 supports 4K 10-bit H.264, H.264 and VP9 videos fairly well
  • HDR (High dynamic range support) for the latest televisions (not tested as LG 42UB820T UHD TV does not support it)
  • Proper power handling (standby/power off) and low power consumption in all modes.
  • Internal storage expansion via external storage devices (micro SD, USB flash drive, USB hard drive).
  • Above average internal storage performance leading to fast boot, and low app loading times
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage with read and write support (except in ES File Explorer)
  • IR remote control with IR learning function and good range (up to 8 meters)
  • Bluetooth working for file transfer and sync to fitness trackers (BLE)

CONS:

  • Video & Audio playback issues: HDMI audio pass-through not working well, automatic frame rate switching not working, Lack of Dolby & DTS licensed for downmixing to PCM 2.0 (stereo audio) in apps other than Kodi
  • Video output settings not always remembered. e.g. set to 4K @ 60 Hz, but fall back to 1080p60 at next reboot
  • Stable but poor WiFi performance
  • Lower performance compared to MINI M8S II, at least in in benchmarks
  • Lack of OTA firmware update support
  • Pairing issue with Bluetooth headset
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • TV box will force my AV receiver to turn on, even as I manually turn it off (likely HDMI CEC issue)
  • Lack of notification and status bar, leading to some inconvenience after download or Bluetooth transfers for example.

I’d like to thank NEXBOX for sending the device for review, and resellers and distributions can contact the company via their website to purchase the box in quantities. The version of NEXBOX A95X featured in this review (Amlogic S905X, 2GB RAM, 16GB flash) is sold for $42.99 on GearBest and $51.99 on Banggood. Both sites also sell cheaper version with 2GB/8GB ($38.2) and 1GB/8GB ($33), and GeekBuying too. However, if you don’t think you need Android 6.0 features, VP9 and/or HDR, NEXBOX A95X model with Amlogic S905 processor might be a better option, and sells for around $25 with 1GB RAM.

Amlogic S905 vs S905X Benchmarks Comparison

July 31st, 2016 20 comments

We’ve already compared the main features between Amlogic S905, Amlogic S905X and Amlogic S912, with Amlogic S905X being an upgrade of Amlogic S905 with the same quad core Cortex A53 cores and Mali-450MP GPU but adding VP9 hard ware decoding, HDR support,  and integrating 10/100 Ethernet PHY and audio codec to lower the cost. The CPU frequency was also said to be lowered to 1.5 GHz in early document, but TV manufacturers keep promoting Amlogic S905 as a 2.0 GHz processor, and I noticed CPU-Z and Antutu also reported the maximum frequency to be 2.02 GHz.

Amlogic_S905_vs_Amlogic_S905XIn that case the performance should be about the same for both processors. Let’s find out by comparing benchmark results between Amlogic S905 based MINIX NEO U1 (Android 5.1) and Amlogic S905X powered MINI M8S II  (Android 6.0) using Antutu 6.x, Vellamo 3.x, and 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme 1.2. A ratio greater than one means Amlogic S905X is the fastest for a given test.

Amlogic S905 Amlogic S905X Ratio
CPU Quad core Cortex A53 @ 2.02 GHz Quad core Cortex A53 @ 2.02 GHz
GPU Penta-core ARM Mali-450MP Penta-core ARM Mali-450MP
Antutu 6.x
Overall 38,032 33,553 0.88
3D (1920×1080) 3,979 3,099 0.78
UX 15,690 12,365 0.79
CPU 13,458 12,438 0.92
RAM 4,905 5,651 1.15
Vellamo 3.x
Metal 1,235 910 0.74
Multicore 1,589 1,491 0.94
Browser 2,157 1,855 0.86
3DMark – Ice Storm Extreme v1.2
Total score 4,327 4,183 0.97
Graphics score 3,698 3,709 1.00
Physics score 10,689 7,561 0.71

Please note that currently most S905 TV boxes run Android 5.1, while Amlogic S905X devices are already running Android 6.0, so the latter may benefit from some small performance boosts due to more recent firmware. But in any case, that represents a side-by-side comparison of what you can expect from devices sold on July/August 2016, although some Amlogic S905 devices are now getting Android 6.0 Marshmallow firmware updates.

The main takeaway is that you should expect slightly lower performance from Amlogic S905X compared to S905, so the new processor is only interesting if you need 4K VP9 hardware decoding (not usable for YouTube 4K, except in the upcoming Xiaomi Mi Box), and/or High Dynamic Range support, or if the price is cheaper compared to an equivalent S905 TV box.

Mini M8S II TV Box (Amlogic S905X) Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

July 30th, 2016 55 comments

Mini M8S II is one of the first Amlogic S905X TV box to hit the market, with the new processor adding 4K VP9 hardware video decoding and HDR support compared to Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already taken pictures of the device and torn it apart to check its hardware & thermal design in the first part of the review, and in the second part, I’ll boot it up, check performance, features, and video playback capabilities.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I plugged-in a USB hard drive into one USB port, but since the device only fetures two ports, I had to use a USB hub to connect two RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I completed the hardware setup by connecting HDMI & Ethernet cables before starting the device by connected the provided power adapter.

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Booting takes around 40 seconds, and you’ll be greeted by the very common launcher below found on most Amlogic based Android TV boxes.

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Click for Original Size

A few seconds later, the system showed me a “USB drive connected”. It’s not to know my drive is working, but since it happened every single time I booted the TV box this was more annoying than useful.

MINI-M8S-II-USB_Drive_ConnectedThe settings are again about the same as on other TV boxes, and if you want to see an in-depth review of the launcher and settings I recommend you check out K1 Plus review. There were some noticeable differences however which I detail below.

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Click to Enlarge

The first difference is that HDMI-CEC option is missing. It’s not a feature I’d use in Android anyway, but the problem is that it seems enabled somehow, and if my AV receiver is turned on at the same time as MINI M8S II, I won’t be able to turn off my AV receiver, as the box will turn it back on as soon as I turn it off…

HDR support in the Display section is the second difference, and you can enable or disable it. It’s not something I could test however since my current 4K TV does not support high dynamic range.

Amlogic_S905X_HDR_OptionThe final difference I noticed is that the Storage & reset menu will now show removable storage too.

MINI-M8S-II_USB_Storage_File_Systems

The screenshot above show my hard drive with four partition is correctly detected (USB3_XXXX are volume names), and exFAT and NTFS partition mounted.

About_MINIM8S_IIWhile the eMMC flash has 8GB capacity, the system takes some, and the internal storage partition is just 4.70 GB in size with 598MB used at the beginning of the review.

HDMI output support a wide range of resolution and refresh rate, and my system was first automatically set to 4K SMPTE (24 Hz) despite my TV supporting 4K @ 60 Hz. I could manually change the output to that setting, but I’ve noticed the TV box does not always remembers the user-defined value, and a few times I saw video output set to 1080p60 after a reboot.

I can access Android Marshmallow settings by clicking or selecting “More settings”, where you can access some extra options like Printing, Date & Time, Backup & Reset and so on. So I went to the  “About MediaBox” to find out a bit more about the firmware, and “MINIM8S II” model number runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. Please note that the firmware is NOT rooted.

I also quickly tested the included IR remote control, and the range is very good, as it works very well even 10 meters away. However, for most of the review I used NEO A2 air mouse as IR remote controls are completely useless outside of the launcher and Kodi in Android.

MINI-M8S-II_App_ListThe Google Play Store worked for most apps required for the review, except Antutu Video Tester, Vidonn Smart Band & Xiaomi Mi Fit (both require BLE support), BitTorrent and a few others from my list. Apps requiring GPS and/or phone/SMS support, such as Whatsapp, would not install either, but this is not really an issue. I had no troubles installing Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

Power handling is OK with power on working from the IR remote control, and power off from the remote control or Power icon on the status bar. There’s no standby/sleep mode, so  I’ve measured power consumption with and without USB hard drive (HDD) in the two available power modes:

  • Power off – 1.2 watt
  • Idle – 2.2 watts
  • Power off + HDD – 1.2 watt
  • Idle + HDD – 5.0 watts

There are two good news here: USB power is turned off in powered off mode, and idle power consumption really low. The downside is that the system draws 1.2 watts in power off mode, while the best devices don’t draw anything noticeable by my power meter, or at least well below 1 watt.

MINI M8S II does not overheat, and after Antutu 6.x, the maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the case was respectively 39°C and 45°C max, and after over 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2 this went up a little to 43°C and 56°C. I did not notice any throttling / slowdowns during game play.

MINI M8S II feels responsive, and the firmware is stable, with the only small issues I had were the Windows appearing at each boot to tell me my USB drive was connected, and the box will automatically turn on my A/V receiver when I turn it off likely because of HDMI-CEC feature which can’t be disabled in the settings. The mouse pointer is also rather small when 4K output is selected.

OTA firmware update

One of the first thing I did before checking out the settings and Google Play as described above was to check out for new firmware. So I went to the UPDATE&BACKUP app, to check for new firmware, and the system did get an update for 2016-07-04 to 2016-07-07, which is kind of unexpected for a low cost device.

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I went ahead with the tiny 14.13MB download, before clicking on Update now to reboot and complete the firmware update.

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Click to Enlarge

But it did not work, and failed with error. So I decided to disconnect my USB hard drive, reboot the system, and re-try the update and it went smoothly. So remember remove external storage (USB and/or micro SD card) before upgrading the firmware to avoid this issue.

However, some people mentioned they had manually installed 2016-07-19 firmware, so I went to UPDATE&BACKUP app again, and it found another larger 2016-07-19 firmware update, which went without issue.

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I check again for a third firmware update before carry on with the review, but that was it.

Audio & Video Playback in Kodi 16.1

Kodi 16.1 (or a fork) is pre-installed on the device, and the manufacturer also included several piracy add-ons.

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Click for Original Size

Kodi_16.1_MINI-M8S-II

All videos, except otherwise stated, were played over Fast Ethernet from a SAMBA share. I’ve first played some videos found in Linaro media samples, as well as Elecard H.265 samples:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p/1080p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

While all videos played, please note that automatic refresh rate does not work even after enabling it both Kodi and Android settings (HDMI self-adaptation).

The next step was to play some videos with various bitrates (HDD = USB hard drive):

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Stays in UI, but audio plays
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

I also tested stereo audio downmixing (PCM 2.0) via Kodi and MX Player/MoviePlayer app using my TV’s speakers, and HDMI pass-through in Kodi using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (DD 5.1) but wrong aspect ratio (1:1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio No audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio No audio
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio No audio
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1, but two short audio cuts during playback
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1, but two short audio cuts during playback
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1

So you should not have problem if you play videos directly with your TV using Kodi, but some apps won’t have any audio for Dolby/DTS, and audio pass-through is limited to 5.1 channels with some bugs (audio cuts).

Now let’s see how well 4K playback works, especially for VP9 videos. Please note that some videos have been tested at both HDMI_4K_SMPTE (default) and HDMI_4K_60Hz video outputs as I had some interesting issues:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): video not smooth; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): video not smooth; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK. CPU usage is quite high though despite “amc-h265(S)” hardware decoding? in Kodi overlay debug window
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Slow motion, and many artifacts (expected as not supported by S905X VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not perfectly smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, except for ~5 seconds period with severe artifacts.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso Blu-Ray ISOs could both play just fine, as well as two MPEG2 1080i videos. 10-bit H.264 is a normally an issue, but Kodi 16.1 here handle it by software decode, and the 720p video was fine (with very high CPU usage on all 4 cores), but the 1080p video was not always smooth or artifact-free. Maybe that’s something Amlogic S912 will be able to handle with its 8 cores.

My TV does not support 3D videos, but it’s still interesting to check whether videos can be decoded anyway. My A/V receiver is however capable of detecting 3D content (shows 3D icon) for MVC video as I demonstrated with Zidoo X1 II:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only, stays in UI.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver

Finally I played various VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV videos from my library and all could play fine, with the only issue occurring when using DTS or Dolby HDMI audio pass-through with audio cuts in some, but not all, videos.

Beside Kodi, I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, with MINI M8S II getting a decent 909 points, while the best devices get a little over 1,000 points. All videos could be played, with 3 videos not playing smoothly.

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DRM support may be important for premium video services like Netflix, and Hulu, and MINI M8S II support Widewine Level 3 for SD resolution video playback, but no Level 1 which is one of the requirement for HD and 4K video support for this type of online video services.

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Click to Enlarge

In case you wonder about YouTube, it only works up to 1080p. 4K YouTube video playback requires “Android TV” platforms.

Download links to video samples used in this review can be found in the comments section of that post.

Network Performance

I normally test both WiFi and Ethernet in my reviews, but I broke the WiFi antenna during the teardown, and could not properly re-solder it. So I only get a “fair signal” strength (about 2 bars out of 4), and throughput of around 1MB/s while using WiFi. This is quite poor, but likely due to the antenna issue. Other people also reported poor WiFi performance with earlier firmware, but firmware 2016-07-19 – used for this review – allegedly improved WiFi performance greatly. Note that only 2.4 GHz WiFI is supported by this device, not 5.0 GHz.

I’ve tested Fast Ethernet by transferring a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage, and performance averaged 5.9MB/s placing it in the middle of the pack of devices limited to 10/100M Ethernet.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair “MINIM8S II” to my smartphone in order to transfer some pictures over Bluetooth. However, the TV box could not find Xiaomi Mi Band 2 Bluetooth 4.0 LE activity tracker (not install any BLE app through Google Play), while the system could detect my “SH09” Bluetooth headset pairing would not work, and I had to skip Sixaxis PS3 Bluetooth game controller test since the firmware is not rooted.

Storage

We’ve already seen that a  Seagate USB hard drive was recognized in the upper part of this review with NTFS and exFAT file systems supported, and after adding a micro SD card, I could also confirm FAT32 is supported, but Android 6.0 permissions do not seem to allow write access to external storage.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK No

This behavior is not suitable at all for TV box, so they’ll have to find a workaround.

I had to skip A1 SD bench with USB drives due to this read-only issue, but still checked out internal storage performance with the app, and the eMMC flash achieved 34.69 MB/s sequential read speed, and 15.87 MB/s write speed. Not a bad results.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga was a little sluggish the very first few seconds, but then it could play the game with air mouse, and without any noticeable slowdowns.

I switch to the wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing which was smooth at all time, even after settings Graphics settings to the “highest resolution”.  Riptide GP2 was fairly smooth with the default settings, but once I switched to “highest resolution” settings, the frame rate went down a bit, and while it was still playable, I did not find as quite as enjoyable. It’s pretty typical for Amlogic S905 platforms though, and the good news is that the performance was constant over the 15 to 20 minutes I played the game.

MINI M8S II Benchmarks

So is Amlogic S905X processor clocked at up to 1.5GHz (like in the specs), or up to 2.0 GHz (like in marketing materials for TV boxes)? CPU-Z agrees with the latter as the maximum frequency is reported to be 2.02 GHz just like in Amlogic S905 processors.

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Click to Enlarge

The board is p212 (useful if you want to try alternative firmware), the frame buffer resolution is set to 1920×1080, and there’s 1775MB total RAM for the system out of the 2GB RAM installed.

However, Antutu 6.1.4 score at 33,330 is slightly lower than on Amlogic S905 based devices (36,000 to 39,000 points) which looks more consistent with a lower CPU frequency… For example MINIX NEO U1 Antutu 6.0 score is 38,032 points.
MINI-M8S-II_Antutu
Let’s double checked the results with Vellamo 3.x.
MINI-M8S-II_Vellamo
M8S II got 1,491, 910 and 1,855 for respectively Multicore, Metal and Browser benchmarks, while MINIX NEO U1 achieved 1,586, 1,235 and 2,157 points. If we compared it to a cheaper model like Videostrong K1 Plus with 1,572, 763, and 2,002 the difference is not as clear, but performance of Amlogic S905 does seem higher than Amlogic S905X in most cases. We also have to take into account that all devices I tested with Amlogic S905 were based on Android 5.1, while MINI M8S II is running Android 6.0.1, which should be a little faster than Android Lollipop.

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3D graphics performance does not seem to be affected as much as Amlogic S905 TV boxes would normally get around 4,300 points in 3DMark ICE Storm Extreme, while Amlogic S905X based M8S II got a similar 4,183 points.

Conclusion

MINI M8S II TV Box has a good performance/features to price ratio, a responsive Android 6.0 firmware, decent video playback in Kodi for 10-bit and 8-bit H.265, H.264, and VP9 videos up to 4K @ 60 fps, but there are still a few firmware issues such HDMI audio pass-throguh, Bluetooth issue, read-only USB storage, etc.. to solve.

PROS:

  • Stable and responsive device with recent Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good (although not quite perfect) video playback in Kodi 16.1 with support for 4K 10-bit H.264, H.264 and VP9 videos
  • HDR (High dynamic range support) for compatible TVs (not tested as my 4K TV does not support it)
  • Proper power handling, and low idle power consumption
  • Relatively fast internal storage leading to 40 seconds boot, few slowdowns during operation
  • OTA firmware update
  • Device stays cool under load
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working with long range (at least 10 meters)

CONS:

  • External storage (USB and micro SD) are read-only due to permissions.
  • Some Kodi issues: HDMI audio pass-through not working well, even for Dolby / DTS 5.1 or 2.0 audio, automatic frame rate switching not working, 24 fps videos may not be smooth when played using 24 Hz video output.
  • Lack of Dolby & DTS licensed for downmixing to PCM 2.0 (stereo audio) in apps other than Kodi
  • Bluetooth issues – No Bluetooth LE support, problem pairing with Bluetooth headset. (File transfer with smartphone is OK)
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Some apps (that should) can’t be installed via Google Play (e.g. Antutu Video Tester, Bittorrent…)
  • TV box will force my AV receiver to turn on, even as I manually turn it off (likely HDMI CEC issue)
  • USB device connected full screen window shows up after each boot if you have connected an USB drive

So not a bad start, but you’ll have to rely on firmware updates to get fixes for some of the issues listed above.

I’d like to thank GearBest for sending a sample for review, and if you are interested, you could consider buying the device for $35.99 including shipping (if the price has gone up, GBM8SII coupon might help) from their online shop. Other shopping options include Banggood, Aliexpress, and Amazon US, but they are roughly $10 more expensive at this time.

EBox T8-4 Review – A 4K Android TV Box Bundle Geared Towards the UK Market

July 24th, 2016 2 comments

I’ve already taken some pictures of the device and board in part 1 of EBox T8-4 review, so today, I’m going to report my experience with the Android 5.1 firmware for this Amlogic S905 TV box, air mouse, and wireless gamepad, specifically targetted to users leaving in the United Kingdom, but since the hardware is based on Zoomtak T8V, it may also be informative to international users, although the firmware, mostly launcher and IPTV services, will be different.

EBox T8-4 Setup Wizard & Configuration

Since I’ve already inserted an internal SSD into the SATA bay of the device, I did not connect an external USB harddrive, and only connected HDMI and Ethernet cables,  plus the RF dongle for the included air mouse, a USB keyboard to easily take screenshots, and of course the power cord. The power button will be red at this stage. If you want to start the TV box, you either need to press the button on the box, or the power button on the remote control, the power button LED will change to blue, and the display will show “boot”.

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A typical boot takes around one minute, but for the very first boot, you’ll be asked to go through setup wizard similar to what we find in few others boxes like WeTek Core or ARNU Box.EBox_T8-4_Setup_Wizard

Click Next to “select” your language.. English only for now.

EBox_T8-4_Language_Selection

Next window is to adjust the screen in order to remove any black orders on the edges of the screen. If you are using HDMI output, most TV should have a setting to underscan. For example it is called “Just Scan” on LG televisions. That way you don’t need to adjust the screen at all, and you can keep it at 100%.

EBox_T8-4_Adjust_ScreenThe next step is for network configuration for either Ethernet or WiFi.

EBox_T8-4_Setup_Wizard_Ethernet_Configuration EBox_T8-4_Setup_Wizard_WiFi_ConfigurationThe system correctly detected my three access points @ 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz, but I carry on with Gigabit Ethernet, and click on Finish button to access the main user interface.

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The launcher include EBOX MC fork of Kodi 16.1, EBOX APPS Hub folder with custom apps from the company including EBox  App to access support channels, EBox Apps app store, EBox OTA for firmware update, etc…, as well as icons to access all apps, the browser, settings, and to clean the memory.

Sadly, that’s another wizard that does not ask you to set your timezone, but maybe in that case it is understable since it’s designed for the British public and already set to the right timezone. Any I went through the settings, which looks quite similar as other Amlogic TV boxes.
EBox_T8-4_Settings_Network

You can change network configuration as needed, as well as display settings.EBox_T8-4_Settings_Display

HDMI auto-detection is ON by default, and it set the resolution to 1080p50 by default, so I disabled it and manually selected 4k2k-60Hz mode. Sadly it looks like it does not always remember that setting after a reboot.EBox_T8-4_Settings_Advanced

Advanced options are for Miracast, CEC Control is not working for me (same results as with all other Amlogic TV boxes I’ve tested), and you can also configure audio output to PCM, SPDIF or HDMI.EBox_T8-4_Settings_Others

Other settings show some system information: Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29 running on p200_2G platform. More Settings lead to another familiar setup menu.
EBox_T8-4_Settings

This is where I enabled HDMI adaptation (automatic refresh rate) via Play back settings, and set the correct timezone (Date & Time). You can access Android Lollipop settings by selecting “More setting”, so you’ve got three different settings user interfaces, which should really be unnecessary….

EBox T8-4 OTA Firmware

The company informed me by email of a new firmware update, so I updated it right before going further, by entering the System Update menu, but you can click on EBox OTA to enter the update app too. After clicking to check updates, I got a popup window “ROM update available”.

EBox_OTA_Firmware_Update

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So I start the download…

EBox_OTA_Firmware_Download

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Which was reasonably fast, and been asked whether I want to Wipe Data and/or Wipe Cache when installing the firmware. I always wipe the cache, but I avoid wiping the data since I like to keep my data (screenshots) and apps installed via Google Play.

EBox_T8-4_Wipe_Data_Wipe_Cache
Once I click on Install, I get another window explaining the box will reboot into recovery mode, flash the ZIP file, and automatically reboot.

EBox_T8-4_Install_Firmware

So I click in Install against and this time the box reboots, shows me an animation with a green Android logo amd a progress board, and after 3 to 5 minutes, reboot the the main launcher and the update is complete. That part was flawless.

Entertainmentbox.com Customer Support

However, I had a big hiccup with the firmware, after spending much time taking screenshoot, and testing apps, I tested on and off, and power consumption, and all of a sudden the device would not boot to the launcher, and all I could see if a blueish background photo (the vertical line is just an issue with my TV).

EBox-T8-4_DeadI sent an email to my contact in the company about the issue, but since it was a Saturday, I was not sure when I’d get an answer, so I went to their website, and saw a “Chat Now – Online”  section on the bottom right of the page, so I decided to give it a try and asked my question about the box being stuck at boot time.

Within a few seconds, a support person called Vikram told me to try to factory rest the box, and provide a link with detailed instructions, and the chat was over in about one minute. I followed the instructions, which involved wiping the data, but I tried to only wipe the cache as I wanted to keep my data, and I did not work.

I wanted to try to re-install the firmware without wiping out the data instead. So I went back to start a new chat to ask about the firmware since I could not find T8-4 on their firmware page. Again Vikram answered within a few seconds, and said he was aware of the issue, and forwarded to the persons in charge. Again efficient, polite and to the point, so my experience with support was very positive, although my problem was not resolved.

Eventually, I got answer from my contact, as they had uploaded T8-4 firmware with clear instructions. So I copied the file to a USB flash drive, went into recovery, and flashed the firmware apparently successfully, but it did not resolve my issue. So I ended up wiping out the data, and lost all my files and installed app, wasting a few hours of work.

The reasons was that EBox Play app (now removed from the firmware) that allows you to play retro games was not compatible with Android 5.1, and messed up with the firmware.

Anyway, while I was clearly not happy about that annoying firmware bug and wasted time, Entertainmentbox.com customer support appears to be very good. They also have support forums.

Installed Apps and IPTV Streaming

The TV box comes with some interesting apps including popular video streaming and on-demand app in the UK such as BBC iPlayer, FilmOn, and TVCatchUp.

EBox_T8-4_App_List_1BionicTCP should be interesting too on other devices, especially if you have troubles with streaming videos, as it allows you to tweak TCP buffers to allow for larger buffers possibly improve the streaming experience.

EBox_T8-4_App_List_2
So I had a quick try of the IPTV apps, although I’m not based in the UK.

Let’s start with Filmon.TV app which sorts live TV streams by country or categories.

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You can then select one category, and a stream from the list to watch live TV, in full screen or within the interface.

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There’s also an online TV guide (EPG) available from the app.

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After a while, the app will ask you to register. I think it’s free to watch SD channels, but you may have to pay to watch HD TV. (TBC)

TVCatchup is a service that allows to watch live TV even if you missed the right time when it was broadcasted. When the app start I’ve been asked to confirm I’m indeed based on the UK… to which I agreed…

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I could get the list of channels, and programs, but was unable to play any videos, most probably because I’m not actually in the UK…

TVcatchUp_ChannelsYou can also access the EPG from the app. You’d think free channels like Aljazeera would work from anywhere, but it did not play either.

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Finally, BBC iPlayer.. It asked me to install BBC Media Player, which I did, but then I could not stream any video due to geo-blocking.

BBC_iPLayer

BBC_iPLayer_Content_Not_WorkingSo the pre-installed app are interesting if you are based in the UK, and wants something easy to setup. If you live overseas, you’d have to use a VPN, or some DNS services like StrongDNS.

Video and Audio Support in EBOX MC (Kodi 16.1)

EBOX MC (EBMC) used Confluence skin with a different background image.

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It is based on Kodi 16.1 with possible some customizations under the hood.

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Since I’ve reviewed so many Amlogic S905 TV boxes, I’ll just try 4K videos, and audio capabilities (e.g. HDMI pass-through). All files will be played from a SAMBA share.

4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265 @ 30 fps) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265 @ 30 fps) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265 @ 30 fps) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Won’t start to play, and stays in UI.

So no problem playing most 4K video samples with the codecs supported by Amlogic S905 SoC (i.e. excluding H.264 4K @ 60 fps, and 10-bit H.264) expect a very high bitrate H.264 video. However, please note that automatic refresh rate switching is not working, even after it is configured in both the system and EBMC.

Time to test audio.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi/EBMC)
PCM 2.0 Output
(Video player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi/EBMC)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK but video not smooth
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (OK), but frequent short noise
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 with frequent short (0.5s) noise
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 with frequent short (0.5s) noise
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1 with frequent short (0.5s) noise

As expected Ebox T8-4 does not have the DTS and Dolby licenses for audio down-mixing since it’s using Amlogic S905, and not S905-H, but that’s a disappointment to find out that HDMI pass-through is basically unusable even for 5.1 channel audio due to a short noise that happens every 5 to 10 seconds, at least with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Gaming with Ipega PG-9028 Bluetooth game controller

I’m normally using Tronsmart Mars G01 RF gamepad in my review, but since the bundle I received includes a Bluetooth gamepad, that’s what I used with Riptide GP2 installed from Amazon Underground. At first, I had troubles pairing the gamepad as I only pressed the Home key, but then I was asked to press Home and X blue buttons together, and the gamepad would show a new device Bluetooth MAC address, and once paired show it as PG-9028.

PG-9028_Bluetooth_PairingSubsequently, you’ll just need to press the Home button to connect the gamepad to the TV box. I had then no issue navigating the user interface with B button for “Back”, A button for “Accept”, and the top left joystick to move around the launcher, and start Riptide GP2.

The game was a fluid as on other good Amlogic S905 TV boxes, so I set the graphics setting to the maximum, and played for over 15 minutes without any degradation of performance over time. The device stayed cool at all time, and the top and bottom temperatures of the case were respectively 36° C, and 39° C.

Other interesting features of the gamepad include the touchpad area to control the mouse pointer, and the five buttons at the bottom for volume, play/pause, back and next, which makes it suitable to control Kodi/EBMC. It is also possible to place your smartphone on top of the gamepad, if you want to play games on the phone instead of the TV box. You’ll find detailed pictures of the controller in the first part of the review.

EBox T8-4 Benchmarks – Antutu, Storage and Networking

Amlogic S905 is a now extremely well known platform, so I just ran Antutu 6.1.4 to double check there wasn’t any issue.

EBox_T8-4_Antutu

35,473 point is typical for this kind of device. All good.

I also tested internal storage performance A1SD bench, and the eMMC flash is reasonable fast @ 26.21 MB/s for sequential read, and 14.80 MB/s for sequential write.

Read/Write Speed in MB/s

Read/Write Speed in MB/s

One of the key selling point of the device is the presence of an internal 2.5″ SATA bay. I started by inserting an SSD with both NTFS and EXT-4 partitions, but it was mounted as a USB device with 0 MB size, so I switched another 1TB hard drive formatted with NTFS inside a Linux machine, which was a little loose in the SATA bay but still inserted to the SATA connector, and this time it was not detected at all. When I removed it, it was warm so I assume it got power. It’s quite possible the hard drive needs to be prepared inside a Windows computer to work with the box, based on a video for their older T8-3 box. That part was very disappointing.

Let’s switch to network performance with Gigabit Ethernet and iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d command for full duplex transfer.

So the system cannot handle full duplex transfer very well, with the speed in one direction very fast (as it should), but very slow in the other direction. That test is worse case scenario though, and unless you plan to use the box as a server too, it should not be an issue, and I had no problem streaming 60 Mbps+ videos.

I’ve tested 802.11ac by transferring a 278MB file from SAMBA to the flash and vice versa 3 times using ES File explorer. For some reasons download was much faster than upload @ 5.67 MB/s vs 2.89 MB/s, and on average the transfer rate was a decent 4.27 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Other remarks

The included air mouse is very convenient with mouse mode, remote side, and QWERTY keyboard side, and while usually I have to switch to the IR remote control to power on other devices, T8-4 can be powered on with that air mouse too. The air mouse function works well, the keyboard includes the media player keys (play/pause, etc..), and the only two downsides I found is the lack of tabulation key, and Alt key Blue on black markings are hard to read, at least with my eyesight (I need to remove my glasses to read them).

Power handling have been properly implemented too, but with only power on and power off modes. Power consumption is 0.2 watts in power off mode, 5.0 watts at idle with SSD, and 5.2 watts at with (non-detected) HDD.

I had no problem at all with Google Play with free and paid app, and Amazon Underground.

Conclusion

EBox T8-4 Android TV box performs well over time (no overheating), delivers good video playback performance in Kodi (EBMC), include pre-installed IPTV streaming app for the UK, and provide a good overall user experience, but there are still some issues that need to be fixed such as very poor HDMI pass-through implementation, and problems with internal SATA bay.

PROS

  • Complete easy to setup and use bundle with TV box, air mouse, and wireless Bluetooth gamepad
  • Stable and responsive firmware
  • Good 4K video playback performance in Kodi with both H.264 and H.265 videos
  • (Legal) pre-installed IPTV app for the UK market like BBC iPlayer, Filmon, and TVCatchup
  • Gigabit Ethernet and good 802.11ac WiFi performance
  • 2.5″ internal SATA bay (see CONS too!)
  • OTA firmware update
  • Good customer support with Live chat, forums, and online documentation

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through is not working well, with only 5.1 channel audio support, and I got short white noise for almost all videos.
  • No Dolby / DTS licenses
  • My 2.5″ SSD (NTFS + EXT-4) and HDD (NTFS) were not recognized by the system
  • DRM support limited to Widewine Level 3
  • (Minor) Settings are spread over  3 menus
  • (Minor) Somewhat slow boot (One minute)
  • I loss all my data and installed apps after a while due to a bug in the firmware (But it should be now be fixed, and I could not reproduce the issue).

The main thing I like about EBox T8-4 bundle is that it’s easy to setup and comes with everything you may need to watch local and live TV (in the UK), the included air mouse and Bluetooth gamepad just work out of the box, without headache due to potential interoperability issues.

EBox T8-4 + S77 Pro air mouse + Ipega Bluetooth gamepad bundle I reviewed can be purchased for 108.33 GBP exc. VAT ($142 US), but you can also purchase the box alone for 79.16 GBP exc. VAT (~$104 US), or select other bundles with different input devices and/or an included 1TB hard drive (which could mitigate the issues I had).

FriendlyARM NanoPi NEO Board Benchmarks

July 22nd, 2016 6 comments

We’ve already seen how to setup NanoPi NEO with Ubuntu Core, and while it’s mostly designed as an IoT node, for example to control relays over Ethernet or the Internet, I’ve still decided to see how it would perform under load by running Phoronix benchmarks, and then network and storage (micro SD card provided by FriendlyARM). It’s a small board, so we should expect it to heat a lot under load, especially it does not come with an heatsink by default. Also bear in mind that performance may dramatically change depending on the software implementation, and for the test, I’m using the company’s Ubuntu Core firmware.

Before start the benchmark, I noticed that QTe-Demo was running in the background, probably because it was used on their other board with video output or LCD. but it’s taking some CPU usage, and is absolutely not needed here.

To disable it, edit /etc/rc.local, and comment out one line as follows:

I also planned to install RPi-Monitor, which is very easy to install in armbian, but I could not find a quick way for the Ubuntu core image, so I skipped it for now, instead manually checking the temperature.

Let’s install Phoronix Test Suite:

and run the benchmark against Orange Pi, Banana Pi, Raspberry Pi, etc… boards results.

Since it will take a while (4 to 5 hours) checking the terminal output while the benchmark is running may be informative:

Phoronix will run the same test several times, and in theory, every iteration of the test should have roughly the same results, but in practice, modern processors do overheat, and either reduce frequency or cut the number of cores to keep the temperature below the (safe) junction temperature. The results here don’t look good, because they become slower overtime. A temperature check with an IR thermometer after one hour or so, shows the CPU is getting really hot.
NanoPi_NEO_CPU_TemperatureWe can also verify this in the command line by reading one of the temperature sensor:

It’s hot, and the temperature tops at 80 C, and sometimes drops down to 76 C, before getting back to 80C, so the system is clearly throlling and the final results made that clear (ARMv7 rev 5 is NanoPi NEO without heatsink). Please also note that all 6 boards included below are using the same governor settings (interactive or ondemand). However, NaniPi NEO’s Ubuntu core Linux kernel is configured to run the RAM at the lower frequency to either decrease power consumption or heat generation.

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John the Ripper is a multi-threaded password cracker, and in theory NaniPi NEO should have about the same performance as Orange Pi One, but there’s clearly a massive drop in performance.

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Same thing for single threaded FLAC audio encoding, where NanoPi NEO is almost 50% slower than Orange Pi One, and about the same as Raspberry Pi 2.

So let’s check what happens is we had an heatsink. I glued the largish heatsink (for that board) by putting thermal paste on Allwinner H3 and the Samsung DDR3 SDRAM chip. It is not centered on the board because the Ethernet jack pins prevent this. You could add some thermal pads to work around this.

NanoPi_NEO_Heatsink_Thermal_Paste

So let’s start again phoronix-test-suite to see if this improves anything:

Terminal output for the first benchmark:

We can see the results are both higher, and more stable, so that’s a good sign.

The heatsink temperature is about 54 C after around one or two hours.

NanoPi_NEO_Heatsink_TemperatureBut the CPU temperature is still high, and topping at 80 C from time to time:

Nevertheless the final results are way better. I repeated the test with heatsink twice to some issue with uploading the results the first time…

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FLAC audio encoding is now just as good as on Orange Pi One.

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John the Ripper is still a bit lower on NanoPi NEO, which could either be because of RAM clock or overheating despite the heatsink. The multi-threaded performance is still better than on Raspberry Pi 2 however.

So if you want to want NanoPi NEO to control some relays, you probably don’t need to care at all about this, but if you plan to use it as part as a cluster or build farm, you’d have to consider using a heatsink and possibly a fan to get optimal performance, as well as make sure the board does not die prematurely…

Let’s switch to Ethernet performance, but running iperf server on the board:

and running iperf client on a computer running Ubuntu 14.04 to test dual duplex performance:

So the download speed is all good at 93.8 Mbps, but the upload speed is not quite up to the task at 25.8 Mbps. Remember that a dual duplex test is a worse case scenario with heavy traffic going in both directions at the same, and it does not mean upload speed is limited to 25 Mbps in more typical scenarios.

NanoPi NEO does not come with any storage, and you can use any micro SD card you want, but FriendlyARM sells and recommend Sandisk Ultra 8GB SD micro card,  so it would interesting to see how the one they’ve sent me performs.

For that purpose I’ve installed iozone to test the micro SD card performance. You’ll need to edit /etc/apt/source.list to add multiverse at the end of the first two lines, and then:

I’ve run iozone3 with armbian community command line options, so that it can be compared to other SD cards:

So it’s not quite the fastest around, especially in terms of random write for some files, and if you want a board that boot very fast (i.e. faster than the 10 seconds boot I got), and your application is I/O depend you may want to get something better like Samsung EVO 32GB.