If you’re mainly using your Android mini PC or STB to stream videos over the web or your local network, Wi-Fi performance is actually more important than CPU performance, and I’ve recently had quite a few issues with Wi-Fi with both T428 (RK3188 / Broadcom Wi-Fi module) and CS868 (AllWinner A31 / Realtek Wi-Fi module), which were only fixed after upgrading my router firmware. So I’ve decided to re-test most of the mini PCs I own with the upgraded router firmware, and the number are highly confusing, and I found out there’s probably be no easy to way to estimate the overall Wi-Fi performance of any device, and it’s most probably highly dependent on the router used, and its firmware version.
My router is TP-LINK WR940N, a 300 Mbps Wireless N router with three antennas. Since I bought it, I had never upgraded the firmware (3.9.18 Build 100104 Rel.36350n) from 2010. When I test Android mini PCs or media players, I always place the device is the same area which is about 5 meters from the router, but not line of sight, and I transfer a 278 MB file from a SAMBA share in a PC running Ubuntu. I use ES File Explorer to perform the transfer, and I check the time with a stop watch. I write the time, and calculate the throughput. In theory, the NAND flash write speed could also be a bottleneck, but considering the throughput are always less than 3MB/s, and the file is only 278MB, which is less than the amount of RAM, I believe it should not impact the results.
Here are the results I got with the old router firmware since I started doing this test.
Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s
Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2 is the fastest by a wide margin, and T428 and CS868 have pretty poor performance because they often lost the signal during the transfer.
As I explain in CS868 review, upgrading the router firmware completely changes the performance of CS868, and improves T428 significantly. So equipped with my “new” router with firmware 3.13.9 Build 120201 Rel.54965n, I tested the devices again to see if results would be much different, and if we could find some patterns, e.g. Realtek Wi-Fi module perform better or not. I performed the file transfer three times on each device, to make sure there was not too much variation between transfers.
The updated results show CS868 far ahead, while G-Box Midnight MX2 is not that good anymore, and may have been negatively impacted by my router firmware upgrade. That’s the complete opposite of earlier results.
Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s
The table below shows more details about the tests and the devices.
Worked the first time, but then failed to transfer the file completely 4 times, so I gave up
I dropped E-Great H5 and Droid Stick A2 from the tests due to lack of time, and Measy U2C is not included into the chart because it could not reliably transfer the file, and I only managed to fully transfer the file once, over 5 attempts. This also happened once with T428, but the 3 other tests worked. As I previously assumed, the connection speed, be it 65 Mbps, 135 Mbps or 150 Mbps, does not actually matter. The conclusion of those tests is a bit disappointing, as the only one I can make is that you can’t really make conclusions. If I had only use the original router firmware, I would have said CS868 Wi-Fi is a disaster, but after firmware upgrade of the router, CS868 is the best ever mini PC I’ve ever seen when it comes to Wi-Fi throughput, and is clearly ahead of any other devices. Bear in mind CS868 only has a chip antenna, and can still easily outperform other device with an standard internal antenna.
With regards to Wi-Fi modules, Realtek RTL8188EUS is both at the top of the chart and the bottom with the new router firmware, so the overall performance seems to depend on overall system design, and the interoperability with the router. One of the advantage of devices based RTL8188 is that the drivers source code is available, Mediatek MT5931 source has recently been “leaked”, but I don’t think Broadcom IC source is available.
In order to use the smartphone control function, you need to download and install RC_Client.apk into your Android smartphone or tablet, and run this app to control your Prometheus. I haven’t tried myself, and they did not provide detail, so I don’t know whether functionalities are similar to DroidMote.
After Cloudsto A20 Media PC, and GV-17, we’ve now got more choices for AllWinner A20 based Android set-top boxes with Jesurun A19 and Mele M5, both featuring 1GB RAM, and running Android 4.2, with the former fitted with 4GB NAND flash and the latter 8GB. Those are ones of the few devices featuring SATA support, and optical SPDIF. Jerusun A19 also comes with VGA output.
Jesurun A19 Specifications:
SoC – Allwinner A20 dual core Cortex A7 up to 1.2 GHz + Mali-400 MP2 GPU
System Memory - 1GB DDR3 RAM
Storage – 4GB NAND Flash + SD card slot (up to 128GB) + SATA interface
Video Output – HDMI up to 3840 X 2160 (UHD), VGA and AV
The device comes with an IR remote, a power adapter, and an AV cable, and sells for about $98 including shipping on Focalprice.
The specifications are basically the same as Jesurun A19, except the following:
Video Output – HDMI up to 3840 X 2160 (UHD), and AV (No VGA)
Storage – 8GB NAND Flash + SD card slot (up to 128GB) + SATA interface
USB – 3x USB Host ports + 1x micro USB OTG port (But I can find this one in the pics)
Weight and Dimensions – N/A
Mele M5 comes with an IR remote, a power adapter, a quick start guide, and, maybe, but I’m not sure, an HDMI cable. This product is sold directly by Mele on Aliexpress for $89.99 excluding shipping.
AllWinner A20 source code has been released, so both devices will likely be able to run Linux booted from SD card or internal flash. As this SoC integrates a Mali-400 MP2 GPU, you’ll be able to get 2D/3D graphics acceleration in Linux without having to resort to libhybris, which will take more time to implement, but support more devices including SoC featuring PowerVR GPUs.
Mele A1000G Quad is an Android set-top box featuring AllWinner A31 quad core Cortex A7 processor with 2GB RAM and 8GB Flash. You can check the full specifications in my previous post. Eddy Lab got hold of an engineering sample with a similar model but without SATA that looks like A3700 [Update: Model name is apparently G39A04], and he, or they, took a few pictures, and tested the device (Link in Korean). I’ll re-post some of their unboxing pictures, and share some of their screenshots and benchmarks in this post.
Mele Quad Core Media Player Package Content
The device comes with a 5V/2.4A power adapter, an HDMI cable, and an IR remote.
The device features an Audio out jack, a micro USB socket, a power jack, and HDMI connector, an RJ45 Ethernet connectors, 3x USB host ports, SPDIF output (Optical), and an SD card slot. It’s very similar to the original Mele A1000 except VGA and AV ports are missing, as Mele considers it is an high-end STB, and people who buy this device are likely to own an HDMI capable TV. There’s also a hole to access a recovery button on the bottom of the enclosure.
Mele Quad PCB (Click to Enlarge)
They also took several pictures of the actual board, and we find out the Wi-Fi module is based on Relatek 8188EUS, the 2GB RAM is composed of 8 Hynix chipset, the Ethernet phyceiver is Realtek RTL8201CP, the PMIC is AXP221, and according to another poster, the 4-pin connector on the bottom right in the picture is the UART (Left to right: 3v3, Tx, Rx, Gnd). Since u-boot and Linux source code for A31 is available (except some parts), this should make a fun hackable Linux platform to play with.
Mele has designed a customized, with a Windows-8 style Home Screen, user interface for their A20 and A31 based media players.
Eddy Lab then went through all the Settings menu, where we find connectivity options for Wi-Fi including Wi-Fi Direct and WPS, Ethernet, Wi-Fi tethering and hotspot, and more, but there’s no Bluetooth submenu. The Sound menu allows you to select PCM, SPDIF or HDMI pass-through, and the display menu will let you adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and select several video output modes between 576p and 1080p60.
The “About device” section informs us the “model number” is “softwinner”, and the device runs Android 4.1.1 on top of Linux kernel 3.3.0. Root checker confirms the firmware is rooted.
They also ran several benchmarks including Antutu where the device scores 10758 which is just below Transformer Prime score (Tegra 3). So not a bad score, although it obviously can’t match the latest RK3188 mini PCs (~14,000 with stock ROM, ~17,500 with finless ROM). 3D graphics score (3068) is however better than MK908 score (2485) thanks to PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU outperforming Mali-400 MP4 GPU. In Vellamo, the device gets 1094 (HTML 5) and 365 (Metal), and CPU tests such as Linpack (Single thread: 29.46 MFLOPS, Multi-thread: 79.56 MFLOPS) also show the lower performance of the Cortex A7 cores compared to Cortex A9.
They also tested Wi-Fi performance with Benchbee, and achieved 19.2Mbps download speed, and 48.2Mbps upload speed, I assume with the router just right next to the device.
Despite the CPU benchmarks, they report that applications such as the Chrome Browser feels very fast on this device.
The package contains the media player, an RF remote control and a power adapter, but no cables, which is one way to save on costs.
Looking at the rear panel of the device front left to right, we can see an external Wi-Fi antenna, the 5V power jack, one USB port, a composite RCA connector and stereo RCA output, an Ethernet RJ45 port, HDMI output, and SPDIF output.
An SD card slot and another USB host port are located on the front panel.
So Bluetimes MX5 just has 2 USB ports, which is a bit less than the 3 to 4 USB ports found on the more expensive devices, but the rest of the connectors is about the same.
First Boot and First Impressions
The first time you boot you’ll be asked to choose between several launcher including a Windows 8 (Metro Style) launcher. Since they did not have the latest firmware, they decided to download the latest version, and upgrade the firmware. There are no special icon in the status bar, and we can find the Home button, Back, Tasks List, and Screenshot buttons. However, the status bar is hidden automatically and the volume is controlled from the remote control, so extra Vol -/+ and Full Screen icons are not needed.
A lot of applications are pre-installed in this device including many Chinese apps which can’t be uninstalled without rooting the firmware.
In the settings, “About” section, the device is called D6_Duo_4.22, and is said to run Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2 with Linux kernel 3.0.5 kernel. “Developer Options” menu is missing, but clicking 7 times on the Build Number field will make it appears. I tried this trick on G-Box Midnight MX2 as well, and it works. I suppose Google did this to avoid normal users accessing and playing around this menu. There’s 1.58 GB available space on the 4GB flash. Android UI is 1280×720, but you can output HDMI to vairous 480, 576, 720 and 1080 modes. There’s also composite output, but they did not try. The audio settings let you choose between PCM, SPDIF or HDMI pass-through like with other AMLogic boxes.
AndroidPC.es folks are quite impressed with the RF remote control, and mention you can easily navigation in Android, XBMC and the Play Store with this remote. It also allows you to power on or off the device, and adjust the volume.
Finally, they tested Wi-Fi and Ethernet performance and stability, and seemed satisfied with both. Videos below 20Mbps could play smoothly over Wi-Fi.
Bluetimes MX5 Benchmarks
They ran several common benchmark on the device.
Antutu score is 7787, which is no surprise as it’s about the same score I got with the Prometheus. Nenamark 2 benchmark was rendered at 35.3 fps,Epic citadel at 28.0 fps, and the device got 1191 pts with Vellamo HTML5 and 371 pts with Vellamo Metal benchmarks which are results consistent with other AML8726-MX based devices.
MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK
MPEG4 codec, AVI container 720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK
VC1 codec (WMV), 720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK
Real Media (RMVB) 720p RV8/RV9/RV10 – Video OK (No audio in test files)
WebM 480p/720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK.
They played around with several apps installed from Google Play, and did not encounter issues, web browsing works fine even with flash websites, and YouTube has no problem playing 1080p videos.
Games such as Angry Birds could play fine, but some 3D games were not playable because a PS3 compatible controller could not be detected. However, they could play Ripdite 3D using Logitech Attack 3 Joystick.
Since the pre-installed XBMC version does not support hardware video decoding, they installed another version, and everything now works fine including several online video plugins.
Quality / price ratio is very good, and the firmware is stable
External Wi-Fi antenna improves signal reception and performance
XBMC is very smooth
One or two extra USBs port would have been nice
Considering the price, they are pleasantly surprised with the device as it’s very good value for money. Good XBMC support and the RF remote are the 2 key strength of this media player, and there seems to be frequency firmware updates for this device.
Matricom sent me one of their latest G-Box Midnight MX2 media player based on AMLogic AML8726-M6, with 1GB RAM, 8 GB flash, running Android 4.2, and with full support for XBMC. This is an update of the G-Box Midnight based on AML8726-M3 which supports XBMC in Android, as well as XBMC Linux thanks to community builds.
Video Output – HDMI v1.4, composite (CVBS) and component (YUV)
Audio Output – HDMI, AV, and SPDIF
Connectivity – 802.11b/g/n internal Wifi + 10/100 Ethernet Port
USB – 4x USB 2.0 Ports (1 might be OTG)
Power Supply – 5V/2A
The hardware and software is very similar to Tronsmart Prometheus (See review), as both are based on AML8726-MX, run Android 4.2 and support XBMC. To make things even more interesting, both are about the same price, and sell for $99. G-Box Midnight MX2 can be purchased on Amazon, and if you’ve previously bought a G-Box Midnight, you can get $20 discount with 9BVTY875 coupon. Matricom provides support on MX2 Forum, which is a plus if you don’t like to be left on your own when a problem occurs. Another key advantage of the box is that it provides OTA update, something I’ve never seen in other mini PCs or set-top box I’ve tried, and will avoid you going through, sometimes cumbersome, update procedures.
G-Box Midnight MX2 Unboxing Pictures
I’ve received the device in the following package.
The box contains G-Box Midnight MX2 set-top box, a user’s manual in English and Chinese, an AV cable, a 5V/2A power supply, and an infrared remote control. There’s also an A4 paper that serves as a quick start guide and provides warranty information. One interesting point is that you can update the box with a third party firmware WITHOUT losing your warranty. This is quite rare to be noticed. However, you’ll be required to pay for shipping charge if you brick your device with such firmware.
Let’s have a closer look at the device’s ports. On one side, we’ve got a USB port (OTG?), SPDIF out, AV out, HDMI out, Ethernet, and the power jack, and on another side, 3 more USB ports, and an SD card slot.
If you like unboxing videos, please have a look at the one I’ve shot.
First Boot, Settings and First Impressions
There’s no HDMI cable, so let’s find one to connect to the Box and the TV, together with an Ethernet cable for connectivity, and connect the power to get started. You’ll also need to add 2 AAA batteries in the remote control. During the very first boot, you’ll be taken through a wizard to select your Language (English, simplified Chinese or traditional Chinese), adjust the screen position if needed, and configure Ethernet and/or Wi-Fi. There are 2 launchers available: a stock Android Home Screen or the 3D launcher shown below. The custom launcher is IMHO much better when using an IR remote.
3D Launcher (Click to Enlarge)
The 3D launcher will provide access to “Online Cinema” (XBMC/Netflix), Games, Video Chat, Settings, Web Navigation (with bookmarks to famous websites), and Local Apps (pre-installed Video, Music and Picture apps) sub menus. The interface feels just a little sluggish to me during the transitions, but still usable.
I’ve previously used a mini PC with stock Android and an IR remote control, and that was a pretty bad experience. But thanks to the 3D launcher and XBMC the experience is pretty good with the remote provided. However, if you’re going to use other part of Android, it’s not a good idea to use the remote, even though it has a “Cursor” button that allows you to move the cursor with the arrow keys. Please don’t do it, this will be bad for your mental health and family harmony. Thank you. Seriously, I strongly recommend connect a USB or wireless keyboard or mouse, or purchase an RF remote with a gyro if you plan to do things like web browsing, or use other apps made for a touch screen.
In the settings menu, you’ll have to option to configure Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet for connectivity. The display menu will let you choose the video ouput resolution (480p/i, 576p/i, 720p50, 720p60, 1080i50, 1080i60, or 1080p60), as well as CVBS/YUV output modes. Unfortunately, my TV failed to detect both CVBS (composite) and YUV (component) outputs, and would just report “No Signal”. The audio settings will let you choose between PCM (downsampling), SPDIF out, or HDMI pass-through. There are no Developer Options at all, as the menu is hidden. Finally, looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the device name is indeed “Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2″, and it’s running Android 4.2.1 with Kernel 3.0.50. The firmware comes already rooted,
Google Play app in pre-installed, and I could installed all applications I tried such as ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant,Angry Birds Star Wars, YouTube, Facebook, etc… They could all run fine, but many Benchmark would just hand the machine. Interestingly, it’s still possible to turn off the device with the remote when Android hangs, and it’s a true power off (not standby), so a small micro-processor must be handling the remote power off button and the power logic.
Apart from the benchmark failing to run, the firmware was rather smooth, and stable. You can have a look at a 5 minute demo showing boot time, 3D launcher, XBMC menu and video playback performance, and settings “walk through”. No commentary, only background music.
Video Playback in XBMC
Since the box is promoted as an XBMC device, I won’t test video playback the usual way (e.g. MX Player), but I’ll just use XBMC directly to play videos from SAMBA shares. XBMC is very smooth being rendered at about 50 fps.
I used audio downmixing to playback those files, but, at least in theory, you can also select HDMI or SPDIF pass-through if your equipment (TV / Home Theather) supports it.
Finally I’ve played several movies (AVI, MKV, VOB…), they could all play just fine, and I could not notice any audio/video sync issues.
Time to disable Ethernet and connect to my Wi-Fi router to test Wi-Fi performance. I transferred a 278 MB video files between SAMBA and the internal flash, and at first I thought something was wrong with my setup, simply because the transfer took 2:00 (2.32 MB/s), which is must faster than any other mini PCs or set-top box I’ve tried before. The previous record was held by Measy U2C which managed to transfer the same file in 2m46s (1.67MB/s), so that’s a massive 39% improvement over the best device I’ve tested. Just to make sure, I had to try the same test with MK908 again, and it would transfer the files at 1.44MB/s.
I had to try if high bitrate videos could be played smoothly:
big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK
I also tried h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv for fun, but obviously 40Mbps is just too demanding for Wi-Fi, so after the first few seconds of playback the video became very choppy.
I’m not sure what they have done with Wi-Fi, but they have done it right, and made all other mini PCs and STBs look like junk when it comes to Wi-Fi performance.
G-Box Midnight MX2 Benchmarks
Both Antutu and Quadrant hung the device at start time, so I used the remote to power off and on the media player, and decided to use another benchmark: Nenamark 2. Damn! Same results. OK, I thought, benchmark are not that important since it’s a known platform, but let’s check CPU information, with CPU / RAM / DEVICE identifier. Same result! It looks like this device really does not like to be ask “private questions”. Finally, I was able to run Vellamo benchmark.
Vellamo HTML 5 score (1157) puts it between Sony Tablet S (Nvidia Tegra 2) and Samsung Galaxy S2 (Exynos 4210), which are also devices based on dual core Cortex A9 processor, so this score seems about right.
Inside G-Box Midnight MX2
After removing the four screws at the bottom of the enclosure, we can access at the hardware which is composed of a baseboard (HD18 V2.2) and a CPU board (A13_V1.0). After a quick search, we can find HD18 set-top box based on AMLogic AML8726-M3 which just looks the same, so I assume Matricom, or their manufacturer, used the same baseboard and casing design, and replaced the CPU module with one featuring AML8726-M6.
GBox Midnight MX2 Board (Click to Enlarge)
We’ll find the connectors and components on this side of the board including the 4 USB ports, SPDIF, HDMI, and AV outputs, Ethernet and the Wi-Fi/Bt module (Realtek), the SD card slot, an LED, and the IR sensor. You’ll also notice the heatsink on the processor to help keep the device cool during operation. I could not find connections for the serial console, maybe removing the heatsink would provide access to the right pads. As pointed out in one comment, the 4 pads on the left of the RAM chips could indeed be the UART connection.
On the other side however, there’s not much to see…
G-Box Midnight is one of the best media player I’ve reviewed. During my few hours of testing, it operated smoothly and, benchmark issues put aside, reliably. XBMC is working just fine, and it could play most files I threw at it. The exceptions being some MPEG-2 files with incorrect aspect ratio, Real Video files make XBMC exit, WebM 1080p can’t be played smoothly, and Elephant Dream shows only a black screen. Audio decoding was perfect with all files I tried, and I did not experience any audio/video sync issues. XBMC results are actually very close to what I could achieve with Tronsmart Prometheus, especially since the latest firmware is said to fix audio/video sync issues. Two characteristics make this device stand above the rest:
OTA Updates – Not available on any other media players or mini PCs I’ve used. I haven’t been able to try it as there’s no update available right now.
Wi-Fi performance – 40% to 100% performance improvement over the competition.
If you’re going to use this device mostly a a media player, the remote control is really nice to have, as you can just use it as a normal set-top box, with little things like a play/pause button not available with other devices. Real power off is also a positive as it’s not seen in most other devices. However, to use any other Android apps, just get yourself another input device (keyboard, mouse or “fly mouse”) for your own sanity.
The only major problem I encountered is that composite and component outputs do not work at all with my TV, so I don’t know if I have a defective unit, or it’s due to a firmware issue. There are also new things I’d like to be implemented like multi-user supports which is supposed to be implemented in Android 4.2, and a Miracast Display support in order to use your Miracast Certified tablet or smartphone as a Miracast Source.
Even though XBMC works very well in Android now, some of you may still prefer having XBMC running in Linux, and it’s likely we’ll eventually see builds for the G-Box Midnight MX2, as the community provided those for the first generation G-Box Midnight. You may have to be patient though.
Since the beginning of the year, we’ve started to see more and more Android media player with a camera that can be apposed on top of your TV such as the Archos TV Connect. Let’s call them “Android-on-TV” boxes / media players. Several Chinese manufacturers are also selling this type of device, but none of them have brand recognition in the West. TP-Link, however, is relatively well known for its cheap routers, and the company has introduced the TPmini powered by a dual core processor with 1GB RAM, 4GB flash, and a 2.0MP camera.
Here are the specs of the device:
SoC – Dual core ARM Cortex-A9 processor @ 1.6 GHz + Quad core ARM Mali 400 GPU (They did not say, but it looks like Rockchip RK3066 to me)