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MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro Windows 10 Pro mini PC Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing & Teardown

August 11th, 2017 6 comments

While I reviewed MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC last year, I found out the fanless mini PC based on Intel Atom X5-Z8300 processor performed well, even matching some Atom X7-Z8700 and Braswell systems in some cases, and offered some BIOS features not always found in competitor models, with the only real downside being the 32GB eMMC flash with average performance. Since then, it’s become quite popular becoming the best seller on Amazon US in the mini PC category, outselling devices like ASUS Chromebox and Apple Mac Mini, and the company has now launched a new variant called MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro with Windows 10 Pro, an upgraded Intel Atom X5-Z8350 processor, and an included VESA mount making it more suitable for enterprise applications such as digital signage, point-of-sales, and thin client.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro Specifications

Highlights show differences against Z83-4 model:

  • SoC – Intel Atom x5-Z8350 “Cherry Trail” quad core processor @ 1.44 GHz / 1.92 GHz (Turbo) with 12 EU Intel Graphics HD graphics 400 @ 200 / 500 MHz (2W SDP)
  • System Memory –  4GB DDR3L
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC 5.0 flash + micro SD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 Hz, and mini DisplayPort (only support mini DP to D-sub conversion or direct Mini DP to MiniDP/DP connection, bot mini DP to HDMI or DVI)
  • Audio I/O – HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.2
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x USB 3.0 port supporting phone charging while the PC is turned off
  • Misc – Power button and LED, RTC battery, Kensington lock ready
  • Power Supply – 12V/3A
  • Dimensions – 12.8 x 12.8 x 2.75 cm
  • Weight – ~350 grams

So from the mini PC point of view on the processor has changed, but it comes with Windows 10 Pro 64-bit instead of Windows 10 Home 64-bit, and as we’ll see below supports VESA mount.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro Unboxing

I’ve just received an unexpected review sample this morning, so I’ll start by doing an unboxing and teardown post, before completing the review with Windows 10 Pro in a few weeks.

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The package lists the main selling points of NEO Z83-4 Pro fanless mini PCs with Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, VESA mount, and the main target: industrial and commercial applications.

The other side of the package lists the specifications mentioned above.

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When you first open the package, and take out the mini PC, you’ll find out it’s already clipped to the VESA mount, but it’s very easy remove it by pushing the top of the clips.

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The mini PC also ships with an external WiFi antenna, a HDMI cable, 6 screws for the VESA mount (only four are normally needed), a 12V/3A power supply and power cord, MINIX product brochure, and MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro setup guide.

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The ports are exactly the same as in MINIX NEO Z83-4 unboxing post, but last time I forgot to mention the pinhole close to the WiFi antenna connector is used to reset the CMOS memory in case of issues.

 

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro VESA Mount Installation

If you want to leverage the VESA mount, you’ll need to find a compatible TV or monitor, and tighten the mount to the back of the display with four screws.

Then it’s easy just clip the mini PC to the back. No tools required for that last step.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro Teardown

In order to open the case, we need to take out the rubber pads, and remove the four screws underneath.

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The bottom cover should then come off fairly easily, and the board and thermal design appear to be identical to the ones used in MINIX NEO Z83-4 with a large heatsink covering the processor, storage, memory, and (Realtek) Gigabit transceiver, that makes contact with a thermal pad glued to the bottom of the case.

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I’ve not removed the heatsink since this time, but since the company still uses an eMMC 5.0 flash, they certainly went with the same Samsung KLMBG4GEND-B031 flash since it’s the fastest 32GB eMMC 5.0 flash from Samsung, and SKHynix SDRAM chips.

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The bottom of the board comes with the same Realtek ALC5645 audio codec, and Winbond 25Q64FWSIG 64Mbit SPI flash.

The original MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC sells for $179.99, so what can we expect for the Pro version with the VESA mount, a faster processor, and a Windows 10 Pro license? It’s actually not that higher, as MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro sells for US$199.99 including shipping on sites like GeekBuying. If you already own MINIX NEO Z83-4, and are just interested in the VESA mount, it’s called MINIX M-83, and sold for $14.90 on Amazon.

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17

March 1st, 2017 37 comments

MINIX NEO U9-H is the successor of MINIX NEO U1 media hub with an upgrade from four to eight cores with Amlogic S912 processor, as well as added support for VP9 and HDR. The company sent me a sample, and I’ve already checked out NEO U9-H hardware in the fist part of the review, so I’ll report by testing results in Android 6.0 and Kodi 17 in the second part. Since the user interface & many of the features have not changed, I’ll refer to MINIX NEO U1 review from time to time.

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First Boot, OTA Firmware, Settings and First Impressions

I connected the MINIX A3 air mouse RF to one of the USB port, a USB 3.0 hard drive to another, and a USB hub to the last one with Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, a USB keyboard to take screenshots for the review, and a USB webcam. There’s also micro USB port, which you could use with the provided USB OTG adapter, but I have not used it. Last I also added USB powered speakers to the USB hub, and connected them to the 3.5mm audio jack. I also connected HDMI and optical audio cable to Onky TX-NR636 AV receiver, and an Ethernet cable to a Gigabit Ethernet swtich. Finally, I added the provided 5V/3A power supply, and pressed the power button on to start it all up. A typical boot takes around 30 seconds, and the first time, you’ll be asked to select between MINIX METRO or Launcher3 “Homes”.

I prefer MINIX METRO (below) as it’s more suited to larger screens, especially when you sit several meters from the TV. It’s the same launcher which I already described in MINIX NEO U1, except possibly for the weather indicator in the time/date window, and the mass storage devices ‘ Label is shown on the top right corner. I’d wish the WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth,and VPN icons on the top left were clickable, but they are not.

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Launcher3 is basically the launcher you’d get with stock Android plus MINIX background image. You’ll also notice the larger mouse pointer which makes it convenient to use several meters away.

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The box comes with some pre-installed apps like ES File Explorer, Kodi, YouTube, Google Play, AirDroid, MINIX Power Menu & System update apps, YouTube, Skype,  and so on.

MINIX has supported OTA firmware updates in all of their devices, so I tried with System Update app, but I could not test it there was no update to MHC16G20170216 firmware at the time.If you want to get an idea of how long you may expect to get firmware update, you can look at the forum for older products such as MINIX NEO X8-H. Eleven firmware updates have been released with the first “stock” firmware released on November, 2014 and the last (FW011) firmware released in January 2017, so it has been supported for over 2 years so far.

The Settings app is the same as with other Amlogic devices, and similar to MINIX NEO U1, so I’ll focuses on different and/or specific features.

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Once you enter the Display menu, you’ll find some typical features as well as  “Force RGB output” which may solve color / pink screen issues with some older TV, and HDR specific to Amlogic S905X/S912 processor.

If you enter the Audio settings, you’ll get options to select PCM, HDMI or SPDIF audio (pass-through), as usual, but there’s  also the Device Manager menu to select audio input and output devices.

In my setup I had three input device to choose from: on-board Mic input (3.5mm mic jack), USB-Audio – SAGE AiR Mouse (MINIX A3), and USB-Audio – Venus USB 2.0 camera, which will be important for voice commands, and video conferencing.

The output devices selection will be less useful for most people, as you can only select Auto or HDMI, as 3.5mm audio jack and S/PDIF are all outputted at the same time, and, only USB devices such as a USB sound card will show up.

You also have the same HDMI CEC, Playback settings and power key definition (standby or power off) as in MINIX NEO U1. There are three options for HDMI self-adaptation (automatic frame rate switching):

  • OFF – no processing
  • Level 1 – 23.976fps videos are processed under 1080p60Hz mode;
  • Level 2 – Switching TV’s output according to source video fps

If you go to Advanced Settings you’ll reach Android Marshmallow settings, and the main difference compared to competing Amlogic TV box, but already present on MINIX NEO U1 are “MCU settings” where you can enable autostart (no need to press power button), RTC alarm, and upgrade the MCU firmware.If we go into the Storage & USB section, we’ll find out a 10.89GB partition is available to the user, with about 1 GB used.

The system could also mount both NTFS and exFAT partitions, but not EXT-4.

If we go into About MediaBox, we’ll see the model number is indeed NEO-U9-H, and that it runs Android 6.01 on top of Linux 3.14.29 with the Android security patch dated on August 1st, 2016. The firmware is not rooted, but if that’s something you need I’m pretty sure a method will show on the forums in due time, although I’d prefer a switch in Android option to root and unroot the box as needed.

I shortly testing MINIX IR remote control and it worked at least for up to 10 meters. However, I really recommend getting MINIX A3, or if you don’t need voice input, MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, as it makes a big difference when using various Android apps. If you already own a box with MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, don’t worry that it will interface with MINIX A3 and control two devices at the same time, as my A2 Lite would not work with my A3 USB dongle. Voice input works fine as tested with Voice Search app. Press the microphone key on the remote to enable it, and you can now use “OK Google”, as you’d do on your smartphone. Just make sure Audio device input is set to the remote control. If you want to turn off the microphone, simply press the microphone key on the remote control. MINIX NEO A2 worked well up to 10 to 12 meters, and I could even see the mouse cursor at that distance.

I could install all apps I needed through Google Play, and the free version of Riptide GP2 via Amazon Underground. However, when I tried the free version of Riptide GP: Renegade it to “update your Amazon App to Amazon Underground to start experiencing actually free”. I had already isntall it, but clicked on Update Now anyway, and after update I had the exact same error message.

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That’s probably an issue with Amazon itself than with the box.

Power handling appears to be implemented exactly the same way as MINIX NEO U1, so you can go into standby, reboot, or power off the device with the remote control, or the power button. You can also power the device back on using either the IR remote control or MINIX A3 air mouse.

Power consumption is also similar to the previous model, as measured with or without hard drive using a power meter:

  • Power off – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby – 0.4 to 1.1 Watts (most of the time on 0.4)
  • Idle – 3.0 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.2 Watts with the HDD LED off. Be patient it may take about one minute to reach this power level with a hard drive connected.
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.0~5.4 Watts

As expected, MINIX NEO U9-H dissipate power well thanks to its large heatsink. I measured 36°C and 37°C respectively on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6.0, and the temperature went up to 44°C and 49°C after playing a 2-hour 1080p H.264 video in Kodi, and 47°C and 54°C after playing and Beach Buggy Racing & Riptide GP2 for around 30 minutes. I quickly went to CPU-Z after exiting the game, and found the CPU temperature was 71°C.

So my first experience with MINIX NEO U9-H was even better than the very good one I had with MINIX NEO U1, since some of the bugs found the first firmware for the previous model, e.g. device stuck in standby mode, video output falling back from 4K @ 60 Hz to 1080p60 from time to time…, could not be reproduced with the new model.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 17.1-RC1, DRM Info

MINIX recommends the use of their XBMC MINIX Edition fork of Kodi for MINIX NEO U1, but with their new model, the company told me Kodi 17 worked well in U9-H, so I just use the pre-installed version: Kodi 17.1-RC1.

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I’m tested various video container formats, and video/audio codec playing files from a SAMBA share via (Gigabit Ethernet), unless otherwise noted.

Linaro media samples and some Elecard H.265 samples could also play fine except for VP8 1080p sample:

  • 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
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p – OK; 1080p: Not perfectly smooth (Note: software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I also enabled automatic frame rate switching in Kodi and Android settings (HDMI Self-adaption level 3), and it worked very well, which I think is a first amond the 8 or 9 Amlogic S912 I’ve tested so far.

Next up are some videos with various bit rates:

  • ED_HD.avi – Not smooth at all
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – First time: image freezes after a few seconds; second try: OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

So the Jellyfish video plays better than in MINIX NEO U1 (Amlogic S905), but some other problems have showed up with other videos.

I’ve then checked out audio capabilties of the TV box with PCM (stereo) output, as well as HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi. I also tested PCM (downmix) with MX Player to make sure those DTS and Dolby licenses are indeed valid for any apps. I could configure Kodi to pass-through AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS-HD.

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MINIX NEO U1 did not support DTS-HD when it launched in December 2015 (firmware updates have fixed that), but MINIX NEO U9-H passed most tests just fine.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MX Player / Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF, and will show as PCM 2.0 or Dolby D 5.1 depending on whether AC3 transcoding is enabled in Kodi
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Switch to AC3 audio track (beep), as TrueHD is not supported TrueHD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK OK (DTS-HD Master) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK OK (DTS-HD HR) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS:X OK OK DTS-HD Master* OK (DTS 5.1)

* My AV receiver (Onkyo TX-NR636) does not support Atmos nor DTS:X, so the fallback to respectively TrueHD and DTS HD Master is normal. So overall HDMI and optical S/PDIF pass-through is working well with my test samples, downmixing from Dolby Digital and DTS to stereo audio works, and the only problem is the lack of downmixing of Dolby TrueHD / Atmos audio in video apps that respect Dolby & DTS licenses.

4K video can now be played pretty well in Kodi, almost as well as with MX Player:

  • 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, 24 fps) – Not smooth at all, and the problem gets worse when automatic frame rate switching is enabled.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, but it played for about 2 seconds, then buffered for a few more seconds before resuming playback normally
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S912 VPU)
  • 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) – Plays at around 2 fps (as expected since it uses software decode as S912 does not support 10-bit H.264)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – USB hard drive playback: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but not always perfectly smooth as with all Amlogic S912 TV boxes.

It’s all good, except for one 10-bit H.265 video that won’t play smoothly at all. Other problems are related to limitation of Amlogic S912 processor like the lack of support for 10-bit H.264, and 4K H.264 is limited to 30 fps, and very high bitrate videos (~240 Mbps) cannot be played smoothly.

Sintel and AMAT ISO blu-ray files and 1080i MPEG videos could play just fine. Lower resolution Hi10p (10-bit H.264) could play, but 1080p was not that smooth:

  • Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – OK for video, audio and subtitles
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – OK for audio and susbtitles, but the video was not smooth

While my TV (LG 42UB820T) does not support 3D, but I played some stereoscopic 3D videos to find out if they could be decode:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Stays in UI
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Some movies fron my library with various container/codec combination such as VOB, IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4 and MKV could all play just fine. However, I noticed some micro audio cuts in some videos with AC3 and HDMI audio pass-through enabled. I could not reproduce the issue with all videos, and using optical S/PDIF instead of HDMI solved the issue. Finally, I could play a complete 2-hour video. You’ll be all sample mentioned above here.

I’ve decided not to report Antutu Video Tester in my reviews, since Antutu appears to have stopped development, and the app has been removed from Google Play.

DRM Info results are however quite interesting.

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MINIX NEO U9-H supports both Widevine K1 and Microsoft Playready DRM, which means you could get full HD and 4K UHD resolution for some premium apps. However, it is not a certified Netflix device, so if you install Netflix app from Google Play, you’d still be limited to standard definition. However, as previously reported, you should be able to install a Netflix apk that allows HD resolution for any Widevine L1 capable device. I don’t have a Netflix account, so I have not tested myself. YouTube is working fine up to 1080p.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve transfered a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal flash for three times using ES File Explorer, and averaged the results in order to evaluate WiFi performance, testing both 802.11ac and [email protected] GHz. Results are sadly underwhelming. [Update: WiFI performance is OK, but WiFi + SAMBA performance suffers. That’s likely an Amlogic Android SDK issue. See comments]

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I’ve highlighted both MINIX NEO U1 and NEO U9-H results in the chart above as they make use of the same Ampak module for WiFi, but I got much different results, despite the same testing conditions.

802.11ac performance was 2.3 MB/s on average, and 802.11n achieved 1.5 MB/s both of which are below average, but consistent with the performance I got with other Amlogic S912 devices.  The chart however makes it worse than it really is, because download speed was 5.6 MB/s for 802.11ac, and 2.1 MB/s for 802.11n, with upload transfer rate being much lower, and causing the average to be rather low. Note that WiFi results may vary a lot depending on your setup.

I repeated the same file transfer, but with a 885MB file, for Gigabit Ethernet, and the average performance (10.05 MB/s) is somewhat OK, but I got the same behavior as with MINIX NEO U1 with the transfer much faster for download (16.4MB/s) , and slower for upload (7.64 MB/s).

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Since in most case the eMMC flash is the bottleneck for file transfers over Gigabit Ethernet, I also ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test raw dual duplex performance, and it’s not too bad:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO U9-H advertises itself properply as NEO U9-H, and not some other funny code, and I had no problems pairing it with Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone, and could transfer a few photos. I could also connect X1T bluetooth earbuds and used it while watching some YouTube videos. I skipped Sixaxais app testing (for PS3 gamepads) since the firmware is not rooted.

Storage

My USB hard drive has four partitions for NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT and BTRFS, and only the NTFS/exFAT partitions could be mounted. A FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted

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

USB storage performance was tested with A1 SD bench app, and read performance was very good (for a USB 2.0 port) with both file systems, but as usual exFAT is very slow to write to @ 6.66 MB/s.

The results were very good for the internal storage with 119.86MB/s read speed and 45.99 MB/s write speed. Note that the read speed is cached, meaning it should be faster than if read directly on the storage device itself, but probably not that different considering theoretical read speed is 285 MB/s for the flash, probably lower for the eMMC controller in Amlogic S912.

Internal Storage Read & Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Overall I found that applications started fast, and I had no slowdown or “app not responding” due to I/O access to the eMMC flash.

USB Webcam

I connected the UVC webcam to the box shown in the first picture of this review, logged in to Skype, and successfully run the Echo/Service audio call test, and made a video calls. I had problems last year for MINIX NEO U1 on Google Hangouts, but NEO U9-H works perfectly well with Google Hangouts.

Gaming

Amlogic S912 is know a well known platform, as gaming works just as well as on other devices, if not better since cooling is well implemented.  First, I played Candy Crush Saga with NEO A2 air mouse, and switch to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing using maximum graphics settings. Both games played perfectly smoothly. As with other Amlogic S912, Riptide GP2 is a bit more demanding, playing very smoothly with default settings, the framerate felt lower with maximum graphics settings, probably around 25 fps most of the time, with some drops to ~15 fps from time to time.

I also played both 3D racing games for a total of 30 minutes, and performance was constant throughout, meaning the large heatsink is doing its job in preventing CPU and/or GPU throttling.

MINIX NEO U9-H Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports an octa-core Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The model number is NEO-U9-H (q200), with 10.89 GB internal storage, 14790 MB RAM, and a framebuffer resolution set to 1920×1080.

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The first time I ran Antutu 6.x, the device achieved about 38,500 points quite lower than 41,000+ points I got in most other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I ran it a short time after boot, so maybe there was background tasks at the time, I retried later, I got a 40,543 points, more in line with other competing TV boxes.

I also ran Vellamo 3.x benchmark to double check for issues.

MINIX NEO U9-H achieved 1,239 points, 912 points and 2,338 points for respectively multicore, metal and Chrome Browser tests, which compares to 1,130, 1,012 points and 2,758 points (Not Chrome Browser, Stock Browser). Multicore results has a yellow mark because it failed one of the test, just like M12N, but not other Amlogic S912 boxes:

Sysbench issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode

Conclusion

MINIX did again a good job with MINIX NEO U9-H thanks to very good hardware, stable & responsive firmware implementation, working smoothly at all times thanks to good thermal design. 4K video playback works well, I think it’s the first time I see automatic frame rate switching work on Amlogic S912 processor,  and audio pass-through is working fine with TrueHD and DTS-HD. The first version of the firmware also has less bugs than the one I reviewed on MINIX NEO U1 media hub, and slightly better performance. NEO U9-H also adds new features such as HDR, 4K VP9 decoding, Dolby & DTS license used for audio downmixing in all apps, and DRM Widevine Level 1 + Microsoft PlayReady. The only real downside compared to NEO U1 is that WiFi performance is not quite as good, despite using the same Ampak wireless module.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 OS
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported; HDR should be supported too (not tested)
  • Very good Kodi 17 support with 4K H.265 (10-bit), VP9 and H.264 video playback,automatic frame rate switching
  • Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS HD and TrueHD audio pass-through working via HDMI and S/PDIF (for supported formats).
  • Dolby & DTS license means those audio formats work in all apps.
  • Well implemented power handling with off/standby/reboot mode, managed via an upgradable MCU, low off and idle power consumption
  • Widevine L1 and MicroSoft PlayReady DRM suppored
  • USB webcam working with Skype and Google Hangouts
  • OTA firmware upgrade with frequent update expected (based on previous models history)
  • Active support forums

CONS (and bugs)

  • Some videos with AC3 have micro audio cuts when HDMI pass-through is enabled, at least on my AV receiver. The problem goes away via optical S/PDIF
  • TrueHD dowmixing to stereo audio did not work in MX Player and Video Player apps.
  • WiFi performance is below average for both 802.11n and 802.ac, but similar to other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Your mileage may vary. [Update: See comments’ section. WiFi performances looks, but combining SAMBA + WiFi is problematic. Likely an Amlogic Android 6.0 SDK issue]
  • List of apps shown in chronological order instead of alphabetical
  • A few videos do not play smoothly in Kodi but should: VP8 @ 1080p, one 10-bit HEVC video with no audio, “elephant dream” sample, “HD DVD” sample.
  • Potential buffering issue with some rare videos – Starts fast, plays for 1 or 2 seconds, buffers for 10 seconds then play again normally

If you’re going to spend the money on MINIX NEO U9-H, I really recommend you add NEO A2 Lite or NEO 3 air mouse, with the latter adding microphone input. Both air mice have the same design, feel comfortable in your hand, and work well as remote control, air mouse, and keyboard, as long as it’s for typing short texts like search query, user name / password, etc…

If you already own MINIX NEO U1, there’s probably little reason to upgrade, as performance will feel similar, except if you need 4K VP9, HDR, Widevine L1, or/and Microsoft PlayReady DRM support.

MINIX NEO U9-H media hub + NEO A3 air mouse sell for $159.90 / 149.90 GBP on Amazon US and Amazon UK, and are listed on GeekBuying, GearBest, and other online retailers with sales starting officially on March 3rd outside of Amazon.

Review of MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub & MINIX A3 Air Mouse – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

February 24th, 2017 14 comments

MINIX showcased MINIX NEO U9-H TV box at IFA 2016 last year, but was not ready to launch the product or provide the full details yet. The company has now completed development of their Amlogic S912-H octa-core TV box, and sent a review sample for evaluation on CNX Software together with their latest MINIX A3 air mouse with voice command function. I’ll start by listing the specifications of the TV box, take some pictures, and tear it apart to check out how it’s been designed in the first part of the review, and test the firmware in the second part which I intend to post in a few days.

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub specifications

One of the main difference over other Amlogic S912, is the -H suffix which means Dolby and DTS licenses have been paid for so all apps will handle those audio formats:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912-H octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC 5.0 flash, and micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz with HDMI CEC, and HDR support
  • Audio I/O – Via HDMI output, optical S/PDIF, 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, Kensington Lock
  • Dual DRM Support – Play Ready 3.0 + Google Widevine Level 1
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A

The device runs Android 6.0.1 with XBMC MINIX Edition. The box does not officially support Netflix, but this apk likely based on a previously reported Netflix hack, should give you better quality than the Netflix app from Google Play.

MINIX NEO U9-H Unboxing Photos

I’ve received the box and air mouse in familiar looking packages (if you’ve ever bought anything from MINIX).

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The TV box has exactly the same shape as previous model, and ships with a WiFi antenna, a HDMI cable, a USB OTG adapter, a micro USB to USB cable in case you want to connect the box to your computer, a 5V/3A power adapter, a MINIX IR remote control, and a user’s manual in English, German, and Chinese.

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The front of the device has a plastic window for the IR receiver, and the power LED, while one of the side includes the power button, three USB 2.0 host ports, a micro SD slot, a micro USB OTG port, and a Kensington lock. The rest of the ports can be found on the rear panel: 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack, HDMI 2.0a output, optical S/PDIF, Gigabit Ethernet, and the power jack.

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You’ll also find the recovery pin hole on the bottom of the case, more exactly on the left side on the picture below.

MINIX NEO A3 Air Mouse

NEO A3 air mouse specifications include:

  • Connectivity – 2.4GHz transmission with up to 10 meters range
  • Sensors – 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer
  • Remote side and QWERTY keyboard side
  • Built-in microphone for voice input.
  • Power – 2x AAA batteries
  • Support for Android, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows

The remote ships with a user’s manual in English, and an RF dongle located in one of the two battery compartments located on the keyboard side.

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It’s actually very similar to MINIX NEO A2 Lite I’ve been using in all of my reviews for about a year.

MINIX NEO A2 Lite (Left and Top) vs NEO A3 (Right and Bottom) – Click to Enlarge

The main difference on the remote side is the microphone & settings button in the new model replacing respectively the “enter button”, which I never use since the Android button does the same, and the mute button. The keyboard side is very similar, except for some adding characters on the arrow keys.

The remote fits well in bigger hands, and I’m overall happy with my experience with A2 Lite, but I wish that space, dot, and enter did not have alternate keys, as I often have to press the Fn button to switch between mode. For example typing an IP address is not that convenient, but one the other side I understand space is limited on such keyboard, and you may have to compromise. The air mouse works well with MINIX devices, and can also be used with other devices, except that you can’t turn on TV boxes from other brands with the remote. This would require some IR learning function which has not been implemented.

MINIX NEO U9-H and NEO A3 Unboxing Video

MINIX NEO U9-H Teardown

Opening NEO U9-H is straightforward, as you just need to remove the four rubber pads on the bottom of the enclosure, and loosen four screws.

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The bottom of the board includes two SkHynix H5TQ4G63CFR-RDC DDR3 SDRAM chips (1GB RAM), the recovery switch, and a 3V battery for the real-time clock (RTC).

It’s then very easy to complete take out the board, as you can simply pull it out. MINIX is always serious when it comes to cooling, and again they’ve used a large heatsink in their latest model, which means there should be no CPU or GPU throttling issue. The two wireless antennas are connected to u.FL connector with some glue to keep them in place during transport.

The heatsink has a thermal that fits right on top of Amlogic S912-H SoC, which on the top of the board is connected to two more  SKHynix chip brings the total memory to 2GB, and a 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash with 285/40 MB/s read/write sequential performance, and 8K/10K random R/W IOPS, so I/O performance should be very good.

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Network connectivity is achieved via a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver, and a RJ45 jack with built-in transformer, as well as the same Ampak AP6356S wireless module found in MINIX NEO U1, and supporting 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi up to 867 Mbps (2×2 MIMO) and Bluetoth 4.1 LE. Other components include Genesys Logic GL852G USB 2.0 hub controller, ES8323 audio codec, and Nuvoton MINI54ZDE ARM Cortex M0 MCU to handle power controls. wjhich were also used in NEO U1 TV box. MINIX also kept the same debug headers with JDEBUG1 with 3.3V/Tx/Rx and GND, ICE1 possibly for Nuvotron MCU, and JUART1 with Tx/Rx/GND. So the hardware looks just as solid as in NEO U1, and the eMMC flash that has been upgraded to a new and faster model, which should help a bit with boot time, apps loading times, and overall performance.

That’s it for the hardware, we’ll have to see if firmware is working as well as on their MINIX NEO U1 model, and I’ll publish a review sometimes next week after completing testing.

MINIX NEO U9-H will be officially released on Friday March 3, with pricing as follows:

  • MINIX NEO U9-H = US$139.90 / 154.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO A3 = US$34.90 / 39.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO U9-H + NEO A3 = US$159.90 / 174.90EURO

GearBest has already listed the device on their site, but it’s currently out of stock, since it will only launch in one week. However, MINIX also told me they had some limited stocks in their Amazon US, Amazon UK, and other Amazon stores.

[Update: the second part of the review is up @ MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17]

Amlogic S905 vs Amlogic S912 Benchmarks Comparison

September 19th, 2016 19 comments

Amlogic has unveiled three new processors this year with Amlogic S905X, S912 and S905D. The latter is not found in devices yet, we’ve seen Amlogic S905X is a bit slower than Amlogic S905, but surely Amlogic S912 with eight Cortex A53 cores and its “multi-core high performance 3D GPU”, namely ARM Mali-T820MP3 must deliver a significant boost in performance. I now have full benchmarks results for two devices: M12N MXQ Plus and Qintaix Q912. M12N is the fastest devices of the two according to benchmarks, and I’ve been told YokaTV KB2 has about the same Antutu score (41K points) as M12N, so I feel confident enough that we have relevant benchmark’s results to compare Amlogic S912 and Amlogic S905 performance using M12N (MXQ Plus) and MINIX NEO U1 TV boxes.

amlogic-s905-vs-amlogic-s912

The comparison table below contains scores for Antutu 6.x, Vellamo 3.x, and 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme. MINI NEO U1 runs Android 5.1, while M12N runs Android 6.0, so once/if MINIX NEO U1 gets an Android 6.0 results may differ, likely improve a little bit. It’s also possible Android 6.0 SDK is not that mature, and over time, Amlogic S912 results may improve somewhat too, but nevertheless the results give an overview of the performance that you can expect from devices today (September 2016). Results in green means Amlogic S912 is faster.

Amlogic S905 Amlogic S912 Ratio
CPU* Quad core Cortex A53 @ 1.536 GHz Quad core Cortex A53 @ 1.536 GHz +
Quad core Cortex A53 @ 1.0 GHz
GPU Penta-core ARM Mali-450MP ARM Mali-T820MP3
Antutu 6.x
Overall 38,032 41,303 1.09
3D (1920×1080) 3,979 8,782 2.21
UX 15,690 14,902 0.95
CPU 13,458 13,418 1.00
RAM 4,905 4,201 0.86
Vellamo 3.x
Metal 1,235 1,052 0.85
Multicore 1,589 1,422** 0.89
Browser 2,157 2,758 1.28
3DMark – Ice Storm Extreme v1.2
Total score 4,327 5,752 1.33
Graphics score 3,698 5,304 1.43
Physics score 10,689 8,163 0.76

* CPU-Z and other tools will report 2.02 GHz for both processor, since it’s what’s reported by the kernel, but the actual frequency should be limited to 1.536 GHz, although it might be possible to run up the clock to 1.65 GHz with a firmware change. Amlogic S912 is an octa-core processor using big.LITTLE processing, and the LITTLE cores are clocked at 1.0 GHz according to the values returned by the kernel.

** M12N firmware had a problem to complete one of the Multicore tests, so instead I used the results from Qintaix Q912 since all tests passed, and should be more relevant to the actual performance of Amlogic S912.

So overall, there’s very little performance difference between Amlogic S905 and Amlogic S912, except for 3D graphics where the Mali-T820MP3 GPU used in S912 has a slightly edge over the penta-core Mali-450MP used in S905, with performance improvements up to 1.43x in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme graphics score. The Antutu 3D score is 2.21 times higher, but it’s because Mali-T820MP3 supports OpenGL ES 3.1, and Mali-450MP does not.

They are however other advantages of Amlogic S912 over Amlogic S905 TV Boxes including Android 6.0 firmware by default, 4K VP9 hardware decoding, and HDR (High Dynamic Range support). Now, if you don’t care about the last three, there are very little incentives to upgrade from Amlogic S905 to Amlogic S912, and if you don’t own a TV box yet, buying an Amlogic S905 TV box would offer a better price to performance ratio, all other specs being equal.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC Review – Part 2: Windows 10 and Benchmarks

September 8th, 2016 22 comments

I’ve listed specifications and posted photos of MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC in the first part of review, and while NEO Z83-4 is yet another Intel Atom x5-Z8300 device, it’s clear the company has made specific efforts for the thermal design with a large heatsink and aluminum bottom cover, and provided a solid 12V/3A power supply. So in the second part of the review, I’ll check how Windows 10 performs in the device, and run some benchmarks to compare it to other low power Intel mini PCs.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Setup & System Information

If you’ve connected USB mouse and keyboard, HDMI and Ethernet, a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port, and the power cord. Pressing the power button on the right side will boot the device.

minix-neo-z83-4_connected

A typical boot will take around 30 seconds to the desktop. My system was already configured with Z83-4 user, possibly because MINIX tested the device before sending it to me, but for the first boot, users should normally go through Windows 10 setup to select the language, configure networking and so on.

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Click for Original Size

System and Security->System in the control panel shows Z84-3 runs Windows 10 Home 64-bit (activated), and features an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor @ 1.44 GHz with 4GB RAM.minix-neo-z83-4-storageIf we check My Computer we can see the C: drive (eMMC flash partition) has a total capacity of 28.6GB with about 13.1 GB free, and the system also detected partition on my USB hard drive formatted with exFAT and NTFS file systems.

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I’ve take the Device Manager screenshot for people wanting more details about the drivers, and runs HWiNFO64 to show a system summary.

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There’s no surprise here, and the info is basically the same as other x5-Z8300 mini PCs such as Tronsmart Ara X5.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Benchmarks

I’ve only run PCMARK 8 HOME 3.0 Accelerated benchmark, and skipped the “baseline” benchmark, as systems based on Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor have been benchmarked so many times.

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The results (1,543 points) confirms the system runs well, and NEO Z83-4 even slightly beats the more expensive MINIX NGC-1 Braswell mini PC, which achieved 1,492 points in the same test. It’s also better than Voyo V3 Intel Atom x7-Z8700 mini PC, which in theory should have a better score.

3DMarks results are also as expected, and a bit lower than NGC-1 since Intel Celeron N3150 has a faster GPU.

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You can find MINIX NEO Z83-4 detailed results for Sky Driver 1.0, Ice Storm Extreme 1.2, and Fire Strike 1.1. I also ran Ice Storm 1.2 since that one of the tests I use for comparison with other platforms, and for some reasons, it’s significantly lower than Ara X5 (16,000 vs 19,000).

The device got 656.3 points in PassMark 8 benchmark, a result quite lower than other faster mini PC with Atom x7 or Braswell processors, but the benchmark is quite shorter in duration, so CPU throttling is not a factor in most cases.

minix-neo-z83-4_passmark-8

The eMMC flash performance is average however, since 32GB storage device are often a bit slower than their larger counterparts (64 / 128 GB), but still acceptable.

neo-z83-4-crystaldiskmark-emmc-flashI also tested USB 3.0 throughput, and close to 100 MB/s is about where it should be.
neo-z83-4-crystaldiskmark-usb-3-0-ntfs
MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC has good networking options as it supports both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi, and I had no issue connecting to my TP Link AC router the first time.

minix-neo-z83-4_wifi-ac

However, subsequent attempts all failed, with the Device Manager reporting an error with Broadcom 802.11ac WDI SDIO Adapter.

minix-neo-z83-4-broadcom_802-11ac_problemI’m unable to connect to any wireless networks when that happens. But I can either restart the PC, or faster, disable and re-enable the adapter, and I can connect to my two 2.4 GHz networks including one of the same TPLink AC router, but connecting to the 5 GHz access point will always cause the driver to fail…

[Update: I’ve re-tried this morning, and could connect to 5 GHz WiFi… iperf results with full duplex test:

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

WiFI AC performance is quite good in this test. I also performed the test in one direction only (iperf.exe -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104):

That’s Fast Ethernet type of performance, and with my setup it’s an excellent result.

end of update]

So I reverted to Gigabit Ethernet to test the performance with iperf 2 using iperf.exe -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d command line:

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

Performance is OK without being outstanding.

The table below compares the results to some competitors including Tronsmart Ara X5, Kangaroo Mobile Desktop, MINIX NGC-1, Intel NUC5CPYB, Voyo V3, Beelink BT7, and Vorke V1. Results for Ice Storm 1.2 are divided by 20 to make the graphics more readable.

minix-neo-z83-4_vs_ngc-1_vs_tronsmart_ara_x5_vs_voyo-v3_vorke-v1_beelink_bt7One oddity is that NEO Z83-4 has the weakest GPU score, even slightly lower than Tronsmart Ara X5, and storage and passmark results are about equivalent. PCMark 8 is the only benchmark that seems to show the strength of the platforms.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Usability and Stress Testing

I’ve run most of the same test as on other mini PCs with 4GB RAM to see how well they can be used as desktop PC replacement, or at least as an Entry level computer, by running multiple programs, playing games, etc… I replaced my Kodi test, with always the same decent results in those Atom mini PCs, by checking out MINIX options in the BIOS.

  • Multi-tasking – Using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing
    • Loading multiple tab with CNX Software blog in Firefox
    • Playing 1080p YouTube Videos in Firefox 48
    • Playing a flash game (Candy Crush Saga) in Firefox
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • MINIX UEFI Settings

MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC did well for all of those tests considering it’s a long end PC, and the performance is solid and constant. Adobe flash CPU usage was quite high in Firefox, and may perform better in Chrome or Microsoft Edge.

I also ran OCCT 4.4.2 system stress tool for three hours, and the computer stayed cool all the time only reaching 63 C max, with an average CPU frequency of 1.6 GHz between the base frequency (1.44 GHz), and the maximum burst frequency (1.84 GHz).

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MINIX Feature Configuration in BIOS / UEFI

MINIX has also fone some work in the BIOS. So I’ve check their options in Aptio Setup Utility. Press Esc to enter the BIOS when the system boots.

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Then go to Advanced->MINIX Feature Configuration.

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You’ll find option to select between Apple or Nokia/Samsung earphone types for the 3.5mm audio jack, AC Power On if you want the computer to automatically start (without pressing the button) when power is applied, Wake-on-LAN, or RTC wake-up to set a specific date, or specific hour of the day to automatically turn on the computer.

Conclusion

I’ve quite pleased with MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC as the performance is stable, and for desktop tasks just as good, if not better, as some other mini PCs based on more powerful Intel Atom x7-Z8700 and Celeron Braswell processors. I also like the extra options in the BIOS, which are not always found in cheaper models, and the only major downside I found is some issue with Broadcom WiFi driver which reports an issue after attempting to connect to my 5.0 GHz / 802.11ac access point, despite initially working [Update: I tried again the day after, and I had no problem connecting to 802.11ac WiFi with very good performance]. 3D Graphics performance appears to be a little lower than expected too, and storage performance is average, if not below average.

Price is also higher than somewhat similar models, but considering the extra features (802.11ac, 4GB, GbE, UEFI options…), it may still be worth paying a little extra. MINIX NEO Z83-4 is much more aggressively priced compared to MINIX NGC-1, as it will sell for $169.90, 169.90 Euros, or 144.90 GBP once it launches on September 16.

[Update: MINIX NEO Z83-4 can be bought on Geekbuying for $169.99 shipped]

MINIX NEO U9-H 4K HDR Amlogic S912-H Android TV Box Coming in October

September 5th, 2016 21 comments

MINIX may have officially announced MINIX NEO Z83-4 Cherry trail mini PC at IFA 2016, but they also showcased NEO U9-H Android TV box based on an “Octa-core cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-820MP3 GPU”, which the company confirmed to be Amlogic S912-H processor with Dolby and DTS licenses.

MINIX-NEO-U9-HI also asked the company whether they had specs sheet for the new model, but the replied they did not have finalized specifications to share, nor exact pricing and release date. But we can still derive info from a video on HDBlog.it showcasing an early development model at IFA 2016.

MINIX NEO U9-H preliminary specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912-H octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash and micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz with CEC, HDCP 2.2, and HDR/HDR10 support
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF, 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, security lock

The TV box will run Android 6.0.1. We can see the unit in action below (in Italian).

One interesting point is that Widewine Level 1 DRM is supported, so some premium video streaming app will support HD and maybe 4K UHD, and HBO Go might be one of the apps to benefit. HDR videos were also showcased in the video.

HDBlog also mentioned the box should be ready mid October, and expects the price to be around 150 Euros, likely including an air mouse, and VAT.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Fanless mini PC Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

September 2nd, 2016 21 comments

MINIX has just launched a new Windows 10 mini PC with MINIX NEO Z83-4 powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad core processor, 4GB RAM, 32GB storage, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac WiFi, etc.. The company sent me an early review sample, and today I’ll go through the specs, take pictures of the device and accessories, and tear it down to check out the PCBA, and the thermal design.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Specifications

MINIX latest mini PC has slightly higher-0end specifications that most X5-Z8300 computers or sticks:

  • SoC – Intel Atom x5-Z8300 “Cherry Trail” quad core processor @ 1.44 GHz / 1.84 GHz (Turbo) with Intel Gen8 HD graphics (2W SDP)
  • System Memory –  4GB DDR3L
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC 5.0 flash + micro SD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 and mini DP up to 4K @ 30 Hz
  • Audio I/O – HDMI, 3.5mm earphone jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.2
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x USB 3.0 port supporting phone charging while the PC is turned off
  • Misc – Power button and LED, RTC battery, Kensington lock ready
  • Power Supply – 12V/3A
  • Dimensions – 12.8 x 12.8 x 2.75 cm
  • Weight – 350 grams

The mini PC runs Windows 10 Home with a proper license from Microsoft. The BIOS / UEFI also supports Wake on LAN, auto power recovery after power loss, and scheduled power on. Support for Apple/Nokia/Samsung standard headphones for audio input and output can also be enabled or disabled in the BIOS.

The hardware specifications are somewhat similar to Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus, except NEO Z83-4 has more memory (4GB vs 2GB), a mini DisplayPort output, one more USB 2.0 port, support for Gigabit Ethernet, and a more powerful power supply.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Unboxing

The retail looks basically the same as I got with MINIX NGC-1.
NEO-Z83-4-Package
The bottom of the package lists the specifications, and provides links to MINIX Facebook page, and MINIX forums.

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The computer ships with a 12V/3A power supply made by Delta Electronics and corresponding power cord, a WiFi antenna, and HDMI cable, a user’s manual in English and Chinese, and MINIX products brochure.

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The device looks basically the same as all other MINIX Android TV boxes and mini PCs. One side comes with the power button, the micro SD slot, three USB 2.0 ports, and one USB 3.0 port with the latter also working in power off mode if you want to charge your phone or tablet. The side features the WiFi antenna connector and a Kensington lock opening.

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Media and networking ports can be found in the rear panels with a 3.5mm audio jack (microphone + headphone), a mini DisplayPort connector, HDMI 1.4 output, a Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 port, and the power jack.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Teardown

In order to open the case, I had to remove four sticky pads on the pad, and loosen four screws.
MINIX-NEO-Z83-4_BottomThe bottom cover will then come off relatively easily with some gentle taps on the top.

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MINIX has got serious with cooling, as they’ve selected a massive heatsink that also in contact with the large thermal pad on the top of the aluminum case. The company also showed me the system running OCCT for four hours last month, so the performance should be very stable, and CPU throttling not an issue. That’s something I’ll have to test in the second part of the review anyway.

I’ve removed the heatsink, which was firmly hold in place with four screws and springs. There’s also a thermal pad with some thermal paste under the heatsink to cover the processor.

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A 32GB Samsung KLMBG4GEND-B031 eMMC 5.0 flash with 250 MB/s read speed, 100 MB/s write speed, and 6000/12000 R/W IOPS is used together with four SKhynix H5TC8G63CMR-PBA DDR3L @ 1600 MHz SDRAM (4GB in total) for storage and memory.  Ampak AP6255 module delivers WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.2? LE wireless connectivity, while a Realtek RTL8711GS PCIe to GbE transceiver allows for Gigabit Ethernet, with the transformer likely inside the Ethernet RJ45 connector. Other ICs includes AXP288C PMIC, and two smaller chip marked “MINI5BZDE 539GB 2532B076 ZZ ARM” and “B203 A3 UBCUC D8P8J 1522”, but I could not figured out what they could be used for. One of them is likely the MCU taking care of the power circuitry. You’ll also notice the RTC battery, and two headers marked ICE1 and JDEBUG1 which could be useful in the unlikely case the mini PC is bricked.

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The bottom of the board features Realtek ALC5645 audio codec, and Winbond 25Q64FWSIG 64Mbit SPI flash.

This looks all good, but what about price? The previous model, MINIX NGC-1, did not become that popular despite a very good implementation due to its high price, partially because of the $85 Windows 10. MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC is priced rather competitively, as it will sell for $169.90 US, 169.90 Euros, or  144.90 GBP depending on the country starting on September 16th.

[Update: MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC Review Part 2 is up].

Using M12N Android Amlogic S912 TV Box as a Game Console (Video)

August 21st, 2016 12 comments

When Amlogic announced S912 processor, they mentioned it would target not only 4K OTT and IP set-top boxes, but also gaming consoles thanks to a faster and better Mali-T820MP3 GPU compared to the Mali-450MP GPU found in their previous S905 and S805 processor, and we’ve already seen that S912 is indeed faster in 3D benchmarks.

So I decided to play several games to show the performance, the pre-loaded retro gaming app, and for people who have never used a TV box to play games show what it looks like, and how to play using M12N TV box, in conjunction with MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad.

M12N_Amlogic_S912_GamingI played four games downloaded from the Play Store or Amazon Underground:

  • Candy Crush Saga with air mouse
  • Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2 with the gamepad
  • Dead Trigger with the air mouse in menus, and the gamepad during the game (requires key mapping)

All four games played just fine in the box, and Riptide GP2 framerate was noticeably higher than on Amlogic S905 TV boxes when “highest resolution” setting is selected. If you don’t want to purchase an air mouse or/and game pad, it should also be possible to use your smartphone with the remote app, but it’s not something I’ve tested.

MXQ Plus M12N TV box also includes KO GameBox app [Update: I’ve been informed the app may contain adware and malware] simply shown as “Game” in the main menu.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The app has some Chinese logos, and the interface and games are all available with English language. All games appear to be retro games, and include classic like Super Mario Bros. None of the games are installed in the box, but the app will allow you to download them from various mirrors. I tried Fate/Unlimited Codes street fighting PSP game, and it worked well with Tronsmart gamepad. The app also exposes a QR code to download KO TVGame Assistant app in order to use your Android phone as a gamepad.

KO Gamebox Assistant App

KO TVGame Assistant App

You can see all games mentioned above tested in MQX Plus M12N TV box in the video below.

If you want to purchase the setup I used, you can get Shenzhen Shiningworth M12N on Aliexpress for $69.99, Tronsmart Mars G01 RF gamepad for $25.99, and/or MINIX NEO A2 Lite  air mouse for the same price. Of course, you’d have pretty much the same experience with any of the other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and the gamepad or/and air mouse of your choice.