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ECDREAM A9 Apollo Lake HDMI “TV Stick” Review with Windows 10 and Ubuntu 17.04

The ECDREAM A9 is arguably the first Intel Apollo Lake ‘PC stick’ available for purchase. However, in reality it is surprisingly large, and when compared to earlier Intel Atom ‘sticks’ and mini PC ‘boxes’ it lies somewhere in between. Measuring 2.3 inches (58 mm) wide and 0.6 inches (16 mm) thick it feels almost double in size of the original Intel Compute Stick (1.5 in/38 mm by 0.5 in/12 mm) and like nearly half of a mini PC (Beelink’s AP34 is 4.7 in/119 mm by 0.8 / 20 mm). Given that you only get two USB ports, an micro SD card slot and the obligatory HDMI and power port, the large size would be better justified if an Ethernet port had also been included given other smaller ‘sticks’ have shown this is possible.

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However the reason for its size is due to the oversized fan and heatsink…

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and that will be the deal-breaker for most. Because it is not a quiet fan, but noticeably noisy. However, that is under Windows as the fan doesn’t run under normal Linux.
Taking a look at the package in more detail…

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Inside the box together with the device is a short HDMI extender cable, a power supply (with no international variants or adapters), a manual (which is more of a Windows get-started guide) and a further slip of paper with a picture showing what the ports are. The device comes with a large detachable cap that covers the HDMI port. Then inside the device underneath the fan and heatsink is the Intel Apollo Lake SoC, memory chips from Micron, eMMC from Foresee and an Intel wifi chip all matching the advertised specs

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The device comes pre-loaded with activated Windows 10 Home 64-bit and has nearly 18GB of available free space to fill up with Windows updates.

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Unusually the updates were initially switched off

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The Windows performance is impacted in part due to the slower Foresee eMMC

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Overall the device performs better than Cherry Trail devices and as expected

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4K video (at 30fps) can be watched through Chrome and Kodi and the fan keeps the temperatures down

Temperatures with Chrome 4K (Left) and Kodi (Right) – Click to Enlarge

and the external temperature is acceptable at around 30°C.
However, as mentioned the fan is audible in comparison with other ‘stick’ PCs with fans. Using a battery powered clock as a baseline in a highly unscientific comparison you can judge for yourself, comparing Intel Core M STK2M3W64CC Compute Stick…

… to ECDREAM A9

Initially I was rather happy that the fan didn’t start under Linux, however without it temperatures rocket and the device crashes when playing high definition videos.
Looking at the hardware from a Linux viewpoint the CPU is an Intel Celeron N3350 Apollo Lake
 
useable storage of 28.9GB plus the micro SD card option

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2GB DDR3 1600 MHz memory

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Intel 3165 wireless

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HDMI audio

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and everything (except the fan) works using Ubuntu 17.04 with the ISO’s default kernel. This includes Sandisk micro SD cards
which still fail on Cherry Trail devices.
Unfortunately however there is no option in the BIOS allowing Linux to boot directly:
so the Ubuntu ISO had to be respun using ‘isorespin.sh’ to add the rEFInd boot manager

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Having installed Ubuntu to eMMC, and running my usual benchmarks there can again be seen the performance improvement over Cherry Trail devices (STCK1A32WFC is the Intel Compute Stick Falls City, STK1AW32SC is the Intel Compute Stick Sterling City, and STKM3W64CC is the Intel Compute Stick Cedar City)​​

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Exploring the fan issue further shows the failure appears to be a BIOS ACPI table related issue

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even though there are many options in the BIOS for thermal configuration
By recompiling the kernel with a ‘hacky’ patch it is possible to get the fan working
but because the BIOS isn’t populated with appropriate DMI strings it is unlikely that this device will receive mainline support.
However with the fan running the temperature is controlled even after stressing the CPU

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making 4K video (30fps) watchable

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Although I encountered an issue in that Chrome would successfully stream 4K videos in Windows, yet under Ubuntu it kept intermittently pausing waiting for network data. If I first downloaded the video then playing it was fine using Kodi.
As 32GB of storage is now really too small to run both Windows and Linux given the size, and frequency of Windows updates I installed Ubuntu with my custom kernel to a micro SD card and resized Windows to use the entire eMMC. Again some juggling with rEFInd was required to boot as the micro SD card is not recognized directly during the boot process.

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Interestingly there was a slight overall performance increase which is probably due to the slow eMMC. The maximum temperature for the eMMC-based benchmarks reached 80°C after running the ‘openssl’ tests compared with a maximum of 57°C also after the ‘openssl’ test on the fan-assisted micro SD card so thermal throttling would not appear to be a contributing factor.

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The device comes with a very unrestricted BIOS so there are lots of ways to brick it
To conclude the product is bulky given its advertised ‘stick’ form factor, and is limited because it only has 2GB RAM. The fan with its noise under Windows and lack of support under Linux limits the product’s appeal. In terms of support, the Windows drivers are available from the manufacturer’s community web page although their specification page incorrectly states the CPU model. It is currently priced at USD 129.99 at Geekbuying who kindly provided the sample for review.

Review of MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless 4K Mini PC – Part 2: Windows 10, Benchmarks, and Kodi

July 12th, 2017 20 comments

MeLE PCG03 Apo is an update to MeLE PCG03 mini PC, and one of the rare Apollo Lake mini PCs to be both fanless, and support HDMI 2.0 output. I’ve already checked out the hardware design in “MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless Apollo Lake mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so in the second part of the review I tested Windows 10, focusing on HDMI 2.0 features, audio pass-through in Kodi, and performance and stability tests to see how well it compared to similar actively cooled mini PCs such as Voyo V1 VMac mini.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Setup and System Information

I connected a USB 3.0 drive to one of the USB 3.0 ports, USB keyboard and mouse, and RF dongle for a wireless gamepad to the other USB 2.0/3.0 ports, as well as USB type C to micro USB adapter itself connected to a micro USB OTG adapter in order to add a USB flash drive. Finally I added Ethernet, VGA and HDMI cables, and of course the power supply to complete the setup.

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A typical boot to the login window takes around 15 seconds, but the very first boot, I went through the usual Windows 10 setup wizard to select the language, create a user, etc…, as well as retrieve the latest Windows update. So that’s better than some other Windows 10 mini PCs which are already configured with a default user, and may raise suspicions.

I still wen to Control Panel->System and Security->System to check Windows 10 is indeed activated, and the mini PC is running Windows 10 Home 64-bit on an Intel Celeron N3450 with 4GB RAM as expected.

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The next step was to check HDMI 2.0 support that should allow 4K resolutions @ 60 Hz, and I could select and use 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 up to “60p Hz” without any issues.

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Since we have a VGA port too, I tested dual display setup using extended desktop mode with 3840×2160 resolution @ 60 Hz on my 4K TV, and 1600×1050 on my Full HD TV, as it was the maximum resolution I was offered.

No problem here again, and I could use to independent display one connected via HDMI 2.0, and the other via VGA.

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I’ve also included a screenshot of the dual display setup for those interested.

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I took the screenshot below after starting to download a few programs (but no installation), and 28.9GB storage is really tight for Windows 10, I could not install all programs used for the review, without uninstalling one or more. For example, if I install PCMark 8, complete the benchmark, I had to remove it before install PCMark 10, even when moving all download the USB partitions.

So may want to run Disk Cleanup from time to time, and uninstall some pre-installed games. I may also consider disabling hiberfil.sys file, learn how to do folder redirection and filesystem junction with mklink, which I used for Package Cache directory. You could do this to external USB hard drive, but performance may suffer while loading programs or during databases accesses, so you could consider adding a 80mm M.2 SSD inside the mini PC. I could not get one to test, but the company told me they tested three models available on Aliexpress:

Another thing I discovered is that when you “uninstall” Windows Store apps, there are not deleted, but for some reasons kept in C:\Programs Files\WindowsApps\Deleted directory, so I’d have to take ownership of the directory and delete it if you want to free up some more space.

The 32GB eMMC flash capacity is the most negative point I found about this mini PC, I wished the company could offer a 64GB version, or better a pre-installed 128 M.2 SSD [Update: I forgot this would be a problem with the discounted Windows 10 license]. This will not be a problem if you only plan to use the box as an HTPC, but for desktop use, you really need more external storage.

The mini PC recognized the NTFS and exFAT partition in my USB 3.0 drive, but the USB flash drive which I connected the USB type C port was not found. I tried to connect the keyboard there instead, and then to my computer via a USB type C to USB type A cable, but again no luck in both cases. It looks like the USB C port is not usable for anything. Maybe my sample has some issues.

I took a screenshot of the Device Manager for people who want a few more technical details about peripherals.

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… as well as HWiNFO64 which basically reports the same info as on Voyo V1 Vmac Mini since it’s based on the same Celeron N3450 processor.

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MeLE PCG03 Apo Benchmarks

Let’s start with PCMARK 8  HOME ACCELERATED 3.0 benchmark at 1080p60 resolution and framerate.

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The score here is surprisingly higher than on the fan cooled Voyo mini PC (1,566 points), and not too far to the score I got (1,846)with the Pentium N4200 version of Voyo V1 VMac Mini.

Since PCG03 Apo is a candidate to use as 4K desktop for simple tasks, I run the same benchmark using 3840×2160 @ 60p Hz video output, and the score dropped a little to 1,431 points.

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Please note that only two passes out of three could complete, as the benchmark failed somewhere during the third pass, but the average should not change, it’s just we can 2 test samples, instead of 3. I tried the benchmarks 3 times in total, and the two other times it failed during the first pass ending with no score. You can find the details results here.

FutureMark has recently released PCMark 10, so for future reference I also ran that version of the benchmark using 1080p60 output.

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Check this link for full results. All other benchmarks below were done using 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz video output / resolution.

Passmark PerformanceTest 9.0 confirmed the good performance of the device with 995.70 points, which compares to 998.4 points for Voyo V1 (N3450), and 1087 points for Voyo V1 (N4200).

Note the performance of Disk Mark is quite weaker here, and the Voyo models who got close to 3,000 points, but the latter had the C: drive in a 128GB SSD, instead of a 32GB flash, which explains the massive performance difference here.

I ran three 3DMark tests showing performance that’s almost as good as Voyo mini PC based on Pentium N4200 processor.

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Details for all three results can be found below:

CrystalDiskMark reports up to 258 MB/s sequential read speed, and 51 MB/s write speed, with random I/O up to 28 MB/s for the C: drive (32GB eMMC flash). That’s actually roughly the same as the 32GB eMMC flash in Voyo mini PC, but a big difference compared to the 500MB/s+, you got from the 128GB FORESEE SSD installed in the same devices.

Random I/O performance will be better in the SSD too, so you may considering re-installing Windows 10 in an M.2 SSD if you decide to purchase one [Update: Not a good idea, the Genuine Windows key in the device will be ignore, and Windows 10 will not be activated]. You’ll find BIOS, drivers, and instructions to re-install Windows 10 in MeLE’s forums.

USB 3.0 performance is fine with my USB driver achieving around 100MB/s read and write sequential speed.
The random I/Os number shows why you don’t want to install Windows or apps in such drive.

I used iperf 2.x to measure network performance with using dual duplex transfer over Gigabit Ethernet:

All good, so I connected the mini PC to my AC router…

… and performed WiFi upload and download tests with iperf:

  • Upload
  • Download

Those are decent results with my setup, i.e. the AC router is located about 4 meter from the DUT and with a wall in between. You can see a comparison with some 802.11ac Android TV boxes I’ve recently reviewed.

802.11ac WiFi Download and Upload Speed in Mbps

To give a better idea of the performance I compare it against other low power mini PCs based on Braswell (MINIX NGC-1, Vorke V1), Cherry Trail (Voyo V3, MINIX NEO Z83-4), Apollo Lake (Voyo V1 VMac Mini), and Skylake (Compute Stick) for various benchmarks.

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Note: Ice Storm scores divided by 10, Fire Strike scores multiplies by 4 for scale.

The Skylake compute stick really stands out despite having similar TDP, but it’s also much more expensive. Other mini PCs are closely matched, but the good news is the MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC fairs well in all benchmarks, except for storage speeds, but it can be made to match other systems if you use a M.2 SSD to run Windows instead of the 32GB eMMC flash.

Kodi 4K Video Playback and HDMI Audio Pass-through

I’ve installed the latest Kodi 17.3, and run it using 1920×[email protected] output.

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You don’t need to set the Windows resolution to 3840×2160 to watch videos, since Kodi will automatically do that if you go to Settings->Player Settings->Videos, and set Adjust display refresh rate to On start / stop, as it will also automatically adjust to the best resolution for the video.

Once I’d done that I tested my usual 4K video samples via SAMBA over Gigabit Ethernet unless otherwise stated:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Mostly OK, but the video seems to skip frames a few times
  • 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) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – SAMBA: Audio cuts and buffering issue; HDD: OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not super smooth, but no audio delay like on ARM TV boxes. Almost watchable
  • 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) – Maybe 10 fps (Software decode) and buffering issues
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues

Automatic frame rate switching is working well, but playing videos with bitrate over 50Mbps over SAMBA seems to be an issue with this mini PC. VP9 and 10-bit H.264 codecs are not supported by Apollo Lake processor, so Kodi revert to software decoding, but the processor is not powerful enough to handle those codecs at 4K. Hi10p up to 1080p is fine. One small issue worth noting is that almost all videos had a short audio cut after 16 to 19 seconds, but the problem would not reoccur at other points in the videos.

Apollo Lake mini PC are supposed to support audio pass-through, but HDMI 2.0 is implemented via an eDP to HDMI bridge which in the past has created issue with this features. So I enabled audio pass-through in Kodi by going to Settings->System Settings->Audio, enabling Allow passthrough, and selecting DIRECTSOUND: TX-NR636…. as the Passthrough output device before running the tests with various audio codecs.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

So only AC3 is supported. I changed to WASAPI output device instead, and the results are not much better.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

Disappointing, as HDMI 1.4 Apollo Lake mini PCs can normally handle DTS 5.1 as well even with DTS HD files.

User Experience, Stress Test, and Power Consumption

I did a user experience test like with other Windows 10 PCs with multi-tasking by launching an using ThunderBird, Firefox, Libre Office, and Gimp at the same, multi-tab browsing in Firefox playing some Flash games, and watching 4K YouTube videos. I also played Asphalt 8, and as shown in the section above used Kodi to watch videos. The experience felt very similar to other Apollo Lake mini PC with maybe apps not launching as fast due to the eMMC flash. I also run HWiNFO64 in sensor only mode during my tests and benchmarks, and CPU throttling was never reported by the program, so MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device with good thermal design.

I have not done any video this time, but if you’re new to Apollo Lake system, you may want to watch Voyo V1 Vmac Mini video below which should give you an idea of the performance.

I also ran AIDA64 Extreme stability test during 2 hours with HWiNFO64 also running side by side, and the CPU temperature never went above 79 °C with the average CPU clock speed being 1.6 GHz right between the base frequency (1.1 GHz) and turbo frequency (2.2 GHz).

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Power consumption is about 6.4W in idle mode with the USB 3.0 drive connected, 1.0W in sleep mode, and 0.0W in power off mode.

Conclusion

MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device that stays cool enough under load despite thanks to a good fanless thermal design, and HDMI 2.0 works as expected with 4K @ 60 Hz supported. The VGA port also allows for dual independent display setups. Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac WiFi are performing very well. The main downsides I can see are the small eMMC flash, USB type C port that would not work for anything (sample issue?), and HDMI audio pass-through is limited to Dolby Digital 5.1. The first issue can easily be solved by installing a larger (and faster) 80mm M.2 SSD inside the device.

If you are interested in this mini PC, you can purchase MeLE PCG03 Apo for $159.20 including shipping on Aliexpress. If the price is higher when you check it out, it may pay to wait until the week-end to get a better price.

[Update: MeLE’s answers to some of the issues raised in this review:

Read / Write speed
1. It is clear that MeLE PCG03 Apo (N3450) is far behind VOYO VMac Mini (N3450 and N4200) because MeLE follows Microsoft’s policy strictly to install the genuine Windows 10 Home as C: Disk on 32GB eMMC while VOYO does that on the 64GB or 128GB SSD.
2. According to the policy, the unit price for genuine Windows 10 Home on Apollo Lake mini PC is USD 45 at least if the storage capacity (as C: Disk) is equal or over 64GB. That is why user may see a 64GB SSD as C: Disk on VOYO VMac Mini while there is still a 32GB eMMC as D: Disk on the PCB board. It is a trick which has just been discovered and warned by Microsoft in China.
Audio Setting
1. I will check with technical team on how to make DD & DTS 7.1 working in Kodi as well, I will keep you updated.
2. It will get Audio 7.1 DD & DTS with LAV codecs using MPC-HC as player for example.
USB Type-C
1. It is actually a standard USB 3.0 interface converted into USB Type-C shape.
2. It only supports normal (not fast) power charging, and data transfer directly to USB Drive or HDD in external enclosure with Type-C interface.
3. For this point, we will update our product description on our official store on Aliexpress to make it more specific for every buyer to avoid any misunderstanding.
]

Intel Atom Z3735F (Bay Trail) vs Intel Celeron N4200 (Apollo Lake) Benchmarks Comparison

February 14th, 2017 3 comments

Intel introduced new processors every year, but in most cases the performance improvement from new processor with a similar power profile is only incrementally better, as we’ve seen in our Atom X7-Z8700 vs Pentium N4200 benchmarks comparison, which means it’s not really worthwhile to upgrade performance-wise, unless you really a specific feature or interface found in the new processor. But what if we compare to processor from 2 to 3 years ago? Intel Atom Z3735F was a popular choice two years ago, and if you’re looking for a cheap Intel mini PC or TV box, that’s still the cheapest option with prices under $80. So I’ve decided to compare Intel Atom Z3735F (Bay Trail) processor with 2W TDP to the latest Pentium Celeron N4200 (Apollo Lake) with 6W TDP.

To do so, I gathered benchmarks results from MeLE PCG03 mini PC (PCMark 8) and PCG01 TV stick (Passmark + 3Dmark) for the Atom processor, as well as Voyo VMac Mini for the Apollo Lake processor. Please note that I only have PCMark 8 Home Baseline for PCG03, and not the Accelerated benchmark with OpenCL, but based on my results with K3 Wintel Keyboard PC, and reviews from Anandtech and IXBT, there’s no difference between PCMark Home Baseline and Accelerated for Atom Z3735F processor as it seems OpenCL is not supported in Atom Z3735F SoC (at least by PCMark), so I used PCMark 8 Home Baseline results for MeLE PCG03, and PCMark8 Home Accelerated for Voyo Vmac Mini. Unsurprisingly, the Pentium processors is faster in all tasks, and I highlighted the tests where it is at least twice as fast in green.

Benchmark MeLE PCG03 / PCG01
Intel Atom Z3735F @ 1.33 / 1.83 GHz (2W TDP)
Voyo V1 Vmac Mini
Intel Pentium N4200 @ 1.1 / 2.5 GHz (6W TDP)
Ratio
PCMark 8
Overall Score 1,105 1,846 1.67
Web Browsing – JunglePin 0.58064s 0.52267s 1.11
Web Browsing – Amazonia 0.19591s 0.18459s 1.06
Writing 11s 6.89837s 1.59
Casual Gaming 6.7 fps 10.38 fps 1.55
Video Chat playback 30 fps 30.02 fps 1.00
Video Chat encoding 318 ms 196.66667ms 1.62
Photo Editing 2.7s 0.45915s 5.88
Passmark 8
Passmark Rating 466 1,052.1 2.26
3DMark
Ice Storm 1.2 14,069 2,3511 1.67
Cloud Gate 1.1 1,156 2,347 2.03
Sky Diver 1.0 439 1,384 3.15
Fire Strike 0 (Driver failure) 267 N/A

The main surprise here is how little difference there is for PCMark 8 web browsing benchmarks. Video chat is the same because the video was already rendered at 30 fps previously, and Photo editing is much faster, simply because of OpenCL support, and not because the processor is about 6 times  faster. Passmark 8 and 3DMark benchmark show a clear boost of 2 to 3 times between an Atom Z3735F mini PC/Stick and a Pentium N4200 processor for the overall system and 3D gaming. If you own an Atom Z3735F mini PC, you’ll clearly feel a performance difference if you upgrade to an Apollo Lake processor. Beside the system performance, you’ll also benefit from faster interfaces like USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, and potentially SATA, as well as better multimedia capabilities with for example H.265 video decoding. You’ll have to pay 2 or 3 times more for an Apollo Lake mini PC, but contrary to most Bay trail mini PCs, it will be usable as an entry-level computer.

Intel Atom x7-Z8700 (Cherry Trail) vs Intel Pentium N4200 (Apollo Lake) Benchmarks Comparison

February 7th, 2017 11 comments

Mini PCs based on Intel Apollo Lake processors have started selling, and they supposed to be upgrades to Braswell and Cherry Trail processor. I’ve recently had the chance to review Voyo VMac Mini mini PC powered by Intel Pentium N4200 quad core processor, that’s the fastest model of the Apollo Lake N series, and of course I ran some benchmarks, so I thought it would be interesting compare the results I got with an Atom x7-Z8700 “Cherry Trail” mini PC, namely Beelink BT7 which I reviewed last year.

Both machines are actively cooled with a small fan, and storage performance is similar, albeit with a slight edge for the Apollo Lake SSD. A ratio greater than one (green) means the Apollo Lake processor is faster, and if it is lower than one (red) the Cherry Trail processor win.

Benchmark Beelink BT7
Intel Atom x7-Z8700 @ 1.6 / 2.4 GHz (2W SDP)
Voyo (V1) Vmac Mini
Intel Pentium N4200 @ 1.1 / 2.5 GHz (6W TDP)
Ratio
PCMark 8 Accelerated
Overall Score 1,509 1,846 1.22
Web Browsing – JunglePin 0.59309 s 0.52267 s 1.13
Web Browsing – Amazonia 0.19451 s 0.18459 s 1.05
Writing 8.53975 s 6.89837 s 1.24
Casual Gaming 7.96 fps 10.38 fps 1.30
Video Chat playback 29.99 fps 30.02 fps 1.00
Video Chat encoding 301 ms 196.66667 ms 1.53
Photo Editing 0.65544 s 0.45915 s 1.43
Passmark 8
Passmark Rating 846 1,052.1 1.24
3DMark
Ice Storm 1.2 23,999 23,511 0.98
Cloud Gate 1.1 2,185 2,347 1.07
Sky Diver 1.0 1,131 1,384 1.22
Fire Strike 276 267 0.97

The performance is usually faster in the Apollo Lake processor by  between 5 to 50+% depending on the tasks with video encoding and photo editing gaining the most. Browsing is only marginally faster by 5 to 13%. PCMark8 reports a 30% higher frame rate for casual gaming, but 3DMark does not how that much improvement, and in some cases not at all, except for Sky Diver 1.0 demo. Intel Atom x7-X8700 SoC comes with a 16EU Intel HD graphics Gen 9 @ 200 / 600 MHz, while the Pentium SoC comes with 18 EU (Execution Unit) of the same gen9 GPU @ 200 / 750 MHz, and should be a little faster in theory.

So based on those results, there’s a clear – although incremental – performance improvement using Apollo Lake over Cherry Trail, but depending on the use case it may not always be noticeable in games or while browsing the web.

CHUWI LapBook 14.1 Apollo Lake Laptop Review – Part 2: Windows 10 Benchmarks, User Experience, and Battery Life

February 5th, 2017 18 comments

CHUWI LapBook 14.1 is the one of the first Apollo Lake laptop on the market. It features a 14.1″ IPS display, a Celeron N3450 quad core processor, 4GB RAM and 64 GB storage. The company has sent me a sample for review, and I had already check out the hardware in “CHUWI LapBook 14.1 Apollo Lake Laptop Review – Part 1: Unboxing & (Partial) Teardown“, so since then I’ve played with it including checking emails & news, writing a blog post on CNX Software, and watching some YouTube videos, as well as running benchmarks and estimating battery life, so I’ll report about my experience with the laptop in the second part of the review.

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CHUWI LapBook 14.1 System Information

LapBook 14.1 runs an activated version of Windows 10 Home 64-bit on an Intel Celeron 3450 “Apollo Lake” quad core processor @ 1.1 GHz / 2.2 GHz with 4 GB RAM (3.84 GB usable)

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The internal storage is a 64GB eMMC flash with a 57.1 GB Windows partition. The 64GB storage could mean it does not quality for a discounted Windows 10 license, as the requirements are  4GB RAM max, 14.1 display size max, and up to 32GB eMMC flash/SSD.

64GB storage will be filled quickly in Windows 10, especially if you have lots of emails, and store more and more pictures over time. It’s possible to extend storage via the micro SD slot, and possibly via an M.2 connector inside the device. USB storage is also an option, but as we’ll see below, I would not recommend it with this laptop.

I have taken a screenshot of Device Manager for people who want more details about peripherals.

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HWInFO64 mostly reports about the Intel Celeron N3450 processor, and as expected it’s exactly the same part number (CPU/Stepping/SSPEC) as on Voyo VMac Mini.

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The motherboard is named Hampoo A2W6_NA14 with the UEFI BIOS dated 12/30/2016.

CHUWI LapBook 14.1 Benchmarks

Let’s run some benchmarls on the laptop and compare them to Voyo VMac mini Celeron N3450 mini PC benchmarks results.

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LapBook 14.1 got 1,584 points in PCMARK 8 Home Accelerated 3.0, which compares to 1,566 points on Voyo VMac Mini that contrary to the laptop is actively cooled. So basically the score are identical here.

3DMark results are also pretty close with Ice Storm 1.2 (20,982 points), Cloud Gate 1.1 (2,092 points), and Sky Diver 1.0 (931 points), against respectively 18,892, 2,130, and 941 points for Voyo VMac Mini (N3450).

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The laptop achieved 830,7 points in PassMark PerformanceTest 9.0, against 998.4 points for the mini PC which is faster in all 5 categories: CPU, 2D Graphics, 3D Graphics, Memory, and Disk.

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Internal storage performance is acceptable with 256/116.4 MB/s sequential R/W speeds, and decent random read and write speeds, but not quite as fast as some other low costs devices.

For example, Voyo V1 VMac Mini SSD achieved about 500 MB/s read speed and 200 MB/s write speed, with significantly faster random R/W operations too.

CHUWI LapBook 14.1 User Experience

Two big parts of deciding whether a laptop is worth your consideration are the display and keyboard. The latter feels really nice to use, but unfortunately lacks brightness adjustment keys, which can be a pain is you set the brightness really low at night, and then need to use the laptop in broad daylight. I’m quite happy with the Full HD display, but you have to know it’s a non-touch display, it does not rotate that much (see video below), and viewing angles are not that great on the side. For my personal use, those did not affect me at all.

I’ve run some typical tasks, and shot a video with:

  • Multi-tasking – Launching and using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing with Firefox
    • Loading multiple tabs with CNX Software blog
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga)
    • Playing a 1080p YouTube Videos
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8

Overall, I’m quite happy with the performance considering it’s a low power, fanless, entry-level laptop. I could load my hundreds of thousands emails in ThunderBird, while browsing the web with multiple tabs, and editing photos with gimp. 1080p YouTube videos are watchable in Firefox, although there are a few dropped frames here and there from time to time. I did not really notice it, and if you want slightly better playback, you can use Microsoft Edge browser with YouTube. Asphalt 8 feels a little smoother than in VMac Mini (N4250) possibly because the display is smaller.

The laptop also comes with a mini HDMI port to connect to an external display. A cable is not included so you’ll have to buy your own adapter or cable.

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Once connected Windows 10 will default in clone mode, but I had no trouble switching to extended display, and I had two Full HD independent displays.

I used a USB mouse connected to the laptop for close to 5 hours, and I had no problems, but this was another story with USB flash drives.

USB 2.0 Port OK Not detected OK
USB 3.0 Port OK Not detected Detected, but not mounted (“No Media”)

The laptop has two USB ports, one 2.0 port, and one 3.0 port, as you can see I did not have always have luck with my flash drives, especially the USB 3.0 port. This is what my DataTraveler G4 USB 3.0 flash looked like in Disk Management while connected to the USB 3.0 port.

“No Media”, but if I plugged the very same flash drive to the USB 2.0 port, it could be mounted.

A USB hub allowed me to work around the issues. However, I downloaded some system info and benchmarking tools on the laptop, copied them to one of the USB drive, but once I try to install those on another computer some of the files appeared to be corrupted. So I would not trust USB storage with important data, or you have to make sure you run some data sanity check (e.g. MD5) on your files. It’s also possible I was just unlucky, but it’s something to keep in mind.

CHUWI LapBook 14.1 Battery Life

Battery life is also an important aspect. While companies like Hewlett Packard are using MobileMark 2014 for testing battery on their Windows 10 laptops. but it’s a paid program, and I could not find a free battery testing application. So instead, I did my own “real use” case by charging the battery to 100%, and doing things on the laptop,  I normally do on my desktop PC in a typical day with two main use cases:

  1. Working outside from 9:00 to 12:00 with 100% brightness, checking emails, browsing the web, and editing pictures in Gimp
  2. Play YouTube videos in Firefox indoor with brightness set to 25% from 12:30 to about 14:00

When I started, Windows expected about 5 hours and a half of battery life.

I’d like to note I have lots of messages in Thunderbird because of mailing lists and RSS feeds (a few hundreds thousands), so Thunderbird was pretty active during the morning.

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After 3 hours I had 37% of battery capacity left. I had lunch, and then I went indoor to watch YouTube videos, and it lasted about 1h30 until the battery was fully depleted. So I had 4h30 of battery life on a charge.

An earlier full charge of the battery from 13% to 100% took just under 3 hours.

Conclusion

CHUWI LapBook 14.1 laptop almost matches all my needs. It is lightweight, the full HD display is good enough for me, battery life is good for about 5 hours, performance is acceptable for tasks such as web browsing, office applications, watching YouTube videos, and occasional light gaming. Normally I like to get at least 512 GB storage in a laptop, and that one only comes with 64GB eMMC flash with average performance, but it can be expanded with a micro SD card and possibly and M.2 SSD, but the latter are still quite expensive compared to hard drives. I also miss the keys to adjust brightness, and the main issue I found on the device is that USB mass storage is unreliable with some flash drives not  supported, and potentially data corruption when they are.  One of my other requirements is to run Ubuntu, so I’ll try to install Ubuntu 17.04 (daily build) on the laptop.

I’d like to thank CHUWI for sending an early sample of the laptop, which is not yet for sale, but available for pre-order on sites like GearBest and Banggood for $259.99 and up with shipping scheduled by the end of February.

Voyo VMac Mini mini PC Benchmarks with Intel Celeron N3450 Apollo Lake Processor

January 27th, 2017 5 comments

Following up yesterday’s post about Voyo VMac Mini mini PC benchmarks with Intel Pentium N4200 processor, I’ve switched to its cheaper little brother powered by Intel Celeron N3450 processor and performed the same benchmarks to compare the performance difference with the Pentium version, as well as older Braswell and Cherry Trail systems.

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I’ve run HWiNFO64 before running the benchmarks to get more details about computer, and especially the processor. Celeron N3450 is a quad core processor clocked at 400, 800, and 1,100 MHz, and up to 2.2 GHz in burst mode. It’s quite similar to Pentium N4200, except the later has a higher burst frequency (2.5 GHz), and a better GPU with 18 EU, instead of just 12 EU on the Celeron. My exact version of the processor is stepping B0/B1 with sSPEC SR2YA/SR2Z6. I forgot to comment about supported features compared to Cherry Trail and Braswell processors yesterday, and Apollo Lake processors do support some extra CPU features including RDSEED for random generators, SHA for SHA-1 & SHA-256 hashs, SMAP (Supervisor Mode Access Prevention), and MPX (Memory Protection Extensions).

Let’s move on with the benchmarks staring with PCMark 8 Home Accelerated 3.0.

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Voyo VMac mini N3450 got 1,566 points, which compares to 1,846 points with the Pentium N4200, and 1,543 points for MINIX NEO Z83-4 powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor. I have expecting a higher score here, so I ran the test again and got 1,595 points only marginally higher.

The PassMark PerformanceTest 8.0 score is more in line with the expectations as VMac Mini (N3450) achieved 935.3 points, against 1052.1 points for the Pentium N4200 model, and 845.9 points for Beelink BT7 (Atom X7-Z8700).

I’ve also run PerformanceTest 9.0 for future reference, and comparison with Voyo VMac Mini with N4200 SoC.

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Results: 998.4 points which compared to 1087.0 for N4200. The performance delta roughly matches theory, especially once we look into the details with the CPU mark also identical, but 2D & 3D graphics quite faster.

Talking about graphics performance, I also ran 3D graphics specific benchmarks with 3D Mark’s Ice Storm 1.2 (18,892 points), Cloud Gate 1.1 (2,130 points), Sky Driver 1.0 (941 points), and Fire Strike 1.1 (262 points).

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Let’s compare the results against other mini PCs & TV sticks including Cherry Trail systems such as MINIX NEO Z83-4 & Voyo V3, Braswell computers like MINIX NGC-1 and Vorke V1, as well as an Intel Computer Stick powered by Core M processor.

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Note: Ice Storm scores divided by 10, Fire Strike scores multiplies by 4 for scale.

Based on those benchmarks, the performance of Voyo VMac Mini with Intel Celeron N3450 (Red on chart) is nearly identical to the one of Vorke V1 based on Intel Celeron J3160 (Dark green on chart) both for a general computing benchmark like PCMark 8, and 3D graphics. Fire Strike however failed to run on Vorke V1. Both N3450 & J3160 SoC come with a 12EU HD Graphics gen9 GPU which may explain the similar performance for graphics. Overall the performance differences between Cherry Trail / Braswell and Apollo Lake processors are more incremental, than a big jump in performance, and for many tasks you’re unlikely to see much differences between systems, except for the more expensive Core M computers and sticks. Anyway, thats’ what I intend to find out in the review.

I’d like to thank GeekBuying for sending the sample for review, and if you are interested you can buy Voyo VMac Mini (N3450) for $199.99.

Voyo VMac Mini mini PC (Intel Pentium N4200) Benchmarks

January 26th, 2017 4 comments

Since I’ve now received Intel Apollo Lake hardware with Voyo VMac Mini mini PCs, I’ve going to run some benchmarks with Pentium N4200 and Celeron N3450 processor to compare the performance against older generation low power mini PC based on Braswell and Cherry Trail processors. I’ll get started with the Pentium N4200 version that’s both more expensive and powerful.

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But before starting with the benchmarks, I’ve run HWiNFO64 to get a bit more info about the system, and the processor in particular. The processor is the quad core Pentium N4200 stepping B0/B1 with sSPEC SR2Y9/SR2Z5 clocked between 400 and 1,100 MHz, and up to 2,5 GHz in burst mode. It also comes with a 18 EU HD graphics Gen9-LP.

IMHO, PCMark 8 Home Accelerated 3.0 is one of the best benchmark as it replicates typical use cases such as web browsing, video conference, light gaming, photo editing, and so on.

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Voyo VMac mini gets the highest score (1,846 points) of all devices I’ve tested so far, with the previous top performer being MINIX NEO Z83-4 (Atom x5-Z8300) with 1,543 points. You can check the score details here.

PassMark PerformanceTest is also a popular benchmark. I started with version 8.0 in order to be able to compare to older platforms. Voyo VMac Mini got 1052.1 points comparing to 845.9 points for Beelink BT7 (Atom X7-8700).

PassMark has now released PerformanceTest 9.0, so I also ran the test for this version for future reference. Result: 1087 points.

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We’ll notice the score is also impacted by the FORESEE SSD inside the device, which has a very good score. I’ll provide more numbers about storage performance in the review, but sequential read speed reaches over 500 MB/s.

Finally, I’ve run several 3DMark tests namely Ice Storm Unlimited 1.2 (23,511 points), Cloud Gate 1.1 (2,347 points), Sky Driver 1.0 (1,384 points), and Fire Strike 1.1 (267 points).

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I compiled a table comparing the performance of other low power mini PCs with devices I’ve reviewed myself, as well as others like Intel Compute Stick based on Core M processor.

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Note: 3D Mark Ice Storm benchmark’s scores have been divided by 20 for scale.

As expected the Core M platform is considerably faster than all other mini PCs based on Cherry Trail, Braswell, and even Apollo Lake. GPU performance of Pentium N4200 is similar to Intel Atom x7-Z8700 and Intel Celeron N3150, despite using respectively 18, 16 and 12EU HD Graphics Gen9. However, we see a clear boost in performance for the Apollo Lake mini PC with Passmark 8 and PCMark 8, with a gain of roughly 20 to 30%.

If you think it’s worth it, and don’t mind about the slight fan noise, you could consider purchasing Voyo VMac Mini with Intel Pentium N4200 “Apollo Lake” Processor from GearBest for $235, who provided the device for review. Other shopping options include Amazon US and GeekBuying.

First Intel Apollo Lake J3455/J4205 Processor Benchmarks & Video Tests

December 6th, 2016 24 comments

Many products powered by Intel Apollo Lake processors have already been announced, but few are actually shipping, and I have yet to get one here. However, AndroidPC.es got hold of ASRock J4205-ITX and J3455-ITX motherboards powered by respectively a Pentium J4205 quad core processor and a Celeron J3455 quad core processor, run a few benchmarks, and tested videos in Windows 10 on the motherboards with Kodi 17 and MPC-HC.

 

ASRock J4205-ITX Motherboard

ASRock J4205-ITX Motherboard

Let’s have a look at some of the benchmarks to better understand of what we can expect from Apollo Lake desktop processors.

pcmark-apollo-lake-processorFirst there’s not that much of a difference between Celeron J3455 (1,771 points) and Pentium 4205 (1,830 points) in PCMark Home Convetional benchmark, however you should clearly feel a boost in performance compared to systems with Intel Cherry Trail x5-Z8300 processor (1,141), and the score is getting fairly close to a mini PC with an Intel Core i3-5005U dual core / four thread processor (15 Watt TDP).

apollo-lake-benchmark-3dmark

If we look at 3D graphics performance, there are even more contrasts between various machines / processors. There’s a really big leap between MINIX NEO Z83-4 with x5-Z8300 processor and both Apollo Lake motherboards (150 to 165% better 3D performance), but on the other hand there’s a noticeable gap (almost 50%) between Intel HD 5500 graphics found in Core-i3 processors and Intel HD 500/505 graphics used in J3455 and J4205 processors.

AndroidPC guys also ran other benchmarks such as Cinebench, games fps, and so on, and I invite you to read their review (in Spanish) if you want to find out more. However, since there was some confusion about 10-bit HEVC and VP9 support, it’s interesting to also check out the video test results.

1080p “standard”
MPC-HC KODI 17
MPEG2 / MP2 2.0 – 6.6Mbps OK OK
MPEG4 / MP3 2.0 – 7.6Mbps OK OK
H264 / AAC 2.0 – 7.2Mbps OK OK
VC1 / WMA3 2.0 – 8.6Mbps OK OK
VP8 / VORBIS 2.0 – 7.8Mbs OK OK
1080p  – Higher bitrate 
Birds – H264 / No audio – 40Mbps OK OK
Samsung Oceanic Life – H264 – AC3 2.0 – 40Mbps OK OK
4K Videos
Skyfall – H264 / AAC 2.0 – 10Mbps OK OK
Timelapse – H264 / AAC 2.0 – 43Mbps OK OK
H.265/VP9 Videos
Tears of steel – HEVC 8bit / AAC 2.0 – [email protected] – 17Mbps OK OK
Beauty – H265 – HEVC 8bit / No audio – [email protected] (recorded @ 120 fps) – 12Mbps Skipped frames OK
Samsung UHD Dubai – HEVC 10bit / AAC 2.0 – [email protected] – 51Mbps Skipped frames OK
Google test – VP9 Youtube OK OK

So all videos can play in Kodi 17 even 4K 10-bit H.265 videos and VP9 videos, however MPC-HC appears to have issues with some H.265 videos. Both ASRock motherboards support HDMI 2.0 with up to 4K @ 60 fps, but none of the 4K H.265 videos had a framerate over 30 fps, so this would have to be tested. HDMI audio pass-through was not so great, as it only worked for Dolby Digital 5.1, not but TrueHD or DTS HD, possibly because the boards are equipped with a DisplayPort to HDMI 2.0 converter which could introduce issues.

There are some Linux benchmarks (Phoronix) for ASRock J4205-ITX board, but currently limited to C-Ray.