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Vorke Z3 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

July 6th, 2017 11 comments

Vorke Z3 is another mini PC / TV box powered by Rockchip RK3399 hexa core processor with two Cortex A72 cores, and two Cortex A53 cores making it theoretically one of the fastest TV boxes on the market, excluding NVIDIA Shield Android TV which is well ahead of the competition, albeit with poor worldwide availability. I’ve have already shown Vorke Z3 hardware inside out, so in the second part of the review, I’ll focus on testing the firmware including video playback, and the system performance, and see how it compares to the similar Yundoo Y8, which I reviewed last month.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

One the selling point of Vorke Z3 is its SATA connector, so I connected a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive first, as well as Seagate USB 3.0 drive (1TB) to the USB 3.0 port, I also added a USB hub to connect a USB keyboard, as well as two USB RF dongles for Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad. and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse. I did not use the USC type C port at that point, but we’ll see later that it can be used for firmware update, remote storage access, and video output.  I completed the hardware setup by plugging in Ethernet, HDMI, and power cables.

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Press the mechanical power switch on the rear panel in order to start the box, with a typical boot taking around 30 seconds. That’s acceptable, but I was expecting a faster boot with the high end eMMC flash used together with the powerful processor. The first time, you may be asked to choose between Launcher3 (Stock Android Home screen similar to what you get on your phone) better if you are close to the screen using the box as a mini PC,

or the familiar MediaBox Launcher better suited to TV use, if you are seated a few meters from the screen.

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Below are the pre-installed app (minus RKMC which I installed manually) in the stock firmware.

YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Netflix are installed, but you’ll notice Kodi is missing, and there’s a good reason for this as we’ll find out below…

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The Settings are pretty much standard, but when you go to Display Output, you’ll see HDMI and HDMI1 output, because the mini PC can handle two display if you connect a compatible USB type C to HDMI dock to the device, and you can either mirror the displays, or extend the desktop. I don’t have such dock, and GeekBuying did not seem interested in sending me one, so I did not test that part, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I could still go to the HDMI section, and configure video output up to 4096×2160 @ 60 Hz. What I found out is that the system will not keep the setting, and it will just jump aroud 4K @ 30 Hz, 1080p60 or 720p60 between reboots. The Sound & Notification section does not include “Sound Devices Manager”, so you can’t enable audio pass-through, so if you want to do that you’d have to use the blue “Settings” app instead. The settings do not have any options for CEC or HDR, with the latter not supported by the hardware.

The screenshot above was taken at the end of the review, and I still had plenty of space out of the 26.74GB partition. USB3_NTFS is the NTFS partition of my four partitions USB drive, meaning exFAT, EXT-4 and BTRFS file systems are not supported. “USB Drive” is actually the SATA drive, and is a misnomer as the hardware implementation relies on a PCIe to SATA bridge. In case you planed to use the device as a mini PC connected to your printer, you may want to know Printing settings are missing.

The About section shows the device name is indeed VORKE Z3, and it runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.4.166 with the Android security patch dated August 2016. The build machine’s hostname is sunchip-CS24-TY, so it’s quite possible Sunchip is being the software and hardware design. Two versions of the firmware are available with either root or no root, so you could install the one you prefer using AndroidTool (Windows) or upgrade_tool (Linux).

The IR remote control is pretty basic, and I assume most people will used the own input device be it a an air mouse or the smartphone app. It did the job but only up to 4 meters, farther than this, and some key presses will be missed. I had no troubles installing apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground stores.

It’s not possible to cleanly power off the device with the remote control, only the mechanical switch on the back can do this, so instead you can only go in or out of standby.  I measured the power consumption with or without SATA and/or USB hard drive(s) attached in power off, standby, and idle modes:

  • Power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby – 5.1 Watts
  • Idle – 5.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 8.1 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 9.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 10.3 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 11.2 Watts

After playing a 2-hour H.264 video in Kodi, I measured maximum temperatures of 37 and 40°C on the top and bottom of the case with an IR thermometer, but the temperature felt a little higher than that when touching the surface with my hand, maybe it’s made of a material that interferes with measurements. After playing Riptide GP2 for around 15 minutes, the temperatures went up a little to 39 and 42°C, and gameplay was OK overtime, but only similar to what I experience on Yundoo Y8 or Amlogic S912 TV Boxes, and not as smooth as on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced. CPU-Z always reports 26 °C, so it’s not usable as an alternative temperature measure. I also noticed the box got quite hot (44 °C with IR thermometer) when I turned off the display, and let the UI in the launcher doing nothing. I did not notice any sharp drop in performance during use, but thermal throttling is happening as we’ll see in the Benchmark section.

I like the SATA port and USB type C port supporting data and video in Vorke Z3, and I found the firmware to be rather stable and very responsive. However, there are many small issues like no clean power off, HDMI setting is not remembered properly, so settings like Printing, CEC, Audio device, and automatic frame rate switching are missing from the main Setting app. The IR remote control does not feel very good either, and range was rather short.

Kodi & RKMC Video Playback, DRM Info, and YouTube

Kodi is not installed so I went to the Google Play store to install Kodi 17.3, and naively expected most videos to play fine. Those are my results for 4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Stays in UI
  • 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) – Stays in UI
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • 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) – Stays in UI
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – First try: Kodi hangs; Second try: ~2fps + artifacts (software decode)
  • 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) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

Wow… I don’t think I can remember any platform that failed that badly. But I usually use the pre-installed Kodi app, which in this case was missing, so maybe that’s why. I’ll give up on Kodi 17.3 for now, but I remember somebody mentioned RKMC 16.1 would work better on Rockchip device. I did some research, and installed RKMC in the box. I made some mistake doing so, reinstalled the firmware and lost all my screenshots in the process. So maybe sure you backup any files before messing with the system partition or config files.

But what about the results with RKMC and my 4K videos samples?:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  Crash
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Crash
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Stays in UI + hang
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Crash
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI + hang
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Crash
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in UI + audio
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI + audio
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – OK (hardware decode)
  • 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) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

So H.265 video won’t play, VP9 will, but are unwatchable with software decode, and only H.264 videos are playing relatively well.

I got more insights in my RKMC post with Superceleron commenting:

Well don’t expect miracles, besides that is a old kodi fork dont have python 2.7 and it have subtitles security flaw.
On my tests, on A7 version of rk sdk use kodi 18 nightly it will play ok almost all codecs. (i just made a custom rom for A95X-R2 so i know it plays it ok)
On A6 forget it, i had to make some mix custom roms to make it work with FTMC.. it now plays almost all codecs (it crashes with RKCodec on H264 10bits, but mediacodec play ok but max 720p)
Rockchip never learns….

and

Yes need to wait for it, or simple try one of my roms for 3399 like for the Yundoo Y8 or H96 Max.
It will work lot better than stock, i fixed the play of VP9 in Hw in FTMC but still crash in H264 10bits, and cant play Youtube 4k due to codec issue!

So at this stage, I’d recommend not to buy any Rockchip RK3399 TV box if you want to play videos in Kodi, and wait for Android 7.1 firmware which is expected sometimes in the next few weeks or months. If you already have one, and/or are ready to waste some time, you could try TVMC that works somewhat in Yundoo Y8, or use one of the aforementioned ROMs on Freaktab.

I’ll skip video testing in this review, and if time permits perform tests again once Android 7.1 firmware and Kodi 18.0 are released.

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I still checked DRM info, and there’s no DRM support at all, except for something called CENC ClearKey.

YouTube worked well for me up to 1080p. Video is rendered to the framebuffer (I can take screenshot of it), which should explain the resolution limitation, and mean that it’s likely using software decode.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

As I connected to my 802.11ac router, I noticed the Link Speed was 526 Mbps when I checked, so better than the usual 433 Mbps you get on most other devices.

I first tested WiFi 802.11ac throughput by transferring a 278MB file beetween SAMBA and the internal flash and vice versa using ES File Explorer. There’s again a serious problem with SAMBA implementation, as download speed was fairly good @ 3.00 MB/s, but upload speed drop to 1.06 MB/s only, leading to a well below average average speed.

Throughput in MB/s

But iperf tests below show 802.11ac performance is actually quite good in both directions, so the real problem is with SAMBA implementation/configuration in the firmware.

WiFi 802.11ac upload:

WiFi 802.11ac download:

I repeated the SAMBA test with a larger 885 MB file over Gigabit Ethernet, and I confirmed the same issue as it took 49 seconds to upload the file from the server, and 1 minute and 52 seconds to upload the file.

I also run iperf again for Gigabit Ethernet using full duplex option:

I was expecting higher numbers, but those values will be good enough for most people.

Storage Performance

I used A1SD Bench to evaluate sequential performance of internal storage, USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces.

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In theory, the Samsung eMMC flash used is very good, and results from the benchmark confirm this with 157.63 MB/s read speed, and 124.80 MB/s write speed. That’s the best performance I’ve ever gotten from an Android device.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Sure enough, I never had troubles with “app is not responding” or app beings slow to load.

USB 3.0 and SATA performance is also pretty solid, especially sequential read speed. Write speed was actually 100 MB/s the first time I tried with SATA, but after I had to reinstall the firmware, I never managed to get back to that result with the speed limited to around 72 MB/s.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Nevertheless, results are fairly good, and SATA should provide a little more performance than USB 3.0.

Vorke Z3 Benchmark & System Info

CPU-Z reports a dual cluster “RK3066” processor with two Cortex A72 cores @ 1.99 GHz, and four Cortex A53 cores @ 1.51 GHz, and an ARM Mali-T860 GPU.

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VORKE Z3 (rk3399_box) uses a 1920×1080 framebuffer resolution, comes with 3878MB total RAM (the rest being used by hardware buffers), and 26.74 GB interface storage.

Antutu 6.x score varies a lot between 69k and 78k due to thermal throttling. But if I run the benchmark right after boot, I get the result below, roughly the same as Yundoo Y8 one (76,819 points).

Vellamo 2.x results would also varies due to thermal throttling, but also because for some reasons SunSpider test would fail to run from time to time, as shown by the yellow mark on the first Chrome Browser test.
For some reasons, Chrome Browser result is much lower (4,512) compared to the 5,275 points I got with Yundoo Y8, but Multicore (2,587 vs 2,492) and Metal (2,311 vs 2,332) results are roughly the same.

3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme results was also slightly lower with 9,726 points compared to 9,906 points for Yundoo Y8.

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At one point I only got 6,7xx points, but it was not because of overheating, and was instead due to the system randomly changing resolution and refresh rate, with the video output set to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz at the time, limiting the framerate to 30 fps max.

Conclusion

I did not have the best experience with Vorke Z3 due to my struggle with Kodi and RKMC, and various smaller issues like HDMI output resolution & framerate randomly changing between reboots, lack of proper power off mode, some overheating, etc… But there are also some positives like excellent internal storage performance, good USB 3.0 and SATA performance, a USB type C port supporting data, and video output, and very good WiFi performance, so I’m hoping the upcoming Android 7.1 Nougat firmware will greatly improve the device usefulness.

PROS

  • Good overall performance and stable firmware
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV box
  • Fast USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces for external storage
  • Very good 802.11ac WiFi performance
  • USB type C port with support for data and video output (via an external dock).
  • OTA firmware update appears to be supported

CONS

  • The device is unusable with Kodi 17.3, or RKMC with most videos failing to play properly
  • Overheating leading to CPU / GPU throttling (The performance degradation is noticeable in benchmarks, but I have not really experienced it during normal use after playing a 2-hour video, or playing games for 15 minutes)
  • HDMI video output setting is not properly remembered, and it may be 720p, 4K30, 1080p60 at next boot.
  • No clean power off mode (mechanical switch only)
  • Only NTFS and FAT32 files systems are supported, no EXT-4, no exFAT
  • Lack of DRM support
  • Poor upload speed to SAMBA server

GeekBuying sent the device for review, and in case you are interested you could buy Vorke Z3 for $149.99 shipped with VORKEZ3F coupon on their website. You’ll also find the device from various sellers on Aliexpress.

How to Install RKMC “Kodi for Rockchip” App in your TV Box

July 3rd, 2017 6 comments

I’ve started playing with Vorke Z3, an Android 6.0 TV box based on Rockchip RK3399 , and saying that Kodi 17.3 – installed from the Google Play Store – is not working so well is an understatement. The other Rockchip TV boxes I’ve recently reviewed with Android 6.0.1 such as Yundoo Y8 and A95X R2 are all using TVMC, a fork of Kodi 16.1 specifically designed for Rockchip devices. However, there’s no source code for that app, but a Rockchip engineer is maintaining his own fork of Kodi, with the code and some binaries libraries released on Github. The project is called RKMC.

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I did install the app, but I misunderstood part of the instructions at first, and the device would not boot anymore. I lost many hours of work, as I had to reflash the firmware. So I’ll show how I installed it in Vorke Z3 TV box. You could compile it from source, but James also provides binary files for easy installation.

First we’ll need to download RKMC apk and a patched library available for RK3399, RK3368, RK3288, and RK322x processors.First go to RKMC-Build to either download rkmcapp-armeabi-v7a-debug.apk with some add-ons, or rkmcapp-armeabi-v7a-debug-tiny.apk without add-on. With hindsights, I’d recommend the later, as we can see in the screenshot at the top of this article, the first apk mostly includes piracy add-ons that are illegal in most places, and now not working anymore due to the recent crackdown on piracy services with those Kodi add-ons.

Then you’ll want to download librkmcplayer.so  for your processor and operating system, in my case RK3399 and Android 6.0. You’ll also see libmpp.so and libvpu.so in that directory, please ignore those as that’s how I bricked the TV box.

Now that we have our two files, we can run the following commands in a terminal in Ubuntu, but it should work in Windows for Linux Sub-system, or in a Windows command prompt by replacing adb by adb.exe in the commands.

The last command takes around 30 seconds, so be patient. Replace TVBOX-IPADDRESS with the actual IP address, or you can skip this step if you are using a USB type C to USB cable connected between your computer and the device.

We’re done, and you should see RKMC app in the list of apps.

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After a few quick tests, I have to say I also have mixed results with this app, but your mileage may vary. I’ll provide a more detailed report in Vorke Z3 review.

 

Review of Vorke Z3 Android Mini PC with SATA – Part 1: Unboxing & Teardown

June 6th, 2017 6 comments

After Yundoo Y8 review, I’ve received another Rockchip RK3399 mini PC for review: Vorke Z3, which was sent to me by GeekBuying. Both devices are quite similar for Vorke Z3 adds an external SATA interface, and two external high-gain antennas. I was also expecting Android 7.1 Nougat on Z3, but I’ve been told the current SDK has too many bugs, so the device still ships with Android 6.0.1. I’ll start the review by looking into the hardware inside out, before reporting on my experience with the firmware in the second part in a few weeks.

Vorke Z3 Unboxing

The retail package is quite bland, but most people will probably not care a bit about this little detail.

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The devices ships with a 12V/2A power supply, a simple IR remote control, a HDMI cable, a SATA cable, and Vorke Z3 “4K media player” user manual.

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The device feels of good quality with its metal enclosure. The front panel is characterised by its long ventilation holes, one of the sides come with a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, a micro SD slot, and the SATA connector, and the rear panel features the rest of the connectors and ports: two WiFi antennas, a 3.5mm audio jack, optical S/PDIF output, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0 port, USB type C port with USB 3.0 and DisplayPort 1.2 (requires separate adapter), power jack, and power switch.

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Vorke Z3 Teardown

You can disassemble the device by loosening the four screws on the bottom of the case. I started with a precision screwdriver, but I had to upgrade to a larger screwdriver since the screws were too difficult to take out.

I actually damaged one with the precision screwdriver, and I could only remove three, so I had to very lightly bend and rotate the bottom cover.

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There’s no much to see here, except the RTC battery, and a sticker for “R99-V2.0” board. If we remove four more screws, and disconnect the cables to the power switch we can ckeck out the board with the processor, memory and eMMC flash covered by a large heatsink.

The heatsink is very easy to remove, and includes a large white thermal pad underneath. Rockchip RK3399 processor is connected to a “Mainstream” 32GB Samsung KLMBG4GEND-B031 eMMC 5.0 flash (250/100 MB/s R/W, 6.5K/12K R/W IOPS) which should provide very good performance, and two Samsung K4E6E304EE-EGCE LPDDR3 RAM chip (4GB RAM).

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Gigabit Ethernet is implemented via Realtek RTL8211E transceiver coupled with a SWAPNET NS892407 transformer, and while an Ampak AP6356S wireless module brings 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 LE connectivity to the device, and is indeed connected to the two antennas, contrary to some other devices that use dual antennas for aesthetic purposes. SATA has been properly implemented as R99 board designers leveraged Rockchip RK3399 PCIe interface with ASMedia ASM1061 x1 PCI Express to 2x SATA 3.0 ports. Other chips include Rockchip RK808-D PMIC, and Everest Semi ES8316 low power audio codec.

I’d like to thank GeekBuying for proving Vorke Z3 review sample. You can purchase the mini PC from their website for $164.99 shipped. Vorke is a GeekBuying brand so you won’t find it in many websites, but a few resellers on Aliexpress do offer the box.

Continue reading Vorke Z3 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

Vorke Z3 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box to Launch in February 2017

December 20th, 2016 16 comments

I was expecting devices based on Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core processor to launch by the end of this year, that is about right now, but finally it looks like products will only start the show by the end of Q1 2017, as Firefly-RK3399 development board is scheduled to ship to backers in March 2017, while GeekBuying has started teasing us with their Vorke Z3 TV box powered by Rockchip RK3399 with 4GB RAM slated to launch in February 2017. [Update: Vorke Z3 is now up for sale for $169.99 including shipping]

vorke-z3Vorke Z3 preliminary specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core processor with  2x ARM Cortex A72 cores at up to 2.0GHz, 4x Cortex A53 cores, and an ARM Mali-T860MP4 GPU
  • System Memory – 4GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash, external SATA interface (hopefully implemented via the PCIe interface), micro SD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz
  • Video Decoder – 4K H.265 and VP9
  • Audio Output – HDMI, 3.5mm audio port, optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi up to 1200 Mbps (300 Mpbs + 867 Mbps)
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB type C port (for data and power external devices?)
  • Misc – IR receiver, mechanical power switch
  • Power Supply – TBD
  • Dimension & Weight – TBD

rockchip-rk3399-android-tv-boxThe box will run Android 6.0, and currently gets about 72,500 points in Antutu 6.x with 16,519 points for 3D graphics, 25,805 points for UX, 25,905 points for CPU, and 4254 points for RAM tests. There’s hope a good Linux support on Rockchip RK3399, as Google and Rockchip are working on RK3399 Chromebooks, actively committing code to mainline kernel, and Firefly has ported Ubuntu 16.04 to their RK3399 development board with 3D graphics acceleration, and hardware video decoding is coming.

rk3399-sataPrice has now been announced yet, but for reference, Firefly-RK3399 development board with 4GB RAM and 32GB storage is now offered with all accessories for $199 on Kickstarter, and Remix IO+ TV Box also sells with 4GB/32GB configuration sells for $139 shipped, so I’d expect Vorke Z3 to sell for about the same price.

Vorke Z1 Amlogic S912 Android TV Box Comes with 3GB DDR4 Memory

November 18th, 2016 7 comments

DDR4 memory is coming to one more TV box. We first discovered it in Yundoo Y7 TV box powered by Amlogic S905X processor, but now Vorke, which started with Vorke V1 Intel Braswell mini PC and then V2 Ultra earlier this year, has now launched Vorke Z1 TV box with an octa-core Amlogic S912 processor combined with 3 GB DDR4 memory with higher bandwidth than your typical DDR3(L) memory.

vorke-z1

Vorke Z1 specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octo-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 3GB DDR4
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a with HDR and CEC support up to 4K @ 60 fps, and 3.5mm AV jack for composite output
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV jack (stereo audio), and optical S/PDIF
  • Video codecs – VP9, 10-bit H.265 up to 4K 60 fps, H.264 AVC up to 4K 30 fps, H.264 MVC up to 1080p60, and many other codecs up to  1080p60
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 130 x 109 x 24 mm
  • Weight – 214 grams

vorke-z1-ddr4-tv-box

The TV box runs Android 6.0.1 with Kodi 17.0 (beta), and ships with an IR remote control, an HDMI cable, an power adapter for your country, and a user’s manual. While DDR4 should provide higher bandwidth (50% faster), it’s unclear how this impacts performance of apps used in TV boxes, and so far I have not seen any benchmarks, or actual apps comparison showing the user benefit of the faster RAM.

GeekBuying is now taking pre-order for Vorke Z1 for $99.99 shipped, with shipping scheduled in about 2 weeks.

Hardware Requirements for Discounted Windows 10 Licenses for Entry Level mini PCs, TV Sticks, Tablets, Notebooks, and AiO

September 2nd, 2016 6 comments

Even since the first low cost mini PCs and TV sticks started to come to market there was lots of confusion about Windows 8.1/10 licenses, because while small tablets could be shipped with Windows 8.1 with Bing/Windows 10 with a free license, mini PCs required  a different discounted NTE license costing between $15 and $30. Price differs depending who your ask… So while the cheapest devices normally shipped unactivated, some companies like PiPo decided to install Windows with the latest version to cut costs… Microsoft eventually noticed, and PiPo had to stopped the practise, instead making mini PCs with small displays

The exact hardware requirements were also unclear so far for either the free or discount tablet, but the following table dropped in my email Inbox recently… It explains which hardware is accepted for an Entry level license.

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OST means Online Service Terms, and the devices matching the hardware requirements above should be eligible for a discount. A Low End CPUs should be Intel Bay Trail, and Cherry Trail processor, and most likely Braswell and Apollo Lake too, plus some AMD processors. So if you buy a Intel Core iX processor, you should not get a free/cheap Windows license.

Windows 10 mini PCs like Beelink BT7 and Vorke V1 match most requirements of the “WW Entry Desktop/AiO” with a low end Atom X7-Z8700 and Celeron J3160 processor, 4GB RAM, no hard drive, and no optical drive. However, they fail the maximum storage requirements since they ship with at least 64GB internal flash. That means they should be paying the full Windows 10 license, and while they come activated, they are likely in breach of Windows OST. I’ve also been informed Microsoft has been taking legal action against at least one manufacturer of non-compliant devices.

Stress Testing Windows mini PCs with OCCT Overclock Checking Tool

July 1st, 2016 5 comments

I’m mostly a Linux user, but the marketplace has chosen Windows 10 as its preferred operating systems for mini PCs, so I’ve been reviewing fanless (or not) mini PCs running Windows 10 for around two years since Intel decided to provide low cost and low power processors. I normally run some benchmarks such as PCMark 8 or 3DMark, as well as typical user tasks, while monitoring CPU temperature and throttling using HWInfo64 utility, but those benchmarks are not really pushing the device to its limits. However, I’ve just learned out about OCCT “Overclock Checking Tool” that’s just doing that, and installed OCCT 4.4.2 on Vorke V1 to check it out.

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The tool has four taps: CPU: OCCT, CPU: Linpack, GPU: 3D, and Power Supply to stress test different part of the system. I just let it run for over 3 hours after pressing the ON buttons, and you can see all four cores of the Braswell processor at 100% CPU usage in turbo mode, the memory used, cores frequency, and CPU cores temperature in real-time.

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I also ran HWInfo64 at the same time to double check CPU temperature and throttling, but it turns out OCCT is also generating charts for CPU usage, bus frequency, CPU #0 frequency, memory usage, and temperature for all cores. You can access the charts by clicking on the icon in the right of “Monitoring” on the right part of the screen (first screenshot). I’ve included one of the charts showing CPU usage and temperature.

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This shows Vorke V1 appears to be handling high loads very well, and does not overheat. It’s not a fanless system though, so the included fan certainly helps.

OCCT is free for personal use, and costs $150 per year for commercial use, with the commercial version also supporting custom tests, CSV output, and other features.

Vorke V1 Braswell mini PC Unboxing and Teardown

June 18th, 2016 26 comments

Vorke V1 is a Braswell mini PC pre-loaded with Windows 10, powered by an Intel Celeron J3160 quad core with 4GB RAM, 64 GB internal storage, and two important features if you want to use it as a desktop PC: support for internal 2.5″ hard drive, and dual display support via HDMI and VGA ports. GeekBuying sent me a sample for review, and I’ll do a two part review, starting with pictures of the device, and its internal, before publishing the second part testing the performance, stability and features of the mini PC.

Vorke V1 Unboxing

There’s not much to say about the package, as it’s just a bland carton box with a sticker with Vorke V1 name, processor and memory info.

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The mini PC ships with a 19V/2.1A power supply and a power cord, as well as a mounting bracket and 5 screws for 2.5″ SATA SSD or HDD.

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The top cover is quite glossy and features a large power button.

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The front panel exposes two USB 2.0 ports, a micro SD slot, and a small window for an infrared receiver, not commonly found on Intel mini PCs. The two side has large ventilation holes, and the rear panel features the power jack, HDMI and VGA output, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, and a 3.5mm headphone / Line out jack.

Vorke_V1_Beelink_BT7_Raspberry_Pi_2I found Vorke V1 to be larger than most devices I’ve received, so I took a picture with Beelink BT7 and a Raspberry Pi 2 board for comparison.

Normally I’d go to the teardown part now, but with Vorke V1 I have one more step to do, as I can install a 2.5″ hard drive or SSD.

Vorke_V1_Bottom_CoverTo do so, I had to loosen one screw on the bottom of the case, and turn the lid anti-clockwise to open it.

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We can see the bottom of the board with a black protection sheet where you are supposed to install the drive. While I’m here, components of interest include CO-TOP C2417NS (probably Gigabit Ethernet magnetics), ITE IT6513FN DisplayPort to VGA controller, and ENE KB9029Q C embedded / keyboard controller with 8051 MCU, 128KB flash.

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I used a thin 128GB SSD drive first, and the first step is to install the drive inside the mounting bracket with the four screws, before inserting the drive into the SATA interface, and tightening the remaining black screw in the location close to the CO-TOP IC. You can then put back the lid, making sure the two arrows are aligned as shown in the picture of the bottom of the case, before turning it clockwise, and tightening it the screw.

But for the next part of the review, I decided to scavenge a 1TB hard drive from another device, namely a Toshiba MQ01BD100.

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The drive is 9.5mm thick, while the SSD was 7 mm thick, and while I could still close the lid, there was a small gap as shown below. So it might be better to use 7mm drives with Vorke V1.
Vorke_V1_HDD_Case_GapThat’s just a minor issue, and it should not affect the performance.

Vorke V1 Teardown

In order to access the top of the main board, you’ll first need to remove the bottom cover, loosen three screws, before popping up the top cover with a sharp plastic tool, and working your way around.
Vorke_V1_TeardownThe first thing that came to mind is that this mini PC is modular with removable memory, storage and Wireless module. Let’s check the board in more details.

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The mainboard takes ADATA ADDS1600W4G11-8 SO-DIMM module with 4GB DDR3L RAM, Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160 module with 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth, and FORESEE FSSSDBABAC-064G mSATA SSD (See pic below). We can also find an RTC battery, Realtek RTL8111GN PCIe Gigabit transceiver, ALC265 audio codec, RT5067A (not sure what it is), and Realtek RTS5159 USB card reader.

Foresee_SSDSo overall, the system has similar features to an Intel NUC, but a lower price point. The Braswell processor is cooling with a thick metal plate and a fan controller via 3 pins.

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There are also a few unused headers that would allow for some hardware hacking with UART, USB, LPC, and microphone headers.

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I found the hardware quite interesting to study, and it’s the most module low cost low power mini PC I’ve reviewed so far, with no soldered memory, storage or wireless module. We’ll have to see how well it performs under load, as apart from the fan and “heatsink” on the processor, not much else has been done for cooling. GeekBuying claims Windows 10 Home is activated in the device, and they also quickly and successfully tested Ubuntu 16.04, so I asked them whether they planned to sell a cheaper version without Windows 10 license, but there only answer was people could install the OS they wanted…

I’d like to thank GeekBuying for provide the device, and they sell it for $199.99 including shipping, but you can get that down $159.99 to with coupon VORKEV1. The  only other seller I could find is Banggood where it goes for for $199.