Posts Tagged ‘wifi’

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko 4K H.265 TV Stick Review

November 26th, 2014 No comments

Zero Devices Z5C Think is one of the rare HDMI TV sitck powered by Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A12/A17 processor available on the market. I’ve already take a few pictures of the device and internals, so today I’ll focus on testing the firmware, and performance of this thin and nice looking TV stick.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

There was a time when HDMI stick were powered by much slower, but power efficient processor based on Cortex A5 cores. One of these was CX-01 mini PC, and they could be powered by the USB port of the TV without problems. Now the processor are much more powerful, so normally you can’t power the device directly from the TV, but since I’ve seen people claim it was possible to drive RK3288 stick directly from the USB port of some TVs, I gave it a try, connected the stick to my Panasonic TV via the HDMI cable extension, as the two HDMI ports on my TV are too close, connected the micro USB to USB cable to my TV, and the power LED turned on, but the screen would stay black, and the TV display the message “Overcurrent error on USB device occured. Please remove the USB device and switch off the TV by mains power switch”.

Overcurrent_error_panasonic_TVSo that did not work out, but it was expected, and it’s not a problem with the stick, just that the TV can’t handle device with high power requirements.

So instead I used the power supply, and added a RF dongle for the Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Boot time is one of the best on the market so far, as it takes just 25 seconds between the time connecting the power supply, and getting to the Android Home Screen.

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

But the very first time, you’ll get through a wizard that let you select simplified Chinese, English or Others languages, scale your display for overscan compensation, and configure Wi-Fi. Unfortunately the first time, it did not find any Wi-Fi access point, so I went to Android Settings to check, and there was no MAC address either, probably meaning the Wi-Fi module was not detected. But everything got back to normal after a reboot, and Wi-Fi worked just fine.

Let’s have a look at the e Android settings. The Wireless & Networks sections comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet (for external USB dongle), and Data Usage menus, as well as a “More” section with VPN and Portable Hotspot. The Display settings mainly include font size adjustment, overscan compensation menu, and HDMI resolution selection between 9 modes: 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720x576p-50 or 720x480p-60. Options for 4K output will be display if you own a 4K UHD TV. You can select the “Sound Output Device” in the “Sound Devices Manager” either “Default Output”, “Spdif Passthough” (which is not available on the stick), and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through).

About_Z5C_ThinkoThe 8GB eMMC is partitioned into two partitions:  a 0.95 GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps with 658 MB free, and a 8 GB (black magic yet again) “NAND FLASH” partition for data, with about 5.20 GB available space.

The “About Z5C Thinko” section reports the model number is Z5C, and it’s running Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux 3.10.0, and the vendor software version is 1.0.3. There’s also a System updates menu, that appears to properly connect to a server, but no new firmware was available at the time of the review.

Google Play works pretty well, and I could install apps such as ES File Explorer, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…, with the only incompatible apps I’ve noticed being Vidonn Smartband app (as usual), and Real Racing 3. I’ve also installed Riptide GP2 through Amazon AppStore. However, I quickly ran out of space because of the sub 1GB app partition.

There’s no power button, and not proper power handling with this stick. Pressing the power button on the status bar will come up with a power off menu, but all it will do it reboot the device. Pressing the power button on Mele F10 Deluxe will simply blink the screen for one second, but it’s probably a remote key handling issue, which I’ve seen on another device, so after a fix, standby should be supported. But there’s probably nothing to be done to support power off, since it’s probably the way the hardware has been designed.

One of the biggest problems with Z5C Thinko is that it gets really hot, and sometimes hot enough to have the chip reboot itself. After Antutu, I could measure between 55 to 90°C, with the temperature especially hot on top of the Rockchip SoC, and close to the HDMI connector, since that’s where the heatsink spans.  The maximum temperature I got was 118°C. During idle time (i.e. in the home screen), the temperature is between 45 to 55°C, and in Kodi user interface it goes up to about 70°C. I’d like to point out the temperature varies a lot (-/+ 20°C on one given spot), probably because of the ventilation holes. So sometimes my IR thermometer may point to the plastic case, but sometimes I might measure the temperature directly from the heatsink, at least that’s my theory.

As long as you don’t perform demanding tasks, the firmware is mostly stable and smooth, but there are also various bugs, as I had to reboot to get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work, USB storage connection may not be reliable, and because of the high temperature, it’s basically impossible to play 3D games, and even playing videos for over one hour may cause reboots. The tiny app partition is also annoying, but it’s something that’s easily fixable with a firmware update.

Video Playback

Kodi alpha 14 was pre-installed in the stick,. and it even let me know I should update, but since I don’t know whether the XBMC/Kodi version installed as been customized or not, I’ve tried using that version. Normally I play video from a SAMBA share, but for some reasons Kodi did not manage to find my computer, as it happened frequently in my previous review. So I switched to using my USB hard drive. I tried to connect it via the micro USB OTG port with the OTG adapter, but it was not recognized, and I tried a USB flash drive, but same problem. So instead I attached a USB hub to the single USB host port of the Android dongle, and my hard drive LED went on, but at first I could not see any partition in Kodi or ES File Explorer. I rebooted, and it worked, but since relatively unstable. So instead I installed SPMC from Google Play, and … it did not anything in the Video menu. So I ended playing videos from a SAMBA share using ES File Explorer and MX Player:

I played 1080p videos samples from, and one extra 1080p H.265/HEVC videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – It’s playing, but not very smooth.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – OK

Some higher bitrate videos had troubles to play because I was over Wi-Fi:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often

Please note that most Android media player won’t be able to play these files smoothly over Wi-Fi + SAMBA, so the results are not really surprising.

High definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in MX Player, but since some of these are high bitrate I had buffering and audio cut issues:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK (5.1), audio cuts and buffering (7.1)
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Black screen only
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR –  Audio cuts and buffering

I tried to play Sintel-Bluray ISO, but it would load forever in MX Player.

4K video playback is about the same as with other RK328 boxes in MX Player, i.e. not that good:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Frequent audio  cut, and video in slow motion. It’s a 60 Mbps video so it can’t be realistically be played over Wi-Fi.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Severe decoding issues with heavily distorted image
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Slow motion
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Slow motion (maybe 1 to 3 fps)

This morning I tried again Kodi with SAMBA, and it worked for some reasons, so I tried the 4K videos in Kodi as well:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – First time black screen only, second try: plays but with many skipped frames, and then buffering.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Buffering a lot becasue bitrate is too high for Wi-Fi, but when video plays it’s not smooth either with many dropped and skipped frames.
  • 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.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Kodi reports it plays at 8 to 10 fps, but it feels even slower than that. All four core at at 100% CPU usage.

I skipped the usual AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, FLV and MP4 videos testing, but I still did play a 2-hour video (1080p / mkv / h.264) to test stability. The video did not feel very smooth, so I enabled Kodi debug overlay by pressing the ‘o’ key, and I regularly saw dropped and skipped frames, and the frame rate oscillated between 10 to 26 fps for that 24 fps video. Nevertheless, when I play the 2-hour video, I usually go to do something else, coming to check a few times, and after about one hour, I noticed I got back to the Android home screen. I did not connect the stick to my UPS, and I thought I heard a “micro” power failure (1 or 2 seconds), so I tried again, but it did play for one hour or so, and suddenly I saw the black, and shortly after the boot logo. So I rushed to scan the dongle with my infrared thermometer, and I go an amazing maximum temperature of 118 °C!

So proper video playback does not seem possible yet on Rockchip RK3288, and the small form factor even amplifies the issues, as it can’t play a full movie, at least at my room temperature (28 °C).

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi)

I’m transferring a 278 MB between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa, for three times in ES File Explorer to get an idea of the Wi-Fi performance, and at 2.62 MB/s on average, the performance is decent, but not clearly outstanding. The good thing is that there was very little variation between the tests, so performance is not that great, but it’s reliable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests


Sixaxis Compatibility Checker indicated the driver in Z5C can handle Sony PS3 controller, but when I used my controller clone, I got the message “Fake controller detected, attempting workaround”, but it just got stuck there.

Right after, sixaxis test, I tried to enable Bluetooth in the Android settings, but it did not work. A reboot fixed that, and I guess is the Sixaxis app may have caused troubles with Bluetooth. I could then pair my phone with Z5c, and transfer pictures.

I install the APK for my Vidonn X5 fitness tracker in order to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE). The smart band could be detected, and the dongle retrieve data from it successfully.


Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and accessed.
Using my USB 3.0 hard drive was more problematic, as at times, it would just umount itself, or even not be recognized at all. But when it worked, it could detect all four partitions, but only mount the FAT32 and NTFS partition.

File System Read Write
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted

Due to stability issues, and I believe people are less likely to connect a USB hard drive to their stick than a full box, I skipped USB / NTFS benchmark, but still used A1 SD Bench to check the Samsung eMMC performance.

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

The eMMC flash has very good read speed (34.26 MB/s), but the write speed (6..62 MB/s) is not quite as good. Strangely, it’s still faster than the 6MB/s listed in Samsung eMMC product brief.  The fast read speed explained the quick boot time (25s), but I did not notice slowdowns due to the write speed.


Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 were the three games used for testing. No problem with Candy Crush Sag, as expected. I played the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, which works just fine as usual. Beach Buggy Blitz was ultra-smooth with maxed out graphics settings, but I decided to try to play a few races, and check the temperature with that games. At the second race, the stick rebooted automatically, and I measured up to 105 °C, and I was quite surprised, as it was the first time (I played games, before I played videos) I got a temperature over 100 °C with an Android gadget. I decided to let the stick cool down for about 2 minutes, which I reckon is way too short,  before “playing” Riptide GP2.  As you may gues,s I did not end-up playing very long, as the device rebooted very soon, and I measured a maximum temperature of 110 °C.

Z5C Thinko Benchmarks

I expected the CPU frequency to be lower in a tiny HDMI adapter, compared to the easier to cool down full size TV box, so I ran CPU-Z to check the information, and the maximum CPU frequency is still 1.8 GHz, which at least partially explained the very high temperature I got.Z5C_Thinko_CPU-Z

The CPU is still detected as a Rockchip RK3066 with eight Cortex A12 core clocked between 312 MHz and 1.8 GHz, so it seems CPU-Z developers are not that interested in keeping up to date with Chinese SoCs by Allwinner or Rockchip.The total memory is correctly reported as 2019 MB, and internal storage has 0.95 GB because the app only included the first partition.


Antutu 5.3 score is quite lower than other Rockchip RK3288 devices. Z5C Thinko gets 29,001 points, whereas TV boxes such as Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta get around 37,000 points. If we look into the details of the scores, Z5C takes a hit with UX, RAM, and CPU tests, but the GPU performance is exactly the same. Storage I/O is also weaker probably because of the slower eMMC write speed. So a more aggressive governor must have been implemented, or the 1.8GHz frequency reported by CPU-Z and Antutu is incorrect.


Zero Devices Z5C Thinko is small, looks great, and comes with a powerful Rockchip RK3288 processor. But unfortunately, there are just oo many problem with the firmware right now, include potential unreliable USB hard drive support, poor video playback (mostly common to other RK3288 devices), and most importantly high temperature issues, which makes 3D gaming, continuous video playback, and other tasks that may require a sustained load currently impossible, as the stick will just reboot to “save” itself.


  • Fast new processor
  • Gook looking, thin, and small. One of the rare TV sticks based on Rockchip RK3288 processor
  • Fast boot (25 seconds)
  • 4K and H.265/HEVC support (although it needs improvement)
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Support for OTA update (server detected, but not tested since no new firmware was available at the time)
  • Bluetooth features seems to all work (File transfer, BLE, and maybe Sixaxis)


  • Gets extremely hot (I measured up to 118 °C), leading to reboot, and it might affect the useful life of the device.
  • No power button, or proper power off handling, which can lead to data loss.
  • Many issues with video playback including dropped/skipped frames,  and it failed the 2-hour movie playback, because of issue #1 (temperature).
  • 3D games are unplayable due to temperature issues
  • Potential USB hard drive issue (unreliable)
  • USB OTG adapter does not seem to work, at least with USB mass storage devices.
  • At first boot, Wi-Fi module was not detected. Fixed after reboot, and the problem did not occur again.
  • The internal storage partition is only 0.95 GB, and it can be full after installing a few apps.

So at this stage, Z5C Thinko can probably only be used reliably as a portable mini PC to browse the web, check emails, and interact in social networks. But they’ve got some serious work to do when it comes to video playback, USB support, 3D gaming, and overall bug fixing. The temperature issue may only be fixable by lowering the CPU frequency to 1.2 or 1.4 GHz, and for 3D gaming the GPU may also have to be clocked down, but then you’ll end up with a much less powerful platform than existing RK3288 solutions.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko can be purchased for $94.99 on Asiapads including shipping. The company also offers a USB + Ethernet Hub for an extra $5.

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DWA8 ESP8266 Wi-Fi Module Features a 10-bit ADC, Up to 8 GPIOs, 4 PWM Outputs, and More (Crowdfunding)

November 19th, 2014 7 comments

Espressif ESP8266 based ESP-01 module may now cost $3, but it’s limited to only two GPIOs, so a Dooao, a Chinese company based in Beijing, has decided to make a new ESP8266 module with more GPIOs, PWM signals, SPI, UART. and a 10-bit ADC.

Dooao_DWA8Dooao DWA8 module specifications:

  • SoC – Espressif Systems ESP8266 32-bit RISC processor @ 80 MHz with 120KB RAM (40KB usable), built-in 802.11 b/g/n support.
  • Wi-Fi – 802.112 b/g/n, STA/AP/STA+AP modes, WEP/WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK security
  • Interfaces:
    • Up to 8x GPIOs
    • Up to 4x PWM
    • SPI (master & slave) up to 40MHz
    • UART with hardware FC up to 4Mbps
    • 1x channel 10bit ADC
  • Power supply – Single 3.3V  (2.8 to 3.6V)
  • Power consumption – Max: 70 mA @ 3.3V (230 mW); typical: 12mA; standby < 200 uA; “soft power off” < 10uA.
  • Dimensions – 27.13 x 17 x 2.3 mm (a bit larger than ESP-01)
  • Temperature Range – Operating: -40 °C to – 85 °C; storage -45 °C to 125 °C

The company will provide an “open SDK platform” (no details), and plans to release the schematics and PCB layout for the mode, but the latter does not also happen based on previous project (from other companies) on crowdfunding platforms. They are also working on Dooao Cloud services, and a corresponding API.

Dooao A8-X Demoboard with DWA8 Module

Dooao A8-X Demoboard with DWA8 Module

They’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise at least $5,000 (fixed funding) for mass production. But before I go to the perks which are not 100% clear, let’s go to their Taoboa website where they are two products: DWA8 module (35 RMB ~ $5.7 US), and A8-X demoboard (58 RMB ~ $9.5 US) pictured above. DWA8 is the module featured in the Indiegogo campaign, and A8-X demoboard is a baseboard including DWA8 module, that’s not mentioned at all on Indiegogo.

Back to the perks… A $10 “Early bird” pledge will get you ” 1 DWA8 module +1 Baseboard and SDK and HDK”, and they have options with different quantities of baseboards and modules, up to $200 for 30 DWA8 modules, and two “free” baseboards. Shipping costs are not even mentioned at all either, and they did not bother talking about the delivery schedule either, so the whole campaign is quite messy. I would expect the $10 pledge to be DWA8 module + A8-X board as shown above, but it could also be A8 Wi-Fi module (squared module) that you’d have to solder to DWA8 board. If it’s indeed $10 for A8-X board, then they’ve probably forgot to include shipping costs. I’ve asked a private question on Indiegogo about the perks and shipping, and hopefully they’ll make things clearer soon. The campaign ends in January 2015, so there’s still plenty of time, and I’d dare to assume delivery should take place in February 2015.

Thanks to Paul for the tip.

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Categories: Hardware Tags: dooao, esp8266, espressif, indiegogo, wifi

MINIX NEO X6 Media Hub Review

November 18th, 2014 5 comments

Last week-end, I took a few pictures of MINIX NEO X6 media hub, and had a look at the company’s firmware and forum support which indeed seems to be good. Today, I’ve completed the full review of MINIX NEO X6, and I will compare it to two of its lower priced competitors: MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The IR remote control works fine, including continuous up ad down pressing, but I switched to using Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse for convenience. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cable, a micro SD card, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, a USB flash drive, and a UVC webcam. I’ve connected the power, pressed the power button on the side of the box, but nothing happened at first… You have to press the button one second or more to start the box, then the blue LED turns off, a MINIX logo show ups, a few seconds later a short MINIX animation, and the first screen greets you asking to choose between “Launcher” and “MINIX METRO”, respectively the default Android home screen, or MINIX customized user interface. The boot takes about 1 minutes and 30 seconds. By comparison MXQ S85 takes a little over 40 seconds, and EM6Q-MXQ about 1m 50s.

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

The status bar is hidden by default, and I simply pulled it up with the mouse pointer to take a screenshot. But before carrying on with the review, I noticed the company released Firmware 002 for MINIX NEO X6, so I decided to check the Update app in Android (on Monday), but the new firmware was not on the update server.  I even asked if they had a schedule to push the OTA update, but I did not receive an answer in time for the review. So instead, I used the standard firmware update method which involves USB Burning Tool for Windows, and pressing the recovery button. I was a pain, I did it in VirtualBox, but after one error, it finally successfully updated the firmware.

Back to the review. For some reasons, my TV resolution was automatically detected to be at 720p60, so i changed the settings to 1080p60 manually. I’ve noticed that switching to 720p still keep the user interface to 1920×1080 resolution, so there’s no performance gain doing so.

The Settingd menu is based on the same Metro-style interface found in most Amlogic boxes, but with MINIX green and grey skin with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other. I’ve highlighted the differences with MXQ-S85 in bold, and crossed the deleted options.

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, or 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz
    • CVBS Mode Setting: 480 CVBS or 576 CVBS (if Composite output selected on TV).
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Screen Save (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control
    • Google TV Remote
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather (Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
    • No Output to USB Audio
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (connects to server OK), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard Android Settings.

CVBS and S/PDIF options have been removed since those two ports are not available in MINIX NEO X6, and they rightly removed the “Location for weather” because the services only works for Chinese cities. “No Output to USB Audio” is enabled by default, and it’s probably there to avoid audio capable air mouse, such as Mele F10 Pro, to takeover HDMI audio output automatically.

I’ve made a video to show MINIX NEO X6 user interface, system settings, as well as H.265 video playback and automatic refresh rate switching which both work in XBMC 13.3.3 MINIX Edition.

About_MINIX_NEO_X6MXQ-S85 comes with an 8GB eMMC flash with a single 5.32GB partition, with a little under 4GB free by the end of my review. The model number is reported as being “NEO-X86″ in “About MediaBox” section, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is not rooted, and I have not rooted it, but since a USB cable is provided for the OTG port, and the firmware upgrade procedure worked, it should be able to root the device.

I had no problem installing apps with Google Play Store including the something problematic Vidonn Smartband app, a paid app, and messenger apps (Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp) which would not install in MXQ S85 TV Box. I’ve also installed Amazon AppStore, in order to test Riptide GP2.

MXQ S85 could not be powered off cleanly, but MINIX NEO X6 has no such problem. The power button on the side of the box is used to power it on (need to press 1 second or more), and the remote control or the soft power button in the status bar are used to pop-up a menu to let your “Sleep”, “Restart”, or “Power Off”. The only downside is that you can turn on the media player with the remote control, and you have to get up to press the power button on the device. It must be the coolest device I ever tested (no pun intended), the maximum temperature measured after Antutu 5.2 was 37°C and 45°C respectively on the top and bottom of the box.  After playing Riptide GP2 for nearly 30 minutes, the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 40°C and 46°C.

MINIX NEO X6 firmware is rock solid, as during my testing I did not experience any noticeable slowdown, crash, or freeze. One game did fail to load once, but at the second attempt it worked just fine. For some reasons, I also had problems to connect the SAMBA shared in XBMC at first, but finally I could connect. I never had the message “app not responding” pops up like in MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

Video Playback

Firmware 002 comes with XBMC 13.3 MINIX Edition pre-installed, but I saw they have XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition recently released with automatic refresh rate switching, something I only heard was possible in Linux so far (with ARM hardware), and better support for .ts files. So I installed it to give it a try. The 1080p XBMC user interface is rendered at about 30 fps with this hardware. Normally, I’d play video from a SAMBA share in Ubuntu 14.04, but for some reasons I got the message “Connection Refused”, albeit I got it working just fine with ES File Explorer. So most of the video test were made from a USB hard drive.

I started with videos from, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • 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), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK but not that smooth (S/W decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p plays in slow motion all the time, and audio is cut.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – OK, but it’s not possible to seek in the file.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I also successfully tested automatic refresh rate switching with the HEVC / 1080p video @ 24 fps, where my TV output 1080p24 automatically, and reverts to 1080p60 after I interrupt video playback.

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK, but could be smoother, and XBMC reports skipped and dropped frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Next are some videos with high definition audio codec:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK, but I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the 7.1 video.
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – Audio is OK, I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the video.

Sintel-Bluray.iso played OK in XBMC, so Blu–Ray ISO files are supported.

As with other Amlogic S805 based Android TV boxes, AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO, and MP4 videos could all play fine, without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. I also watched a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability, and no issue here either. So overall, video playback capabilities of NEO X6 are quite impressive.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

A 278 MB file is transferred between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, to test the network performance, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi transfer speed is very good @ 3.01 MB/s on average, about the same as MXQ-S85, but not not quite as fast as the outstanding Wi-Fi performance of EM6Q-MXQ media player.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Ethernet worked fine at 100 Mbps connected to my Gigabit Ethernet switch, with performance a little better than other Amlogic S805 players.


Throughput in MB/s

I ran iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c -d” command line, to get a raw Ethernet performance number, and it confirms NEO X6 is still the best in its category (S805 boxes have green dots):


Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

Client connecting to, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
[  6] local port 48372 connected with port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   625 MBytes  87.4 Mbits/sec
[  4]  0.0-60.1 sec   564 MBytes  78.7 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests


Bluetooth file transfer works as expected. MINIX NEO X6 is advertized as “m201″, and I did not experience any issues while transferring pictures from my Android phone to the box.

I skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Checker test, as the device is not rooted, and I did not try to root it.

I used Vidonn X5 fitness band to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE), but the app could locate the smartband.


USB flash drive and a micro SD card formatted with FAT21 could be accessed by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions were completely ignored as usual.

File System Read Write
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted

USB hard drive and internal flash performance were tested with A1 SD Bench app. The read speed was 18.87 MB/s, and the write speed 22.37MB/s for NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sdb1). Both results are not very good, but equivalent to what I got with MXQ S85, yet much slower than EM6Q-MXQ.

Transfer Rate in MB/s

Transfer Rate in MB/s

MINIX claims to have use an eMMC flash with NEO X6, and the benchmark results indeed shows its the fastest S805 device when its comes to internal storage read and write speeds, achieving respectively 23.23 MB/s (read) and 9.95 MB/s (write), which makes sure the apps load a bit faster. Boot should also be faster, but for some reasons it’s not the case, at least against MXQ S85.

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

USB Webcam

I could make an audio call with Skype using the “Echo Service”, and the webcam was recognized and working, but although I could record a video message, it would never show up, and I could not share it with my contact. Google Hangouts also recognizes the USB webcam, but the image freezes a lot, so it’s currently unusable.


I played the three usual suspects: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. Candy Crush Saga was responsive enough, and I crushed candy with my air mouse. I used Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad for Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2. Beach Buggy Blitz exited while loading the first time, but after that it worked. The quad core Mali-450 GPU is powerful enough to handle this game at a decent frame rate with the default settings (low graphics settings), even at 1080p. The system struggles a bit more with Riptide GP2, but changing the graphics quality to “Smoother Framerate” improve the user experience. I played several races waiting for the usual freeze in Riptide GP2 on Amlogic devices, but I decided to give after the 7th races (about 30 minutes), as the game was still running good. I’m not sure if Amlogic or MINIX did something to the firmware, or Vector Unit changed something in their game.

3D games are working and, NEO X6 appears to be more stable than other Amlogic devices, but if gaming is important to you, you should still consider a faster devices based on Rockchip RK3288 processor for instance.

MINIX NEO X6 CPU-Z & Antutu Benchmark

I failed to have a look at the board in MINIX NEO X6 unboxing post, but CPU-Z provides some interesting insights, which could explain some of the close results with MXQ S85 in several benchmarks above. The model number is reported as NEO X6 (m201), whereas MXQ-S85 was reported as S85 (m201). At first I thought the board could be virtually the same, except MINIX took out S/PDIF, and replaced a standard NAND flash, by an eMMC flash, but the connectors placement are quite different, so they must really be different, and I’m not sure what m201 means in this case.


The media hub gets 1716,448 points in Antutu 5.2, which is a bit faster than the scores achieved by EM6Q-MXQ (16,647), and MXQ S85 (16,448), mostly because the CPU is clocked at 1,536 MHz instead of 1,488 MHz, and faster I/Os.



There’s no doubt MINIX NEO X6 is a good device. Firmware is very stable, I did not experience slowdowns, video playback is excellent, with rare features like H.265 support in XBMC, and automatic refresh rate switching, Ethernet and Wi-Fi both offer good throughput, 3D games won’t hang like in most Amlogic boxes, and the main downside is probably the rather poor USB / NTFS read and write performance, which becomes an issue in case you have very high bit rate videos (120 Mbps+) stored on a USB hard drive.


  • Firmware is stable, and relatively fast (considering the processor involved)
  • Excellent XBMC support including H.265/HEVC support, and automatic refresh rate switching.
  • Good Wi-Fi, and Ethernet performance
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz)
  • 3D games play without issues. (Performance is not optimal however due to the GPU/CPU)
  • Good power handling, although the device can’t be turned on with the remote control.
  • OTA firmware update
  • Webcam works with Skype
  • Support forum and community


  • USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy / Smart is not currently supported.
  • OTA firmware upgrade connects to server, but firmware files may not be uploaded to the update server in a timely manner. (TBC)
  • USB webcam did not work reliably in Google Hangouts.
  • The remote control can’t power on the device.
  • Lacks optical S/PDIF output
  • Relatively slow boot time (1m30s) despite eMMC flash

MINIX NEO X6 media hub is clearly a better device compared to the low cost MXQ S85 and EMQ6-MXQ media players, albeit its outperformed in some individuals tests. Overall, there are less issues, XBMC runs better, and if support and regular firmware updates, probably for a year based on experience with previous MINIX devices, are important to you, it could be worth paying double price to buy MINIX NEO X6 instead of MXQ S85. For $100, you could also buy one of the many Rockchip RK3288 media player, and if video playback is not your focus, web browsing and gaming will be much faster, but if your main usage will be to play 1080p videos, including with the latest HEVC/H.265, NEO X6 capabilities are greater than on any of the RK3288 TV boxes I’ve tested so far. Devices based on Amlogic S812 will also be an option, in theory providing both the same excellent video playback (up to 4K), and much faster CPU/GPU performance, but it’s something I’ll test soon.

Tinydeal provided the sample for this review, and if are interested in the device, you could buy  MINIX NEO X6 for $99.99 including shipping on Tinydeal.  It is quite popular. so it can be found on many online resellers including DealExtreme, Amazon, Pandawill, GeekBuying, etc…

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Add Wi-Fi to Arduino Boards for $3 with ESP8266 Wi-Fi Serial Module

November 17th, 2014 10 comments

There has been some buzz around ESP8266 Wi-Fi module, mostly because of its low price, and SDK availability, meaning it could become the Wi-Fi equivalent of ENC28J60 Ethernet module, and that for $5 you could potentially add Wi-Fi to your Arduino board for example. Since then, the price has come down even further, and if you are prepared to buy 5 pieces, you can now get the module for less than $3 / piece shipped, alternatively a single module costs $4, and a complete Wi-Fi + Arduino Uno (clone) kit goes for $15. A community has also been built around the chip, and a several project have been made with Arduino boards and ESP8266 module.


The best way to find information is to go to ESP8266 community forum, as well as read the Wiki on github. There’s currently a GCC toolchain for Espressif Systems ESP8266, open source tools for working with the firmware images and serial protocol, but the (leaked) SDK needs to be officially opened, as I understand it still requires an NDA.

ESP8266 does not have to be connected to another MCU board via its serial interface, and it can be used in standalone, as it also provides two GPIOs (version 2 only) so you can use it to control relays for example. The picture above is ESP-01, which is the most common module, but there are also other form factor for example with ESP-07 that’s even smaller but would require some soldering.

There’s been several project published on the web with Arduino + ESP8622, but AFAIK no libraries have been released yet, and people simply send AT commands in their sketches. You can check ESP8266 Wifi Temperature Logger project using Sparkfun Arduino Pro Mini 328, Seeeduino wrote a short tutorial with Seeeduino3 (Arduino UNO), and James Wolf did a short demo using ESP8622 and Arduino Micro board that fetch a URL, and display the HTML code and some of HTTP data in the serial monitor.

The sketch for the demo can be found here, and he also wrote some documentation.

Thanks to onebir for the tip.

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Zsun SD111 Is Now “Officially” an Hackable Wireless Flash Drive

November 16th, 2014 11 comments

Zsun SD11x are Wi-Fi flash drives for 8 to 128 GB eMMC, alternative to Sandisk or Kingston. Yesterday, I soldered the UART pins to Zsun SD111 (8GB) flash drive to access the serial console, but I did not manage to enter the terminal as it was password-protected. I posted my results anyway, as I was convinced I would get some clever ideas from my readers, some of which appeared to be a little time consuming, but Zoobab offered a simple solution that consisted in changing the boot parameters, by replacing /sbin/init by /bin/sh.


The first step is to interrupt the boot by pressing space or another key, in order to access U-boot.
Now we can check the U-boot environment

ar7240> printenv
bootargs=console=ttyS0,115200 root=31:02 rootfstype=jffs2 rw init=/sbin/init mtdparts=ar7240-nor0:64k(u-boot),64k(u-boot-env),6720k(rootfs),1216k(uImage),64k(NVRAM),64k(ART)
bootcmd=bootm 0x9f6B0000

Environment size: 361/65532 bytes

Let’s keep everything the same, except the init, which can be modified with the command below:

ar7240> setenv bootargs console=ttyS0,115200 root=31:02 rootfstype=jffs2 rw init=/sbin/sh mtdparts=ar7240-nor0:64k(u-boot),64k(u-boot-env),6720k(rootfs),1216k(uImage),64k(NVRAM),64k(ART)

Let’s start Linux:

ar7240> boot

It will end with:

ar7240wdt_init: Registering WDT success
VFS: Mounted root (jffs2 filesystem) on device 31:2.
Freeing unused kernel memory: 128k freed

BusyBox v1.01 (2014.06.20-01:25+0000) Built-in shell (ash)
Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.

/bin/sh: can't access tty; job control turned off
/ #

Perfect! We’ve got access to the command line. Let’s have look at the users:

~ # cat /etc/passwd 
ap71:x:500:0:Linux User,,,:/root:/bin/sh

If we look at the shadow file only root and Admin have a password, so you could login with user ap71 without password for example, but that’s not too useful since you would not have root access. So I simply changed the root password with passwd command, but let’s me access the board via the UART console or telnet.

I’ve run some command to find out more about the system.

~ # uname -a
Linux (none) 2.6.31--LSDK-9.2.0_U11.14 #1 Wed Aug 6 13:13:40 HKT 2014 mips unknown
~ # df -h
Filesystem                Size      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/root                 6.6M      5.8M    796.0k  88% /
/dev/sda1                 7.4G     18.8M      7.4G   0% /etc/disk
~ # cat /proc/cpuinfo
system type             : Atheros AR9330 (Hornet)
processor               : 0
cpu model               : MIPS 24Kc V7.4
BogoMIPS                : 266.24
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 16
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : yes, count: 4, address/irw mask: [0x0000, 0x0ff8, 0x0943, 0x0650]
ASEs implemented        : mips16
shadow register sets    : 1
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available

~ # busybox
BusyBox v1.01 (2014.06.20-01:25+0000) multi-call binary

Usage: busybox [function] [arguments]...
or: [function] [arguments]...

BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
utilities into a single executable.  Most people will create a
link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
will act like whatever it was invoked as!

Currently defined functions:
[, arping, ash, awk, brctl, busybox, cat, chgrp, chmod, cp, cut,
date, dd, df, dirname, dmesg, du, echo, egrep, env, ethdebug,
ethreg, expr, factoryreset, false, fgrep, find, getty, grep, httpd,
id, ifconfig, init, insmod, iproute, kill, killall, linuxrc, ln,
login, ls, lsmod, md, md5sum, mkdir, mknod, mktemp, mm, modprobe,
more, mount, mv, passwd, ping, ps, pwd, reboot, rm, rmdir, rmmod,
route, sed, sh, sleep, strings, su, sync, tail, tar, telnet, telnetd,
test, tftp, touch, true, tty, udhcpc, udhcpd, umount, uname, vconfig,
vi, wc, xargs

~ #

The linux kernel contains the string “LSDK-9.2.0″ which appears to be an SDK for Atheros AR93XX, and can be downloaded here (I have not tried/verified the download). So the device is not running OpenWRT. Since telnet is not exactly secure, and want to access the device over the network, you should probably install dropbear, There’s only 796 KB left on the SPI flash, so what you can do is probably limited, although it might be possible to delete unused files to get extra space. Have fun!

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Spark Photon is a $19 Hackable IoT Wi-Fi Board

November 14th, 2014 4 comments

Spark Core is a popular Wi-Fi module for the internet of things  with a community of over 20,000 developers, but at $39 it may have started to feel a little expensive compared to the new IoT Wi-Fi modules such as ESP82666 or xWiFi, so the company has unveiled a new Wi-Fi board called Photon that’s smaller, better, and cheaper.

Spark Photon and P0 Module

Spark Photon and P0 Module

Let’s compare Spark Core with the new Spark Photon.

Feature Spark Core Spark Photon
Wi-Fi Support 802.11 b/g 802.11 b/g/n
Wi-Fi Setup Smart Config Soft AP
Wireless Module TI CC3000 Broadcom BCM43362
MCU STM32F103 STM32F205
MCU Speed 72 MHz 120 MHz
Flash Memory 128 KB 1 MB
RAM 20 KB 128 KB
UART (Serial) Yes
I2C Yes
DAC No Yes
CAN No Yes
VBAT pin exposed No Yes
Wakeup pin exposed No Yes
Price $39.00 $19.00

So beside slashing the price by 50%, the new board supports 802.11 n, comes with a faster STMicro MCU with more memory, and it adds DAC and CAN interface, as well as access to VBAT and Wakup pins. The Wireless module from Texas Instruments has been replaced by Broadcom BCM43362 module that’s used in products like Nest, LIFX, and more.

They’ll also sell P0 module with Broadcom BCM43362 and STM32F205 as shown in the right of the picture above for $10, and a P1 module with a u.FL connector and an antenna on the board.

Finally the company has launched Spark Dev, a new IDE available for Windows and Mac OS, based on Atom project, which also support Linux based distributions.

Spark Photon can be pre-ordered now for $19 + shipping, with delivery scheduled for March 2015.

Via Make

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Zsun SD111 Wireless USB Flash Drive Review

November 13th, 2014 11 comments

Zsun SD111, SD112 and SD113 are Wi-Fi / USB flash drives with respectively 8GB, 16 GB and 32GB storage. GearBest sent me the 8GB version (SD111) for review, as it could be an interesting platform to hack. I’ve take picture of the device, take it apart to check the board, review quickly the standard features with Android and Ubuntu, and try to access the board from the network.

Zsun SD111 Unboxing

I received the device in the following package.

The flash drive comes with a micro USB to USB cable for charging and accessing the device from a computer, and a user’s manual in Chinese.
You’ll probably prefer using a soft copy user manual in English

Zsun SD111 Board and Battery

To open the stick, insert a sharp and thin object in the hole for the neck strap, and push upwards to lift the top cover a little, and finish popping up the cover with another sharp object. I used some tools from a dissasemble toolset I recently bought.

Top of ZSun SD111 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Top of ZSun SD111 Board (Click to Enlarge)

The Wi-Fi SoC is Atheros AR9331, AXP192 is used for charging, and on the top of the Qualcomm SoC you’ll also find UART pins probably allowing access to the serial console (Not tried yet). There’s also SMSC USB2240 USB bridge to handle the USB flash drive part of the device.


Bottom of ZSun SD111 Board (Click to Enlarge)

On the back you’ve got the flash and RAM, with the board being named SD111_HW_V2_0.

700 mAh Battery

700 mAh Battery

The battery is apparently 700 mAh as claimed in the specifications.

In my first Zsun SD111 blog post, the specifications were not fully complete, so here’s an update:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Atheros AR9331 Wi-Fi SoC @ 400 MHz
  • System Memory – 32MB DDR SDRAM (Winbond W9425G6JH-5)
  • Storage – 8 MB SPI flash (Winbond 25Q64FS1G) for firmware, and 8 GB eMMC (Toshiba THGBM2G6D2FBAI9 ?) for storage
  • Wi-Fi – 802.11 b/g/n up to 150Mbps with open, WEP, and WPA/WPA2 security.
  • USB – micro USB 2.0 port to transfer files and charge the battery
  • Battery – 700 mAh Li-Po battery. Good for 3h30 of continuous use. Includes automatic power off after 5 minutes of inactivity.
  • Misc – Power button, abd LED
  • Dimensions – 8 x 3 x 1.2 cm
  • Weight – About 30 grams

Zsun SD111 Mini Review

I’ve put the device back together, to try it out. First I connected it to my Ubuntu PC with the provided USB cable, and charging LED went on, but the drive was not recognized as a standard USB flash drive, and nothing was shown in the kernel log. That’s because it needs to be switched the USB storage mode in the app as we’ll see later.

First you need to press the power button on the top of the stick for two seconds to turn it on, and install Apple Extender (previously known as SuperDisk) app in Android or iOS.
Then you can either connect to zsun-sdXXYYZZAA ESSID via the Android setting, or simply start the app and select the device ESSID. From there you’ll then be able to access the files and drive on the flash drive, and copy files and directory from/to your phone and it works quite well.
When you select files or folders, icons to share, copy, cut, and delete appear at the top. Further options are available with the setting button, such as changing the ESSID, checking the firmware (via Device state menu), backup the data and so on. You may to select “Connect network” if you rely on your Wi-Fi router for internet connectivity.

If you want to use the device as a standard USB flash drive, you need to slide the blue button on the bottom right in order to enter “PC” mode.


In theory, It’s also possible to access the flash drive with Wi-Fi from a PC, but you need to install ZSunCloud.exe program (Windows only) from Unfortunately, I;’ve been unable to find the program, maybe because I can only read a few Chinese characters… [Update: ZSunCloud.exe is actually inside the stick, as we’ll see below]

TCP Services Opened on Zsun SD111

I’ve also checked whether it could be possible to access the device from the network, So I enabled Wi-Fi on my computer, and connected to zsun-sdXXYYZZAA access point.

Let’s find the subnet used:

 jaufranc@FX8350:~$ ifconfig wlan0
 wlan0     Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:0f:53:b1:01:21
 inet addr:  Bcast:  Mask:
 inet6 addr: fe80::20f:53ff:feb1:121/64 Scope:Link
 RX packets:21 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
 TX packets:93 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
 collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
 RX bytes:4389 (4.3 KB)  TX bytes:17762 (17.7 KB)

and scan for open TCP ports:

sudo nmap -sS

Starting Nmap 6.40 ( ) at 2014-11-14 09:06 ICT
Nmap scan report for
Host is up (0.046s latency).
Not shown: 996 closed ports
23/tcp   open  telnet
80/tcp   open  http
139/tcp  open  netbios-ssn
8080/tcp open  http-proxy
MAC Address: 00:03:7F:11:56:48 (Atheros Communications)

Nmap done: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 21.91 seconds

So Telnet is open, but unfortunately I could not find the login credential, trying the usual root/root or admin/admin. I also tried to load the webpage in my web browser with, but I got was an empty page with the title “Success”. Looking into the code it will provide a download link if it detects Android, iOS mobile device or a Windows computer, and this is the link to use to download the windows application:

Trying simply generate a “Access Error: Site or Page Not Found” page.

So unless we can find the right username / password for telnet, it seems impossible to access the device without soldering the UART pins, and I may try to do just that this week-end if some of you are interested.

GearBest, which kindly provided the sample for the review, sells Zsun SD111 (8GB) for $22.74, but if you want more storage can purchase 16 or 32GB versions on DealExtremeAmazonGeekBuying, and others.

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