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Posts Tagged ‘wifi’

Add Network Connectivity to 2.5″ SATA Drives With Wi-Fi & Ethernet Enclosures

March 2nd, 2015 6 comments

One person asked if there were solution to add Wi-Fi or Ethernet to hard drives similar to what Zsun Wifi Card Reader does with micro SD card. Provided solution include buying a low cost router with USB such as TP-Link WR703N, and the Pogoplugs which are pretty good, especially since you can install Debian or Arch Linux ARM, but are only available at low cost if you live in North America. But I’ve now been made aware of 2.5″ SATA HDD enclosures selling for around $40 that also come with Wi-Fi and Ethernet, and provide a compact way to add networking to hard drives.

Wi-Fi_HDD_EnclosureSpecifications for the aforelinked Wi-Fi HDD Enclosure:

  • Connectivity
    • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. Modes: AP + Client; AP + WAN Bridge; AP + WAN router
    • Ethernet
    • 3G possible via USB port
  • HDD – Supports up to 2TB HDD
  • USB – 1x micro USB port for charging, 1x USB 2.0 host port, 1x USB 3.0 device port
  • Misc – Power button, LEDs
  • Battery – 4000 mAh LiPo battery good for 5 hours of continuous HDD use (as I understand it)
  • Dimensions –  145 x 90 x 21 mm (plastic + metal)
  • Weight – 600 grams

Wi-Fi_HDD_Enclosure_AccesoriesThe enclosure is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android operating systems, and is said to support webdav and SAMBA, so standard apps like File Explorer, Nautilus, ES File Explorer, etc.. should work with the device. It can also be used as a USB hard drive, and power bank. The Wi-Fi HDD enclosure is sold with a USB Y-cable compatible with both USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports,  another white USB cable for power, a few screws, a screwdriver, and a user manual. Configuration is just like a router, you connect to a default IP address (192.168.169.1), and enter the default username and password (KIMAX) to configure the Wi-Fi enclosure.

I also looked for internal pictures, and could not find any, but Anandtech reviewed a similar type of product (Patriot Gauntlet 320), and they found Ralink 5350F WiSoC commonly found in routers with 64MB RAM, and a USB 3.0 to SATA bridge, so the solution above is likely to be similar with a low cost Qualcomm, or Ralink (now Mediatek) router SoC.

I’ve select the product above, because at $38 shipped it’s one of the cheapest I could find, but you have other options on Aliexpress, DX, Ebay, and more.

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Categories: Hardware, Linux Tags: ethernet, router, storage, wifi

Zsun Wifi Card Reader Adds up to 64GB to Your Smartphone

February 27th, 2015 12 comments

I’ve previously covered Zsun SD11x USB flash drives with 8 to 128 GB internal flash, a battery, and Wi-Fi connectivity in order to easily add storage to devices without micro SD slots. The company has now launched a new Wi-Fi card reader to do the same, but with your own micro SD card instead allowing up to 64GB extra storage, and easy replacement.

Zsun_Wi-FI_Card_ReaderZsun card reader specifications:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Atheros AR9331 WiSoC
  • System Memory – 256 Mbit RAM (32 MB)
  • Storage – Internal flash for firmware (capacity TBD), micro SD slot up to 64GB
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi @ 150 Mbps
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 port for power and use as standard USB card reader
  • Dimensions – 33 x 30 x 13 mm

There’s no battery, so you’d have to connect the dongle to a power bank, PC, car charger etc.. to power it. If you connect it to a PC it will also be shown as an external USB drive. The company claims up to 8 people can watch movies simultaneously over Wi-Fi using their Android, iOS, or Windows app, but then it must be some low resolution 3gp video… I could not find a link for these apps, but it could the same Apple Extender (Android) and Phone Flash Disk (iOS) apps as for SD111.

SD111 Wi-Fi USB flash drive is hackable, as it’s been possible to access the Linux command line with the serial console after some soldering, and later on the root password (usable with telnet) was found to be zsun1188, so the same password might also work on this device.

Zsun Wi-Fi card reader sells for 79 CNY ($12.60) in China, and $14.99 on Aliexpress. The company also sells it for $39.99 on Amazon US (Model: Zsun-C1001R) with a 64GB card inside according to the page title. Further details can be found on Zsun W-Fi card reader page (Chinese).

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Categories: Hardware, Linux, Qualcomm Atheros Tags: Linux, usb, wifi, zsun

Freetronics Introduces an Arduino Shield for ESP8266 ESP-01 Wi-Fi Module

February 18th, 2015 2 comments

ESP8622 has drastically brought down the price of adding Wi-Fi to MCU boards such as Arduino UNO,  but you need to add some cables, and take care of 3.3V to 5V conversion for the UART pins either with a divider made of 2 resistors, or a FET level shifter, and you may not be able to access all I/O of ESP8622 on the popular ESP-01 version of the module. For a neater solution, Freetronics had designed ESP-01 WiFi Module Shield that takes care of all these small issues.

ESP8622_ShieldKey features of the shield:

  • 3.3V regulator dedicated to the module
  • Logic level shifters on TX/RX lines: compatible with both 3.3V and 5V Arduino models
  • Selectable TX/RX pins: use D0/D1 for hardware serial, or D2 – D7 for software serial
  • CH_PD pin on ESP-01 module pre-biased for correct operation mode
  • Extra ESP-01 pins broken out for your own connections
  • Prototyping area with 5V and GND rails
  • All Arduino headers broken out for easy connections
  • Stacking R3-style Arduino headers including the ICSP header
Arduino_Shield_ESP-01

Arduino + Shield + ESP-01 Module

Eagle schematics and PCB layout are available on github under TAPR Open Hardware License.

The company sells the shield (without ESP8622 ESP-01) for $10.94 US (SKU: ESP1SH).

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Categories: Hardware Tags: arduino, esp8266, wifi

Review of Zidoo X9 Android Media Player and Video Recorder

February 11th, 2015 10 comments

Zidoo X9 is quite a unique product on the market, as it’s the only low cost Android platform that I know of that features an HDMI input port with recording capabilities. The hardware is actually based on Kaiboer F5, with some modifications, but the latter focuses on the Chinese market, while Zidoo X9 targets oversea markets with an English firmware by default. I took pictures of Zidoo X9 and its board about a month ago, but a busy schedule and some initial issues with Google Play Store delayed the review. Finally, I’ve completed testing of the device, and ready to share my findings about performance, stability, and features in this review.

OTA Firmware Update

I’ve had to go through two firmware updates before carrying on with the review, and this part is working great, and they even include a detailed changelog with each release, which they also publish on their blog. Normally a window will pop-up once the firmware is available, but you can also go to App Manager->OTA Update to perform an online update, a local update, and/or check the update log.

Zidoo_X9_OTA_Firmware_UpgradeOnce the download is complete, it will reboot to complete the update.

Zidoo_X9_Firmware_UpdateFirmware 1.0.26 was used for this review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The package include a IR remote control which works fine with their user interface, and you’ll need the “Menu” key in the HDMI IN app, so even though I used Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse in many case, I still had to revert to used Zidoo X9 remote from time to time. I’ve connected my USB hard drive to the USB 3.0 port of the device, a USB keyboard, a USB hub with two RF dongles, a USB flash drive, and a webcam, HDMI and Ethernet cables, as well as a DVB-T2 set-top box to the HDMI input port. Boot time takes about 35 seconds. The LCD display ion the front panel shows “Boot”m “Hello”, and finally the current time.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The user interface is quite different from other Android media players, and I find it quite eye-pleasing, but I also noticed I need more key presses than usual to navigate the menus. There are mostly folders (Browser, Media Center, Video, Music, Game, Other Apps) with relevant apps, as well as direct shortcuts to Google Play, the App Manager (list of apps), and HDMI IN app that handle HDMI input and video recording function.

Zidoo_X9_Settings

The Settings menu has fix sub-sections:

  • System – Standard Android Settings
  • Weather – To display the weather for your city on the top left of the home screen.
  • Parental Control
  • Clean Up – Task Killer, Cache Cleaner, APK File, and APP Manager (to uninstall apps)
  • Base Settings – Screen Saver Delay, Themes (Background image), Key Sound, and Use Featured Data (Probably for weather on home screen)
  • About – Provides info about the system

About_Zidoo_X9

So most configuration options are done in the Android settings.

Wireless & Networks section includes Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Data use, and More… sub menus, the latter only listing Portable hotspot options. Sound options only provide S/PDIF option between PCM or RAW (for pass-through), but this also is also used to for HDMI audio pass-through. The Display sections let you adjust the screen scale, and select the resolutions: 4K2KP_30, 4K2KP_25, 1080P_60, 1080P_50, 720P_60, 720P_50, 576P_60 and 480P_60. I could set 4K @ 30Hz on an LG 42UB820T UHD television without issues.

Two partitions are aAbout_Box_Zidoo_X9vailable in the 8GB eMMC flash: “Internal Storage” with 1.97 GB total space for apps, and “SD CARD” with 3.49GB space for data. The “About Box” section confirms the model number is “ZIDOO_X9″, and that the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux 3.1.10, so not such a recent kernel. The firmware is rooted

Google Play Store caused me some troubles…  Although I could login, each time I would enter the app the message “Check your connection and try again” would be displayed despite having no internet connection issue with the web browser for example. So I was unable to use the Play Store, even after clearing the cache, removing and re-adding my account, and even after factory reset… I was advise to wait for the new firmware (1.0.26), but even after an update the problem subsisted. But Zidoo had written a blog post about the issue saying to try between Wi-Fi and Ethernet. So I switched to Wi-Fi, but no luck, Finally I did a factory reset, configured Wi-Fi, and finally I could access the Play Store. Once the connection is up, it works just fine. Only a few applications could not be installed such as CNBC and Real Racing 3, but these can seldom be installed on Android mini PCs, maybe because of my location?  I also installed Amazon AppStore to get Riptide GP2 game.

You can check the user interface, Kodi, and HDMI IN application in the video below.

There’s no standby mode with this device, it’s only power on and off, and you can do with with the remote control. I measured the temperature after Antutu 5.6 benchmark and 15 minutes of play in Riptide GP2, and the max. measured temperatures on top and bottom of the enclosure were respectively 37°C/43°C, and 37°C/50°C. But it did not seem quite right, and since I used a IR thermometer and the enclosure of Zidoo X9 is bright, the reading might be incorrect, so after adding some black stick tape, and a few hours of use, I check the top temperature again, and instead of 37°C, I got 45°C, which seems more like it. So the system gets a little hot, but it’s not out of control.

The system works well most of the time, but I’ve experienced several crashes for their internal apps, as well as Kodi. You can also one hang up in the video above, so system stability does need some improvement.

Video Playback

The box comes with Kodi 14.0-RC3 Zidoo edition (built on  December 2014). The system info reports 1920×1080@60Hz screen resolution rendered at about 30 fps.  I had some problems to connect to my SAMBA shares at first, but somehow it eventually worked.  Videos have normally been tested via Ethernet using Kodi, unless otherwise stated.

Some results with samplemedia.linaro.org video samples, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p/1080p60 – OK, but the 1080p60 video only renders at 30 fps according to Kodi
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK, but framerate oscillates between 22 and 25 fps (video is 25 fps)
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – Won’t play
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – 360p OK, Audio only for the other two videos.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Could be smoother
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Not really smooth. (18 to 24 fps for a 23.976 video). Played from NTFS partition on USDB hard drive.

High definition audio codecs have been tested downmixed to PCM using XBMC and MXPlayer, and audio pass-through has been tested with Onkyo TX-NR636 using HDMI pass-through to BD/DVD input, and S/PDIF pass-through using TV/CD input on the receiver. Pass-through is enabled in Android Settings (Sound->S/PDIF->RAW) for both HDMI and optical S/PDIF, as well as the proper settings in Kodi, as done here.

Video PCM Output
Kodi
PCM Output
MX Player
HDMI Pass-through
Kodi
SPDIF Pass-through
Kodi
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but I could see tearing on the bottom of the video OK Dolby Digital  detected, but frequent audio cuts Dolby Digital  detected, but frequent audio cuts
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK Dolby Digital detected, but frequent audio cuts Dolby Digital detected, but frequent audio cuts
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 Makes Kodi crash Video Stuck at 00:00, eventually leading to “MX Player is not responding” Makes Kodi crash Makes Kodi crash
TrueHD 5.1 Video plays in slow motion OK No audio (PCM shown on receiver) Audio formats not supported via S/PDIF
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK No audio (PCM shown on receiver)
DTS HD Master OK “This audio format (DTS) is not supported” No audio (PCM shown on receiver)
DTS HD High Resolution OK “This audio format (DTS) is not supported” No audio (PCM shown on receiver)

Using “Explorer” app, AC3 and E-AC3 pass-through works, and TrueHD and DTS-HD can also be heard but down-mixed to Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1. I’ve been informed that stock Android does not support HD pass-through (TrueHD and DTS-HD), so it would require customization from the manufacturers. If you need this feature, you should go with Linux or Windows HTPC, bearing in mind that the hardware also needs to support it.

I’ve successfully tested Blu-Ray ISO with Sintel-Bluray.iso. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play

Previously I reported that Zidoo X9 was the only platform that could support both photo and video playback at true 4K resolution among 5 others ARM devices running Android, and this is still true, but unfortunately it can’t play any of my 4K videos samples smoothly in Kodi:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not smooth. ~15 fps instead of 29.976 fps
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – No smooth. 15 to 20 fps instead of 24 fps
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Extremely slow. Kodi reports 9 to 10 fps, but it feels closer to 3 fps.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Audio only, shows last frame of previous video.

Playing 4K videos in Kodi is not really an option, so I tried in the sample in “Explorer” app that comes with the firmware:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Plays OK, but could be smoother.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – “media server died”
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Shows one image and plays crappy audio
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Audio only + message “video media error unsupport format”

Although you can’t really play 4K videos in Kodi, Explorer app does a decent job.

I also tested some 3D video, despite my 4K TV not supporting 3D, to check 3D video decoding:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Plays at 20 fps instead of 60 fps
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

No device so far has been able to support 2160p 3D video, probably as it would need to support 3840×4320 video decoding.

One the other hand, Kodi managed to play all my AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, and MP4 videos without A/V sync issues, and at a decent framerate.  One annoying bug is that sometimes when you start a video, all you get is a black screen, you have to go back and try agin, and the video will play.

I perform stability testing on my USB hard drive (since SAMBA did not work at the time) with a 1080p movie (1h50 / MKV / 3GB). Kodi played the most at the right framerate, and only reported 20 dropped frames, instead of the often-reported 14,000 skipped frames on some other Android media players.

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

Antutu Video Tester Results (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu Video Tester Results (Click to Enlarge)

Zidoo X9 gets 698 points on Antutu Video Tester, a very good score (Maximum so far is 704). Audio failed to play only once, and quality is good based on that benchmark.

HDMI Input / PVR Function

HDMI input is the main selling point of the device, and it can be used with HDMI IN app only, which brings the following user interface.

HDMI IN App Screenshot (Click for Original Size)

HDMI IN App Screenshot (Click for Original Size)

You can see the recording path to the internal flash or external USB storage. If a USB hard drive or flash drive is connected it will create HdmiRecorder directory in the first partition by default, so this is what I used. You can send select the resolution (VGA, 720p or 1080p), the video container (MP4 or TS), and optionally the start time (called Bespoke here), and the length of the recording. You can click on Start Record to record immediately, or Add record to schedule a recording. For some reasons, I was unable to schedule multiple recordings, but the one I set started right on time. You can access the List of recorded video with the List tab on the left of the menu.

The user interface will quickly disappear (within 5 seconds) if there’s no user activity, but you can press the Menu button on the remote control to bring it back. Once you start recording, a red record button will be overlaid on the top right of the TV. You can stop recording anytime, by pressing the “Stop Record” button in the menu.

I’ve tested different use cases, and you can download the samples below to check yourself too:

Please bear in mind the videos won’t play in Totem or VideoLAN. I could play them in my PC with Kodi 14 and KMPlayer.  The first three videos look pretty good to me, although some lines appear when panning in the first video (“Hello Kitty” Funerals), but it could be the original video. When I play the PC video in full screen, it almost feels the same as the original, so I’m rather impressed by the the quality. The text may not be quite as sharp as the original, but still pretty good to me. However, when scrolling in Firefox we can clearly notice it’s a video, as the text becomes blurry.

I started to experience some issues with OpenELEC. By default it seems the resolution was set to 1280×1024, and Zidoo X9 did not like that, reporting an error, so I switched to 1920×1080, and everything worked again. Another bad news is that audio pass-through does not work. If I play n AC3 video using this flow: OpenELEC on my PC->HDMI port of Zidoo->Onkyo TX-NR636 AV Receiver->TV, the receiver will probably detect Dolby Dolby 5.1, and I can hear the audio just fine, but the recorder won’t handle AC3, and just record AAC (for all videos), so audio is just silent here. Another problem is the quality of the video itself, and it’s quite choppy at time, and I can see obvious horizontal lines in some scenes too. The original video is 60 fps, my PC plays it at 51 to 52 fps, and output 1080p50, while the recorded video is 29.976 fps.

I did try TrueHD audio pass-through but this made OpenELEC lose video output, but it’s the same when I connect my PC to a Sharp TV, so OpenELEC must not like try to pass TrueHD to an HDMI input that does not support it…

Some people have asked about HDCP, but I don’t have devices, and checking in AMD Catalyst Control Center did not report anything about HDCP when I connected my PC to Zidoo X9. I’ve been told that you should be able to record PS3 output by entering the game first, then inserting the HDMI cable to the HDMI Input of the recorder. maybe something similar is feasible with a Cable STB, and some other devices.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash of the device in order to test network performance. This is done with ES File Explorer three times, and I average the results. My testbed has now changed since I got a 4K TV and AV receiver, and the device under test is now a little closer to the Wi-Fi router, around 5 meter + wall, instead of around 6 meters + wall. I’ve made the assumption that it should not much change the results, but maybe this is something to look into. With that warning out of the way, Zidoo X9 is the best  802.11n platform tested so far with an average transfer rate of 4.43 MB/s over Wi-Fi.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

One the other hand, Ethernet could be better.

Zidoo_X9_Ethernet_SAMBA_Performance

Throughput in MB/s

The below average Ethernet performance can also be confirmed with iPerf using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line:

Zidoo_X9_Ethernet_iperfiperf output:

TCP window size: 85.3 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  4] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.105 port 59341
------------------------------------------------------------
Client connecting to 192.168.0.105, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 48609 connected with 192.168.0.105 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   567 MBytes  79.2 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   290 MBytes  40.5 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

File transfer worked without issue using ThL W200 smartphone.

Sony PS3 game controllers can’t be used because Sixaxis Compability Checker “could not load Bluetooth library”.

I could connect Vidonn X5 activity tracker over Bluetooth Low Energy to retrieve my fitness data.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and a USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and access. NTFS, EXT-4 and exFAT partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, and only BTRFS failed.

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

I ran A1 SD Bench to measure I/O performance of both internal and USB storage. My hard drive is connected to the USB 3.0 port for the device, and it did show for the read/write of the three partitions:

  • NTFS – Read: 44.33 MB/s; Write: 48.95 MB/s
  • EXT-4 – Read: 52.41 MB/s; Write: 62.00 MB/s
  • exFAT – Read: 52.51 MB/s; Write: 43.31 MB/s

So for this device, EXT-4 appears to be the best choice, at least for sequential read/write.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

We’ve got one of the best Android media player on the market when it comes to USB mass storage performance, but unfortunately just like BFS 4KH it can’t really be leverage as both devices are limited by their Fast Ethernet port.

The 8GB eMMC flash in the device achieves 29.95 MB/s (read) and 15.30 MB/s (write), a good performance overall, with nice balance between read and write speeds.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

USB Webcam

I installed Skype and Google Hangout. I managed to make the “Echo Service” call in Skype, but most of the time video calls failed, and I could only see the actual webcam image once, while most of the time a black screen was shown. The webcam icon showed in Google Hangout, and I could click to start a call, but I got no image at all. So neither Skype nor Hangouts worked at all for me, except for voice calls on Skype.

Gaming

Three usual games: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Racing, and Riptide GP2.  I played Candy Crush Sage with MeLe F10 air mouse, and the game was as smooth as on other recent devices. However, I did notice some delays with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad in Beach Buggy Racing, and the game was not that smooth even with graphics options set to “highest framerate”.  No delays in Riptide GP2, but again, although it’s playable, it’s certainly not as enjoyable as on more powerful  platforms. On the plus side, none of the games froze at anytime, even after over 20 minutes of play.

Zidoo Z9 (Mstar MSO9810) Benchmarks

I had never used a product based on Mstar MSO9810 so I went through all benchmarks I normally run for my reviews. But before that, I checked out CPU-Z information.

Mstar 9810 CPU-Z (Click to Enlarge)

Mstar 9810 CPU-Z (Click to Enlarge)

An Mstar Semiconductor quad core ARM Cortex A9 r4p1 processor @ 1.45 GHz is detected, together with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model number is Zidoo_Z9 (full_lemon) with the board simply called “lemon”, and the hardware “napoli”. Not quite sure what the difference is between “board” and “hardware”. 1579 MB RAM is available in total, the rest most probably being reserved for the GPU and VPU, with 1.97GB internal storage (CPU-Z only report the first partition).

X9 got 15,851 points in Antutu 5.6.

Antutu 5.6 Score (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 5.6 Score (Click to Enlarge)

Quite surprising for a quad core Cortex A9 processor (in a bad way), because that’s lower than score I got (16,500+)  with Amlogic S805 Cortex A5 platforms such as MXQ S85. It’s always possible one is cheating more than the other, and looking at the detailed scores, integer and floating point performance is better with Mstar as it should be, but RAM speed is rather poor (853 vs 1590), while graphics performance is slightly better, and I/O too. So memory bandwidth seems to be the issue here.

Vellamo 3.1 score for Metal Benchmark (534), Browser benchmark (1151), and Multicore benchmark (718) are mixed against Amlogic S805 with respectively 551, 1319, and 816 (but some test were skipped). So it more or less confirms Mstar 9810 performance is quite close to Amlogic S802.

Zidoo_X9_Vellamo

Mali-450MP GPU found in Mstar 9810 might be clocked at a higher speed (and/or use a different amount of cores MP2 vs MP4), as it gets a little over 3,000 points vs 2,325 points in EM6Q-MXQ.

3DMark ICE Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

3DMark ICE Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

Conclusion

Zidoo X9 is a unique product on the market thanks to its HDMI input, and video recording function, which works pretty well with some caveats. Wi-Fi is excellent, and storage performance (eMMC and USB 3.0) is also very good. The firmware works well most of the time, but a few internal apps tend to crash a bit too often to my liking, and Kodi really needs some work. The good news is that the development team seems dedicated to regular firmware updates, and is looking into users’ issues.

PRO:

  • HDMI Input with PVR function works relatively well.
  • Both 4K videos and pictures are actually displayed at 4K resolution.
  • H.264 / HEVC 4K video playback with “Explorer” app
  • Audio pass-through in “Explorer” app works for AC3 and E-AC3, TrueHD and DTS-HD are down-mixed to Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 however.
  • High Antutu Video Tester score (698).
  • Excellent Wi-Fi performance
  • Good performance for eMMC, and USB 3.0 hard drive
  • NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT and FAT32 file systems are fully supported.
  • Good looking user interface
  • Clean power off  and on from remote control
  • Regular OTA update with detailed changelog
  • Blog and support forums

CONS:

  • Some Zidoo apps  (e.g. Settings) may crash, or even hung the system. I have not really found issues with the firmware itself, while running apps from Google Play however.
  • Kodi 14.0 has some issues
    • None of my ten 4K video samples would play at an acceptable frame rate
    • H.265 / HEVC not well supported in XBMC
    • Sometimes a video won’t start (Black screen), and re-trying will usually work
    • It may crash with some videos
    • Audio pass-through is not working is a satisfying manner even with AC3 / E-AC3 (frequent audio cuts)
  • Performance underwhelming for a Cortex A9 processor based on Benchmarks, which ends up being equivalent to Amlogic S805 due to slow memory bandwidth.
  • Skype and Google Hangouts did not work for me
  • Sony PS3 controller can’t be used (required Bluetooth library missing)
  • HDMI IN app – I could not schedule multiple recordings, some “lines” may be apparent in the recordings, can’t record AC3 audio pass-through.
  • Lack of 1080p24 / 4K24 video output option

I’d like to thanks GearBest for sending the sample for review, and if you are interested in the device, you could purchase from their shop for $119.99 including shipping with ZDX9CN coupon.  Other shipping options include Amazon US ($165)GeekBuying ($115.99 with BFCIGPHO coupon) or Ebay ($149.99).

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Ingenic Halley is a $20 Linux based IoT Board with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 Connectivity

February 10th, 2015 5 comments

Ingenic introduced Newton2 platform for wearables a few months ago, and the kit with an AMOLED display, camera board and other accessories should go on sale in March for $80. In the meantime, the company has also been working on a lower cost internet of things (IoT) module and development kit powered by Ingenic M150 with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 targeting smart appliances, Wi-Fi speakers, smart toys, industrial control applications, and other smart devices.

Ingenic_Halley

Halley IoT Module (Click to Enlarge)

Halley IoT module specifications:

  • SoC – Ingenic M150 XBurst (MIPS) single-core processor up to 1.0GHz with 128MB LPDDR on-chip, 2D graphics GPU, VPU supporintg 720p30 H.264 video decoding.
  • Storage – 8MP SPI NOR flash (GIGA GD25LQ64)
  • Connectivity – Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and  Bluetooth 4.1 via Broadcom 43438 chip.
  • Expansion headers (2mm pitch)
    • 8-bit parallel LCD interface,
    • Audio – MIC, Line-In and headphone, 2x I2S,
    • SD card (MMC interface)
    • USB device 2.0, and USB host 1.1
    • 3x UART (2 with hardware flow control), 2x I2C, 1x SPI up to 50Mbps,
    • 5-pin JTAG
    • 2x 12-bit ADC,
    • 2x PWM
  • Power Supply – 3.3V
  • Power Consumption – 2mW (Standby, no radio); 10 mW (Standby, Wi-Fi)
  • Dimensions – 24 x 40 x 2.4 mm
Halley Module Block Diagram and Pinout

Halley Module Block Diagram and Pinout

The module is running Linux 3.10 with TCP/IP stack, and the company claims Android OS could also run on external storage. This would have to be a lightweight version of Android as only 128MB RAM is available. The development kit is comprised of the module, a baseboard, and a debug board.

Halley_Development_Kit

Ingenic Halley Devkit (Click to Enlarge)

The baseboard includes power circuitry to power the board with a micro USB port, reset and boot keys, some LEDs, a 14-pin male header, and UART connection to the debug board. It would have been good to have a micro SD slot on the back of the board, but none seems to have been included.

Even the board has not been formally launched, some documentation is already available for download including a product brief, a datasheet, and a developer’s guide. A Linux demo image and the SDK have also been released. The SDK includes a toolchain, source code for Linux and U-boot, drivers & tools, and a demo Android app (Airkiss).

M150 Block Diagram

M150 Block Diagram

It’s the first time I see details about Ingenic M150, so it might interesting to go through the specs:

  • CPU – XBurst core, 1.0GHz (MIPS-based). 32KB L1 cache, 256KB L2 cache.
  • GPU – X2D: Resizing, Rotating, Mirror, Color Convention and OSD etc.
  • VPU – Video encoder: H.264, D1@30fps. Video decoder: H.264, MPEG-1/2/4, VC-1, VP8, RV9, 720P@30fps.
  • Memory
    • On-chip 128MB LPDDR, up to 320Mbps.
    • 64-bit ECC NAND flash, 512B/2KB/4KB/8KB/16KB page size.
    • Conventional and toggle NAND flash.
  • Display
    • LCD controller with OSD: TFT, SLCD, up to 1280*720@60Hz(BPP24).
    • Embedded E-Ink controller with color engine.
  • Camera – DVP interface, up to 2048 x 2048.
  • Audio – Embedded audio CODEC; Digital DMIC controller; AC97/I2S/SPDIF interface for external audio codec; PCM interface, master and slave mode.
  • ADC – 7 channels SAR A/D controller, 12-bit resolution.
  • On-chip Peripherals
    • USB 2.0 OTG, USB 1.1 Host.
    • MMC/SD/SDIO controller.
    • Full-duplex UART port.
    • Synchronous serial interface.
    • Two-wire SMB serial interface.
  • Security – Total 256bits OTP memory.
  • Package – BGA261, 11 x 11 x 1.4 (mm), 0.5mm pitch.

That confirms it’s one of the rare SoC with enough built-in RAM to run Linux. Renesas RZ/A1 is another one, but with only 10MB RAM, and a Cortex A9 core.

Halley IoT module and development kit will be available around March 10, for respectively $20 and $50. You can find more information, and ordering information on Ingenic’s Halley module page.

Thanks to Victor for the tip.

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Variscite Introduces TI Sitara AM437x SoM with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

January 30th, 2015 1 comment

News about Texas Instruments Sitara AM437x processors first surfaced in 2012, before being officially announced last summer. Beside TI’s own development kits, I had not seen any hardware based on the company’s Cortex A9 industrial processor, but Variscite has now unveiled their VAR-SOM-AM43 systems-on-module (SoM) powered by AM4376 , AM4378, or AM4379 SoCs.

Variscite_VAR-SOM-AM43VAR-SOM-AM43 specifications:

  • SoC – Texas Instruments AM437x single core ARM Cortex A9 processor @ 1.0GHz:
    • AM4376 – No GPU, 4x PRU @ 200 MHz
    • AM4378 – PowerVR SGX530 GPU, 4x PRU @ 200 MHz
    • AM4379 – PowerVR SGX530 GPU, 4x PRU @ 200 MHz, and EtherCAT slave support
  • System Memory – 256MB to 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 0 to 512MB SLC NAND flash, and 4GB to 32GB eMMC flash b module. 3x SD/MMC via edge connector
  • Display Interfaces – 24-bit RGB interface up to 1400×1050 resolution; 4/5-wire resistive touch support
  • Connectivity  – 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet PHY + 10/100/1000 Mbps RGMII,  802.11a/b/g/n with optional MIMO, and Bluetooth 4.0 (TI Wilink 8 WL183xMOD module)
  • Other I/Os and interfaces available via the 204-pin SO-DIMM connector:
    • Audio – Analog / digital microphone, S/PDIF, and Line In/Out
    • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host, 1x USB OTG
    • 5x UART up to 3.6 Mbps
    • 3x I2C, 4x SPI, 1x One Wire/HDP, 2x CAN bus
    • RTC (on carrier board)
    • Camera – 1x CPI
  • Power Supply – 3.3V DC; Digital I/IO: 3.3V / 1.8V
  • Dimensions – 67.8 x 38.6 x 3 mm
  • Temperature Range – Commercial 0 to 70°C; Extended: -20 to 70°C, or Industrial: -40 to 85°C
VAR-SOM-AM43 Block Diagram

VAR-SOM-AM43 Block Diagram

VAR-SOM-AM43 modules support Linux 3.14 and Yocto 1.6 (Daisy) with Qt 5, and Android 4.4 support is coming soon. Software documentation is available on the module’s Wiki, and support on Variscite’s forums. The company also provides mechanical and hardware documentation including a product brief, a datasheet, and mechanical design files (DXF) for the module, as well as schematics and a datasheet for VAR-AM43CustomBoard, the baseboard used for development and/or evaluation. TI AM437x TRM can also be downloaded directly from TI website.

VAR-AM43CustomBoard

VAR-AM43CustomBoard Carrier Board

The baseboard has the following key features:

  • SODIMM-200 socket to support VAT-SOM-AM43 system-on-module
  • External Storage – micro SD socket
  • Connectivity – 2x Gigabit Ethernet
  • Display – 18-bit 3 pair LVDS interface; 4-wire touch panel and capacitive touch panel support
  • Audio – 3.5mm jacks for heaphone and line INl; digital microphone on-board
  • Camera – Parallel CMOS sensor interface
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports (including on OTG?), 1x micro USB port for debugging
  • Serial – 2x RS232 header (UART1 / UART3), micro USB debug port, RS485 header, 2x CAN buses
  • Expansion Headers – Several headers with access to 8-channel ADC, SD/MMC interface, SPI, I2C, McASP, and GPIOs
  • Misc – RTC + CR1225 battery socket, 4x buttons.
  • Power Supply – 5V DC input, 2.5mm DC jack
  • Dimensions – 11.1 x 8.6 x 2.4 cm

A complete evaluation kit (VAR-DVK-AM43) is also available with VAR-SOM-AM43 SoM, VAR-AM43CustomBoard baseboard, a 7″ WVGA LCD with resistive/capacitive touch, a power supply, an Ethernet cable, an RS232 debug cable, boot/rescue SD cards, and a DVD with documentation and source code.

Variscite Sitara AM437x modules and development kits are available now, with pricing starting at $42 in 1K order. Further information, including hardware documentation, may be found on Variscite’s VAR-SOM-AM43, VAR-AM43CustomBoard, and VAR-DVK-AM43 product pages.

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Black Swift is a Tiny OpenWRT Wi-Fi Board Powered by Atheros AR9331 (Crowdfunding)

January 28th, 2015 7 comments

In case you thought there were not enough Wi-Fi board in the market already, here’s another one with Black Swift. The board runs OpenWRT, is a little larger than Vocore, and quite smaller than WRTnode, is powered by Atheros AR9331, provides access to I/Os via headers, and comes with two micro USB ports which should make it easy to use, and allow some interesting applications with USB devices.

Black_SwiftBlack Swift specifications:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Atheros AR9331 32-bit MIPS 24K CPU core @ 400 MHz, or 200 MHz in energy-saving mode selectable by software
  • System Memory – 64 MB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Storage – 16 MB NOR flash
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (1×1, up to 150 Mbps) with PCB antenna
  • USB –  1 x microUSB for power, 1x microUSB 2.0 port
  • Expansion –  Headers for 26x GPIO, 2x Fast Ethernet, SPI, I²C, 1x 16550 UART, 1x USB 2.0
  • Misc – Factory reset button
  • Power Supply
    • 5 V (with full USB support), 3.3 V (w/o USB power), 3.4…6 V (using onboard voltage regulator, w/o USB power)
    • Integrated voltage regulators: 3.3 V (switching mode, 1 A max, at least 700 mA available for powering external devices), 2.75 V (linear LDO, 300 mA max)
  • Power consumption: 120 mA typical (400 MHz CPU frequency, Wi-Fi enabled), 60 mA in energy-saving mode (200 MHz, Wi-Fi disabled), 300 mA max
  • I/O Voltage / Current – 3.3 V max (5V non-tolerant), maximum load 24 mA
  • Dimensions – 25x35x4 mm
  • Weight – 3 g

Black_Swift_Pinout

The board runs OpenWRT 14.07 Barrier Breaker, and will allegedly be open source hardware with schematics, Gerber files, and BoM released once development is complete. The company will also release OpenWRT patchsets, and utilities they developed for the board.

Black_Swift_Electricty_MeterThey also have developers three projects to showcase their board capabilities:

  • A network music player with a Sound Blaster audio card connected to the USB port via a USB OTG adapter, which can be controlled with MPDroid on Android, QMPDClient on PC, or other MPD compliant clients.
  • A Christmas tree lights controller. A little out of season, but it shows the GPIO capabilities of the board with several Betlux’s BL-FL7600 ultrabright LEDs, and a L293 quadruple H-bridge driver.
  • An electricity meter (pictured on the right) to show a more professional use of the board.  Power measurement is done via  Analog Devices ADE7757 chip with frequency output.

You can have a look at these demos, right after the product introduction in the video below.

https://d2pq0u4uni88oo.cloudfront.net/projects/1609299/video-490528-h264_base.mp4

The project is on Kickstarter trying to raise $33,000 NZD (about $24,700 US) to fund mass production. There are three version of the board / kits available:

  • Black Swift Basic – $35 NZD pledge (~$26 US)
  • Black Swift PRO with on-board USB-UART adapter, and an extra baseboard (1.27mm to 2.54 mm header adapter) – $42 NZD pledge (~$34 US)
Black Swift PRO

Black Swift PRO Connected to a Relay

Perks all include shipping worldwide, and delivery is scheduled for June 2015. You can also visit Black Swift website and its Wiki for a few more details.

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Olimex ESP8266-EVB Wi-Fi Evaluation Board Includes a Relay, an UEXT Connector

January 27th, 2015 9 comments

Olimex announced open source hardware ESP8266 modules last month, and the company has just announced the availability of ESP8266-EVB board with an ESP8266 module, a relay, an UEXT connector for other compatible Olimex modules, and headers for access to GPIOs.

ESP8266-EVBESP8266 evaluation board specifications:

  • MOD-WIFI-ESP8266-DEV Wi-Fi module with soldered connectors
  • Female connectors for MOD-WIFI-ESP8266-DEV
  • 10A/250VAC Relay
  • Expansions
    • 16-pin header (CON3) with access to some GPIOs, ADC, SDIO, RESET, and power signals.
    • UEXT connector to connect modules and sensors from Olimex, or access I2C, UART, SPI, and extra GPIOs
  • Misc – User Button which can also be pressed at boot time to enter bootloader mode for firmware upgrade.
  • Power Supply – 5V/1A recommended; DCDC power converter to 3.3V to supply ESP8266 and UEXT modules with up to 1.5A current
  • Dimensions – 57x50mm (4 mounting holes)

You’ll also need 5V power supply, and a USB to serial board (3.3V) in order to load the code, and which are not included with the kit. The schematics  and hardware design files are available in Eagle and PDF formats.

The company heavily relies on the work by esp8266 community, abut there’s also working on create a demo application to control the board from a page, and switch on/off the relay, read the button status and send I2C or SPI commands. week.

ESP8266-EVB can be purchased for 9.95 Euros on Olimex website, where you’ll also find more details and links to documentation.

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