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Review of Nagrace HPH NT-V6 Android Mini PC Powered by RK3288 with 4GB RAM, 32GB Internal Storage

September 30th, 2014 4 comments

Last week-end, I finally received TP-Link TL-WDR7500 router (Chinese variant of Arched C7) router, so I could complete my review of Nagrace HPH NT-V6 including 802.11ac Wi-Fi. I’ve already listed the specifications, and taken a few pictures of the device and the board, and today I’ll focus on the test results. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, going through the user interface and settings, before testing video playback, as well as benchmarking networking, storage and overall system performance, playing some games, and testing most hardware features of this mini PC.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

A simple infrared remote control is provided with the device, and I’ve quickly tried it by inserting two AAA batteries, and it works fine, but for the rest of testing I switched to Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse to control the device, as it’s much more user friendly than any IR remote. Before booting up the device, I’ve connected an HDMI cable, a USB hard drive, an Ethernet cable, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, and USB flash drive. Finally connect the power supply to boot the device in about 20 seconds.

NT-V6 User Interface (Click to Enlarge)

NT-V6 User Interface (Click to Enlarge)

The company has made their user interface, but in a similar style than the one common found in Amlogic S802 devices. On the top right, you’ve network status (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth). The status bar won’t show in the main menu, but in some other apps and settings, you’ll be able to access it. A large section with 9 folders can be found on the left with Movie (Videoplayer), XBMC (yes a folder too containing XBMC, so you have to click twice), Music, Game, Browser, Stream (Youtube and Netflix), Screencast, Social and Market. On the right, you’ve got the time, and weather (that does not work), and four more icons: “My Device” (Actually a file manager), “All Apps”, “Settings”, and “All Tasks Killer”. The user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080.

The Android settings are very similar to other RK3288 TV box. The Wireless and Networks menu comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Data Usage sections, as well as a “More” section with VPN, Portable Hotspot, etc… Display settings let you set the font size, adjust the screen size, select between HDMI, YPbPr (Component), and “TV” (Composite) video outputs, and the resolution: “auto”, 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720×576 or 720×480. I don’t own a 4K UHD TV, but if I did, there should also be some 4K options. You can choose between “Default Output” (PCM), “Spdif Passthough”, and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through) in the Sound settings. HDMI video output is working, but composite and component (YPbPr) video outputs failed to work. An AV cable was not included, so I used some other cables, and I could only see a black screen. Audio (L/R) works fine.

What about HDMI In? I’ve connected Orino R28 meta to the HDMI input port of the NT-V6, clicked on HDMI IN app, and I could see R28 user interface, but apart from that I could not do much. Things like Android notifications of the “host” won’t show up, as as it stands the HDMI In function is just like a cheap HDMI switcher. To go back to main user interface, simply press the back key on the remote.

The version of HPH NT-V6 I got comes with a 32GB eMMC, other options includes 8, 16 or 64 GB, which is partitioned into a 1.91GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps, and a 25.99 GB “NAND FLASH” partition for data. After I installed all applications I needed for this review, I was left with 568 MB available. It would have been preferable to design the system with a single flash partition, or make the “Internal Storage” a bit bigger. Nevertheless with 26 GB for data, there’s plenty of data, even to download and place movies directly from eMMC flash.

The “About device” section only lists the model number (HPH-F0-N6) and the Android version (4.4.2). It’s running on top of Linux kernel 3.10.0, but it’s not indicated in this section. The firmware is not rooted, and NT-V6 is another device with a USB A receptacle, instead of a micro USB port, and I could not root it via the OTG port since I don’t have a proper cable. There’s a System Update app for OTA firmware upgrades, and the firmware version is currently 1.1.9 in my device. I’m not 100% sure it works, because I have not received a firmware upgrade yet.

In the video below, I boot the device, and go though the user interface, and system settings.

Google Play Store mostly works. I could install most apps, install a paid app, such as ES File Explorer, MX Player, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…  Vidonn activity tracker app was reported as “incompatible with your device”. I discover an easy way to quickly scan through compatible apps that you’ve installed in other devices previously with the same account. Go to My Apps->All in the Play Store, and you can scroll down to see which apps are already installed, or incompatible. You can also select multiple apps, and click Install for bulk installation. Since I got Riptide GP2 as a “free app of the day”, I installed Amazon AppStore to install the game.

Power control work as it should. A short press on the remote will put the device in standby mode, and you start it again but pressing the remote button again. A long press on the power button will pop-up the Android menu with Power Off/Airplane Mode/Silent Mode, in order to achieve true power off. A press on the box button will have the same effect. When the device is powered off, you can press the remote power button, or the power button on the media player, although I’ve found the latter does not always work… It takes 3 to 4 second for power LED to run blue after pressing the power button, so it’s a bit confusing at times. and you need to wait 4 seconds to make sure you’ve really powered the device on. Both the included remote control and Mele F10 Deluxe could power on/off NT-V6. As with other RK3288 devices, the case may become hot. After Antutu benchmark, the maximum temperatures measured with an infrared thermometer on the top and bottom of the box were respectively 58°C and 64°C, and 58°C and 66°C after playing Riptide GP2 for over 20 minutes.

HPH NT-V6 mini PC is very stable, and I never had a reboot and hang up during my 6-8 hours testing. Boot time (20s) and XBMC load time (2s) are very similar to Kingnovel R6 as both integrate a fast eMMC flash.

Video Playback

Video playback results are the as Kingnovel R6 (previously known as K-R68), so I invite you to visit R6 review for video testing. To summarize, a version of XMBC 13 alpha12 is pre-installed, and suffers from not-so-smooth MPEG2 playback (in some files), lack of support for VC1, some 4K videos are not smooth at all, as well as audio/sync issues.

What’s different however is that I could play some HEVC/H.265 videos in XBMC:

  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (Elecard 360p / 720p / 1080p) – Audio only
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts – Won’t start to play

I’ve also test some VP9 videos. They can’t be played in XBMC, but can in MX Player:

  • out9.webm (low resolution) – OK. H/W decode according to MX Player.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (3840×2160) – Maybe 1 or 2 frames per second, still with H/W decode according to MX Player, but internally it’s certainly using S/W decode.

I also played a complete FullHD video (1h50) with XBMC to test stability. I had the same slow XBMC exit as with other boxes, which does not happen all the time, and apparently only during scanning or other background tasks.

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)

To evaluate network performance, I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer, and repeating the test three times. I now have two routers, but I’ll keep testing 2.4GHz Wi-Fi with my old TP-Link TL-WR940N router, and test 5GHz Wi-Fi with TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7) which also support 802.11ac. I already tested NT-V6 in TL-WDR7500 review, and found the connected with NT-V6 to be unstable, and not that fast. That was on Sunday… But on Monday I tested it again, and the performance and stability was much better. I have no idea why. The only differences are: it was raining on Monday, and I was the only  one using Wi-Fi, whereas on week-ends, TL-WR940N may get 4 to 5 connected clients. So it went from 1.92 MB/s to 3.91 MB/s average speed with 802.11n, and 3.02MB/s  to 4.85 MB/s with 802.11ac, the best performance I ever got with Wi-Fi.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The top line is with 802.11ac, and the second line with 802.11n @ 2.4GHz. But as I said this chart may overestimate the actual Wi-Fi capabilities of NT-V6, and performance seem irregular… Using “sunday” results, 802.11ac would have been in third position in the chart, and 802.11n between Vega S89 and VidOn.me AV200.

And now Ethernet…. I had rather disappointing performance with Fast Ethernet, and still more problems with Gigabit Ethernet… I should really buy another Gigabit switch to make sure that’s not the root cause.

Fast Ethernet Performance in MB/s

Fast Ethernet Performance in MB/s

I could actually get a Gigabit Ethernet connection, but I got a transfer rate of 250 KB/s from network to flash, and 1.8MB/s from flash to network…

In order to get a “pure” network test, I also used iPerf app and iperf in my Ubuntu PC, using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line in Android. It clearly show some issues with both Fast and Gigabit Ethernet, and whereas one direction has good performance, the other is problematic (100Mbps first, then Gigabit):

Client connecting to 192.168.0.108, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 35429 connected with 192.168.0.108 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.1 sec   672 MBytes  93.8 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.1 sec  81.0 MBytes  11.3 Mbits/sec
Client connecting to 192.168.0.108, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 35764 connected with 192.168.0.108 port 5001
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  6.16 GBytes   882 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.9 sec  16.5 MBytes  2.27 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

File transfer over Bluetooth works fine. I use ThL W200 Android smartphone to send a picture to NT-V6.

I skipped Sixaxis test for PS3 Bluetooth Gamepad support, because the firmware is not rooted, and I’m not sure how to root it without OTG cable.

Vidonn X5 activity tracker was used to test Bluetooth 4.0 LE. I could not install Vidonn app from Google Play (incompatible), so I instead installed vidonn.apk, and successfully connected to my wristband to get the data. Note-to-self: make sure to set the time on the mini PC before making the connection to the wristband, or it will mess with the data…

Storage

The system could detect and mounted a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32.
It seems nobody is interested in having EXT-3/4 working for external storage in Android, and as usual only the NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted.

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

I benchmarked the eMMC and the NTFS partition on my hard drive with A1 SD Bench. There does not seem to be a standard for mount points in Android, and firmware from various (SoC) vendors, have different mount points. In this firmware, the NTFS partition is located in /mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/USB3_NTFS. The read speed was 35.62MB/s, and the write speed of 15.08MB/s, so NT-V6 gets both the best read speed, and the worst write speed of all devices I tested.

MB/s

USB NTFS Performance in MB/s

Hopefully, the only solution is some optimization for NTFS writing speed.

The Samsung eMMC found on the board has very good performance, reading at 55 MB/s, and writing at 18 MB/s.

MB/s

MB/s

Beside fast loading times, a product with a fast eMMC is much less likely to experience slowdowns.

USB Webcam

I could test audio successfully with the Echo service in Skype, but unfortunately although my webcam appeared to be detected in both Skype and Google Hangouts, I could only see a black screen during video calls.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 all worked pretty well. I played Candy Crush Saga with Mele F10 Deluxe, and the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Blitz is super smooth all the time, even after maxing out graphics settings. Riptide GP2 is very playable as well, but not optimal all the time, but clearly mini PCs based on Rockchip RK3288, and much better than the rest of Chinese Android mini PCs thanks to its Mali T-764 GPU. I played the latter game for over 20 minutes to test stability, and I did not encounter any specific issues. Temperature measurements after game: 58°C (top) and 66°C (bottom).

Nagrace HPH NT-V6 Benchmark

CPU-Z app returns similar data as other TV boxes with Rockchip RK3288 processor being a four Cortex A12r0p1 core processor with a Mali-T764 GPU, except this time, the CPU frequency is between 312 MHz and 1.61 GHz, instead of topping at 1.8GHz for other devices.. I could also check there’s indeed 4GB RAM installed with over 2700 MB free.HPH_NT-V6_CPU-Z

NT-V6 could achieve G1H got 35,321 points in Antutu 5.1, a bit lower than Kingnovel R6 score (37,428), most probably because of the lower CPU frequency.

HPH_NT-V6_Antutu

I had not run Vellamo 3.x  test in R6 media player, but the scores in NT-V6 are better than the ones for Uyesee G1H.

HPH_NT-V6_Vellamo_3

Ice Storm Extreme benchmark score (7,056) in 3DMark is however a bit lower than the two other RK3288 box I tested (7,278 and 7,531).

Ice Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

Ice Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

Conclusion

Nagrace HPH NT-V6 is a pretty good hardware with a fast processor, excellent 3D and eMMC storage performance. The firmware is stable, and provides a smooth user experience, without slowdowns. Wi-Fi can be excellent too, but stability may be an issue. As with other Rockchip RK3288 devices I’ve tested,  video playback in XBMC is rather disappointing, but at least there’s partial HEVC/H.265 codec support. partial, nbecause only some caontainers appear to be supported.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Excellent 3D graphics performance for games
  • Stable and fast firmware.
  • Memory and Storage capacity (4GB / 32GB)
  • Excellent Wi-Fi performance, when it works
  • Fast eMMC, both for reading and writing speeds.
  • Both 720p and 1080p user interfaces are supported
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Partial HEVC/H.265 video decoding support in XBMC.
  • OTA update appear to be support
  • Proper power off/standby handling.
  • HDMI In

CONS:

  • XBMC has too many issues: VC1 not supported, H.265 support only partial, audio/video sync issue, some MPEG-2 and XVID videos are skipping frames, some of the 4K videos I used could play properly, etc…
  • Some MPEG-2 file won’t play smooth in either XBMC or MX Player
  • Potential Ethernet issues, confirmed with my Gigabit switch (D-Link DSG-1005A) and 10/100Mbps D-Link router (configured as a switch).
  • Video output – Component and composite do not work atall (black screen)
  • Webcam not working properly (black screen) in Skype and Hangouts
  • Relatively slow write speed on NTFS/USB partition.
  • Wi-Fi may be unstable at times
  • HDMI In support is quite basic (only as HDMI switcher)

HPH NT-V6 with 4 GB RAM and 32 GB eMMC (as reviewed in this post) purchased for $189 including shipping by DHL or EMS, but there’s also a 2GB RAM/16GB eMMC available on Aliexpress for $129 + shipping. I’ve also been told Ugoos UT3 is based on the same board (TRN6A), but should have a different firmware. It is listed on Chinavasion for $149.99, and DealsPrime for $134.99 (bot 2GB/16GB versions). Resellers and distributors can check out Nagrace NT-V6 product page to order in quantities.

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openPicus Introduces Wi-Fi and GPRS IoT Kits Powered by Microchip PIC24 MCU

September 25th, 2014 No comments

openPicus has launched two new development kits for the Internet of Things with either Wi-Fi or GPRS connectivity, based on their FlyportPRO modules featuring a 16-bit Microchip PIC24 MCU, and sharing the same baseboard. These kits can be used as a Web server with firmware update over the air (FOTA) (Wi-Fi version only) among other things, and support TCP, UDP, FTP, & HTTP protocols, as well as MQTT (Message Queue Telemetry Transport), a light weight messaging protocol running on top of the TCP/IP protocol, used when a small code footprint is required and/or network bandwidth is limited.
openpicus_iot_kitopenPicus FlyportPRO Wi-Fi and GPRS modules share mostly the same specifications:

  • MCU – Microchip PIC24FJ256GB206 16-bit MCU @ 32 MHz with 256KB Flash,  96KB RAM
  • External Storage – 16Mbit Flash memory (for FOTA), 64Kbit EEPROM
  • Connectivity
    • GPRS Module – SAGEM HILONC GPRS Transceiver (quad band: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) with uFL connector for external GPRS antenna
    • Wi-Fi Module – Wi-Fi 802.11g Microchip MRF24WG0MB transceiver (Infrastructure, softAP and Ad hoc mode supported) with PCB antenna or uFL connector (2 versions)
  • Module Connectors – 2x 30-pin with Up to 32x GPIO, up to 10x Analog inputs (10-bit ADC onboard + 2.048V precise voltage reference onboard), up to 9x PWM, up to 4x or 3x UART, 2x I2C, 1x SPI, USB OTG
  • Misc – 32.768 Khz RTC.
  • Power Supply – 3.3V
  • Power Modes & Consumption:
    • Active
      • GPRS – 42 mA with some peaks up to 1.5A during GRPS startup and communication
      • Wi-Fi – Connected: 150mA; not connected: 35 mA
    • Low power (micro ON, GPRS connected, but in Sleep) – 24 mA (GPRS only)
    • Hibernation (micro ON, Radio OFF)
      • GPRS – 21 mA. Not recommended more than once a day.
      • Wi-Fi – 20 mA
    • Sleep (micro OFF, Radio OFF)
      • GPRS – 162 uA. Not recommended more than once a day.
      • Wi-Fi – 180 uA
  • Dimensions – 34 x 34 x 9 mm
  • Weight – 10 grams
  • Temperature range – -20°C to +85°C

Depending on the kit version, either one of these two modules is connected to an IoT carrier board with the following key features:

  • USB – a micro USB for programming,
  • Storage – micro SD card slot
  • Expansions
    • 5 Grove ports for add-on modules: 2x Digital (DIG1, DIG2), 2x Analog (AN1, AN2), and 1x I2C
    • SIM card slot
  • Misc – 2x status LEDs (battery and power)
  • Power – Micro USB or Li-Po battery

The Grove ports and modules appear to very very similar to Seeed Studio Grove modules, so they might be compatible. Groves devices include buttons and knobs, LEDs and displays, various sensors, other communication modules (GPS, RS232…), and relays.

IoT kit Wi-Fi is composed of a FlyportPRO Wi-Fi module, a IoT carrier board, and a power supply, where the IoT kit GPRS comes with a FlyportPRO GPRS module, a GPRS antenna, a IoT carrier board, and a power supply. The GPRS module requires a 2G SIM card, as 3G-only SIM cards are not compatible. There’s also a plastic enclosure sold separately called miniNEST Box.

openPicus IDE (Click to Enlarge)

openPicus IDE (Click to Enlarge)

Development is done with openPicus IDEPro using Microchip C30 compiler, which can only be used under Windows (.NET framework is another requirement). The company has setup a pretty good Wiki for their modules and development kits, including the IoT Kit Wiki giving an overview of the kit and explaining how to get started. The modules and boards are not open source hardware, but the schematics (PDF) have been released, as well as various datasheet, and the firmware for the modules.

IoT Kit WIFI is available for 59 Euros, IoT Kit WIFI for 69 Euros, and can be purchased together via Groves devices on openPicus store. You can find out more about FlyportPRO WiFi, GPRS, and Ethernet modules on openPicus product page.

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Review of EM6Q-MXQ Android Quad Core Media Player

September 23rd, 2014 7 comments

After taking a few pictures of Eny EM6Q-MXQ Android media player, it’s time for a full review. I’ll first give my first impressions and go through the user interface, test video playback, test the system, network, and storage performance, try a few games, and check various hardware ports are working as they are supposed to do.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I’ve inserted two AAA batteries in the provided infrared remote control to check it’s working, and it’s usable in the main user interface and XBMC, but once you start using most Android apps it’s useless, so I quickly switched to  Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Before powering up the device, I’ve connected an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable, and made with use of the 4 USB ports by connecting two RF dongles (Air mouse and gamepad), a USB hard drive, and a UVC USB webcam. The box lacks a power button, so it starts as soon as you connect the power supply. The boot is pretty slow as it completes in about 1 minute 50 seconds…

EM6Q-MXQ Launcher (Click for Original Size)

EM6Q-MXQ Launcher (Click for Original Size)

The user intefaface is exactly the same as found in Amlogic S802 TV boxes such as M8 and Vega S89. With some big icons that are folders for apps, and a link to a custom Setting menu, and there’s a customizable shortcut bar at the bottom with smaller icons. The status bar is disabled by default, but I prefer to have it when using it with an air mouse, so I restored it via the Setting menu. The first boot, the resolution was automatically detected to 720p, but I changed that to 1080p60, and the resolution is indeed 1920×1080.

The “Setting” menu provides access a Metro-style interface for settings with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

  • 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 @ 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 (app)
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather(Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (not working), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard  Android Settings.

I’ve tested the device using HDMI set to 1080p60 most of the time, but there’s also an AV port for connect to the composite input and RCA stereo audio port of older TVs, and it worked just fine for 480 CVBS and 576 CVBS settings.. Component (YPbPr) output however is not supported.

You can watch a video with the user interface walk-through, XBMC user interface, and H.265 video playback in MX Player.

In the standard Android Settings, About_MediaBox_hd18qEM6Q-MXQ’s 8GB NAND flash has a single partition (5.26 GB) with 4.95 GB free for both apps and data. The “About MediaBox” section indicates the model number as “hd18q″, that happens to be the name of the board, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. Root Checker confirmed the firmware is rooted. which can be convenient if you don’t have the right cable for the full-size USB OTG port on the device. The company gave me a link to the firmware (September 3), which brings peace of mind in case something goes wrong.

I could install all apps I tried with Google Play Store including Antutu, 3D Marks, ES File Explorer, MX Player, Beach Buggy Blitz, etc…  I did not try paid apps, as the only one I have requires Bluetooth, that’s not built-in into the device. I could also install Riptide GP2 via Amazon AppStore.

There’s no power button on the device, and the remote control only allows you to enter and leave standby mode, so the only way to actually power off the device is to disconnect the power adapter. The latest ARM based mini PCs powered by Amlogic S802 and Rockchip RK3288 get pretty hot, but as expected with a Cortex A5 processor, the temperature is pretty much under control. I measured 39°C and 51°C with an infrared thermometer respectively on the top and bottom of the box, right after running Android 5 benchmark. After playing Riptide GP2 for 20 minutes at 1080p, and a few hours of usage previously,  the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 42°C and 65°C…

The system itself is very stable, and it only freezes when I try to play a 4K video in XBMC (100% reproducible). However, apps often exit for no obvious reasons. which in theory, could be some bugs within the apps themselves, but it happens a bit too often to my liking… Amlogic S805 is not designed to be the fastest processor around, but while the box runs smoothly most of the times, at other times the box is really sluggish, and becomes frustrating to use. It’s probably not because of the processor, but rather the NAND flash with poor performance, resulting on slow loading times (Close to 2 minutes boot time, XBMC loads in 12 seconds), and in a few instances, I’ve experience very high CPU usage (e.g. 10) with the blue bar (I/O interrupt time) taking most of the load. This compares to 20 seconds boot time, and 2 seconds XBMC start time on recent RK3288 devices with an eMMC. During high load, it may take over 5 seconds to reach the launcher after pressing the Home key of the remote, compared to virtually instantaneous access when there’s no I/O activity.

Video Playback

I played videos from a SAMBA share over Ethernet using XBMC, only switching to MX Player in case of issues. At first, I had some permissions issues connecting to a specific shared folder in XBMC, but eventually I could connect to SAMBA with both XBMC and ES File Explorer,

I started with videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, H.265/HEVC videos by Elecard, as well as a new VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK, but there’s a regular blinking effect (about 1sec) in  some scenes, especially visible with the grass and trees. The same issue happens in many devices.
  • 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
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode), but if you jump to another time in the video it will switch to S/W decode. Probably a bug in MX Player.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video)
    • XBMC – Won’t even start
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode).

Once I mostly lost control with the keys in XBMC, and I could only use the mouse pointer and the OK button. Same result with Mele F10 Deluxe or the included IR remote control. Restarting XBMC fixed the issue.

Now some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – XBMC: audio only; MX Player: black screen only, no audio.
  • 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 frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Play from USB hard drive)

High definition audio codec could be decoded (PCM output) in XBMC, but performance could be better:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 – OK &
  • True HD 7.1 – Some audio cuts playing from SAMBA, OK from USB hard drive
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – SAMBA: Audio completely cuts after a few seconds. USB: No problem with audio, but video feels slow.

Sintel-Bluray.iso video could play in XBMC, meaning Blu-ray ISO files are supported.

I also played some AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB and MP4 videos in my library. They could all play, and I did not notice any A/V sync issues, or other obvious problems with playback. I also tested XBMC stability by playing a complete 1080p video (1h50). Sometimes XBMC refuses to exit immediately, and I need to press the “Home” button to get the the main menu. This must be an XBMC issue, as I’ve had this problem in some other devices previously.

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)

In order to test network performance, I simply transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. I left the Ethernet connected when I first tested Wi-Fi performance, and with the numbers I got during transfer, I decided to disconnect the Ethernet cable to make it was not done over Ethernet, as throughput peaked at up 5.0MB/s, whereas I’m usually lucky to see 3MB/s for most other devices. But this was all real, and when it comes with Wi-Fi performance, EM6Q-MXQ is truly amazing, and crushes the competition with an average throughput of 3.84 MB/s.

EM6Q-MXQ_Wi-Fi_Performance

Wi-Fi Performance in MB/s

I wonder if the internal Wi-Fi antenna connection to a stainless steel plate inside the case has anything to do with it.

Ethernet worked fine @ 100Mbps even connected to my pesky Gigabit switch.

EM6Q-MXQ_Ethernet_PerformanceI’ve also tested Ethernet performance with iPerf app to get a raw number using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line. It does not max out the Ethernet bandwidth but I suppose the results are still decent, even though not outstanding. As reference, Kingnovel R6 achieved over 90 Mbits/sec in both directions via a Fast Ethernet switch.

Client connecting to 192.168.0.102, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 47764 connected with 192.168.0.102 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   570 MBytes  79.7 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   484 MBytes  67.7 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

EM6Q-MXQ does not support Bluetooth, at least the model I have, does not.

Storage

FAT32 formatted micro SD card and USB flash drive could be recognized and properly mounted by the system
I’ve also connected my USB 3.0 hard drive, and only NTFS and FAT32 could be mounted automatically, as for some reasons EXT-4 does not seems to be supported by Android.

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

I’ve run A1 SD Bench  to benchmark performance of the USB hard drive and internal flash, starting with the NTFS partition in /storage/external_storage/sda1. The read speed was 30.35MB/s, and the write speed of 31.79MB/s, both of which are the best readings I’ve ever got, but only marginally better than the competition. We should probably expect very little variability between devices using USB 2.0, and see some performance boost and more variability with devices that support USB 3.0.

USB Hard Drive Throughput in MB/s

USB Hard Drive Throughput in MB/s

A slow internal storage can make a device behave very poorly, especially during write operation, and unfortunately the NAND flash used cripples a device that would otherwise be a pretty decent product.

Internal Storage Read and Write Speed (MB/s)

Internal Storage Read and Write Speed (MB/s)

This confirms the NAND flash is the likely cause of slow boot time, and apps loading times, as well as temporary, but annoying, slowdowns when flash is written to, for example while installing apps.

USB Webcam

My USB webcam with built-in microphone worked with Skype. I could test audio successfully with the Echo service in Skype, and I could see the video from the camera while making a call. Google Hangouts could detect the webcam, I could start a video call (ringing), and the webcam image was displayed albeit at a very slow framerate (1 or 2 fps), but after a few seconds massive colorful artifacts started to show up.

The Android camera is pre-installed, and I could take a few shots, and record a video.

Gaming

As usual, I’ve tested Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. I played Candy Crush Saga with my air mouse, and at the beginning audio cut due to I/O interrupts (kswapd0, irq/60-sdio processes), and logging into Facebook was sluggish as hell, but once actually playing the game, everything worked pretty well, and smoothly.

I played the two other games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Blitz just as smooth as more recent processors (S802, RK3288) with default setting,s but when I maxed out the graphics settings, it was still very playable, but the framerate was impacted. Riptide GP2 was playable, but not perfectly smooth, actually not that much different from Amlogic S802. Decreasing the graphics quality improves playability (frame rate). I’ve raced on several circuits, and after the third circuits, I noticed the 3D image froze once. Playing a fourth games, it was clear I had the same problem as with Amlogic S802 (Probox2 EX), where the 3D image with just stop for a few seconds, before resuming, stop again and so on, but the 2D graphics (position on track) will still render properly and continuously.  So I checked the temperature and I got 42°C and 65°C on the top and bottom of the enclosure. I could be Mali-450MP GPU overheats due to the workload of this specific game, and does not work properly.

EM6Q-MXQ / Amlogic S802 Benchmarks

Since it’s the first device with Amlogic S802, I had to run CPU-Z.

Amlogic_S802_CPU-ZThe app correctly detect a quad core Cortex A5 @ 1.49 GHz with a Mali-450 MP GPU. The scaling governor is set to performance which explains why the cores’ frequency is set to 1488 MHz, as the developers preferred to give full performance to the system, since there’s no overheating issues. The screen resolution is set to 1920×1008 (not 1080 because I enabled the status bar on) with 1280×672 resolution in dp. 825 MB RAM is available to the system, and 5.26 GB internal storage as mentioned previously.

EM6Q-MXQ_Antutu_5.1

The device gets 16,647 points in Antutu 5.1, and is right at the bottom of the scale in the graphics chart. For reference RK3188 based device usually have a score just above 20,000, so I suppose this score is to be expected because of the slower CPU cores, and despite the faster GPU.  I’ll make a side-by-side comparison with Amlogic S802 in a separate post.

EM6Q-MXQ got 3985 points in Quadrant, close to the score of Asus Transformer Pad (TF201) tablet based on Nvidia Tegra 3.

Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also run Vellamo 3.x which shows a performance similar to Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone (Exynos 4).

Vellamo_Amlogic_S805_EM6Q-MXQFor comparison with other devices, you can download Metal, Multicore, and Browser comparison charts.

Ice Storm Extreme test in 3DMark really shows the lower performance of the quad core Mali-450MP GPU used in S805 (Mali-450 MP2?) against something like Mali-T764 found in RK3288 SoC that gets a score three times higher. I haven’t tested Amlogic S802 with an eight core Mali-450 MP6 GPU yet.

3DMarks ICE Storm  Ultimate (Click to Enlarge)

3DMarks ICE Storm Ultimate (Click to Enlarge)

Conclusion

EM6Q-MXQ could really have been a low cost device with pretty good performance, where it not for the subpar NAND flash used in this hardware. Wi-Fi is the best I’ve ever seen, and by a large margin, video decoding is pretty good, although H.265 is still not supported in XBMC, and the firmware is stable, despite apps exiting randomly at times, but I wonder if it’s related to the I/O performance, and the app are just killed because the system does not respond fast enough.

PRO:

  • Best Wi-Fi performance I’ve ever experienced in a TV box, and by a wide margin.
  • The system is rather stable, and only hung once when trying to play a 4K video
  • Both 720p and 1080p user interfaces are supported
  • Decent video playback capabilities.
  • HEVC hardware video decoding support. Working in MX Player, but not with XBMC (yet)
  • Webcam supported in Skype (but the image was garbled in Google Hangouts)
  • 4x USB 2.0 host port available

CONS:

  • Very slow internal storage, leading to severe slowdowns especially while installing apps, or other write operations.
  • Apps may exit suddenly for no reason, maybe related to first point above.
  • Slow boot time, and apps loading times, most probably related to first point above
  • No proper power off (standby only)
  • Lack of Bluetooth support (No Bluetooth module)
  • No option for 24Hz, 25Hz, 30Hz video output

Eny Technology EM6Q-MXQ can be purchased on Aliexpress for about $70 including shipping. In that link, bothEM6Q-MXQ and MXQ S85 are listed so you’ll need to check the USB port (4x port with EM6Q-MXQ only), and/or the Red MX stripe found in S85 version. Resellers can visit EM6Q-MXQ product page to contact the company for larger orders.

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Getting Started with LinkIt ONE Development Kit for Wearables & IoT

September 21st, 2014 1 comment

After going through WRTnode Quick Start Guide, it’s now time to play with LinkIt ONE, the IoT development board from Mediatek designed by Seeed Studio. LinkIt ONE is the first Hardware Development Kit (HDK) for Mediatek LinkIt, so there may be a LinkIt TWO, and/or other hardware platforms in the future.

LinkIt ONE specifications

Let’s quickly go through the specifications first:

  • Processor – Mediatek MT2502A (Aster) ARM7 EJ-STM processor @ 260 MHz
  • System Memory – 4 MB
  • Storage – 16MB Flash for firmware + micro SD slot shared with SIM slot for up to 32GB additional storage
  • Connectivity:
    • Wi-Fi – 802.11 b/g/n (MT5931) with external antenna
    • Bluetooth – BR/EDR/BLE(Dual Mode)
    • GPS – Mediatek MT3332 with external antenna
    • GSM/GPRS – 850/900/1800/1900 MHz band, Class 12 GPS with external antenna
  • Audio – 3.5mm headphone jack (including mic support) – Support for MP3, AAC, and AMR codecs.
  • Serial – Software Serial (Serial), and Hardware Serial (Serial1, D0 & D1)
  • Expansion Headers
    • Arduino UNO headers including digital I/Os, 3x analog input, PWM, I2C, SPI, UART3 etc..
    • UART and I2C Seeed Studio Grove interfaces
  • Power
    • 5V via micro USB
    • I/O – DC Current Per I/O pin: 1mA
    • Li-Po Battery Support
  • Dimensions – 8.4 x 5.3 cm

LinkIt ONE Unboxing

I’ve received the kit in a package reading “LinkIt ONE – The Ultimate Development Board for Wearables and Internet of Things”.

LinkIt_ONE_PackageThe back of the package has some explanation about various features and capabilities of the board and two links:

LinkIt ONE, Antennas, and Battery (Click to Enlarge)

LinkIt ONE, Antennas, and Battery (Click to Enlarge)

Beside LinkIt ONE board, the package comes with three antennas (Wi-Fi, GPS, and GPRS), as well as a 1000mASh Li-Po battery.

LinkIt ONE (Click to Enlarge)

LinkIt ONE (Click to Enlarge)

The Grove interface are the two headers just above LinkIt ONE marking with UART and I2C connectivity use to add modules made by Seeed Studio, but you can also connect Arduino shields using the Arduino UNO compatible headers. The board can be powered by the micro USB port on the left, or a battery connected to the connector on the bottom left. Power source is selected by a switch (USB / BAT). The headphone jack (stereo + mic) is located on the top right.

Back of LinkIt ONE Board (Click to Enlarge)

Back of LinkIt ONE Board (Click to Enlarge)

On the back of the board, there’s a SIM/ micro SD card slot combo, and a metallic shield (for EMI) covering the main components, mostly MT2502A, since the SoC integrates memory, MCU, Bluetooth, and the PMU into a single chip. You’ll find the three antenna connectors on the right of the picture.

LinkIt ONE Quick Start Guide

At first I went to http://labs.mediatek.com/linkit to download LinkIt SDK, after registering with Mediatek Labs. You can also optionally download the Hardware Reference Guide with the datasheets for Aster (MT2502A), Wi-Fi (MT5931), and GPS (MT3332) chips, as well as schematics and PCB layout in Eagle format, and high resolution pinout diagram which I reproduced below.

LinkIt ONE Pinout Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

LinkIt ONE Pinout Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

The SDK file is named Mediatek_Linkit_SDK_for_Arduino_1_0_34.zip that contains a file called Mediatek_Linkit_SDK_for_Arduino_1_0_34.exe. Alright, time to start a Windows 7 VM… The Wiki however states that “Arduino IDE for LinkIt ONE supports Windows only. Mac and Linux will be supported in the near future.

At first I failed to install the SDK, but I found I’ve found better resources in LinkIt ONE Wiki, which also links to LinkIt Developer’s Guide, explaining you need to get the Arduino IDE.

So first, you need to retrieve the LinkIt ONE IDE (modified version of Arduino IDE?) from github. There are several methods, but let’s just download the ZIP file (145MB), and extract it. Go to LinkIt-ONE-IDE-Master/drivers/mtk directory, and click on InstallDriver to install the drivers. Now connect the board to your PC with a micro USB to USB cable. If you use VirtualBox, you’ll also need the VirtualBox Extension Pack to access USB devices. In VirtualBox, LinkIt ONE is referred to as “Mediatek Inc Product [0100]” in Devices->USB Devices menu. The installation should complete as follows with two new COM ports.

LinkIt-ONE_Drivers

So now, you can install the the LinkIt SDK, pointing the installation directory to LinkIt IDE directory (LinkIt-ONE-IDE-Master).

LinkIt_SDK_For_Arduino_1.0Click Next a few times to complete the installation,. We don’t really need to install Mediatek USB drivers (last step), as we’ve done that already.

Now start the Arduino IDE by clicking on Arduino(.exe) in LinkIt-ONE-IDE-Master folder, and configure it to use the board by selecting Tools->Board->LinkIt ONE.

Arduino_IDE_LinkIt_ONEYou’ll also need to select the COM port corresponding to MTK USB Debug Port (COM6 in my case) with Tools->Port. Port was grayed out at first, but resetting the board fixed the issue.

The first project you usually try is Blink, that simply blinks an LED on the board. So let’s do it. The procedure is exactly the same as the one followed for an Arduino board. To load the project, click on File->Examples->01. Basics->Blink. Make sure the switch on the left of LinkIt ONE marking on the board is set to SPI, and upload the program by selecting File->Upload or clicking directly on the Upload icon (->). The transfer should complete within a few seconds, and a green LED blink on the board shortly after.

Seeed Studio also sells “Sidekick Basic Kit for LinkIt ONE” with a breadboard, passive components (resistor, capacitor,…), sensors (thermistor Photo resistor ..), a servo, and a buzzer to interface with LinkIt ONE board, and provide a tutorial with 10 examples showing how to use the kit. I haven’t received it, but their “Hello World” tutorial just blinks an external LED, so I’ve tried it out as well with some off-the-shelf components.

LinkIt ONE Hello World (Click to Enlarge)

LinkIt ONE Hello World (Click to Enlarge)

The wiki mentions you can load the program with File->Examples->Starter Kit for LinkIt->Basic->L2_Control_LED, but there’s no Starter Kit for LinkIt entry. Maybe I need to install something else, but I could not find any download links. Nevertheless, the code is included in the wiki, so I just created a new project with the code:

const int pinLED = 3;                      // LED connect to D13
 
void setup()
{
  pinMode(pinLED, OUTPUT);                // set direction of D13-OUTPUT
}
 
void loop()
{
  digitalWrite(pinLED, HIGH);             // LED on
  delay(3000);
  digitalWrite(pinLED, LOW);              // LED off
  delay(100);
}

With I then uploaded to the board, and the LED is lit for 3 seconds, and off for a short time (100ms) as expected.

That’s all for the quick start guide. To go further, you can check the wiki, and developer’s guide mentioned above, and read the LinkIt API Reference for full details of the APIs for MediaTek LinkIt development platform.

LinkIt ONE is available now for $79 on Seeed Studio, and you may also consider pre-ordering “Sidekick Basic kit for LinkIt ONE” for $29.90 (Shipping on October 22) to have some fun interfacing LEDs, sensors, a servo, etc.. to the board, by following the related tutorials.

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Getting Started with WRTnode OpenWRT Development Board

September 18th, 2014 No comments

Seeed Studio sent me two nice little boards that can be used for IoT development: WRTNode and LinkIt ONE. Today, I’ll show pictures of WRTNode and accessories, and go through the “starting guide“, and will test LinkIt ONE board a few days later.

WRTnode Unboxing

I’ve received WRTnode by Fedex, and the board is stored in a plastic box.
WRTnode_Package
Inside the box, you’ll find the board, a “special” USB used to power the board and as an OTG adapter, a piece of paper with useful links (Wiki), and some WRTnode stickers.

WRTnode, "special" USB cable, and Quick Start Card (Click to Enlarge)

WRTnode, “special” USB cable, and Quick Start Card (Click to Enlarge)

Any micro USB to USB cable can be used to power the board, but this cable is useless to connect USB devices such as flash drives, webcams (OpenCV is supported), Bluetooth dongles, and so on. You could even connect a USB hub to connect multiple USB devices as shown below.

WRTnode_Webcam_Flash_Drive_USB_Hub

I’ve also taken a picture of both sides of the board shown the antenna on-board antennas, Mediatek MT7620n WiSoC, Elixir N2TU51216DG-AC DDR2 chip (64MB @ 400 MHz), the 16 MB SPI flash, as well as the headers for connecting various peripherals via I2C, SPI, UART, USB, etc…

WRTnode Board (Click to Enlarge)

WRTnode Board (Click to Enlarge)

You can also add Ethernet easily by making your own Ethernet cable using T568B wiring standard. I’m not 100% sure it’s safe though, as there are usually some extra components for Ethernet. I’ve included the board pinout chart for your reference.

WRTnode_pinout

WRTnode Quick Start Guide

To start the board simply connect the USB cable to a power adapter or a USB port on your computer. After about 10 seconds, you should see a blue LED lit up, and shortly after, you should see WRTnodeXXXX ESSID, where XXXX are the last 4 digit of the board MAC address. Connect it with your computer, and input the password: 12345678.
WRTNode_Access_PointNormally the board will resolve as several URL, but at first none of them worked.

$ ping i.wrtno.de
ping: unknown host i.wrtno.de
$ ping openwrt.lan
ping: unknown host openwrt.lan
$ ping wrtnode.lan
ping: unknown host wrtnode.lan

But you can check the route to see which subnet is used by your Wi-Fi connection:

$ route
Kernel IP routing table
Destination Gateway Genmask Flags Metric Ref Use Iface
default 192.168.0.1 0.0.0.0 UG 0 0 0 eth0
192.168.0.0 * 255.255.255.0 U 1 0 0 eth0
192.168.8.0 * 255.255.255.0 U 9 0 0 wlan0

I could finally ping the board with:

$ ping 192.168.8.1
PING 192.168.8.1 (192.168.8.1) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from 192.168.8.1: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=12.4 ms
64 bytes from 192.168.8.1: icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=2.37 ms
64 bytes from 192.168.8.1: icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=12.1 ms

Interestingly, ping openwrt.lan, and the other two URL also work afterwards, so maybe I was a little to impatient during my testing…

The first time you need to connect to the board via telnet in order to set the root password:

$ telnet 192.168.8.1

WRTNode_Telnet

Now change the root password using passwd as you would do in any other Linux machine, and exit the connection, in order to connect via SSH instead:

$ ssh [email protected]
The authenticity of host '192.168.8.1 (192.168.8.1)' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is bc:00:71:ac:b1:56:e7:7b:c7:7a:9b:6a:59:8e:da:82.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
Warning: Permanently added '192.168.8.1' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.
[email protected]'s password:
BusyBox v1.22.1 (2014-08-13 19:31:12 UTC) built-in shell (ash)
.....
root@OpenWrt:~#

At this point, you’ve got another Wi-Fi access point on your network, but it’s not connected to Internet, so let’s start by locating the Wi-Fi routers with aps command:

root@OpenWrt:~# aps
WRTnode AP scaner.
Begin scaning APs, pls wait...
Finished.
APs available are...
ra0 get_site_survey:
Ch SSID BSSID Security Siganl(%)W-Mode ExtCH NT WPS DPID
1 CNX-TRANSLATION 94:0c:6d:e6:5b:10 WPA1PSKWPA2PSK/TKIPAES 100 11b/g/n ABOVE In YES

I only have one ESSID here, but this will list all ESSID in your environment. With that data, you can configure WRTnode to connect to your Wi-Fi router using vw command (vi wireless?):

root@OpenWrt:~# vw
config wifi-device 'ra0'
 option type 'ralink'
 option mode '9'
 option channel '1'
 option txpower '100'
 option ht '20+40'
 option country 'US'
 option disabled '0'
config wifi-iface
 option device 'ra0'
 option network 'lan'
 option mode 'ap'
 option encryption 'psk2'
 option key '12345678'
 option ApCliEnable '1'
 option ApCliSsid 'CNX-TRANSLATION'
 option ApCliAuthMode 'WPA2PSK'
 option ApCliEncrypType 'AES'
 option ApCliPassWord 'router_password'
 option ssid 'WRTnode9A60'

You need to change the lines in bold above using the data from aps. The first line is the Channel (Ch) , and the four lines in the wifi-iface section are pretty much self-explanatory. Save the file with Esc + “:wq”.

aps and vw do not report security features in the same way. Here’s the conversion table in case you don’t use WPA2PSK/AES:

aps:Security           vw:ApCliAuthMode/ApCliEncrypType
=========================================================
WPA1PSKWPA2PSK/TKIPAES	WPA2PSK/AES
WPA2PSK/AES		WPA2PSK/AES
WPA2PSK/TKIP		WPA2PSK/TKIP
WPAPSK/TKIPAES		WPAPSK/TKIP
WPAPSK/AES		WPAPSK/AES
WPAPSK/TKIP		WPAPSK/TKIP
WEP			WEP/WEP

Finally, restart the network:

root@OpenWrt:~# nr

and verify WRTnode got an IP address from the Wi-Fi router using DHCP:

root@OpenWrt:~# ia
apcli0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr 66:51:7E:32:9A:60
inet addr:192.168.0.105 Bcast:192.168.0.255 Mask:255.255.255.0
inet6 addr: fe80::6451:7eff:fe32:9a60/64 Scope:Link
UP BROADCAST RUNNING MULTICAST MTU:1500 Metric:1
RX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
TX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
RX bytes:0 (0.0 B) TX bytes:0 (0.0 B)

Good 192.168.0.105 is an IP adress from local network. Let’s also check we can ping a site on the Internet:

root@OpenWrt:~# ping cnx-software.com
PING cnx-software.com (104.28.18.95): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 104.28.18.95: seq=0 ttl=53 time=81.999 ms
64 bytes from 104.28.18.95: seq=1 ttl=53 time=87.759 ms
64 bytes from 104.28.18.95: seq=2 ttl=53 time=81.381 ms
^C
--- cnx-software.com ping statistics ---
3 packets transmitted, 3 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max = 81.381/83.713/87.759 ms

All good!

Once I had a problem connecting to my Wi-Fi router, and it turned out my router was configured to automatically select the channel, and it had switched to Channel 4. Running vw again to change the configuration withoption channel ‘4’” made the connection work again. There’s probably an option in OpenWRT to automatically detect the channel, but I haven’t investigated.

You can also install packages for okpg. I tried to install luci, but it was pre-installed, so I added openvpn support instead:

root@OpenWrt:~# opkg update
Downloading http://d.wrtnode.com/packages/Packages.gz.
Updated list of available packages in /var/opkg-lists/barrier_breaker.
root@OpenWrt:~# opkg install luci
Package luci (svn-r10457-1) installed in root is up to date.
root@OpenWrt:~# opkg install openvpn-easy-rsa
Installing openvpn-easy-rsa (2013-01-30-2) to root...
Downloading http://d.wrtnode.com/packages/openvpn-easy-rsa_2013-01-30-2_ramips_24kec.ipk.
Installing openssl-util (1.0.1h-1) to root...
Downloading http://d.wrtnode.com/packages/openssl-util_1.0.1h-1_ramips_24kec.ipk.
Configuring openssl-util.
Configuring openvpn-easy-rsa.
root@OpenWrt:~#

That’s it the quick start guide is completed.

I’ve also run some command to show memory and storage usage:

root@OpenWrt:~# df -h
Filesystem Size Used Available Use% Mounted on
rootfs 7.3M 348.0K 7.0M 5% /
/dev/root 7.5M 7.5M 0 100% /rom
tmpfs 30.2M 80.0K 30.1M 0% /tmp
/dev/mtdblock5 7.3M 348.0K 7.0M 5% /overlay
overlayfs:/overlay 7.3M 348.0K 7.0M 5% /
tmpfs 512.0K 0 512.0K 0% /dev

root@OpenWrt:~# free -m
total used free shared buffers
Mem: 61852 29084 32768 0 3536
-/+ buffers: 25548 36304
Swap: 0 0 0

Out of the 16Mb SPI flash, only 7.3M available are available for OpenWRT, the  rest is probably used by the bootloader. There’s nearly 64MB RAM available, and 29MB free.

If you are interested in the board, you can purchase it from Seeed Studio ($25), which provided the board for this review, but it’s also available on other shops such as DFRobot or Eleduino for the same price, although shipping fees may vary. To go beyond this Quick Start Guide, visit WRTnode WiKi to access the source code, schematics, and various documentation including tutorials.

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WeIO is an Open Source Hardware IoT Board Programmable from a Web Browser (Crowdfunding)

September 16th, 2014 9 comments

WeIO is an open source hardware board for the Internet of things with Wi-Fi connectivity and lots of I/Os designed by nodesign, a French based startup, in collaboration of 8devices, the makers of the Carambola boards. WeIO is powered by an Atheros AR9331 SoC running OpenWRT as well as an NXP LPC MCU for faster handling of I/Os and support for analog I/Os. One interesting aspect of this board is that it can be programmed via a web browser using HTML5 or Python, and it does not rely on the Cloud to store data.

WeIO

WeIO Board (Click for Larger View of the Board)

WeIO hardware specifications:

  • SoC – Atheros AR9331 MIPS 24K Wireless SoC @ 400 MHz
  • MCU – NXP LPC11xx ARM Cortex M0 MCU for analog I/O and real-time H/W interfaces
  • System Memory – 64 MB DDR2
  • Storage – 16 MB flash + micro SD slot
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi with on-board antenna (AP and STA modes), solder pads for Ethernet
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port (for storage, webcam, sound cards, …), 1x micro USB (FTDI) for console access.
  • Expansion Headers – 5 headers with:
    • 32x GPIO
    • 1x UART, 2x SPI, 1x I2C
    • 8x ADC with 10-bit precision
    • 6x PWM with 16-bit precision
  • Debugging – micro USB for programming, JTAG solder pads for AR9331 SoC, and LPC11xx MCU.
  • Misc – RGB LED connected to 3 PWM outputs, AP mode and soft reset buttons, LM75 digital thermometer
  • Power – 3.3V operating voltage, 5V tolerant I/Os (except ADC), external supply 5V.
  • Dimensions – 91 x 68 mm

There’s no IDE to install to program WeIO, as everything can be done from WeIO IDE hosted on the board itself, and you just need to connect using your favorite Web browser. There’s no cross-compiling, board flashing, or  programming electronics in C, unless you plan to update OpenWRT or the MCU firmware. That also means you should be able to program the board from any operating system, be it Windows, Linux, Mac OS, or even Android, FreeBSD…

WeIO IDE (Click to Enlarge)

WeIO IDE (Click to Enlarge)

The API is said to be “Arduino-like”, but using HTML5 (HTML, Javascript, CSS) and/or Python. You can find related code on weio repository on github.Some of the server technologies or protocols used include Tornado web server (written in Python), Websockets, SSH and SMB, and Bonjour zeroconf. The board is also supposed to be open source hardware, but the hardware design files do not appear to have been released just yet.

The company has made some demos using WeIO such as a smart lamp, real-time data visualizaton on iOS or Android smartphones, various displays support,  music and video streaming, interfacing with Arduino, and so on. You can watch the video for an overview of the board and have a look at some of the demos.

The project has been launched on Indiegogo, and have already reached its $10,000 funding target. A $86 pledge will get you a WeIO board, but various kits are available between $99 to $399, and there are also 1 to 2-day workshops for several thousands dollars. Shipping is either free, or $9 to Europe, and $12 to the other continents, depending on the perks, and delivery is scheduled for November 2014. You may also want to visit we-io.net for access to full documentation (work in progress), and/or join WeIO Google+ Community.

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Review of Kingnovel K-R68 (R6) Android Mini PC

September 9th, 2014 8 comments

I’ve already listed specs, and shown a few pictures of Kingnovel K-R68 (R6) Android media player based on the latest Rockchip RK3288 quad core processor. I’ve now gone through all my usual tests, so today, I’ll write the review, going through the user interface, testing video playback, reporting one various performance benchmarks including network and storage performance, tested most hardware features, and played a few games.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Albeit there’s an infrared remote control with the device. I’ve not used it all, especially, as we’ll see below the default user interface is the stock Android home screen. As usual, I’ve connected an RF dongle to use Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Before powering up the device, I’ve also connected an HDMI cable, a USB hard drive, and an Ethernet cable. Albeit there’s a power button, the device will boot automatically as you connect the power adapter, and the boot completes in just over 20 seconds.

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

The status bar is shown by default with a power (Standby or Reboot) button, volume buttons, the back, home, and app list icons, as well as an icon to hide the status bar. I’ve enabled the screenshot button in the settings. The user interface defaults to Chinese as shown in the screenshot above, so I had to go to the settings to change the language. The resolution was set to 1920×1080.

The Settings are basically the same as Uyesee G1H, but with some colorful icons on the left, instead of the usual black and white icons, and there’s no “Home” to select between launchers. The Wireless and Networks section features Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Data Usage sections, as well as a “More” section with VPN, Portable Hotspot and so on. You can choose between “Default Output” (PCM / Down-mixing), “Spdif Passthough”, and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through) in the sound settings, (Not tested, as I don’t have audio receiver). The Display settings include options to adjust for overscan, select HDMI, YPbPr, and “TV” (Composite) video output, as well as the resolution: “auto”, 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720×576 or 720×480. Again it’s exactly as the previous RK3288 sample I tested (G1H). 4K options should also show if the box is connected to  4K TV, Most of the tests have been done using HDMI output, but I also tested composite and component (YPbPr) video outputs.

Composite (NTSC) - Click to Enlarge

Composite (NTSC) – Click to Enlarge

Composite (PAL) - Click to Enlarge

Composite (PAL) – Click to Enlarge

Component (720p) - Click to Enlarge
Component (720p) – Click to Enlarge

Composite works, but in NTSC mode I had a green line on the bottom, which I could not hide with the “Screen Scale” menu. I had no such problem in PAL mode.  I had the same problem with Component (YPbpr) output as with my other RK3288 device, as only the Chrominance signal would apparently be displayed. Resolutions selectable with YPbPr are only 720p, 720×576 (PAL) and 720×470 (NTSC), and there’s no option for 1080p.

About_K-R68K-R68 features a 8GB eMMC flash partitioned with a 1.91GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps with 1.53 GB free, and a 4.27 GB “NAND FLASH” partition for data. A single partition for apps and data would be ideal, but this partitioning should work fine for most people. The “About device” section reports the model number as “rk3288″, Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.0. The firmware is not rooted, and I don’t have male to male USB cable, so I could not root it via the OTG port. In this review, I won’t show a video of the settings and user interface, because it’s just the same as Uyesee G1H, apart from a different home screen (pictured above), and colorful icons in the settings menus.

Google Play Store works as expected, and I could install most apps such as ES File Explorer, MX Player, Antutu, Quadrant, Beach Buggy Blitz, etc…  and even paid apps such as Sixaxis Controller installed properly. Vidonn activity tracker app was reported as “incompatible with your device”. I also installed Amazon AppStore after downloading it via the stock browser, and loaded Riptide GP2 on the device.

I haven’t used the remote control, but the power button on the status bar only lets you reboot and put the device into standby. Press the Power button on Mele F10 deluxe also brings the same menu. The power button on top of the device can only be used to power off the device completely, and to do so, you’ll need to press it for 10 seconds. The enclosure also gets pretty hot. The maximum temperatures measured with an infrared thermometer on the top and bottom of the box were respectively 46 °C and 56 °C after running Android 5 benchmark, and after playing Riptide GP2 for 30 minutes at 1080p (right after playing a 1080p movie for 2 hours), the measured max. temperatures reached 58 °C and 77 °C…

The firmware is stable and fast. I had no reboot and hang ups during my testing. Thanks to fast eMMC, apps loading times can be impressive, for example XBMC loads in less than 2 seconds, and I never had slowdowns as experience in Uyesee G1H while installing apps. The user interface resolution is 1080p by default, but if you want some extra performance for some games for example, you can switch to 720p if you wish.

Video Playback

Contrary to Uyesee G1H, Kingnovel K-R68 comes pre-loaded with XBMC. So I played videos from a SAMBA share over Ethernet using XBMC, only switching to MX Player in case of issues. I had problems with Gigabit Ethernet again (instability), so I used a 10/100M hub between the device and my Gigabit switch (D-Link DSG-1005A), and the connection was perfectly stable. So all results are based on XBMC playback unless otherwise stated.

I started by playing videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and H.265/HEVC video by Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – OK, but smoothness could be better.
    • MX Player – Video playing at an estimated 2 to 4 fps, with most frames skipped
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK and relatively smooth, also not perfect like on PC (VideoLAN)
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)

So XBMC can’t play H.265, no VC1 videos, and MPEG-2 play, but are not super smooth.

Next are some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • 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) – Audio only (That’s the VC1 codec issue in XBMC).
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

All high definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in XBMC:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

Sintel-Bluray.iso Blu-ray ISO file could play just fine in XBMC.

None of the 4K videos could play without issues in XBMC. The HEVC/H.265 video were all played in MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4

    • XBMC – OK most of the time, but skips about 60 frames at the end of the video (The image will freeze before the end of the video).
    • MX Player – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv
    • XBMC – Played in slow motion, unwatchable.
    • MX Player – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK (H/W decode), but some white “fog” appears on the black background
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts – Plays with S/W decode (MX Player reports codec not supported by H/W).

Finally, I played some Several AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB and MP4 videos in my library. Most could play, but several had audio/video sync issues, a number of FLV videos could not play at all, and one XVID video had lot of frames skipped during playback. A complete 1080p video (1h50) could be played in XBMC without issues. Once XBMC refused to exit, as clicking on the exit button did not work at all, but I could not reproduce the issue. Overall, the XBMC experience is disappointing, but if you combine MX Player and XBMC capabilities most videos can be played.

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)

The network test consists in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times using ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi performance is excellent and very consistent, as transfer times were all between 1m42s and 1m44s, averaging a cool 2.69 MB/s.

Wi-Fi Performance in MB/s

Wi-Fi Performance in MB/s

While I’m with Wi-Fi testing, I also ran Rockchip’s “Wi-Fi display” app, but even though the display was detected by my phone and “successfully” connected, mirroring did not work at all. I tried several times, but my subsequent attempt all failed to connect at all.

As mentioned previously, I had stability problems (again) with Gigabit Ethernet, so I could only properly test Fast Ethernet performance. Using the same test procedure as Wi-Fi, K-R68 shows very good performance compared to other solutions I’ve tested.

Kingnovel_K-R68_EthernetThis test is not a pure network performance test, as it may be affected by storage write performance. Having said that, I’ve experience similar results writing to flash or USB hard drive for all devices under test.

Under Linux, you can test network performance with iPerf, and it turns out iPerf app is also available for Android. So I gave it a try using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line. This runs a “dualtest” (a bidirectional test simultaneously) for one minute, and based on the test results, there’s definitely an issue with Gigabit Ethernet, but only in one direction (872 Mbps vs 314 Kbps), but Fast Ethernet is running great:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.107, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  425 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 37734 connected with 192.168.0.107 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  6.09 GBytes   872 Mbits/sec
[  4]  0.0-63.4 sec  2.38 MBytes   314 Kbits/sec
[  5] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.107 port 51937
------------------------------------------------------------
Client connecting to 192.168.0.107, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 37843 connected with 192.168.0.107 port 5001
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   654 MBytes  91.4 Mbits/sec
[  5]  0.0-60.1 sec   658 MBytes  91.8 Mbits/sec

I’ve tried different Cat5e Ethernet cable with it did not solve the issue.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could easily pair K-R68 to my Android smartphone (ThL W200) over Bluetooth, and transfer a picture.

Since the firmware is not rooted, and I’m not sure how to root it, I had to skip Sixaxis test for PS3 Bluetooth Gamepad support

Vidonn X5 activity tracker suppoert Bluetooth 4.0 LE, so I installed the Android app, and successfully connected to my wristband to get the data.

Storage

FAT32 formatted micro SD card and USB flash drive could be recognized and properly mounted by the system
I’ve also connected my USB 3.0 hard drive with NTFS, EXT-4, FAT32, and BTRFS partitions, and as usual only NTFS and FAT32 could be mounted automatically.

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

A1 SD Bench was run to benchmark the NTFS partition (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/USB3_NTFS). The read speed was 29.47MB/s, and the write speed of 24.63MB/s, both of which are pretty consistent with the results achieved with other devices, albeit the write speed was the weakest of the products tested by a small margin.

K-R68_USB_Write_SpeedThe internal storage read and write speeds are very important to apps loading time, and overall system performance, and K-R68 excels in this benchmark, at least compared to Uyesee G1H, and Probox2 EX.

K-R68_eMMC_PerformanceThe fast eMMC write speed explains why I never felt slowdowns during my testing, contrary to what happened with G1H.

USB Webcam

Using a white brand UVC USB webcam with built-in microphone. I could test audio successfully with the Echo service in Skype, and I could see the video, but as I tried to leave a video message, the app exited.

Google Hangouts could detect the webcam (Video icon at the top right of the screen), and I could start a video call, but the webcam image was not shown.

Gaming

I’ve tested three games: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2.

I played Candy Crush Saga with my air mouse, and used Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad in the two other games.  Beach Buggy Blitz was super smooth even with graphics settings maxed out and 1080p resolution, and Riptide GP2 was very smooth most of the time, and albeit not perfect, RK3288 devices are a massive jump in terms of playability compared to earlier generation of chip, and even Amlogic S802. I’ve also tested stability by playing Riptide GP2 for 30 consecutive minutes, and everything runs fine, but the bottom of the device can get pretty hot (Over 75 °C). Thanks to the rubber pads, it does not touch the table though. The top is much cooler at around 55 °C.

Kingnovel K-R68 Benchmark

CPU-Z app returns the exact same data as for G1H TV box, that is a Rockchip processor with four Cortex A12 cores @ 126 MHz to 1.80 GHz with a Mali-T764 processor. Only the firmware version differs.

G1H got 39,273 in Antutu 4.x @ 1080p resolution. Since them Android 5 has been released, and K-R68 got 37,428 points between Redmi Note (MediaTek MT6592) and Xiaomi Mi3 (Qualcomm Snapdragon 800). Results between Antutu 4.x and Antutu 5.x are not directly comparable.

Antutu 5 Results for Kingnovel K-R68 (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 5 Results for Kingnovel K-R68 (Click to Enlarge)

I had no luck with Quadrant, as I was greeted with gray screen when I wanted to start the test.

I’ve run Ice Storm Extreme test in 3DMark to see if there was any improvement compared to G1H score.

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme Results (Click to Enlarge)

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme Results (Click to Enlarge)

A score of 7,531 points, is only slightly higher than than 7,278 points achieved by G1H, and is about the same as the one achieved on a smartphone based on Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. However many recent devices based on Qualcomm 800 and greater get a score above 10,000 or simply maxes out the test.

Conclusion

Kingnovel K-R68 hardware has massive potential with a fast processor, outstanding 3D performance, and excellent Wi-Fi and eMMC storage performance. The firmware is stable and provides a smooth experience, but if you are looking for a device well supported by XBMC, it’s not there yet. Having said that, I’ve only tested the XBMC version provided with the sample (Gotham 13.2), and there are some version that may have better support include HEVC hardware decoding such as Beyond XBMC 3.4 (beta) and an XBMC version released for Firefly-RK3288 development board.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Excellent 3D graphics performance for games
  • Stable and fast firmware.
  • Excellent Wi-Fi performance
  • Fast eMMC, both for reading and writing speeds.
  • Both 720p and 1080p user interfaces are supported
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output which may be important for some videos. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported thanks to HDMI 2.0 (not tested).
  • HEVC video decoding support
  • Webcam supported in Skype (although it did not seem to work with Google Hangouts)

CONS:

  • XBMC has too many issues: VC1, H.265 not supported, audio/video sync issue, some MPEG-2 and XVID videos are skipping frames, none of the 4K videos I used could play properly, etc…
  • Some MPEG-2 file won’t play smooth in either XBMC or MX Player
  • Potential Gigabit Ethernet issues, at least confirmed with my switch (D-Link DSG-1005A).
  • No proper power off (standby only)
  • The enclosure (bottom) can get pretty hot, with temperatures over 75+ C after long periods of 3D gaming.
  • Video output – Component only output the Luminance signal with my TV, composite (NTSC) has a green bar at the bottom, no problem for PAL.

If you are a distributor, you may want to visit Kingnovel K-R68 page for some details, and possibly contact the company. The box does not seem to be selling on e-retailer sites yet, or it’s sold under another model name. The box  appears to be sold on Geekbuying under the model name R6 for $107.99.

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