Review of Tronsmart Ara X5 Windows 10 mini PC with Intel Atom X5 Processor

Tronsmart Ara X5 is one of the first mini PC featuring a Cherry Trail processor, more exactly Atom x5-Z8300 quad core processor manufactured with 14nm process. Price and max TDP are similar to Atom Z3735F Bay Trail-T processor found in many mini PCs designed in China, so it will interesting to compare the two platforms. Yesterday, I took some photos of the device, and found out the design was comprised of a baseboard and system-on-module, but today, I’ll focus on testing the device in Windows 10, checking everything works as it should, as well as running some benchmarks, verifying the Windows license status, test H.265 video playback in Kodi, and more.

Tronsmart Ara X5 Setup

I had not much to do the first time I booted the device, as it was already configured to use English, and the system logged in with user “User” without password. I still double checked the screen resolution,as it was set to 1920×1080 (Recommended), but there are also option for 4K resolutions such as 4096×2160 or 3840×2160.

I set it to 3840×2160 and 4096×2160, and both resolution worked fine with an LG 4K TV. However, the system does not support HDMI 2.0, so the refresh rates are limited to 23 Hz, 24Hz, 25Hz, 29Hz and 30Hz for 3840×2160 and 23 and 24Hz for 4096×2160 in Intel HD Graphics Control Panel.

This probably explains why 1080p is recommended over 4K, since the refresh rate can be set up to 60 Hz, and if you are using another resolution a warning window will show up.

But the image quality seem fine once I switch the 4K. Here’s a screenshot of the desktop. Click for full resolution.

So if you want to watch 4K movies setting the resolution to 3840x2160p @ 24Hz will be appropriate, but for gaming you’ll want to switch back to 1080p60. After changing the resolution, you’d better reboot or some apps won’t display correctly. For example, Kodi 15.1 would only show the top left quarter of its interface.

The system supports both HDMI and stereo audio, so you may need to configure the audio output too. Simply right click on the speaker icon on the bottom right of the screen, and select Playback devices in order to set Speakers or your TV or AV receiver as the default audio playback device.

I could use both my TV speakers using the HDMI connection, and external speakers connected to the 3.5mm audio jack of the mini PC. That’s all I had to do for the initial setup of the computer.

Tronsmart Ara X5 System Info

Let’s check the System Info.

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Tronsmart Ara X5 indeed features Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad core processor @ 1.44GHz (base frequency) as well as 2 GB RAM, but contrary to Z3735F systems that ship the 32-bit version of Windows 8.1 or 10, Ara X5 runs the 64-bit version of Microsoft operating system, which could indirectly be good news for Linux support. Windows 10 Home is activated and appears to have a proper license.

The 28.5 GB partition on the eMMC flash had 14.3GB free space after installing Firefox and Adobe Flash.

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The Device Manager shows the list of devices, such as ASIX AX88772C USB 2.0 to Fast Ethernet controller, Broadcom 802.11 a/b/g/n/ wireless adapter, or a Realtek audio codec.

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HWiNFO64 detects Atom x5-Z8300 processor and its Gen8 GPU correctly, and you’ll find out that according to this tool, x5-Z8300 has the same list of features as Z3735F processor in Mele PCG03 mini PC. The memory is clocked a little higher at 800 MH instead of 677 MHz in MeLE PCG03, but the Gen8 GPU is clocked at 400 MHz, instead of 620 MHz for the Gen7 GPU found in Z3735F SoC.

Aptio Setup Utility complies with UEFI 2.4, and contrary to most Z3735F device that ships with a 32-bit UEFI binary, that one is loaded with a 64-bit UEFI and Secure Boot is disabled by default, both of which should make installing Linux distributions such as Ubuntu a little easier.

Tronsmart Ara X5 Benchmarks

PCMARK 8 is a pretty good benchmark for Windows, as it emulates real task such as video conference, word processing, photo editing and so on. I normally run PCMARK 8 HOME CONVENTIONAL 3.0 test, and in this version claims it does not know that processor yet reports it correctly as x5-Z8300.

Click to Enlarge

Tronsmart Ara X5 gets 1,048 points, while MeLE PCG03 got 1,052 points in Windows 10. So if you were expecting a small boost in performance you’ll be disappointed. I’ve compared the detailed benchmark results in my Z3735F vs x5-Z8300 post, and there are some variations in the scores, with Ara X5 getting a small edge for gaming, while losing out in most other tests.

The internal storage is a Sandisk eMMC flash, and although performance is acceptable, it’s much small than the Samsung eMMC 5.0 flash used in MeLE PCG03.

While Tronsmart mini PC achieves 92.07 MB/s and 36.50MB/s read and write speeds, MeLE PCG03 delivered respectively 165.5 MB/s and 72.55 MB/s.

I’ve also run some network benchmarks with iperf2 for Windows using “iperf.exe -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line

Fast Ethernet:


Although it’s still very much usable, Ethernet performance is not the best there is, as it’s far from the 90 Mbits/sec achieved with the best devices over a Fast Ethernet connection. Gigabit Ethernet is not supported.

Fast Ethernet Throughput in Mbps

WiFi 802.11n 2.4GHz:


I have less data for WiFi performance with iperf, but Ara X5 seems less than average @ 1.8 to 2.2 MB/s.

Throughput in Mbps

Having said that, it was much better than an Intel NUC running Windows 10 with a 7620N mPCIe wireless card which frequently has lots of packet losses and a ping > 2s in the local network, while Ara X5 worked just as expected.

Tronsmart Ara X5 Usability Testing

I’ve also tested the various programs in the device, that may often be problematic in low end devices, and shot a video with the following:

  • Web Browsing in Firefox
    • Loading CNX Software
    • Playing an Embedded Video
    • Playing a 1080p Video in Full Screen mode
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • Kodi 15.1 with 1080p & 4K H.265 video playback at 1080p50 and 3840x2160p25.

I had some troubles scrolling the webpages in Firefox with the scrolling wheel of my mouse, as it was jittery going up and down at times, instead of simply going down, but let’s say it’s a minor issues. Both embedded and fullscreen 1080p videos in played very well in YouTube, until I was called for lunch, and came back later to find out the videos were rather choppy. The temperature at the top and bottom of the box was respectively 57 and 52 degrees C, so I paused the video and waited a few minutes, and the video was smooth again. Candy Crush Saga was playable in Firefox, but the animations were rather slow..

Even with the better GPU, I did not find Asphalt 8 that enjoyable to play as I like higher framerates, and although H.265 video decoding for 1080p and 4K videos is OK at 1080p resolution, once you switch to 3840×2160 in Windows 10, 4K videos are not smooth enough for an enjoyable experience. Hopefully, that’s something that Intel, Microsoft, or Kodi developers can improve on.

In theory, the USB 3.0 port is a useful addition to expand storage, since the flash can fill up pretty quickly if you intend to use the system as a desktop computer and install many programs, but unfortunately a Seagate Expansion USB 3.0 drive did not work in the USB 3.0 port with the message “USB device not recognized”, but working just fine in the USB 2.0 port. A USB 3.0 flash drive was properly recognized in the USB 3.0 port, but I could not insert it perfectly perpendicularly to the rear panel since it’s a bit too close to the HDMI cable, and I assume some people will require a USB hub to connect their thumb drives as there may be too little space.

Tronsmart Ara X5 is not a bad device, but apart from H.265 1080p videos, there are not many things you could not do just as well with an Atom Z3735F based device, and there are also quite a few bugs, which may be related to Windows 10, directly or indirectly, as the apps or drivers may not have been fully ported and optimized since the OS and processor are so recent.

I’d like to thanks Geekbuying again for providing the device for review. They sell it for $149.99 including shipping [Update: use UTJOOOWW coupon for $20 discount], with delivery scheduled for August 31, and you may want to play their lottery to win coupons. It can also be purchased on Ebay for $159.99 and soon more online sellers should list the product.

Next Step… Trying Linux, but so far I can’t get UEFI to list my flash drive as a boot device…

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42 Replies to “Review of Tronsmart Ara X5 Windows 10 mini PC with Intel Atom X5 Processor”

  1. Nice test. Would you also test openelec?
    What about power consumption? Is it higher than atom Z3735F?
    Thanks

  2. @Loïc
    OpenELEC will be tricky. I don’t know yet how to make the UEFI let me select a USB drive to boot… F7 only shows three options, but not the USB drive as with other Intel devices I tested.

    I remember I tested Z3735F power consumption in Android only – http://www.cnx-software.com/2015/04/28/intel-atom-z3735f-mini-pc-power-consumption-in-android/. So I’d have to run Android on that thing to compare.

    I had a kill-a-watt clone before, which would make some quick measurements easy, but it died within a few months… Since the power supply is 5V/3A, I don’t expect much difference.

  3. To be honest i only have a 720P, 32inch TV and i love it!
    lately i’m tempted to upgrade the TV for a higher resolution one. But the more i think about it and the more 4K makes no sense right now. Not being a gamer the only 4k content i can get is 1 or 2 netflix series and a few youtube video. It just doesn’t make sense when all i got is 1080P source nowadays. Plus i prefer a 720p60fps or a 1080p60fps than a 4K video. The 60fps for video is way more beautiful imho

    https://youtu.be/XmN2S1cQpRk this 60fps for exemple

    Am i wrong to think that 4K won’t really be interesting before all or TV channel switch to it as well as all media content?

  4. Great review, but i want to ask: does this system support multichannel sound over HDMI? That was one of the biggest problems on Bay trail mini PCS

  5. interested if Tronsmart will update the BIOS firmware with improvements as Intel Compute Stick (USB boot)

  6. In your 4k video tests you set windows and kodi to 25Hz then ran a 30FPS video files
    Ofcourse the playback will not be smooth is this case , it is not device’s fault
    You can see this in the big buck bunny kodi shows no dropped frames but many
    Skipped (Out of sync) frames , also the other file bosphourus is 120fps which cant be
    Synched correctly using 25Hz but can be with 30Hz
    , in all the 4K tests you should have used 30Hz insted of 25Hz.

  7. @Opengl
    That’s a valid remark, but I did test with 3840×2160 @ 30Hz previously, and the results were the same.
    The reason why I configured the resolution at 1080p50 and 2160p25 while shooting the video is because my camera only supports 25 fps, and if I set other refresh rates the video will flicker.

  8. @Opengl
    To make sure, I did it again using 3840×2160 @ 30Hz resolution, and as I said the video is not smooth, but this time I also checked Kodi skipped / dropped frames. There aren’t any dropped frames, but the skipped frame counter keeps getting higher. The last count is 254 skipped frames with Bosphorus video.

  9. @cnxsoft

    Hi @cnxsoft, thanks for your interest.

    I actually meant the two ways, multichannel PCM and using bitstream of formats suck as PCM or dolby.

    A 5.1 system is needed to test it, and there are test videos, I can send you some in a direct link if you agree (I could post here the link or send you to a mail). In those videos all speakers sound alternatively, so you can be sure there is real 5.1 and not stereo.

    In kodi you can set more than 2.0 in audio configuration (System, System, audio output, number of channels), in this way you can test multichannel PCM and the computer makes the decoding.

    If instead of doing it you enable passthrough (same section, a bit below), you set “Enable Passthrought” and also check desired formats (DTS, Dolby). By doing this the computer should send original signal over HDMI and in the amplifier/sound bar screen should appear “DTS” or “Dolby” instead “PCM”.

    If you could make this test it would be great 🙂

  10. @cnxsoft

    Thanks alot for re-testing again , you results were really helpful.
    The 4k results are strange though
    As rendering 4k videos to 1080p should be more stressful than rendering
    The videos at native 4k because in 1080p resolution the box is doing
    Decoding +downscaling from 4k to 1080p while in the 4k resolution
    The box only decodes the frames with no scaling involved at all.

    Anyway i was looking forward to this box but now it appears to be of no use to me.

  11. @Cenodin
    In Z3735F with Kodi 14, I could get Dolby 5.1 HDMI pass-through working, but not the others. http://www.cnx-software.com/2015/01/31/kodi-14-video-playback-on-intel-atom-z3735f-computers-running-windows-8-1/

    In Tronsmart Ara X5 + Kodi 15.1, it’s a little better
    Dolby 5.1 – OK
    Dolby 7.1+ – PCM 2.0
    TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0
    TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0
    DTS HD-MA 7.1 – DTS 5.1
    DTS HD-HR 7.1 – DTS 5.1

    I also tried the other way by disabling pass-through and enabling 5.1 in “Number of Channels”, but when I play a video with Dolby 5.1. My AV receiver just shows “PCM 2.0”

    If case, it’s not something I can test with AC3/DD 5.1 audio, you can post the link to the multi-pcm audio sample here.

  12. cnxsoft :
    @Cenodin
    In Z3735F with Kodi 14, I could get Dolby 5.1 HDMI pass-through working, but not the others. http://www.cnx-software.com/2015/01/31/kodi-14-video-playback-on-intel-atom-z3735f-computers-running-windows-8-1/
    In Tronsmart Ara X5 + Kodi 15.1, it’s a little better
    Dolby 5.1 – OK
    Dolby 7.1+ – PCM 2.0
    TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0
    TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0
    DTS HD-MA 7.1 – DTS 5.1
    DTS HD-HR 7.1 – DTS 5.1
    I also tried the other way by disabling pass-through and enabling 5.1 in “Number of Channels”, but when I play a video with Dolby 5.1. My AV receiver just shows “PCM 2.0”
    If case, it’s not something I can test with AC3/DD 5.1 audio, you can post the link to the multi-pcm audio sample here.

    Many thanks!!!

    With this link you can dowload some sample videos:

    https://www.wetransfer.com/downloads/a2bb0c50550b0b1e1d646aa28357607120150826085358/8910053f24b9baeb70d4d2896430b87820150826085358/515526

    Regards!

  13. @Cenodin
    Thanks I got the files. I tested with similar files (DTS-MA, Dolby 5.1/7.1), but yours are better since they allow for speaker tests. The results are the same as I posted this morning.

  14. cnxsoft :
    @Cenodin
    Thanks I got the files. I tested with similar files (DTS-MA, Dolby 5.1/7.1), but yours are better since they allow for speaker tests. The results are the same as I posted this morning.

    Many thanks for your answer, cnxsoft 🙂

    Your tests and info are important for me, and I’m sure also for more people.

    I’m glad my files are useful to you, sure you can use them in other reviews 😉

    Kindly Regards!!

  15. Tronsmart replied to me about USB boot… Sounds conflicting…

    “We not recomment people to boot by themself because it may broken our licensed of Windows 10.
    And product manager tell me that X5 is use UEFI bootable disk so can not boot via USB.”

  16. Tronsmart’s answer about the way to boot from USB is not the best if they want to sell many tv boxes…

  17. @Txemoto
    That must be a mistake, because that would also mean you can’t reinstall Windows 10 in case of problem.
    I’m sure it’s probably just some settings in UEFI. I tried but no luck so far.

    A company also told me they tried OpenELEC on MeegoPad T04 (with the same x5-Z8300) and they could boot from USB. But finally, they did not go further, as they were disappointed by performance, and the lack of HDMI 2.0 support.

  18. @Txemoto
    I asked one of the manager (owner?) at GeekBuying instead of the sales… And they could install Ubuntu, but there’s no audio nor Bluetooth support. The Windows key is in the “BIOS” so it should be safe.

    I used Unetbootin to create the bootable flash drive, looks like I should use Windows tools instead.

  19. Hi Jean-Luc, I like your content on CNXSoft and was wondering if you had to choose 1 windows mini pc for under $150, which would you choose? Wintel CX-W8, Minix Neo Z64, Afunta w8 or something else? I want to use it for basic business and also kodi but I want the most powerful hardware and stable software. I also plan on booting to Android from the USB stick on the PC i buy. Thanks

  20. @Cenodin
    You just need to create a bootable USB flash drive, and press F7 at boot time. See http://www.cnx-software.com/2015/08/28/ubuntu-14-04-15-04-tested-in-tronsmart-ara-x5-cherry-trail-mini-pc/

    @SteveS
    I’d have a look at MeLE PCG03. For windows, all platforms are pretty much similar since nobody is going to tweak the operating systems source code apart from Microsoft. So IMHO, you mainly have to look at thermal performance and storage performance.

  21. @cnxsoft
    Everyone beware of TRONSMART and their products. DONOT BUY TRONSMART! Tronsmart hardware is prone to overheating, their operating systems are buggy and poorly coded. There is no email support from tronsmart. Check out TRONSMART FORUMS for all the buyer complaints and tronsmarts repeated promises that fixes are coming. I am a burned buyer (tronsmart AW80) and a real person not a tronsmart shill or vendor. DO NOT BUY TRONSMART! PLEASE STOP PROMOTING TRONSMART

  22. Hi!

    In first place I want to thank you again for the review. I wrote here some time ago and I finally bought this minipc.

    I’ve two problems, and perhaps you can help me:

    1.- Wifi does not work ok at all, continue disconnects and bad performance. It’s really unusuable.
    2.- USB 3.0 port does not accept hard drives, even 3,5″ drives with external power. You menction this on the review.

    Any solution for those inconveniences?

    Regards

  23. @Cenodin
    I have some kind of workarounds, but not neat solutions:
    1. Use a USB WiFi dongle
    2. Connect your drive to a USB 2.0 ports.

    Or.. wait for the new drivers (if these issues are fixable by software).

  24. @Loïc
    I have this very computer and (using my inexpensive wattmeter) it seem to hover around the 3-4 watt mark when in light use. Haven’t really pushed the computer and measured power usage since I don’t find it a very interesting number. Anyone “pushing an Atom” really need to consider buying a faster computer, the main draw of my current setup is its very low demand while idle, something it will be more or less 95 percent of the time.

  25. Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus, haw i excenging may windows 10 64 hom to win 10 64 bit( ultimate) heb adicen ?

  26. Is this good enough to support Videostream (Google Chrome extension) transcoding? Looking for a Windows mini PC to replace my existing notebook, which I used for Videostream to Chromecast.

    Thanks.

  27. cnxsoft :
    @Cw
    Not sure. What’s the processor in your netbook?

    I have an i5-3340M with Intel HD4000. Though some video playbacks would stutter, but most of the time they are smooth.

  28. @Cw
    Your netbook’s processor is significantly faster than the Atom x5-Z8300 processor in Ara X5 plus. If you had some stutter in your current machine, it could be worse in Ara X5 Plus, especially if transcoding is achieved by software. Stuff implemented in web browsers often don’t have the best performance…

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