MINIX NEO S2 USB-C SSD Hub Review in Ubuntu 18.04 with Khadas Edge

MINIX NEO S1 & S2 are USB-C hubs with the usual HDMI and USB outputs, but also a built-in 120 GB & 240 GB SSD respectively. The company has sent me a sample of each, and in order to test the platform, I decided to do on a Khadas board running Ubuntu 18.04 with LXDE desktop environment (aka Lubuntu). I’ll start by checking out the packages’ content, before going through my experience with the MINIX NEO S2 USB-C hub in Ubuntu 18.04 with LXDE desktop environment.

MINIX NEO S1 & S2 Unboxing

Both packages are basically identical except for the different color, and one shows 120GB SSD capacity, while the other has 240GB

MINIX NEO S1 & S2 Review
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The back side has some more details about the USB-C hub.

MINIX NEO S1 & S2 Specifications
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I’ll focus on the 240GB model since it’s just the same, but around $13 to $20 more expensive, and it offers double the capacity, as well as slightly higher performance.

MINIX NEO S2 Unboxing
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The USB-C hub ships with a carrying pouch and a user manual in English and German. You can check out the user manual here.MINIX NEO S2 Review Ports The USB-C hub comes with a USB-C port for external power supply, an HDMI output port up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and two USB 3.0 ports.MINIX NEO S2 240GB SSD

The back of the device has some important information, also present in the manual, namely power output limitations:

  • 5V/1A when bus-powered
  • 5V/2A when powered by an extra USB-C power supply

This is indeed important as we’ll find in the second part of the review

MINIX NEO S2 on Ubuntu 18.04 + XFCE in Khadas Edge SBC

MINIX NEO S2 is not the first MINIX USB-C hub I’ve tested, as I previously reviewed MINIX NEO-C Plus USB-C adapter in Android 7.1 with NanoPC-T4 SBC powered by Rockchip RK3399 processor.

So this time, I thought it might be good to try the new hub with Ubuntu instead. Since I had Amlogic A311D based Khadas VIM3 on my desk I thought it might be a good idea to try it out but while the SSD was recognized, I had no video output at all, so I asked Khadas for feedback:

The VIM3 USB-C doesn’t support the USB DP (display), only Edge/-V supports now.

Oops, my bad… Luckily, I had previously reviewed Khadas Edge + Captain  SBC and still had the sample on hand. So I downloaded and flashed the latest Ubuntu 18.04 image (Edge_Ubuntu-lxde-bionic_Linux-4.4_arm64_EMMC_V20190116.7z) and connected MINIX NEO S2 to its DisplayPort Alt. Mode capable USB-C port.

MINIX NEO S2 Khadas Edge
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I first tried it in bus-powered mode (5V/1A) with the USB-C hub getting its power from Khadas Edge USB-C port. I had to disconnect my USB 3.0 hard drive as the board would just not boot that way. That means I only had the HDMI port and a USB RF dongle connected to the hub.

Khadas Edge Dual Display
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The good news is that dual display works out of the box that way but in mirrored mode. Most people would likely want to use extended desktop instead.Khadas Edge USB Alt-mode MINIX NEO S2

There’s no such option in the Display Settings of LXDE desktop environment, where we can just turn on and off video output, and adjust the resolution & frame rate.

But there’s a solution involving the installation of arandr Xrandr GUI:


We can now go to Preferences > Arandr to launch the Screen Layout Editor and organize our displays HDMI-1 and DP-1 as needed.

lxde extended desktop arandr

Click on the Apply icon (green tick), and we’re all good.

Ubuntu LXDE Extended Display

The SSD is also properly detected and mounted as shown in GParted screenshot below.

MINIX NEO S2 SSD Ubuntu

But I did notice the drive would unmount and remount itself from time to time and display would go blank and come back.

Running iozone immediately failed as well.


The display was completely off, so that looks like a power issue, so let’s power MINIX NEO S2 with via its USB-C input. Khadas Edge + Captain supports the connection of multiple power supplies with different priorities for each. At first, I decided to connect a 12V power supply to the DC jack of Captain baseboard and use the SBC’s power supply for the USB-C hub. For some unknown reason(s), the board would not boot. Finally, I went back to power the board via USB-C, while using my phone’s 5V/2A USB-C power supply to power MINIX NEO S2.

MINIX NEO S2 Power Supply
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I could run iozone without issues on the SSD:


Read results were are expected at 373332 KB/s since in theory the SSD is capable of 400MB/s sequential reads.  Sequential writes were for whatever reasons limited to ~129 MB/s, but not rewrites, nor random writes.

I had another issue however, I would get no video output to DP-1. The port was still detected in Lubuntu, but my TV would show “no signal”. I tried to mix HDMI cable, connect the port to another TV, through an A/V receiver, etc.. but no luck. This is the output I got in dmesg while trying to reconnect HDMI via the USB-C port.


I did notice that both displays would show at the login screen, but as soon as I would input the password and click on OK, the USB-C video output would just go blank. In a last-ditch effort, I decided to boot the board first, then only connect the USB-C hub after login, and somehow it worked and appears to be stable.

MINIX NEO S2 USB HDD & SSD in Ubuntu 18.04
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If you pay close attention to the photo above, you’ll notice I connected the USB 3.0 drive as well and ran iozone and both the SSD and HDD at the same time. No problem at all with the displays, and storage performance (SSD: ~370MB/s; HDD: ~92MB/s).

Conclusion

MINIX NEO S1 & S2 USB-C hubs are specifically designed for Apple Macbook, Macbook Air, and Macbook Pro, but since they follow USB-C specifications they should work with compatible devices. You must note your experience may vary, as we’ve seen MINIX NEO S2 “works” with Khadas Edge running Ubuntu 18.04 + XFCE, but stability, at least with regards to driving an extra display may be an issue. An external power supply is almost certainly needed unless you only use the product as a USB-C SSD.

MINIX NEO S1 & S2 can be purchased on various shops including GearBest, GeekBuying, and Amazon starting at respectively $79.99 and $97.99.

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RandomguyNathan K.Jean-Luc Aufranc (CNXSoft)NicoD Recent comment authors
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Nathan K.
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The power issues you are seeing are probably a result of the hub failing to have adequate derating logic, power path controlling based on Source Capability/Request limits, and input load regulation.

SSD are very “spikey” in their current draw, sometimes loading 3a+ spikes for microseconds during use. You’d need a high bandwidth oscilloscope with current loop to see this. That could be wreaking havoc with the output voltage regulator on your computer’s USB-C port, explaining the need for external power. (The USB-C spec specifies the max current slew rate.)

Also if you’re connected to a weak source that only advertises 500-900mA, does the hub intelligently disable power to internal components to stay within that limit? I think not. Usually these request far to little and turn on everything without derating it.

Your video issues may be the result of inadequate MST support or link training issues with your display. Without seeing debug logs, I can’t say. On Intel GFX, try running “echo 0x6 > /sys/module/drm/parameters/debug” then looking at dmesg output.

Engineering docks like this is a lot harder than people think…

Randomguy
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Randomguy

Do you maybe know why all docks like that doesn’t allow custom cable to the host device? It’s always built-in cable or straight male usb-c plug. The only exception is upcoming hub from Sony but it’s not on the market yet.

Nathan K.
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Because having that would require the manufacturer to pay more for (a) an eMarked and SI qualified cable (b) code the USB-PD logic to probe said eMarker (to ensure someone didn’t plug in a USB2.0 cable without enoigh wires) and (c) pay for a DP and USB3.1 high-bandwidth rated retimer and mux chip (to flip signal paths depending on cable orientation).

But to put it into perspective, most good-quality Type-C SoCs do (a) (b) and have (c) built in for free, and even (c) TCPCI compliant retimer costs maybe $.10 max.

But that’s $.10 more profit the dongle maker could have… so they don’t do it.

Randomguy
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Randomguy

Thanks, appreciate your response. Before from my outside perspective I was guessing it’s to avoid problems/returns/low ratings with shady 3rd party cables.

So I guess I will have to wait another year for my dream setup. I’m waiting since galaxy s5 heh. First for android phone with usb-c 3.x (that x another mess) later for portable HDD drives, card readers, hubs. Still waiting for nice hub – even the Sony one – just two slave ports – only one usb-c, about 11×5 cm. It has to handle 100w but still…sometimes I feel like the industry tried to eat to much in one bite with usb-c.
Have a good day!

Btw. In the meantime phone industry turned into fashion industry and is now selling glass sandwiches…meh.

NicoD
Guest

Nice review. I was wondering about a sollution for multiple hdmi displays on SBC’s.
I don’t think any of my SBC’s support DP. (VIM3, VIM2, N2, NanoPi M4, RockPi4B, …)
Again something to look for in a next SBC.
Greetings, NicoD