MINIX NGC-5 Review – Windows 10, Ubuntu 20.04, and external GPU

MINIX NGC-5

MINIX has just launched a new mini PC in their NGC range called the NGC-5. Although it uses a somewhat dated Intel eighth-generation Core i5 processor, the integrated Iris Plus Graphics 655 is notable for being one of the more powerful iGPU solutions. MINIX kindly sent one for review and I’ve looked at performance running both Windows and Ubuntu together with using an eGPU.

Hardware Overview

The NGC-5 physically consists of a 153 x 153 x 43mm (6.02 x 6.02 x 1.57 inches) square plastic case. As an actively cooled mini PC, it uses Intel’s older 14 nm++ Core i5-8279U Coffee Lake processor which is a quad-core 8-thread 2.40 GHz processor boosting to 4.10 GHz with Intel’s Iris Plus Graphics 655.

The front panel has just a LED power indicator whereas the rear panel includes dual gigabit Ethernet ports, dual USB 3.1 ports, a DisplayPort 1.2, an HDMI 2.0a port, a Type-C USB 3.1 port and the power jack. The left panel has a reset pin-hole, two wifi antennas, and a Kensington security slot. The right panel has the power button, a combined headphone and S/PDIF jack, a micro-SD card slot, two more USB 3.1 ports, and an RS232 port.

The review model included a 256GB M.2 2280 NVMe SSD drive with Windows 10 Pro installed and a single stick of 8GB DDR4 2666 MHz memory occupying one of the SO-DIMM slots:

MINIX NGC-5 memory info

which was configured, most likely by a non-visible BIOS option, to run at 2400 MHz as seen in both Windows:

Windows memory speedand Ubuntu:

ubuntu memory speed

Additionally, there is a nano SIM card slot, a replaceable M.2 2230 WiFi 5 (or 802.11ac) Intel 3168NGW card as well as a somewhat undocumented ability to add an additional M.2 2242 SATA SSD drive:

MINIX NGC-5 cooling fan MINIX NGC-5 motherboard

The box specifications state:

MINIX NGC-5 specifications

Box contents

In the box, you get a power adapter and cord with a plug appropriate for your country, an HDMI cable, two external antennas, and a VESA mounting bracket together with screws for attaching the device behind a monitor. You also get a little plastic bag containing an S/PDIF 3.5mm adapter, an M.2 retaining screw, what looks like two standoffs, a couple of adhesive pieces of rubber, and a further smaller bag containing a couple of small screws for which the intended use is unclear. Also included is a European multilingual user manual:

MINIX NEO NGC-5 power supply & accessories

Review Methodology

When reviewing mini PCs I typically look at their performance under both Windows and Linux (Ubuntu) and compare them against some of the more recently released mini PCs. I am now reviewing using Windows 10 version 21H1 and Ubuntu 20.04.3 LTS and test with a selection of commonly used Windows benchmarks and/or equivalents for Linux together with Thomas Kaiser’s ‘sbc-bench’ which is a small set of different CPU performance tests focusing on server performance when run on Ubuntu. I also use ‘Phoronix Test Suite’ and benchmark with the same set of tests on both Windows and Ubuntu for comparison purposes. On Ubuntu, I also compile the v5.4 Linux kernel using the default config as a test of performance using a real-world scenario.

Prior to benchmarking, I perform all necessary installations and updates to run the latest versions of both OSes. I also capture some basic details of the device for each OS.

Installation Issues

On initial boot the Windows ‘Update’ screen states that ‘some settings are managed by your organization’:

Windows update: some settings are managed by your organization

Viewing the configured update policies shows that automatic updates are disabled:

Windows update policies: automatic updates disabled

Given that Windows is a factory installation, checking Windows Insider Program confirmed that it had not been enabled:

Windows insider program

Further investigation proved that Windows updates had been blocked through the addition of a registry key:

Windows registry key disables updates

When performing WiFi testing it was found that the 2.4GHz network performance was very poor. Once all ‘stock’ testing was completed and the device opened to add more memory the reason why was discovered to be a damaged WiFi U.FL pigtail connector:

damaged wifi antenna cable

This was caused during the manufacturer’s assembly of the device and special care is advised when accessing the memory as it requires removing the motherboard entirely from the plastic case and obviously the WiFi cables very easily get trapped when reseating the motherboard back into the case.

Windows Performance on MINIX NGC-5

Initially, the NGC-5 comes installed with a licensed copy of Windows 10 Pro version 21H1 build 19043.985. After upgrading to build 19043.1237 a quick look at the hardware information shows it is aligned to the specification:

Windows 10 configuration MINIX NEO NGC-5 windows disk management About NGC-5 windows info windows hwinfo64 windows gpu-z

A brief check showed working audio, micro-SD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet.

I then set the power mode to ‘High performance’ and ran my standard set of benchmarking tools to look at performance under Windows:

For my specific set of Phoronix Test Suite tests the results were:

Mini PC NGC-5 Windows pts overview

All these results can then be compared with other recent mini PCs:

Intel Windows Mini PC comparison october 2021
The results are actually slightly lower than when compared with other mini PCs using the same or similar Core i5 CPU. This is due to CPU throttling and is discussed further in the ‘Thermals’ section below.

Ubuntu Performance

After shrinking the Windows partition in half and creating a new partition I installed Ubuntu using an Ubuntu 20.04.3 ISO as dual boot. After installation and updates, a brief check showed working audio, micro-SD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet.

The key hardware information under Ubuntu 20.04.3 is as follows:

ubuntu disk management with 256GB SSD MINIX NGC-5 ubuntu info


I then set the CPU Scaling Governor to ‘performance’ and ran my Linux benchmarks for which the majority of the results are text-based but the graphical ones included:

MINIX NGC-5 ubuntu linux geekbench 5 cpu Coffee Lake ubuntu heaven benchmark 4.0

I also ran Passmark PerformanceTest Linux:

MINIX NEO NGC-5 ubuntu cpu passmark

which can be directly compared to the results from when it was run in Windows:

NGC-5 Windows CPU passmark windows memory passmark
For the same set of Phoronix Test Suite tests the results were:

minipc NGC-5 ubuntu pts overview

The complete results together with a comparison against other recent mini PCs are:

linux mini pc comparison october 2021

and again showed that the processor is throttling to prevent overheating.

Video playing on MINIX NGC-5 with Web browsers & Kodi

For real-world testing, I played some videos in Edge, Chrome, and Kodi on Windows and in Firefox, Chrome and Kodi on Ubuntu and no issues were encountered playing up to 4K videos.

I also attempted playing an 8K video in YouTube on Edge which played fine with only the occasional dropped frame:

Windows 8K edge
However, in Ubuntu whilst Chrome was arguably better than Firefox the same video continually stalled:

Ubuntu 8k chrome

Dual-Channel Memory

To see the effect of dual-channel memory I swapped out the supplied 8GB stick of 2666 MHz memory for two of my own 8GB sticks of 2400 MHz:

Dual-channel memory 16 b

Rerunning Passmark achieved a higher rating based on the improved memory mark and there was also a slight improvement to the graphics marks:

MINIX NGC-5 dual-channel memory 16GB passmark

This was also the case when rerunning 3D Fire Strike where the graphics score also slightly increased:

dual-channel memory 16GB fire strike

However, rerunning Unigine Heaven decreased very slightly :

dual-channel memory 16gb-heaven GPU benchmark

but this could be a simple variance within the margin of testing.

Gaming on Coffee Lake

As can be seen from the above Unigine Heaven scores gaming is possible. With the additional memory still installed I tested three games under Steam on Windows (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Grand Theft Auto V and Shadow Of The Tomb Raider). With default settings in both CS:GO and GTA V the average framerate was 43 and 37 respectively. For SOTTR using the graphical preset of low in the built-in benchmark the framerate was a disappointing 9:

MINIX NGC-5 gaming sottr

eGPU Performance on NGC-5 mini PC

Unfortunately, the NGC-5 doesn’t include a Thunderbolt port however the underside of the case includes an access point to the M.2 2280 NVME drive:

MINIX NGC-5 nvme drive access

and this immediately made me think of adding an eGPU to the mini PC by using a ‘PCIe x16 to M.2 NVMe adapter’ which would connect unobtrusively. Coupled with this was the fact that internally there is an empty M.2 2242 SATA drive and I found it was possible to install a longer 80mm drive through improvisation. By removing the tape that holds the fan cables in position and is rather conveniently not really required, I reused the tape to secure down the longer SATA drive given the M.2 standoff cannot be relocated due to the CPU cooler’s location:

MINIX NGC-5 egpu sata drive

To configure my eGPU I’ve reused an old MINIX NEO J5 M.2 2280 SATA drive as the boot drive and connected a GTX 1650 Super using a ‘JHH-LINK DOCK-6’ from ADT-Link (simply because this version has interchangeable PCIe cables and makes physically connecting much easier) together with an external SFX power supply and 24-pin power jumper switch:

minix ngc-5 review egpu setup

Prior to connecting the eGPU I first cloned Windows by using ‘dism’ to create an image from the NVME drive. I then physically removed the NVME drive and ‘installed’ the SATA drive and used ‘dism’ running from a USB with Windows ISO to install the image to the SATA drive. I was then able to boot from the SATA drive:

egpu sata disk
whilst still having activated Windows and everything previously installed including all the required drivers:

egpu sata disk

together with respectable drive speeds:

egpu sata crystaldiskmarkAfter connecting the eGPU it showed up as PCIe x4 Gen 3:

MINIX NGC-5 egpu windows configuration

and after installing the latest NVIDIA driver:

nvidia drivers egpu gpu-z

running CUDA-Z gave an indication of the performance to expect:

egpu cuda-z

I first ran a few graphical-orientated benchmarks including:

egpu passmark minix ngc-5 egpu 3dmark fire strike minix ngc-5 egpu windows heaven

which showed encouraging performance so I then ran the built-in benchmark for Shadow Of The Tomb Raider (SOTTR) using the preset of low graphics settings and achieved 88 FPS:

minix ngc-5 egpu sottr 88 fps

Using the preset of high graphics settings resulted in an acceptable 64 FPS.

Next, I tried Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) with default settings and achieved around 201 FPS:

egpu csgo 178 fps

and for Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) again with default settings got 100 FPS in the final benchmark scene:

minix ngc-5 egpu gtav

Finally, I installed Ubuntu as dual boot on the SATA drive and downloaded and configured the latest NVIDIA Linux driver:

egpu nvidia settings ubuntu 20.04

With Ubuntu now using the GTX 1650 Super:

Geforce GTX-1650 Super egpu

as a quick test I ran the Unigine Heaven benchmark:

egpu ubuntu heaven

which of course was slightly lower than on Windows as it uses OpenGL.

USB Performance

To verify the speed of the USB ports I put the now unused NVME drive into a ‘USB to M.2 NVMe adapter’:

usb disk management

and achieved the expected 10Gbit/s speeds from each of the USB 3.1 (aka USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 or USB 3.1 Gen 2) ports:

usb nvme sdd crystaldiskmark

proving that the NVME drive when installed in an adapter could be used as a viable alternative to the SATA boot drive.

MINIX NGC-5 Thermals

The NGC-5 uses active cooling and running a stress test on Ubuntu saw the CPU temperature rise immediately to 84°C where it remained for the duration of the test:

minix ngc-5 ubuntu stress test

During the stress test, the maximum temperature I recorded on the top of the device was around 35.7°C in an ambient room temperature of 20.3°C and the fan whilst audible was not excessively loud measuring 42 dBA on my sound meter next to the device.

If the CPU frequency is monitored during the stress test it can be seen that the frequency drops immediately from 4100 MHz to 3000 MHz and then progressively drops down to 2700 MHz before tailing off even further to an average of 2630 MHz:

coffee lake cpu throttling

Such a substantial drop in CPU frequency accounts for the lower-than-expected performance results.

Networking

Network connectivity throughput was measured on Ubuntu using ‘iperf’:

ngc-5 network throughput

with the poor performance of the 2.4 GHz WiFi being caused by the damaged wiring as detailed in ‘Installation Issues’ above.

MINIX NEO NGC-5 power consumption

Power consumption for the stock configuration was measured as follows:

  • Initially plugged in – 0.7 Watts
  • Powered off (shutdown) – 0.4 Watts (Windows) and 0.5 Watts (Ubuntu)
  • BIOS*  – 18.0 Watts
  • GRUB boot menu – 17.8 Watts
  • Idle – 13.4 Watts (Windows) and 11.2 Watts (Ubuntu)
  • CPU stressed** – 37.3 Watts (Windows ‘cinebench’) and 35.3 Watts (Ubuntu ‘stress’)
  • Video playback*** – 26.2 Watts (Windows Edge 4K60fps) and 45.7 Watts (Ubuntu Chrome 4K60fps)

*BIOS (see below)
**Indicative result measured after 60 seconds as power decreases due to CPU throttling
***The power figures fluctuate notably due to the fan so the value is the average of the median high and median low power readings.

BIOS

After powering up the NGC-5 hitting the F11 key results in a boot menu which includes access to the BIOS. The BIOS is very restricted:

Windows 11 on MINIX NGC-5

It is worth noting that although this mini PC uses an older Intel processor it is capable of running Windows 11 as confirmed by the Windows PC Health Check:

 

Windows 11 on MINIX NGC-5

Final Observations

Whilst this mini PC includes a relatively powerful Core i5 CPU its potential isn’t fully reached because of thermal throttling. As the default configuration only includes single-channel memory it is likely that users will want to add an additional memory stick however access is not that easy and care must be taken to ensure the WiFi connectors are not damaged during disassembly/reassembly.

Business / industrial usage scenarios are addressed through the ample selection of ports, especially the inclusion of RS232 and a nano-SIM card slot. For consumers, the expandability through the inclusion of an M.2 2242 SATA port and the ease of access to the NVME drive facilitates the usage of a ‘DIY’ eGPU despite the absence of a Thunderbolt port.

Highlights:

Limitations:
Additional ports of M.2 2242 SATA, RS232 and nano SIM card
Excessive CPU throttling
Access to NVME driveDifficult to access memory slots

I’d like to thank MINIX for providing the NGC-5 for review. It retails at around $560 and is currently on special at $499 on AliExpress.

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5 Comments
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Andrew Lazarev
1 month ago

I prefer old good Xeon E5-1650 v3 on Chinese motherboards

blab
blab
1 month ago

thx for this excellent review! idle power draw looks very high.

linuxium
1 month ago

Yes, the idle power consumption is slightly higher than I’ve seen on another Core i5 mini PC which measured around 10 Watts for Windows and 9 Watts for Ubuntu.

wresfgffsde
1 month ago

why this minix is not a minix?

minix3.org

linuxium
1 month ago

I’ve always wondered whether there would be any interest in reviewing Minix 3 on a Minix mini PC.

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