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MeLE PCG35 Apo mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing, Teardown, and M.2 SSD / SATA HDD Installation

September 18th, 2017 11 comments

MeLE PCG35 Apo is a mini PC powered by Intel Pentium J3455, one of the most powerful Intel processors from Apollo Lake family, coupled with 4GB LPDDR3, 32GB eMMC flash and support for M.2 SSD and 2.5″ SATA HDD/SSD. The company sent me a sample for review, and I’ll start by taking photos of the device, accessories, and internal design, as well as showing how to install an M.2SSD and 2.5″ SATA drive, before publishing the second part of the review with Windows 10 at the end of next month.

MeLE PCG35 Apo Unboxing

The mini PC comes with the usual black package with gold fonts the company has used us to.

The side shows the main specifications of the fanless mini PC.

The mini PC, which comes with an aluminum heatsink shaped as number 6, ships with a 12V/2A power supply plus UK, AU, US, and EU plug adapter, a quick start guide, and a zip bag with 4 screws to install a 2.5″ SATA drive, as well as thermal pad for the M.2 SSD.

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The case is not fully made of metal with the top part made of plastic, and the bottom and rear panel made of metal. The front panel include power button and LED, one of the side features a full sized SD card slot, a USB 3.0 ports, and a USB 2.0 ports…

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… and the rear panel is equipped with a 3.5mm audio jack, two more USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI 2.0 and VGA outputs, the power jack, a USB type C port for data and power only (no video/audio), a security lock, and an external WiFi antenna.

MeLE PCG35 Apo Teardown

If you plan to install an hard drive and/or SSD you’ll need to open the case. Four screws are located on the bottom, and four screws in the rear panel. I loosened all eight screws, but it should be possible to install the drives by only removing the bottom cover.

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Note that the screws do not feel of good build quality, and I had to try with 4 different screw drivers/heads for fear of damaging them, as with the first screw driver I used I could see some metal going off of the first screws. You’ll need to find a screw head that fit perfectly to avoid any damage. Note that two screws are shorter than the other to make sure to check this when you open the box. The short ones are on the edges of the rear panel.

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The bottom metal cover also include another aluminum piece that, as we’ll see later, is used to cool the M.2 SSD. We can also find the SATA cables, and 80mm M.2 slot inside the case as expected.

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On the top of the main board we’ll get the RTC battery, and several chips including:

  • Parade PS175HDM DisplayPort to HDMI 2.0a video interface converter
  • ITE IT6513FN DisplayPort to VGA controller
  • Richtek RT5074A power management IC?
  • Realtek ALC269 audio coded for the headphone jack
  • M-TEK G24101SCGX Gigabit Ethernet transformer
  • Intel 3165D2W wireless module for 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Realtek RTS5170 card reader controller driver

Unsurprisingly, those are exactly the same chips used in MeLE PCG03 Apo.

If we looks on the side, we’ll see more about the design of the aluminum heatsink. It actually looks like a heat spreader, but since it’s attached to plastic part of the case, it does not spread heat to another metal part. Most people should not do that, but I loosened for more screws to take out the board, and have a better looks at the design of the aluminum part. There’s a fair amount of thermal paste on the “volcano” like part of the heatsink that makes contact with the Intel Pentium J3455 processor.

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We can also see an internal WiFi/Bluetooth antenna in the background. That part of the PCB also includes the chips for RAM, storage, ITE IT8528E embedded controller, and Realtek RTL8111(AN) Gigabit Ethernet transceiver.

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We have 32GB storage with Samsung KLM8G2JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash with theoretical performance of up to 310MB/s read, 70MB/s write, and 13K/14K R/W IOPS, which differs from the Toshiba eMMC flash found in PCG03 Apo, and the best 32GB Samsung eMMC part available.

We also have two ELPIDA FAZ32A2MA RAM chips that should be 2GB each for a total of 4GB RAM, and there are two unpopulated footprints for two more, meaning there could be a 8GB RAM model on the way, or for OEM customers.

M.2 SSD and SATA HDD Installation in MeLE PCG35 Apo

The user manual does not explain at all how to install either M.2 SSD, nor SATA HDD, but it’s quite easy enough to figure out.

I used KingDian N480 M.2 SSD (80mm long), inserted it in the M.2 slot and kept it in place with the screw. You may also want to the the M.2 SSD thermal pad included in the package. Peel off the plastic sheet on the pad, and place it pad on the of the aluminum part attached to the bottom metal cover, before peeling off the second plastic sheet as shown in the photo below.

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If you plan to use a 2.5″ drive too, use the four extra screws in the package to attach it to the bottom metal cover making sure the drive is oriented such as the SATA connector is placed close to the SATA marking on the cover, and connect the SATA cables accordingly. Now we can put everything back together, and we should be good to go. So I plan to use the eMMC flash for Windows 10, the M.2 SSD for program, cache, and email database, and the SATA hard drive for other data.

About those screws…

When I first started the teardown, I mentioned the screws could be damaged easily, and I managed to damage one on the bottom plate, enough so I can not screw it or loosen it with a screwdriver anymore. I’ll have to use another tool to take it once I want to get back my SSD and hard drive.

I also had another problem with another screw in the rear panel that would not go straight. I tried to loose the other screw around, and try again, and later mix the screws but no luck…

Since the mini PC is designed to be open, it would have been good if the company has found an easier way to open the device to insert an SSD/HDD, or sturdier screws.

[Update from MeLE:

As for the screws on the rear panel and bottom, we have realized the seriousness that it may bring uncomfortable experience to customers who install and uninstall frequently. Therefore, we have urged our R&D team to implement new screws (more stronger and more feasible) from next batch of massive production in end of this month by sending official ECN (engineering change notice) to our factory within this week.
]

I’d like to thank MeLE for sending their latest fanless mini PC for review, and if you are interested in the device, you can purchase it for $179.99 including shipping on Aliexpress. They also have options for a VESA mount, and a MeLE F10 air mouse. Please note that the company will often put the device back to $199.99, just wait a few days if this is the case, and I’ve also been told promotional prices are always on during week-ends.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Apollo Lake Mini PC To Launch Soon with SO-DIMM and M.2 Slots

September 5th, 2017 7 comments

I’ve just completed MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro review, a Cherry Trail mini PC with Windows 10 Pro, but if you’d like something with a more recent and faster processor, the company will soon launch a MINIX NEO N42C-4 with an Apollo Lake processor, and upgradeable memory and storage.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 preliminary specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Pentium N4200 quad core “Apollo Lake” processor @ 1.10 / 2.50 GHz with 18 EU Intel HD Graphics 505 (6W TDP)
  • System Memory – 4GB DDR3L SO-DIMM module (upgradeable to 8GB via 2x SO-DIMM slots)
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC 5.1 flash, 1x 2280 M.2 SSD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 Hz, mini DisplayPort up to 4K @ 60 Hz, USB type C up to 4K @ 60 Hz(video only, no audio); supports for up to 3 independent displays
  • Audio – Via HDMI, miniDP, 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi & Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB – 3x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB Type-C port
  • Misc – Power button
  • Power Supply  – 12V? power jack or USB type C

The mini PC is pre-loaded with an activated version of Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. While other recent MINIX Intel mini PCs are all fanless, N42C-4 relies on a cooling fan, and it’s the first model that upgradeable with SO-DIMM SDRAM slots, and an M.2 slot for SSD. The video below also shows the mini PC connected to a monitor over a USB type C cable providing both power (from display) and video output.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 will be available at the beginning of October for $269.90 / 269.90 Euros.

Via Netbook Italia

Intel Pentium Silver N5000 “Gemini Lake” Notebook Shows Up in Benchmarks

September 1st, 2017 4 comments

We all know that Gemini Lake processors will succeed Apollo Lake family, we have a good idea of the supported features. and even know that Intel is expecting 10 to 15% CPU integer performance improvement between the two generations. I’ve now been informed that an Intel Gemini Lake notebook powered by Intel Pentium “Silver” N5000 quad core processor clocked at 1.09 GHz was spotted in SiSoftware Sandra benchmark database.

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If we compare those results to the ones for Intel Pentium N4200 Apollo Lake processor with the same 1.1 GHz base frequency, we can indeed see some progress, and the results, albeit early, are quite encouraging, except for the GPU part with similar results.

Intel Pentium N5000 Intel Pentium N4200 Delta
Processor Arithmetic 31.11 GOPS 21.42 GOPS 1.45x
Processor Multi-Media 44.65 MPix/s 41.38 MPix/s 1.08x
.NET Arithmetic 11.5 GOPS 7.31 GOPS 1.57x
Processor Crypto 2.8 GB/s 1.41 GB/s 1.99x

It’s quite possible to turbo frequency is higher in the Gemini Lake processor, but I could not find any details about this yet.

Bben MN10 Apollo Lake PC Stick Comes with 3GB RAM, 64GB Flash, Windows 10 Home or Pro

August 31st, 2017 7 comments

Back in April, BBen showcased their “Micro computer”, an Apollo Lake mini PC in stick form factor, at the Hong Kong Global Sources Electronics Fair, which was scheduled to launch in July. With about one month delay, the company is now selling Bben MN10 PC Stick starting at $157.30 including with an unlicensed Windows 10 installation, but also offer Windows 10 Home, and Windows 10 Pro for an extra $21.39 and $30.33 respectively.

BBen MN10 HDMI TV stick specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Celeron N3350 dual core processor @ 1.1 GHz / 2.4 GHz, 12 EU Intel HD graphics 500 @ 200 MHz / 650 MHz; 6W TDP
  • System Memory – 3 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 64 GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 128 GB
  • Video Output – HDMI port
  • Audio – HDMI + 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Connectivity – Dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 3.0 ports
  • Misc – Fan and ventilation holes,
  • Power Supply – 12V/1.5A via power barrel
  • Dimensions – 110.6 x 45.5 x 13.8 mm
  • Weight – 70 grams

The specifications are somewhat similar to ECDREAM A9 PC Stick, with the same processor, mostly the same interfaces, and active cooling, but the RAM is limited to 3GB, storage is larger at 64GB, and the BBen model adds an audio jack. MN10 will feel more like an actual stick with a 45.5 mm width compared to 58 mm for ECDREAM model.The mini PC ships with a power adapter, a HDMI cable, a user guide, and a warranty card. In case you plan to connect a USB hard drive, the company recommends a low power external hard drive (5V/1A), or to connect it via “the USB 2.0 port”, which in this case must be mean connect it via a USB 2.0 hub, and not directly to the USB 3.0 port. The product is not listed on the company website just yet, but eventually we should find it on the company’s “mini PC” page.

Via AndroidPC.es

Testing KingDian N480 240 GB M.2 SSD in MeLE PCG03 Apo Mini PC

August 28th, 2017 4 comments

MeLE PCG03 Apo Apollo Lake mini PC supports M.2 80mm SSD’s, but at the time of the review I did not have such accessories, so I only tested the computer with its 32GB eMMC flash and external USB drives. I’ve now received Kingdian N480 240GB SSD courtesy of GearBest, so I’ll install it in the mini PC, test it in Windows 10, and install Ubuntu 16.04.

KingDian N420 M.2 SSD Hardware Installation

I’ve received a big carton box for the SSD, but finally the retail package is minimal.

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You’ll find the SSD and a screws in the package. You’ll note the device supports both M.2 Key B and Key M sockets.

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I’ve already explained how to open MeLE PCG03 Apo, basically loosen 6 screws, and then I just had to insert the SSD with the right orientation (check the 4 / 5 pins on each side), and use the screw already found inside to keep the M.2 card in place.

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KingDian N480 M.2 SSD in Windows 10

I just put back the case together, and started the computer in Windows. If you go to My Computer you won’t find any new storage device however.

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So I launched Disk Management program, and it automatically detect the new drive asking me to Initialize Disk with either MBR or GPT. I select the later, and used the program to format the drive with NTFS, and it would show as D: drive with 223 GB space.

So at this stage ,you can use the drive normally to install program, and avoid filling up to 32GB eMMC flash too quickly.

I install CrystalDiskInfo 7.1.1 in case people want to get more information like ACS-2 standard, or S.M.A.R.T and TRIM features.

Finally, I ran CrystalDiskMark 5 benchmark, and the performance is pretty much as expected on this kind of device.

It’s much better than the eMMC flash performance shown below.

So it should pay off to install WIndows 10 in the SSD, as you’d gain much performance while loading apps, booting, or browsing the web with many tabs. However, MeLE told me the Windows 10 license is tied to the eMMC flash, so if you install Windows 10 in the M.2 SSD it will not be activated. Ian Morrison (aka Linuxium) had the same problem in his review of Beelink AP34 Ultimate, but he found a method to move Windows 10 from the eMMC flash to the M.2 SSD so that it still shows Windows is activated when installed in the M.2 drive. I have not tried in the MeLE mini PC, but it might work too.

Installing Ubuntu 16.04 to the M.2 SSD Drive

Last time, I tried Ubuntu 16.04 in MeLE PCG03 Apo from a USB 3.0 flash drive, so this time, I used the same method, but instead installed it to my freshly installed M.2 drive. The installation took less than 20 minutes, and I could boot to Ubuntu in about 20 seconds, with 9 seconds going to Grub, and 11 seconds to Unity login prompt.

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For reference I also ran iozone to benchmark the drive in Ubuntu:

If you are interested in KingDian N480 M.2 80mm SSD, you can purchase it for $58.93 or $93.35 on GearBest for respectively 120 or 240GB capacity [Update: coupon OKDN240 should lower the price. Valid until end of September]. The card appears to be quite popular, so it can also be found on Amazon US, Banggood, Aliexpress, eBay, and other online stores.

Beelink AP34 Ultimate Fanless mini PC Review with Windows 10 and Ubuntu

The AP34 Ultimate combines the passive cooling of an Apollo Lake N3450 SoC with 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage in a small box form-factor mini PC.

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Together with the device comes a pair of HDMI cables, a power adapter, VESA mount with screws, and a couple of leaflets covering basic information.

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Not only does this device have three USB 3.0 ports, full size SD card, Gigabit Ethernet, headphone jack and HDMI port, it also has a (vacant) M.2 slot allowing additional storage with the full specification being:
although there was no included remote control.
The device comes pre-loaded with activated Windows 10 Home 64-bit and plenty of available free space at (initially before updates) just over 43GB.

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The Windows performance is unremarkable and the reason for this is obvious looking at the basic benchmarks.

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The reason being that the eMMC is slow which is disappointing for an ‘ultimate’ device. The eMMC chip is a Toshiba THGBM5G9B8JBAIE 64GB eMMC version 4.41 which used the HS200 interface..

… compared with other devices like the Beelink AP42 whose eMMC (Samsung KLMCG4JENB-B041) is version 5.1 making use of the faster HS400 interface.
Installing Ubuntu as dual-boot is now much simpler as my updated ‘isorespin.sh’ script includes installing the rEFInd bootloader which enables booting on Apollo Lake devices when the BIOS doesn’t support Linux. Performance is again as expected given the limitation of the eMMC.

Apollo Lake Ubuntu Performance Comparison – Click to Enlarge

Ubuntu mini PCs’ Performance Comparison – Click to Enlarge

Looking a key features in more detail the first point to note is that the BIOS is simplified with no access to features you might want to control in an ‘ultimate’ device

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The CPU is a quad core Intel N3450:
and memory is dual-channel DDR3 1600MHz:
Networking is Gigabit Ethernet and Intel 3165 (ac) wireless:
and audio is available through HDMI and headphones

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Kodi plays 4k video but however 8K is unwatchable
Both internal and external temperatures are fine under load:

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So what are the advantages of having 8GB RAM? Well it means the device works better as a mini PC, as it means you can use more memory-hungry applications like browser tabs. As an example I fired up twenty Chrome tabs in Ubuntu

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I was going to fire up twenty more but while I was refreshing each tab to make sure I used the most memory Chrome crashed.
However as I hadn’t run out of memory I decided to try with Firefox. Having opened forty tabs in Firefox, I then refreshed the previous twenty Chrome tabs. Everything was now working fine and I was hovering around the 7GB RAM usage with the temperature stable at 61°C

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But what use is a device with slow storage? I re-read the license leaflet that came with the device:

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and checked the license using ‘slmgr -dli’ which confirmed I had an activated ‘RETAIL’ license. As the device has 8GB RAM and 64GB storage, I can only assume that the device has a full Windows 10 license which means I should be able to use the M.2 drive as the Windows drive. So in theory if I used a small M.2 drive and installed Windows it should then automatically activate as the product key is held in the BIOS.
First I had to install the M.2 drive. This involves prising off the four rubber feet on the base of the device, unscrewing the four screws that are revealed, and then forcing off the base plate which is somewhat stuck to the motherboard by a thermal pad.
Then unscrew the three screws that secure the motherboard to the case and gently lift out the motherboard being careful not to loose the power-button which is now loose and also not ripping off the two wifi antena wires.
You will need a 22mm wide and 42mm long M.2 (or 2242) with at least an “M” slot SSD. The socket is near the yellow battery which the SSD actually covers when installed.
Windows can then be installed using a Windows 10 Disc Image (ISO File) downloaded from Miscrosoftand written to USB.
Except that activation didn’t work. Research seemed to indicate that this was because the drive was seen as a removable device which apparently Windows doesn’t like.
So instead I installed Windows to the eMMC I had just wiped
which activates successfully
and after turning off hibernation and setting the paging file to the minimum the Windows partition can be shrunk
and moved to the M.2 SSD using an Ubuntu LiveUSB and the ‘dd’ command
after which the M.2 drive needs to be ‘fixed’ using ‘gdisk’
and the original eMMC wiped using ‘gparted’ to prevent conflicts
Once rebooted the M.2 should be resized

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and after performing updates the M.2 SSD is the C: drive with activated Windows

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Although fine as a proof of concept I only used a relatively slow and small capacity (16GB) M.2 SSD. The real question was whether the initially installed Windows could be moved to a larger and faster SSD? The answer is yes!

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And when using a 256GB M.2 SSD
an improvement in performance is seen

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The fundamental consideration in choosing this device is whether you have the need for 8GB RAM over 4GB as this is an USD 80 question. The slow eMMC whilst disappointing can be overcome through utilizing the M.2 slot. However, it is worth checking how readily available 2242 M.2 SSDs are as they are not common in Australia for example. The price vs specification still favors these type of mini PCs when compared to NUCs and similar. However the convergence point is close, especially when factoring warranty and support. Overall the Apollo Lake CPU offers a slight improvement to last year’s Cherry Trail devices and the passive cooling of this device are definite positives with HDMI 1.4 being the obvious negative, although the limited BIOS might also be too restrictive for some.
I’d like to thank GearBest for providing Beelink AP34 Ultimate for review. If you are interested, you can purchase the device on their website for $259 including shipping [Update: Coupon GBAP348 should lower the price to $239.99. Valid until October 31st.] You’ll also find the fanless mini PC on Aliexpress, just make sure you select the blue version if you want 8GB RAM, the gray version for 4GB RAM.

Asus WA039T All-in-One PC is Powered by Intel Pentium J4205 Apollo Lake Processor

August 16th, 2017 No comments

Intel Pentium N4205 is the most powerful Apollo Lake processor launched by Intel with four cores up to 2.6GHz (turbo), and 18 EU HD graphics, but so far I have not seen many products with the processor, with only ASRock J4205-ITX motherboard and Beebox J4205 mini PC. So I went to Aliexpress, and nothing at all shows up for J4205, I had better luck on Alibaba with Unistorm / ACEPC AK1 mini PC apparently also having Pentium N4205 as an option (for OEM only), and several industrial computer and motherboards. But none of those products seem to be easily purchasable just yet. A final search on GearBest led me to their one and only J4205 based product: Asus WA039T AIO PC, so let’s have a look.

Asus WA039T AIO computer specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Pentium J4205 quad core “Apollo Lake” processor @ 1.50 / 2.60 GHz with a 18 EU Intel HD Graphics 505 @ 250/800 MHz (10W TDP)
  • System Memory – 4GB DDR3 (upgradeable to 8GB)
  • Storage – 1TB hard drive, SD card slot
  • Display – 21.5″ LED display with 1920×1080 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Video Output – HDMI output
  • Audio – Via HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack, built-in dual channel speaker, microphone
  • Webcam – Yes
  • Connectivity – Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi
  • USB – 4x USB 3.1 ports
  • Power Supply  – TBD
  • Dimensions – 51.40 x 16.50 x 39.80 cm
  • Weight – 4.5 kg

The AIO PC runs Windows 10. I was unable to find any references to WA039T on asus.com.

Asus WA039T is sold on GearBest for $683.93 including free shipping. [Update: Use coupon GBTPC to bring the price down to $595.02]

Unistorm AK1 Intel Celeron J3455 mini PC Sells for $158

August 3rd, 2017 5 comments

Last month, I wrote about MeLE PCG35 Apo mini PC based on Intel Celeron J3455 “Apollo Lake” processor. It has started to sell for $179 this week, but there’s now a cheaper option with similar specifications thanks to Unistorm AK1 mini PC going for $158.30 instead.

Unistorm AK1 mini PC specifications with highlights in bold or stricken-through showing differences with PCG35 Apo:

  • SoC – Intel Celeron J3455 quad core “Apollo Lake” processor @ 1.50 / 2.30 GHz with a 12 EU Intel HD Graphics 500 @ 250/750 MHz (10W TDP)
  • System Memory – 4GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash, 1x 2.5″ SATA HDD slot, 1x M.2 SSD slot, 1x micro SD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 Hz, and VGA
  • Audio – Via HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi & Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB Type-C port
  • Misc – Power button, Kensington Lock, VESA mount support
  • Power Supply  – 12V / 2A
  • Dimensions – 128 x 128 x 37 mm (vs 198 x 125 x 39.50 mm)
  • Weight – 230 grams (vs ~1 kg)

The main differences in terms of ports are that HDMI is limited to 4K @ 30 Hz (no HDMI 2.0), the VGA port is gone, and instead of three USB 3.0 ports, and one USB 2.0 port, AK1 comes with a pair of both. The mini PC does not appear to ship with a VESA mount.

MeLE PCG35 Apo case is also made of metal, while Unistorm AK1 uses a plastic enclosure, so it’s much lighter, but it may not cool as well. Speaking about cooling, it’s clear whether the device includes a fan, or is passively cooled like the MeLE mini PC, but at least the company designed the case with plenty of ventilation around the top edges. The picture also shows colored LEDs inside AK1, sometimes blue, sometimes orange, and there not indicated whether this can be disabled. Maybe in the BIOS? The mini PC is said to be pre-loaded with an activated version of Windows 10.

[Update: This mini PC looks very similar to ACEPC AK1, and based in the description on Amazon US, the mini PC is designed with a fan.
Unboxing video shows more details about the modular 2.5″ SATA bay, and that model does include a VESA mount:

]

Via AndroidPC.es