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Zotac ZBOX PI225 Review – SSD-Like Mini PC Tested with Windows 10 & Ubuntu

What makes the Zotac ZBOX PI225 so interesting is that this is the first true ‘card’ form-factor mini PC. It is a mini PC that looks like a SSD. Whilst Intel replaced the ‘stick’ form-factor with a similar ‘card’ form-factor for their next generation mini PCs they also required a ‘dock’ in order to use them. The difference with the PI225 however is that it actually is a standalone mini PC and includes all the necessary input/output ports.
Intrigued by this new form-factor I decided to purchase one and the following is my review of its performance and capabilities.
The Zotac ZBOX PI225 is a fanless device which features an Apollo Lake N3350 SoC with 32GB of storage pre-installed with Windows 10 Home, 4GB RAM, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, two USB Type-C ports, a micro SD card reader and a power connector.
Importantly it comes with all the accessories you need to get up and running:

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including a Windows OS recovery disk although perhaps this could have been better provided on an SD card for ease of access. The twin USB/HDMI adapter means the device’s built-in Type-C USBs make the PI225 future-proof whilst removing the need to purchase new cables from the outset. Adding a VESA mount is a nice touch and emphasizes the size or lack thereof given the device is marginally smaller than a regular SSD.
The device once booted starts Windows which becomes fully activated after connecting to the Internet:

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The basic hardware matches the specification:

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with just under half the storage used after Windows updates:
Running my standard set of benchmarking tools to look at performance under Windows:

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reveals the performance is much lower than expected for a N3350 SoC device. Checking the BIOS reveals that ‘Turbo Mode’ is disabled resulting in the clock speed being restricted to its based frequency of 1100 MHz and preventing it bursting to its top frequency of 2400 MHz.

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This was obviously set to limit the heat produced by the CPU and assist in the thermal design which makes use of the device’s outer metal case to dissipate heat in its role of passive cooling.
After enabling ‘Turbo Mode’ and ‘Active Processor Cores’

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the benchmarks were repeated:

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Interestingly the results for CrystalDiskMark noticeably improved after enabling ‘Turbo Mode’ and ‘Active Processor Cores’ as well:

Turbo Disabled

Turbo Enabled

which is reflected in all the benchmarks including on Linux (see later) and highlights the need to ‘interpret’ the results as indicative comparisons rather than definitive and accurate measurements.
So with this in mind the full results can be compared with other devices such as Beelink AP34 Ultimate or BBEN MN10.

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Next I installed Ubuntu to the eMMC as dual-boot. The BIOS includes the ‘Intel Linux’ as an ‘OS Selection’ under Chipset/South Bridge/OS Selection:

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However I found it wasn’t necessary to change it when using a standard Ubuntu ISO and it also wasn’t necessary to respin an ISO using my ‘isorespin.sh’ script.
Similar to Windows there is a significant performance gain when enabling ‘Turbo Mode’ and ‘Active Processor Cores’:

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Octane without ‘Turbo Mode’:
recorded a result of nearly half that of Octane with ‘Turbo Mode’:
With ‘Turbo Mode’ enabled the performance is as expected when compared to other devices with the N3350 SoC:

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and can be compared with other Intel Apollo Lake devices:

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Revisiting the hardware using Linux commands additionally shows that the memory is faster at 1866 MHz and configured as quad-channel and that the micro SD card is running the faster HS400 interface:
The device doesn’t have a headphone jack so audio is only available over HDMI:

Before looking at real-world usage examples it is worth discussing the thermal limitations of the device. From running the benchmarks alone it would seem obvious that keeping ‘Turbo Mode’ enabled would ensure maximum performance from the device. But as previously mentioned this setting is originally disabled and in part the reason for this can be demonstrated using the Octane benchmark. Without ‘Turbo Mode’ the benchmark runs without issue:

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However with ‘Turbo Mode’ enabled (note the CPU speed below the graph on the right):

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the power limit (see ‘Maximum’ column on left) is exceeded.
When the device with ‘Turbo Mode’ enabled was put under continuous load, for example playing a 4K video, this causes the temperature to continually rise and then thermal protection cuts in and the device effectively crashes. The following screenshot was taken shortly before this occurred during testing and shows that the CPU speed had already been throttled although the core CPU temperatures are still rising:

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So the findings are that with both Windows and Ubuntu it is impossible to watch a 4K video of any length without the device crashing when ‘Turbo Mode’ was enabled.
The good news is that 4K videos play as good as any similar device without ‘Turbo Mode’. Starting with Windows the first test was watching a 4K video using Microsoft Edge which worked perfectly:

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The same video when watched using Google Chrome resulted in the very occasional dropped frame:

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and changing the video quality to high definition (1080p resolution) results in fewer dropped frames:

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Running on Ubuntu the same video at 4K in Google Chrome was unwatchable with excessive dropped frames and a stalled network connection after a short while:

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At 1080p the video is watchable but does suffer from dropped frames:

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Running Kodi on Windows with a VP9 codec encoded video used software for decoding resulting in high CPU usage:

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compared with a H.264 codec encoded video which uses hardware to decode:

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and similar for videos encoded with H.265 or HEVC:

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with no issues playing the videos.
On Ubuntu hardware is used to decode all three codecs:

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however some H.265 videos resulted in a blank (black) screen just with audio whereas others played without issue:

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During testing without ‘Turbo Mode’ the device heats up playing videos but reaches a point where the passive cooling prevents the device from overheating:

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But when the inside warms up so does the outside. Included within the packaging is a single slip of paper warning how the outside temperature can reach up to 57°C during continuous video playback:
Even allowing for a margin of error this temperature was reached during testing:
and with ‘Turbo Mode’ enabled the surface temperature can get very hot:
so that is a very good reason why this settings should not be enabled by default. For comparison a single walled paper cup of freshly poured coffee will be a similar temperature and for most people this is too hot to hold.
For WiFi connectivity, the 2.4 GHz throughput measured using ‘iperf’ shows 42.2 Mbits/sec for download but only 22.3 Mbits/sec for upload. However 5.0 GHz throughput is consistent with download measuring 152 Mbits/sec and upload of 142 Mbits/sec.

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I also purchased a small hub that connects through a Type-C connection and provides an HDMI port for video, a USB port for keyboard/mouse and a Gigabit Ethernet port for networking (‘iperf’ confirms 940 Mbits/sec for both upload and download). Using this hub means I still have the second Type-C port on the device for using a USB etc.
Power consumption for the device was measured as:
  • Power off – 1.0 Watts
  • Standby – 0.8 Watts
  • Boot menu – 5.0 Watts
  • Idle – 3.8 Watts (Ubuntu) and 4.3 Watts (Windows)
  • CPU stressed – 4.1 Watts (Ubuntu)
  • 4K video – 6.6 Watts (Ubuntu) and 6.4 Watts (Windows)

Finally the BIOS is very flexible with all the key settings available:

It may seem that this device is overly restricted by its thermal design. However, I’ve not found that to be the case once the limitations are known. The 4GB of memory is sufficient to run Windows or Linux OS and having a BIOS that supports Linux means that you are not restricted in what OS you can install. Storage can be expanded by using an SD card and the Type-C ports provide flexibility in how the device is connected. The ability to select ‘Turbo Mode’ means you can use this device as a mini PC although it should be disabled if using as an HTPC.  Zotac could have removed the setting from the BIOS, but kudos to them in leaving it and letting the user use the device and be responsible for how it is used. As shown the setting is not required for watching 4K videos, and this makes the device perfect for digital signage. Including the dual USB/HDMI adapter, VESA mount and the Windows recovery disk with detailed documentation is particularly noteworthy. Overall it is a very commendable effort given the new form-factor and challenges it presents.


Zotac ZBOX PI225 mini PC can be purchased for a little over $200 on websites such as Amazon or eBay.

Azulle Byte3 Mini PC Review – Windows 10, Linux Support, Benchmarks, and Video Playback

The Azulle Byte3 is a fanless Apollo Lake device featuring both M.2 slot and a SATA connector, as well as supporting HDMI and VGA. It includes USB (both 2.0 and 3.0 including a Type-C port) as well as Gigabit Ethernet:

 

It features an Apollo Lake N3450 SoC and comes with 32GB of storage plus an option of either 4GB or 8GB of RAM and a further option of either with or without Windows 10 Pro meaning Linux users can save around USD 20.

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Azulle provided me with a device for review and it came in a presentation box complete with a power adapter, and remote control together with a quick guide pamphlet.

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Whilst the power adapter includes an interchangeable plug it only came with one suitable for the US.

Looking at the detail specifications:

 

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it is important to realize that the Type-C USB is USB 3.0 which provides a theoretical transfer speed of up to 5 Gbps, and that this particular device does not support “alternate mode” protocols meaning it cannot be used for HDMI output.

The device under review is the version with 4GB of RAM together with Windows Pro installed which became fully activated after connecting to the Internet:

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The basic hardware matched the specification:

with just under half the storage used after Windows updates:

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Running my standard set of benchmarking tools to look at performance under Windows:

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The performance is as expected for the N3450 SoC and is comparable with other Apollo Lake devices: ECDREAM A9, BBen MN10, and Beelink AP34 Ultimate.

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Next I installed Ubuntu to the eMMC as dual-boot. Fortunately, the BIOS supports Linux by configuring the setting under Chipset/South Bridge/OS Selection:

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So it was only necessary to change the OS from ‘Windows’ to ‘Intel Linux’ and use a standard Ubuntu ISO. Alternatively you could leave the setting on ‘Windows’ and respin a standard Ubuntu ISO using ‘isorespin.sh’ script with the ‘–apollo’ option.

Performance is again as expected:

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and can be compared with other Intel Apollo Lake devices:

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Revisiting the hardware using Linux commands additionally shows the full-sized SD card is running the slower HS200 interface:

and that ‘Headphones’ shows up in the sound settings only when an external speaker is connected through the 3.5mm audio jack:

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Turning to real-world Windows usage cases the first tested was watching a 4K video using Microsoft Edge which worked perfectly.

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The same video when watched using Google Chrome resulted in the very occasional dropped frame:

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with the GPU having to work harder.

Watching the same video and changing the video quality to high definition (1080p resolution) results in zero dropped frames:

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Unfortunately the same video in Google Chrome on Ubuntu at 4K was unwatchable with excessive dropped frames and a stalled network connection after a short while:

 

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At 1080p the video is watchable with only the occasional dropped frame:

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Running Kodi on both Windows and Ubuntu show similar ‘differences’ in the results.

On Windows if the video is encoded using the VP9 codec then decoding is using software resulting in high CPU usage:

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However when the video is encoded with the H.264 codec then Windows uses hardware to decode:

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and similar for videos encoded with H.265 or HEVC:

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with no issues playing the videos.

On Ubuntu hardware is used to decode all three codecs:

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However some H.265 videos resulted in a blank (black) screen just with audio whereas others played without issue:

 

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As previously mentioned the device is passively cooled and does not require an internal fan:

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although the device can get quite warm:

with the highest observed reading being 45°C.

Inside the device it is possible to mount both an SSD and an M.2 SSD:

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To open the case you only have to remove the outer four screws as the inner four are used to secure the SSD. The M.2 slot is for the longer 2280 card and you are meant to attach one of the included thermal strips to the aluminium heat sink for best results. I found that you could use the heat sink to effectively hold down a smaller 2242 M.2 card in place through a combination of force and gravity if you don’t have the correct size. The included instructions do not cover installation in detail however Azulle have uploaded the following useful videos online:

 

Once both SSDs were connected I then installed LibreELEC (or Just enough OS for Kodi) to the M.2 and Linux Mint to the SSD. Interestingly the M.2 showed up as a UEFI device in the boot menu which may mean installing Windows to an M.2 card is relatively simple although licensing should be considered. The SATA connected SSD was accessible through GRUB as the original Ubuntu installation had already created an NVRAM entry for ubuntu:

which when selected provides a GRUB menu updated with entries for Mint after the installation:

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Notice how the GRUB menu also includes an entry to boot Windows from the eMMC which works despite the OS now being set to Linux in the BIOS. There is also a working entry to access the BIOS (System setup).

Finally the BIOS is reasonably open with the key settings being available.

I’ve found this device to be very flexible. Storage is not an issue given the ability to expand through additional SSD or M.2 or even by using an SD card. Although the memory cannot be upgraded you do have the initial choice of either the 4GB or the 8GM device. Also having a BIOS that supports Linux means that you are not restricted in what OS you can install so the device is a viable HTPC especially as there is no residual noise from a spinning cooling fan. The connectivity and ports including their location on the device are also well planned. I’d like to thank Azulle for providing the Byte3 for review. The mini PC is also sold on Amazon US for $199.99 and up.

MeLE PCG35 Apo Apollo Lake Mini PC Review – Part 3: Ubuntu 17.10

October 26th, 2017 4 comments

I completed the review of MeLE PCG35 Apo with Windows 10 Home a few days ago, and as promised, I’ve now installed the freshly released Ubuntu 17.10 in the Intel Celeron J3455 “Apollo Lake” mini PC.

I’ll start by shortly explaining the step to install Ubuntu 17.10 in the M.2 slot, although you could also install it to the internal eMMC flash replacing Windows 10, then show what works and what does, and finally include a video reproducing the tests I usually do in Windows 10.

How to Install Linux in MeLE PCG35 Apo

This partially follows the procedure I used to run (not install) Ubuntu 16.04 on MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC. First you’ll need to download the ISO of your choice (ubuntu-17.10-desktop-am64.iso in my case), and prepare a bootable USB flash drive with the software of your choice be it Rufus, Startup Disk Creator or others. I did mine with Startup Disk Creator in my Ubuntu 16.04 computer

We can now plug the USB flash drive with Ubuntu 17.10 into one of the USB port of the mini PC, start it up and press ‘Esc’ key to enter Apio Setup Utility (aka “The BIOS”). By default, the system will use the “Windows boot method”, but we can change that by going to Chipset->South Bridge, then OS Selection and select Intel Linux.

Now go to the Boot menu and select our USB flash drive (I had to select “Partition 1”) to start Ubuntu installation. I did not want to remove Windows 10 (installed in the eMMC flash), nor wipe out the Program Files directory in the M.2 SSD, but still install Ubuntu 17.10 in the faster M.2 SSD, so I used a custom installation type.

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The eMMC flash, the M.2 SSD (/dev/sdc), SATA hard drive, and USB hard drive were all recognized by the system. I only modified the SSD partition by resizing the Windows’ “Program Files” partition to 64000 MB, and creating new partitions for the root file system (167913 MB) and swap (~8GB). Once the changes were all applied I clicked on Install Now to complete the installation, and a few minutes later reboot with Grub giving the option between Ubuntu (default) or Windows Boot Manager.

So we have a dual boot Windows 10 / Ubuntu 17.10 systems here, I selected Ubuntu and within a few seconds I could login to Ubuntu 17.10 and access the GNOME desktop environment.

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Canonical did a good job of making their GNOME implementation feels like Unity, but there are some obvious changes like the login prompt, different dash search location, and redesigned Settings menu.

Ubuntu 17.10 on MeLE PCG35 Apo – System Info and Hardware Features

Let’s run some command to check what we have:

Ubuntu 17.10 with Linux 4.13, around 4GB RAM, and 153 GB rootfs. The SATA drive (NTFS) was not mounted by default, but I could mount it manually later on. However the three of four partitions on the USB drive were mounted automatically (exFAT not supported?), and the Windows partitions was mounted too:

Good news if you don’t plan to use an SSD, but want to install Ubuntu or other Linux distribution in the computer.

CPU information returned by lshw:

as well as BIOS, cache, & memory info:

Ethernet & WiFi were also detected:

I also tested all ports and networking options of the device, and everything worked just fine.

Features Results
HDMI video OK
HDMI audio OK
VGA OK
Ethernet OK
WiFi OK
Bluetooth OK. Tested with Bluetooth headset
USB 2.0 port OK
USB 3.0 ports OK
USB 3.0 type C port OK. Mouse connected via adapters
SD slot OK
eMMC flash OK

Ubuntu 17.10 User Experience on Apollo Lake

Finally I played with various apps, mirroring what I normally do on Windows 10, except I had to replace Asphalt 8 Airborne by Jet Racing Extreme which I installed from Steam:

  • Multi-tasking – Launching and using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing with Firefox
    • Loading multiple tabs with CNX Software blog, Facebook, YouTube
    • Playing Candy Crush Saga
    • Playing a 4K YouTube Videos (also tested with Chrome)
  • Gaming with Steam (Jet Racing Extreme Demo)
  • Kodi 4K videos and audio pass-through

The video is fairly long, and I did not edit it to show how some parts are rather slow to load, especially Jet Racing Extreme, and to a lesser extent Candy Crush Saga.

The Multi-tasking part is really fast, everything starts about as fast as on my much more powerful main computer (AMD FX8350 with 128 GB SSD + 16 GB RAM), ans for simple desktop tasks, even with multiple program, the system is really fast enough.

Multitab browsing goes well too, but Candy Crush Saga takes quite a while to start, so much that I decided to play YouTube videos will the game started. 1080p YouTube video playback works OK, but once we switch to 4K, it’s really sluggish. By default VP9 is used, so I installed h264ify, but in that case (AVC1), YouTube limits video to 1440p, and 2160p is not accessible. I switched to Chrome, and VP9 decoding was again incredibly slow.

Jet Racing Extreme Demo is playable – if we ignore the awful controls -, but it’s really slow to load. Once the reason could be that it requires a lot of RAM, and 4GB is not enough. Running htop while running the game showed that the RAM was fully utilized, and part of the swap was needed too (1GB+).

Kodi 17.3 (installed with apt) was also a disappointment with H.264, H.265 and VP9 all relying on software decoding despite VAAPI hardware video decoding being enabled in the settings. That means the systems is usable with 1080p videos, but not 4K videos. Automatic frame rate switching did not work either. Audio pass-through with PulseAudio worked fine as I could play videos with Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC3) and DTS 5.1.

Google’s Teachable Machine is a Simple and Fun Way to Understand How Machine Learning Works

October 9th, 2017 4 comments

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, neural networks… are all words we hear more and more today, as machines get the ability to recognize objects, answer voice requests / commands, and so on. But many people may not know at all the basics of how machine learning works, and with that in mind, Google launched Teachable Machine website to let people experiment and understand the basics behind machine learning without having to install an SDK or even code.

So I quickly tried it with Google Chrome, as it did not seem to work with Mozilla Firefox. It’s best to have audio on, as a voice explains how to use it.

Basically you connect your webcam, authorize Chrome too use it, and you should see the image in the input section on the left. After you’re being to train the machine in the learning section in the middle with three difference classes. You’ll be asked to wave your hand and keep pressing on the “Train Green” button until you have at least 100 examples. At this stage, the machine will always detect the green class since it’s all that it knows. Then you can train the Purple class by staying still, and again make sure you have at least 100 examples before you release the button. Now the machine should be able to detect when you stay still or move with a varying percentage of confidence. The output section will just show some animated GIFs, or play sound or words depending on what it detects.  It can learn actions (still, wave hands, clap hands) and object detections. My webcam is pretty bad, but if you have a good image, you should be able to also detect feelings like happiness, sadness, anger, anxiousness, etc… Give it a try it’s fun.

The Teacheable Machine has been built with a new open source hardware-accelerated JavaScript library called deeplearn.js,and Google released the source code for the website too.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro Mini PC Review – Part 2: Windows 10 Pro

September 5th, 2017 3 comments

MINIX launched NEO Z83-4 Cherry Trail mini PC last year, but the company has now launched NEO Z83-4 Pro, an updated version with a slightly faster Atom X5-Z8350 processor, Windows 10 Pro (instead of Home), and a a VESA mount kit. I’ve already checked the hardware in the first part of the review, so today I’ll report my experience with Windows 10 Pro.

Windows 10 Home vs Windows 10 Pro

My main computer runs Ubuntu 16.04, and I’m only using Windows 10 during reviews… But so far all other mini PCs I tried came with Windows 10 Home, and NEO Z83-4 Pro is my first Windows 10 Pro computer. So I had to educate myself, and Microsoft website has a comparison between the two versions of Windows 10. Windows 10 Pro supports all features of Windows 10 Home, plus the following:

  • Security
    • Windows Information Protection – Formerly Enterprise Data Protection (EDP), requires either Mobile Device Management (MDM) or System Center Configuration Manager to manage settings. Active Directory makes management easier, but is not required.
    • Bitlocker – Full disk encryption support. Requires TPM 1.2 or greater for TPM based key protection. More details here.
  • Business – Management and deployment
    • Group Policy
    • Enterprise State Roaming with Azure Active Directory – Separate subscription for Azure Active Directory Premium required
    • Windows Store for Business – Available in select markets. Functionality and apps may vary by market and device
    • Assigned Access
    • Dynamic Provisioning
    • Windows Update for Business
    • Shared PC configuration
    • Take a Test – app in Windows 10 to create the right environment for taking a test (education)
  • Windows Fundamentals
    • Domain Join
    • Azure Active Directory Domain Join, with single sign-on to cloud-hosted apps – Separate subscription for Azure Active Directory required
    • Enterprise Mode Internet Explorer (EMIE) – For compatibility issues of web apps in Internet Explorer 11 (emulates IE 8).
    • Remote Desktop
    • Client Hyper-V

If you don’t understand some of the option, you most probably don’t need then. Bitlocker works more securely if a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip is present in the system, so the presence of that secure chip is something I’ll have to check out during the review. AFAIK, the original MINIX NEO Z83-4 does not include any TPM.

A few days ago, I wrote about BBen MN10 TV stick available with either Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro, and the former is offered for $21.39 extra, the later for $30.33, so the Pro version is only about $10 more expensive than the Home version on such entry level hardware. If you had to purchase Windows 10 Pro license by yourself, it would cost $199.99, or the same price as the complete MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro mini PC including the Win10 Pro license… That sounds crazy/unbelievable, but apparently that’s just the way Microsoft handles licenses, and one of the main reason MINIX decided to launch this new model.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro Setup & System Information

I connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port, USB mouse and keyboard, HDMI and Ethernet cables, and started up the device by pressing the power button right after connecting the 12V power adapter.

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The first boot was a little different than what I’m accustomed to, as I was doing something, I started to hear a female voice… asking to select the region… So Microsoft has now enabled Cortana voice assistant by default in the setup Wizard. If you don’t like it you can turn it off by pressing the Volume icon on the bottom right corner.

NEO Z83-4 Pro does not come with an built-in microphone, but you have one you can answer “Yes” to go the next step while Cortana is listening. I’ve shot a short video to show what the new Windows 10 (Pro) setup wizard feels like.

The whole process is slightly different. For example, I normally do not sign-in with a Microsoft account, and used to press skip in that section, but there’s no such Skip button in the new interface, and instead you can click on Offline account button in the bottom left.

You’ll also be asked about privacy settings for location, diagnostics, speech recognition, and so on, which I cannot remember in other mini PCs I tested with Windows 10. All options are enabled by default, so if you want better privacy you should set them to off.

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Once the setup is complete Windows 10 Pro looks just like Windows 10 Home, except you’ll be informed you are running the Pro version in the System window.

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That window confirms the information we already knew with Z83-4 Pro model powered by Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor @ 1.44 GHz, with 4GB RAM, and Windows is activated..
The eMMC flash has a 28.2GB Windows drive (C:) with 16.5 GB free. The system could also detect the NTFS and exFAT partitions on my USB drive, as well as some Windows network locations.

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I’ve also taken a screenshot for the Device Manager to get more technical details, and we can also notice a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 is enabled, so that’s another feature in Z83-4 Pro that was absent from Z83-4 mini PC.

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I also started tpm.msc to get some more details about the TPM as shown above, and by default it is not enabled, but you can follow Microsoft TPM instructions to use it properly for better – hardware based – security.

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HWiNFO64 show further details about the system and processor.

I noticed the computer would turn off (not sleep) by itself after a few minutes when I ran benchmarks. I could fix that by going to Power & sleep settings and changing the 10 minutes sleep time to Never.

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MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro Benchmarks

Z83-4 Pro was strangely slightly slower than Z83-4 mini PC in PCMark 8 Home Accelerated 3.0 with 1,445 points against 1,543 points for the latter.

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If we look at the details, we can actually see Z83-4 Pro was faster in most tests, but is 50% slower in Advanced Photo Editing Accelerated, and significantly slower in Video Chat Encoding v2 Accelerated, so there might be a driver issue with OpenCL support since those accelerated tests are supposed to leverage the GPU. You’ll find the detailed results here.

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I’ve also run the newer PCMARK 10 benchmark to have a reference point for Cherry Trail platform, and in this test Z83-4 Pro got 896 points, which compares to 1,334 points on a faster Celeron N3350 Apollo Lake mini PC.

Passmark 9.0 failed in the 3D graphics section, so I ran Passmark 8.0 instead, where the device got 698.8 points, against 656.30 points in the original Z83-4 mini PC, a results closer to expectations.

NEO Z83-4 Pro archived 20,284 and 233 points on respectively 3DMark’s Ice Storm 1.2 and Fire Strike 1.1 3D benchmarks, which compares to 16,030 points and 187 points on the older version.

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The extra boost is likely due to the higher GPU frequency on x5-Z8350 SoC.

CrystalDiskMark 5.2.1 shows roughly the same eMMC flash performance as on MINIX NEO Z83-4 model. That’s rather average but normal for 32GB parts mandated by Microsoft for a discounted license.


What’s not so good however is the sequential write speed on the NTFS partition of my USB hard drive, as it can normally achieve 90 to 100 MB/s on most hardware.
The read performance is normal however. So I repeated the test, but got the same poor write speed. I retried a few days later, and after a disk scan, but write speed only went up to around 45 MB/s. So something looks wrong here.


For that reason, I also ran the benchmark on the exFAT partition, and write benchmark is fairly normal at close to 80 MB/s, so it’s not a USB issue, and looks like some issues with NTFS or caching.

Sadly, WiFi AC testing with iperf yielded under average performance.

  • Upload:

  • Download:

Throughput in Mbps

So overall the tests show everything is mostly working as expected, except OpenCL acceleration in PCMark 8, NTFS sequential write speed, and 802.11ac WiFi performance does not look that good compared to the competition, at least with my TP-Link router.

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Finally, I’ve compared MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro benchmark results (adjusted for easier comparison) to Atom x5-Z8300 / x5-Z8500 mini PCs including NEO Z83-4, Kangaroo Desktop, and Tronsmart Ara X5, and as one should expected, there aren’t that many differences between the devices. Z83-4 Pro is slightly faster than x5-Z8300 devices, but a bit slower than an x5-Z8500 mini PC.

Chart adjustments as follows: 3DMark Ice Storm divided by 20, 3DMark Fire Strike multiplied by 4, and storage results multiplied by 5.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Usability and Stress Testing

I repeated the test I did for Z83-4 to see how the mini PC performs in a typical desktop use case, and check out some BIOS settings.

  • Multi-tasking – Using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing
    • Loading multiple tab with CNX Software blog in Firefox
    • Playing 1080p & 4K YouTube Videos in Firefox
    • Playing Candy Crush Saga in Firefox (now smoother/faster since it’s not using Adobe Flash anymore)
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8: Airbone
  • MINIX UEFI Settings

The experience is so similar to MINIX NEO Z83-4, that I have not done another video, and if you want to get a feel about the system performance you can check out last year video.

One difference is that there’s a new MINIX option in the BIOS: USB charging that allows you to charge your phone or other device via the USB 3.0 ports even when the mini PC is turned off. That’s an addition to existing BIOS options to set earphone standard, (automatic) AC power on, Wake-on-LAN, and RTC wake up.

I used Aida64 Extreme’s system stability test for 2 hours to stress the computer in combination with HWiNFO64 to monitor CPU temperature and potential throttling, but the latter never happened, and temperature never exceeded 69°C, or a cool 34°C away from the junction temperature, with an ambient room temperature of around 30°C.

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So I’d except the mini PC to perform consistently even in hot climate / room with temperatures exceeding 35/40°C.

Finally some power consumption numbers with all USB devices connected:

  • Power off – 0.2 Watts
  • Sleep – 3.3 Watts
  • Idle – 4.2 Watts
  • Aida64 stress test – 9.4 Watts

Conclusion

If you’re one of the customers who purchased MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC and installed Windows 10 Pro, upgrading to NEO Z83-4 Pro for your next purchases is a no-brainer, since performance is similar – usually a bit better -, and you’ll save a nice amount of money on the Windows license. The device also includes enterprise features like a TPM 2.0 module, and ships with a VESA mount. So overall, I’m very pleased with the device, and the only issues I found are disappointing sequential write speed to external USB 3.0 storage with NTFS file system, OpenCL based tests in PCMark 8 are slower than usual for this type of hardware, and WiFi 802.11ac – as tested with iperf – is not quite as fast as on other 802.11ac platforms I’ve tested.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro mini PC sells for $189.99 and up on various sites including AmazonGeekBuying, GearBest, Chinavasion, and others.

WebAssembly is a Cross-Platform, Cross-Browser Solution for High Performance Code in Web Browsers

May 31st, 2017 1 comment

Most code running in a web browser runs much slower than native code (C/C++/ assembly), and it’s fine for many applications, but some others requiring higher performance like software video decoding would have to relies on native code, initially provided via browser plugins, but then Google introduced PNaCL (Portable Native Client) allowing to run native code on multiple targets (ARM, Intel, etc..) but in Chrome browser only, and now one of Chrome developers has explained that the community has moved to WebAssembly.

WebAssembly works just as well as PNaCl, and is already natively supported by Chrome and Firefox, with support added to preview versions of Microsoft Edge and Apple Safari browsers.Since it works just as well as PNaCL, and adoption of the later is low enough, Google decided to drop support for PNaCl in the Chrome browser in Q1 2018, except inside Chrome Apps and Extensions.

WebAssembly Unity WebGL Game Demo

To get a feel for the performance and capabilities, you can find a few demos on WebAssembly website:

The latter demo also compares the performance for the same task between WebAssembly and JavaScript, and in the screenshot below we can see WASM (short name for WebAssembly) is 80% faster than JS (JavaScript) while applying “Sunset” filter to the video in Firefox.

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You’ll find the source code of the demo in Github. It’s still far from the performance of desktop app, but a big improvement over JavaScript.

If you’ve ever made a native web app relying on PNaCl, Google has provided a set of recommendation to help migration to WASM.

Headless Mode to be Supported in Chrome and Firefox Browsers

April 13th, 2017 2 comments

Good news! You can now use Chrome browser without display… Wait… What? While most users want to actually see the page they load in a web browser, some may want to run their browser in a server without display. Headless mode in web browsers can be used for automated testing requiring loading web pages, extracting metadata, generating bitmaps from page contents, etc…

It’s been possible to do so in the past using Xvfb to emulate a framebuffer tricking the browsers to believe there was a display in Linux. But now headless mode is build-in right into browsers, so you don’t need X server running at all, and beside Linux, it will also work in Windows, and Mac OS.

You can launch headless mode in Chrome 59 (currently in dev channel) as follows:

You may want to add --disable gpu option to remove an error message. Then go to http://localhost:9222, or http://IP:9222 is you using an actual server in order to open the DevTools interface.

Google also mentions Selenium tool for automated testing, as well as use Node.js or a C++ API to extract data.

Google Chrome won’t be the only browser to support headless mode, as Firefox developers have also been working on it, and it might already work (or not) with nightly builds. To enable it, run the command below:

Via Edibel

Categories: Linux, Windows 10 Tags: chrome, firefox, server

Review of Vorke V1 mini PC Powered by Intel Celeron J3160 Processor

July 2nd, 2016 40 comments

After checking out Vorke V1 mini PC hardware in the first part of the review, it’s now time to publish the review starting with system information, benchmarks, and user testing. The device competes with similarly priced devices based on Intel Atom x7 processor such as Voyo V3 and Beelink BT7, so I’ll also include some comparisons to those in the review.

Setup and System Information

I connected USB keyboard and mouse, an Ethernet cable, HDMI and VGA cables to check dual display support, as well as the power supply. I did not connect my USB 3.0 hard drive since, I’ve already fitted the mini PC with an internal 1TB hard drive.

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Pressing on the large power button on the top of the device will boot it, and after a few seconds, you’ll get to go through Windows 10 setup by first accepting the EULA.

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The next steps are Custom or Express settings selection, and user account creation. I have not been asked to select the language, nor configure the network, as with some other Windows 10 mini PCs. That’s something you can do later, and with Ethernet, you should have Internet connectivity without doing anything provided your router is using DHCP.

Apart from that there’s nothing else to configure really. In my case, my hard drive was formatted to EXT-4, so I had to reformat it with NTFS in order to access it in Windows. The C: drive (included FORESEE SSD) had 47.2GB free out of 59.1GB in total, the 1TB hard drive (my own) had 931 GB capacity after I formatted it.

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Then I went to the Control Panel to check the Windows 10 license was indeed activated, and some basic hardware information.

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Vorke V1 comes with an Intel Celeron J3160 quad core processor @ 1.60 GHz, 4GB RAM, and runs a legit Windows 10 Home 64-bit as advertised. The Device Manager list some of the peripherals and chips used by the system.

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HWiNFO64 provides more details about the Intel Celeron J3160 SoC, memory (single channel only), and some information about the motherboard (THD RX2) and UEFI version.

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Celeron J3160 has exactly the same “CPU Features” as Intel Atom x7-Z8700.

One thing I liked about Beelink BT7 is that it shipped with a CD ROM driver, but Vorke V1 does not, and I could not find them online. I’ve asked, and wait for an answer.

Finally, I tried dual display support, and the VGA cable was connected to a Full HD Sharp TV, and I could setup extended display very easily.

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However the maximum resolution I could set was 1680×1050, and the text was rather blurry, even more so than usual on VGA monitors.

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Vorke V1 Benchmarks

The first benchmark I ran was PCMARK 8 Conventional and Accelerated (with OpenCL).

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The scores are only slightly better than the ones I got on Beelink BT7 with 1,545 and 1,315 against 1,509 and 1,211 points on the Cherry Trail mini PC. So I would not expect the end user to notice much difference here.

You can consult the results for Conventional and Accelerated benchmarks for the complete details.

Normally, I’d run 3DMark next, but after downloading and installing it several times, I was never able to run any of the tests, with all ending quickly with zero score and an undefined error. AndroidPC.es did run 3DMark’s Ice Storm and Cloud Gate on their own sample however, and respectively achieved 20,984 and 2,451 points. Again the results are quite close to Beelink BT7 scores: 23,999 and 2,185 points.

Passmark 8 results show around 9% improvement over BT7 with 921 points.

Vorke_V1_Passmark_8

Next up is storage performance, which should not be neglected while buying a mini PC, as everything will feel snappier when storage is fast, and the random write and read performance is especially important for the drive used by the operating systems. As usual, I ran CrystalDiskMark on the C: drive (SSD with Windows 10), as well as on the D: drive with my own 1TB SATA drive connected inside the mini PC.Vorke_V1_CrystalDiskMark_SSDFORESEE is not exactly known for their ultra eMMC or NAND flash, but here the results are not too bad, and even a little better than the M.2 SSD used in Beelink BT7.

Vorke_V1_CrystalDiskMark_HDD

The hard drive performance is more or less as expected for a mechanical drive, with slow random I/Os, and around 110 MB/s for read and write sequential speeds.

At first  I was disappointed with Ethernet, as while Vorke V1 specifications clearly mention a Gigabit Ethernet port, it only connected at Fast Ethernet speeds to my Gigabit switch (FE: Orange LED; GbE: Green LED), but later it began working at Gigabit speeds, and a full duplex transfer test using “iperf.exe -t 60 -c server_ip -d”  showed excellent performance:

WiFi supports 2.4 and 5.0 GHz and I could connect to all my access points, including at 802.11ac speed.

I ran iperf in one direction (download), and the results were rather good @ 55.6 Mbps, much better than on either Voyo V3 or Beelink BT7 which averaged around 30 Mbps.

Finally, I draw a chart between various low power Intel platforms, and that shows the Cherry Trail and Braswell are in the same ball bark, and if you really want a boost in performance you have to go with the much more expensive Core M platforms.

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3DMark Ice Storm results are divided by 20 in order to generate a readable chart. The storage part of chart also shows the FORESEE SSD used in Vorke V1 is not bad at all compared to other competitors, even against the more expensive MINIX NGC-1.

Vorke V1 User Experience

The benchmarks showed the mini PC has decent performance, with the only hiccup being that I was no able to run 3DMark at all, but others did.

I used to select Microsoft Edge during review due to better YouTute performance, but since I’ve now found out that disabling VP9 on Chrome and Firefox fixes video stuttering in YouTube, I decided to replace Edge with Chrome in Vorke V1 video review.

So the tests will be as follows:

  • Multi-tasking – Using Chrome, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing with Chrome
    • Loading multiple tab with CNX Software
    • Playing a 1080p YouTube Videos
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • Kodi 16.1 @ 4K resolution with 4K videos using H.265 or H.264 codecs, and HDMI audio pass-through

The performance and capabilities of Vorke V1 Braswell mini PC in those tests match exactly the ones in Cherry Trail Atom x7 mini PCs with 4GB RAM, with all tasks performing smoothly, and Asphalt 8 game that would benefit from higher frame rates. Kodi 16.1 can handle XVDA2 hardware decoding for 8-bit H.265 and H.264 videos up to 4K @ 30 fps, but 10-bit and VP9 videos fall back to software decoding, and the processor is not quite powerful enough to handle 4K that way. HDMI audio pass-through works for Dolby Digital and DTS,  but 7.1 audio formats such as TrueHD and DTS HD are not supported. You can still get audio using Kodi’s audio transcoding feature, or accepting down-mixing to PCM 2.0 audio.

I usually only check for thermal throttling during benchmarks and the tests done above, but I’ve now decided to push the devices a bit more by running OCCT stress tool, although I may switch to other stress testing tools in the future. The tool runs heavy load on four cores, and I can check CPU temperature and frequency, as well as throttling status using HWiNFO64 utility.

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I ran that test for a little over 3 hours, and Vorke V1 had no problems at all with the maximum temperature reached being 78 C,  well below the 90 C junction temperature. The frequency chart generated by the utility also shows the system was running at the turbo frequency (~2.24 GHz) for the whole time, except for a small dip.

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So you can expect a constant performance over time under any kind of loads.

Conclusion

I’m pleased with my experience with Vorke V1 mini PC, performance is good without throttling at any time, Windows 10 is activated, storage performance is very good, and both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi deliver excellent networking performance.  The only downsides I can think of are that it’s not fanless – the fan is always on but relatively quiet -, and the case design is much larger than the ones of competitors, and IMHO not quite as good looking. Another minor issue is that while 7mm 2.5″ SATA hard drives will fit without issues into the internal SATA, 9.5mm hard drives will slightly bend the bottom cover, and leave a tiny gap as explained in the unboxing and teardown post. But if you don’t care about the fan, and the design, and want something that works, I can highly recommend Vorke V1. I’m not a big fan of installing Ubuntu on devices where you have paid a Windows license, but Ubuntu 16.04 can be installed using the standard ISO, something you cannot do with Cherry Trail mini PCs without losing some features. I told GeekBuying they should provide a model without Windows, but they did not seem interested at all.

Vorke V1 price is also rather attractive, as while the standard price is $199.99 on GeekBuying, you can bring that down to $159.99 with VORKE40OFF coupon.  The only other seller that showed in a Google search was Banggood ($199.00).