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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.

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.

Running Ubuntu 16.04 on MeLE PCG03 Apo Mini PC

July 27th, 2017 8 comments

I completed my review of MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC with Windows 10 about two weeks ago, and at the time when I tried Ubuntu, all I got was a black screen. MeLE said they would release an Ubuntu image for the board soon, so I did not investigate further. The company has now released Ubuntu 16.04 Desktop ISO via a link on Twitter together with (partial) instructions, and the company told me another company had worked on the image. I sent the link to Linuxium, as in the past MeLE or that other company used his work without asking. I turns out the ISO was identical to Ubuntu 16.04 Desktop ISO released in April last year.

Anyway, I still got the black screen issue using that image, and that’s because I first failed to find the option in the BIOS to change boot to Linux. When the mini PC starts, press the Esc key to enter Aptio Setup Utility, go to Chipset->South Bridge, then OS Selection and select Intel Linux.

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Interestingly, you can also select Android, Windows 7 (I doubt it would work), and MSDOS, probably meaning FreeDOS in that case.

Since nobody made any work to specifically add support to MeLE PCG03 Apo to Ubuntu, I decided to use a more recent Ubuntu 16.04.2 Desktop image LTS instead, and flashed it to a USB drive using Startup Disk Creator in my Ubuntu computer. If you are using Windows, you could go with UltraISO as explained in MeLE’s instructions, or Rufus instead.

You can boot the drive either in Aptio Setup Utility, or by pressing F7 at boot time to enter boot device selection. In my case, I selected UEFI: JetFlashTranscend 4GB 8.07, Partition 1.

Shortly after I got the menu to try or install Ubuntu. I did not want to install it, as I would have probably had to reinstall Windows 10 after, since I won’t kept this mini PC, so I only tried it booting from the USB flash drive.

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As you can see most features just work with the Ubuntu ISO released by Canonical. I tested audio with headphones and HDMI by playing YouTube videos in Firefox browser.

Features Results
HDMI video OK
HDMI audio OK
VGA OK
Ethernet OK
WiFi OK
Bluetooth Bluetooth headset OK
Smartphone: Pairing OK, but can’t send or receive files
USB 2.0 port OK
USB 3.0 ports OK
SD slot OK
eMMC flash OK
Headphone Jack OK

The file transfer problem with Bluetooth is likely a software or interoperability problem between my phone and Ubuntu, as I’ve had the same issue on other Ubuntu devices.

The eMMC flash is also recognized, so you should be able to install Ubuntu – and replace Windows – to the flash too.

MeLE PCG03 Apo is sold for $159.20 including shipping on Aliexpress.

MeLE PCG35 Apo mini PC is Powered by Intel Celeron J3455 “Desktop” Processor, Supports 2.5″ SATA Drives

July 18th, 2017 25 comments

Many Apollo Lake mini PCs have come to market recently, but most of those are based on N-series such as Celeron N3450 or Pentium N4200, which are normally designed for what the company’s refer to as “Mobile” devices referring to regular or 2-in-1 hybrid laptops, while the company also offer J-Series specifically designed for Desktop application with a higher TDP and CPU and GPU clocks. I’ve just completed my review of MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC based on Celeron N3450 processor, but MeLE is about to launch a similarly spec’d PCG35 Apo model with a faster Celeron J3455 desktop processor instead, and support for 2.5″ SATA drives.

MeLE PCG03 Apo specifications (bold highlights show differences with PCG03 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 (soldered)
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash (soldered), 1x M.2 SSD slot, 1x SD slot, 1x 2.5″ SATA HDD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and VGA
  • Audio – Via HDMI, 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi & Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 Type-C port for data and port only
  • Misc – Power button, Kensington Lock, 75x75mm and 100x100mm VESA mount support, BIOS features: PXE boot, Wake-on-LAN, auto power-on after power loss
  • Power Supply  – Input: AC 100-240V, Output: DC 12V / 2A with UL, UK, GS, and SAA plugs
  • Dimensions – 198 x 125 x 39.50 mm
  • Weight – ~1 kg

If we compare Celeron N3450 to Celeron J3455 processors, we can see they share the same features, except the TDP (6W vs 10W), base and turbo CPU frequencies (1.1/2.2 GHz vs 1.5/2.3 GHz), and base and turbo GPU frequencies (200/700 MHz vs 250/750 MHz). I doubt there will be any noticeable differences in games, but for office applications, the higher base frequency may help, provided cooling is done right, as the mini PC is also fanless.

A properly licensed version of Windows 10 Home 64-bit is installed on the 32GB eMMC flash, and while you may consider reinstalling it on a faster and large M.2 or SATA SSD, bear in mind that the license won’t be valid if you do, and Windows may not show as activated due to Microsoft’s hardware requirements for discounted Windows 10 licenses.

MeLE PCG35A Apo will start selling on the 1st of August on Aliexpress for $179 including shipping and a 12-month limited warranty.

Review of MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless 4K Mini PC – Part 2: Windows 10, Benchmarks, and Kodi

July 12th, 2017 20 comments

MeLE PCG03 Apo is an update to MeLE PCG03 mini PC, and one of the rare Apollo Lake mini PCs to be both fanless, and support HDMI 2.0 output. I’ve already checked out the hardware design in “MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless Apollo Lake mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so in the second part of the review I tested Windows 10, focusing on HDMI 2.0 features, audio pass-through in Kodi, and performance and stability tests to see how well it compared to similar actively cooled mini PCs such as Voyo V1 VMac mini.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Setup and System Information

I connected a USB 3.0 drive to one of the USB 3.0 ports, USB keyboard and mouse, and RF dongle for a wireless gamepad to the other USB 2.0/3.0 ports, as well as USB type C to micro USB adapter itself connected to a micro USB OTG adapter in order to add a USB flash drive. Finally I added Ethernet, VGA and HDMI cables, and of course the power supply to complete the setup.

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A typical boot to the login window takes around 15 seconds, but the very first boot, I went through the usual Windows 10 setup wizard to select the language, create a user, etc…, as well as retrieve the latest Windows update. So that’s better than some other Windows 10 mini PCs which are already configured with a default user, and may raise suspicions.

I still wen to Control Panel->System and Security->System to check Windows 10 is indeed activated, and the mini PC is running Windows 10 Home 64-bit on an Intel Celeron N3450 with 4GB RAM as expected.

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The next step was to check HDMI 2.0 support that should allow 4K resolutions @ 60 Hz, and I could select and use 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 up to “60p Hz” without any issues.

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Since we have a VGA port too, I tested dual display setup using extended desktop mode with 3840×2160 resolution @ 60 Hz on my 4K TV, and 1600×1050 on my Full HD TV, as it was the maximum resolution I was offered.

No problem here again, and I could use to independent display one connected via HDMI 2.0, and the other via VGA.

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I’ve also included a screenshot of the dual display setup for those interested.

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I took the screenshot below after starting to download a few programs (but no installation), and 28.9GB storage is really tight for Windows 10, I could not install all programs used for the review, without uninstalling one or more. For example, if I install PCMark 8, complete the benchmark, I had to remove it before install PCMark 10, even when moving all download the USB partitions.

So may want to run Disk Cleanup from time to time, and uninstall some pre-installed games. I may also consider disabling hiberfil.sys file, learn how to do folder redirection and filesystem junction with mklink, which I used for Package Cache directory. You could do this to external USB hard drive, but performance may suffer while loading programs or during databases accesses, so you could consider adding a 80mm M.2 SSD inside the mini PC. I could not get one to test, but the company told me they tested three models available on Aliexpress:

Another thing I discovered is that when you “uninstall” Windows Store apps, there are not deleted, but for some reasons kept in C:\Programs Files\WindowsApps\Deleted directory, so I’d have to take ownership of the directory and delete it if you want to free up some more space.

The 32GB eMMC flash capacity is the most negative point I found about this mini PC, I wished the company could offer a 64GB version, or better a pre-installed 128 M.2 SSD [Update: I forgot this would be a problem with the discounted Windows 10 license]. This will not be a problem if you only plan to use the box as an HTPC, but for desktop use, you really need more external storage.

The mini PC recognized the NTFS and exFAT partition in my USB 3.0 drive, but the USB flash drive which I connected the USB type C port was not found. I tried to connect the keyboard there instead, and then to my computer via a USB type C to USB type A cable, but again no luck in both cases. It looks like the USB C port is not usable for anything. Maybe my sample has some issues.

I took a screenshot of the Device Manager for people who want a few more technical details about peripherals.

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… as well as HWiNFO64 which basically reports the same info as on Voyo V1 Vmac Mini since it’s based on the same Celeron N3450 processor.

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MeLE PCG03 Apo Benchmarks

Let’s start with PCMARK 8  HOME ACCELERATED 3.0 benchmark at 1080p60 resolution and framerate.

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The score here is surprisingly higher than on the fan cooled Voyo mini PC (1,566 points), and not too far to the score I got (1,846)with the Pentium N4200 version of Voyo V1 VMac Mini.

Since PCG03 Apo is a candidate to use as 4K desktop for simple tasks, I run the same benchmark using 3840×2160 @ 60p Hz video output, and the score dropped a little to 1,431 points.

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Please note that only two passes out of three could complete, as the benchmark failed somewhere during the third pass, but the average should not change, it’s just we can 2 test samples, instead of 3. I tried the benchmarks 3 times in total, and the two other times it failed during the first pass ending with no score. You can find the details results here.

FutureMark has recently released PCMark 10, so for future reference I also ran that version of the benchmark using 1080p60 output.

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Check this link for full results. All other benchmarks below were done using 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz video output / resolution.

Passmark PerformanceTest 9.0 confirmed the good performance of the device with 995.70 points, which compares to 998.4 points for Voyo V1 (N3450), and 1087 points for Voyo V1 (N4200).

Note the performance of Disk Mark is quite weaker here, and the Voyo models who got close to 3,000 points, but the latter had the C: drive in a 128GB SSD, instead of a 32GB flash, which explains the massive performance difference here.

I ran three 3DMark tests showing performance that’s almost as good as Voyo mini PC based on Pentium N4200 processor.

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Details for all three results can be found below:

CrystalDiskMark reports up to 258 MB/s sequential read speed, and 51 MB/s write speed, with random I/O up to 28 MB/s for the C: drive (32GB eMMC flash). That’s actually roughly the same as the 32GB eMMC flash in Voyo mini PC, but a big difference compared to the 500MB/s+, you got from the 128GB FORESEE SSD installed in the same devices.

Random I/O performance will be better in the SSD too, so you may considering re-installing Windows 10 in an M.2 SSD if you decide to purchase one [Update: Not a good idea, the Genuine Windows key in the device will be ignore, and Windows 10 will not be activated]. You’ll find BIOS, drivers, and instructions to re-install Windows 10 in MeLE’s forums.

USB 3.0 performance is fine with my USB driver achieving around 100MB/s read and write sequential speed.
The random I/Os number shows why you don’t want to install Windows or apps in such drive.

I used iperf 2.x to measure network performance with using dual duplex transfer over Gigabit Ethernet:

All good, so I connected the mini PC to my AC router…

… and performed WiFi upload and download tests with iperf:

  • Upload
  • Download

Those are decent results with my setup, i.e. the AC router is located about 4 meter from the DUT and with a wall in between. You can see a comparison with some 802.11ac Android TV boxes I’ve recently reviewed.

802.11ac WiFi Download and Upload Speed in Mbps

To give a better idea of the performance I compare it against other low power mini PCs based on Braswell (MINIX NGC-1, Vorke V1), Cherry Trail (Voyo V3, MINIX NEO Z83-4), Apollo Lake (Voyo V1 VMac Mini), and Skylake (Compute Stick) for various benchmarks.

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Note: Ice Storm scores divided by 10, Fire Strike scores multiplies by 4 for scale.

The Skylake compute stick really stands out despite having similar TDP, but it’s also much more expensive. Other mini PCs are closely matched, but the good news is the MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC fairs well in all benchmarks, except for storage speeds, but it can be made to match other systems if you use a M.2 SSD to run Windows instead of the 32GB eMMC flash.

Kodi 4K Video Playback and HDMI Audio Pass-through

I’ve installed the latest Kodi 17.3, and run it using 1920×[email protected] output.

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You don’t need to set the Windows resolution to 3840×2160 to watch videos, since Kodi will automatically do that if you go to Settings->Player Settings->Videos, and set Adjust display refresh rate to On start / stop, as it will also automatically adjust to the best resolution for the video.

Once I’d done that I tested my usual 4K video samples via SAMBA over Gigabit Ethernet unless otherwise stated:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Mostly OK, but the video seems to skip frames a few times
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – SAMBA: Audio cuts and buffering issue; HDD: OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not super smooth, but no audio delay like on ARM TV boxes. Almost watchable
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Maybe 10 fps (Software decode) and buffering issues
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues

Automatic frame rate switching is working well, but playing videos with bitrate over 50Mbps over SAMBA seems to be an issue with this mini PC. VP9 and 10-bit H.264 codecs are not supported by Apollo Lake processor, so Kodi revert to software decoding, but the processor is not powerful enough to handle those codecs at 4K. Hi10p up to 1080p is fine. One small issue worth noting is that almost all videos had a short audio cut after 16 to 19 seconds, but the problem would not reoccur at other points in the videos.

Apollo Lake mini PC are supposed to support audio pass-through, but HDMI 2.0 is implemented via an eDP to HDMI bridge which in the past has created issue with this features. So I enabled audio pass-through in Kodi by going to Settings->System Settings->Audio, enabling Allow passthrough, and selecting DIRECTSOUND: TX-NR636…. as the Passthrough output device before running the tests with various audio codecs.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

So only AC3 is supported. I changed to WASAPI output device instead, and the results are not much better.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

Disappointing, as HDMI 1.4 Apollo Lake mini PCs can normally handle DTS 5.1 as well even with DTS HD files.

User Experience, Stress Test, and Power Consumption

I did a user experience test like with other Windows 10 PCs with multi-tasking by launching an using ThunderBird, Firefox, Libre Office, and Gimp at the same, multi-tab browsing in Firefox playing some Flash games, and watching 4K YouTube videos. I also played Asphalt 8, and as shown in the section above used Kodi to watch videos. The experience felt very similar to other Apollo Lake mini PC with maybe apps not launching as fast due to the eMMC flash. I also run HWiNFO64 in sensor only mode during my tests and benchmarks, and CPU throttling was never reported by the program, so MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device with good thermal design.

I have not done any video this time, but if you’re new to Apollo Lake system, you may want to watch Voyo V1 Vmac Mini video below which should give you an idea of the performance.

I also ran AIDA64 Extreme stability test during 2 hours with HWiNFO64 also running side by side, and the CPU temperature never went above 79 °C with the average CPU clock speed being 1.6 GHz right between the base frequency (1.1 GHz) and turbo frequency (2.2 GHz).

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Power consumption is about 6.4W in idle mode with the USB 3.0 drive connected, 1.0W in sleep mode, and 0.0W in power off mode.

Conclusion

MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device that stays cool enough under load despite thanks to a good fanless thermal design, and HDMI 2.0 works as expected with 4K @ 60 Hz supported. The VGA port also allows for dual independent display setups. Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac WiFi are performing very well. The main downsides I can see are the small eMMC flash, USB type C port that would not work for anything (sample issue?), and HDMI audio pass-through is limited to Dolby Digital 5.1. The first issue can easily be solved by installing a larger (and faster) 80mm M.2 SSD inside the device.

If you are interested in this mini PC, you can purchase MeLE PCG03 Apo for $159.20 including shipping on Aliexpress. If the price is higher when you check it out, it may pay to wait until the week-end to get a better price.

[Update: MeLE’s answers to some of the issues raised in this review:

Read / Write speed
1. It is clear that MeLE PCG03 Apo (N3450) is far behind VOYO VMac Mini (N3450 and N4200) because MeLE follows Microsoft’s policy strictly to install the genuine Windows 10 Home as C: Disk on 32GB eMMC while VOYO does that on the 64GB or 128GB SSD.
2. According to the policy, the unit price for genuine Windows 10 Home on Apollo Lake mini PC is USD 45 at least if the storage capacity (as C: Disk) is equal or over 64GB. That is why user may see a 64GB SSD as C: Disk on VOYO VMac Mini while there is still a 32GB eMMC as D: Disk on the PCB board. It is a trick which has just been discovered and warned by Microsoft in China.
Audio Setting
1. I will check with technical team on how to make DD & DTS 7.1 working in Kodi as well, I will keep you updated.
2. It will get Audio 7.1 DD & DTS with LAV codecs using MPC-HC as player for example.
USB Type-C
1. It is actually a standard USB 3.0 interface converted into USB Type-C shape.
2. It only supports normal (not fast) power charging, and data transfer directly to USB Drive or HDD in external enclosure with Type-C interface.
3. For this point, we will update our product description on our official store on Aliexpress to make it more specific for every buyer to avoid any misunderstanding.
]

MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless Apollo Lake mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

June 8th, 2017 35 comments

You’ll now easily find mini PCs powered by Intel Apollo Lake processor, but many of them are actively cooled, and only support HDMI 1.4 output limited to 4K @ 30 Hz. MeLE PCG03 Apo, an update to the company’s PCG03 fanless mini PC, is powered by an Intel Celeron N3450 quad core processor, support HDMI 2.0 video output up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and is passively cooled. On top of that, it can also be upgraded with an M.2 SSD. The company has sent me a review for sample, and while I’ll focus on testing HDMI 2.0 support, audio pass-through, and whether the mini PC can handle high loads without CPU throttling in the second part of the review, I’ll first have a look at the hardware design today.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Unboxing

I’ve received the device in the usual black retail package showing the key features  with 4K UHD, HDMI 2.0, dual band WiFi, and USB type C.

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We have a quick rundown of the specifications on the side of the package.

The mini PC shops with a user manual in English, as well as a 12V/2A power supply with US, EU, UK, and AU plug adapters.

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The case design is the same as the older model with the top part made of plastic, and the bottom and rear panel made of metal.

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The front panel only comes with the power LED, and a window with the IR receiver. One of the side features a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, and the power button, while the rear panel comes with a USB type C port (supported features not documented), the power jack, a VGA port, a HDMI 2.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet, two more USB 3.0 ports, a 3.5mm headphone + microphone jack, and an external antenna.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Teardown

Since customers may add there own M.2 SSD, the device has been made  easy to open, and you just need to loosen 4 screws on the bottom plate, and 2 screws on the rear panel, and the top cover should come off easily.


We can see a large heatsink covering the processor, memory and eMMC flash, a battery with a button to clear the CMOS on the bottom left, and a SATA connector on the right. It’s not really usable, at not least not easily in this enclosure, so it may have been designed for another model with a 2.5″ SATA bay. We’ll find the M.2 connector on the right of the board, and on the left of the SATA port, as well as a spacer and screw to keep M.2 80mm SSD card into place.

They’ve built a “wall” to elevate the internal antenna connected to the wireless module to provide a better signal, and possibly avoid the metal part to interfere / block the WiFi signal. Three unused connectors and headers are also found in this area with a fan connector, a 7-pin connector, and an LPC header. A jumper is used to select
“auto” or  “normal”, probably referring to boot mode.

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I’ve taken out the four screws and springers on the heatsink, but it would not come out, and I also further loosen four screws that seem to hold the main board on the metal part of the case, but again it would stay firmly in place. So I gave up, as I did not want to damage it before the review.

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It’s still interesting to check out the board, and the various notable chips on the board. From top left to bottom right:

  • Realtek ALC269 audio coded for the headphone jack
  • M-TEK G24101SCGX Gigabit Ethernet transformer
  • ParadeTech PS175HDM DisplayPort 1.2 to HDMI 2.0a converter
  • ITE IT6513FN DisplayPort to VGA controller
  • Realtek RTS5170 card reader controller driver
  • Richtek RT5074A, probably a power management IC
  • Intel 3165D2W wireless module for 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi  and Bluetooth 4.0 LE

 

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I also took a side shot to show the different measures taken to cool the board with apparently a heatsink and thermal pad on the top, and another thermal pad, and thick metal plate connected to the bottom metal case.

I’d like to thank MeLE for sending their latest mini PC for review, and if interested, you can purchase it for $159.20 including shipping on their Aliexpress store.

Continue reading “Review of MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless 4K Mini PC – Part 2: Windows 10, Benchmarks, and Kodi“.

MeLE PCG03 Apo is a Fanless Apollo Lake mini PC with HDMI 2.0 Output

April 10th, 2017 16 comments

Many Apollo Lake mini PCs have come to market, but it’s still pretty hard to find a fanless consumer mini PC based on Intel Apollo Lake processor, and even harder if you also want  HDMI 2.0 output for 4K @ 60 Hz support. MeLE has been working on an upgrade of their PCG03 mini PC that brings all those features. PCG03 Apo fanless mini PC is powered by an Intel Celeron N3350 dual core processor with 4GB RAM, 32GB storage, and features HDMI 2.0 and VGA ports.

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MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Celeron N3450 quad core “Apollo Lake” processor @ 1.10 / 2.20 GHz with 12 EU Intel HD Graphics 500 (6W TDP)
  • System Memory – 4GB DDRL3L (soldered)
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC 5.0 flash (soldered), 1x M.2 SSD slot, 1x SD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and VGA
  • Audio – Via HDMI, 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 ac WiFi & Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB3.0 Type-C port
  • Misc – Power button, Kensington Lock, 75x75mm VESA mount support, BIOS features: PXE boot, Wake-on-LAN, BIOS reset button, auto power-on after power loss
  • Power Supply  – Input: AC 100-240V, Output: DC 12V / 2A with UL, UK, GS, and SAA plugs
  • Dimensions – 150 x 103 x 37 mm
  • Weight – 500 grams

The mini PC will run Windows 10 Home (64-bit) with English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Polish, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Russian and Arabic languages pre-installed. Linux support is not a given on Apollo Lake mini PCs, as I’ve recently found out with Beelink AP42 whose BIOS does not support Linux, despite being advertised with Linux support. Maybe there’s a better chance of Linux support with MeLE, since they’ve sold Ubuntu mini PCs in the past.

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MeLE PCG03 Apo is now listed for $199 on Aliexpress, but I’ve been told it will be on sale for $159 with free shipping by DHL to the US, Canada, Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Via AndroidPC.es

MeLE V9 4K Android TV Box Comes with a 3.5″ SATA Slot, a Cooling Fan

March 30th, 2017 2 comments

We’ve seen several devices based on Realtek RTD1295 processor. They all come with a SATA interface, either via an external connector like Zidoo X9S, a 2.5″ SATA bay like Beelink SEA I, or a 3.5″ SATA bay as found in Eweat R9 Plus. However, all those devices are fanless, and at least one person expressed concerns when using a device with an internal hard drive without active cooling. MeLE V9 fills that gap, as the RTD1295 TV box features a 3.5″ SATA slot and an active fan for cooling both the device and the hard drive.

MeLE V9 specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash + 3.5″ SATA slot + SD/SDXC card slot
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output up to 4K @ 60 Hz with 10-bit HDR support, AV port, and HDMI 2.0 input for digital signage, surveillance, recording,
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, AV port (stereo audio), 1x S/PDIF output,
  • Video Playback – 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 60 fps, 3D Blu-ray, 3D MVC  (ISO/MKV) etc…
  • Audio Features – 7.1 channel audio pass-through with support for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HS Master Audio
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, Dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • USB – 1x USB type C port, 3x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – Power button, front panel LCD display, IR receiver, 40x30mm fan for cooling
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A
  • Dimensions – 255 x 165 x 55 mm
  • Weight – 1.5 kg

The box runs Android 6.0, but the company told me it lacked OpenWrt found on some competitor’s models. The device ships with a power supply with UK, EU, US, and AU plug adapter, a remote control, a HDMI cable, and a Quick Start Guide.

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MeLE V9 TV box is now sold for $149.25 on Aliexpress including shipping. Note that the “normal price” is $199, and in the past I’ve seen the company often run short promotion for the device, while keeping the “normal price” most of the days. So if you are quick or patient depending on the price at the time, you should be able to get it for under $150.