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MeLE PCG63-APL4 Fanless Gemini Lake Mini PC To Launch in Q2 2018

January 10th, 2018 12 comments

Gemini Lake mini PCs are being announced at CES 2018, and we can expect them to sell in Q2 2018 for a price similar to Apollo Lake models all other features being equal. We’ve already seen ZOTAC ZBOX PI226 & PI336, ASUS unveiled their PN40 mini PC with few details, and of course Intel’s own GLK NUCs should be brought to market soon enough.

MeLE has made some decent Apollo Lake mini PCs in the past year with their PCG35 Apo and PCG03 Apo models, so it’s no surprise the company is now showcasing their upcoming PCG63-APL4 based on Gemini Lake processors at CES 2018.MeLE PCG63-APL4 specifications:

  • SoC (one or the other)
    • Intel Celeron J4005 dual core Gemini Lake processor up to 2.0/2.7 GHz with 12EU Intel UHD Graphics 600 @ up to 700 MHz; 10W TDP
    • Intel Celeron J4105 quad core Gemini Lake processor up to 1.5/2.5 GHz with 12EU Intel UHD Graphics 600 @ up to 750 MHz; 10W TDP
    • Intel Pentium J5005 quad core Gemini Lake processor up to 1.5/2.8 GHz with 18EU Intel UHD Graphics 605 @ up to 800 MHz; 10W TDP
  • System Memory – Up to 8GB LPDDR4
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash, M.2 SSD slot (40 and 80mm), SATA slot for 2.5″ HDD/SSD, SD card slot
  • Display – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz, VGA
  • Audio – 3.5mm headphone jack, audio output via HDMI
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2
  • USB – 3x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 3.1 type C port, 1x USB 2.0 port
  • Misc – Security lock, power button, window for IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 12V via power barrel jack
  • Dimensions – TBD

PCG63-APL4 is quite a confusing as it sounds a like “Apollo Lake 4”, using something like PCG63-GLK1 may have more sense.

The complains said they plan to support both Windows 10 or Ubuntu, but last year, they completely ignored Ubuntu, and AFAICR did not launch any Ubuntu models, like they did in 2016. Mass production is scheduled to start at the end of March 2018, which probably means sales will start in early Q2 2018. No pricing info was provided.

Via Liliputing

Linux Benchmarks – Intel J3455 Apollo Lake vs Z3735F Bay Trail vs RK3399 and Other ARM Platforms

October 26th, 2017 68 comments

Since I’ve just installed Ubuntu 17.10 on MeLE PCG35 Apo, I decided I should also run some benchmarks comparing with other ARM and x86 Linux platforms I’ve tested in the past.I was particularly interested to compare the performance of Intel Apollo Lake processors (Celeron J3455 in this case) against higher end ARM processors like Rockchip RK3399 (2x A72, 4x A53) since systems have a similar price (~$150+), as well as against the older Bay Trail processor to see the progress achieved over the last 2 to 3 years.

To do so, I used Phoronix Benchmark Suite against Videostrong VS-RK3399 results (RK3399 development board):

The benchmark first issued a warning about “powersave” governor, but I still went ahead, and once completed I change it to “performance” governor:

…and ran the tests again. All results are available on OpenBenchmarking.

Let’s address the governor results first. cpufreq-info reports that powersave governor can also switch between 800 MHz and 2.30 GHz (turbo freq).

As we’ll see from the results below pitting “MeLE PCG35 Apo – Ubuntu 17.10” (with powersave) and “MeLE PCG35 Apo- Ubuntu 17.10 Performance” that the governor settings did not matter one bit on the results, at least for the six benchmarks I ran.

Note that “MeUbuntu 14.04.3” represents MeLE PCG02U TV stick running Ubuntu 14.04.3. Every platform runs a different OS and kernel, so keep in mind the results may differ slightly (up or down) with different version. But as we’ll see the differences in performance are large enough that it likely does not matter that much.
John the Ripper password cracker, a multi-threaded benchmark, shows the Apollo Lake processor is clearly ahead of Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core processor, and the fastest ARM platform, Banana Pi M3, is equipped with an Allwinner A83T octa-core Cortex A7 processor @ 2.0 GHz. The Bay Trail system is over  twice as slow as the Apollo Lake one, also note the larg-ish standard deviation (+/- 83.72) due to some cooling problem in the small form factor.

C-Ray is another multi-threaded benchmark, and here Rockchip RK3399 SoC does fairly well, but still but quite as well as the Celeron J3455.

Smallpt, yet another multi-threaded benchmark, does not really change the order with MeLE PCG35 Apo well ahead.

Himeno, a linear solver of pressure Poisson, must be using some x86 specific instructions or optimizations, as Intel platforms are well ahead, with Celeron J3455 about 2.5x faster than Rockchip RK3399 board.

OpenSSL is the domain of Intel platforms likely benefiting from Advanced Encryption Standard instruction set (AES-NI). Performance improvement between Bay Trail and Apollo Lake is also impressive here. You’d need 10 Raspberry Pi 3 to match MeLE PCG35 Apo in this particular test.


Intel is normally better with SIMD accelerated multimedia application, and FLAC audio encoding (single threaded) confirms that.

I was expecting a close fight between Rockchip RK3399 and Celeron J3455, but RK3399 only has two fast Cortex A72 cores against four x86 cores in the Intel Apollo Lake SoC.

 

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.

MeLE PCG35 Apo Mini PC Review – Part 2: Windows 10 Home

October 23rd, 2017 7 comments

Laptops and mini PCs powered by the new generation of Intel Gemini Lake processors are coming soon, but companies are still launching Apollo Lake based products with various features. MeLE PCG35 Apo mini PC is one of them, and what makes it interesting compared to most of the competition is support for 80mm M.2 SSDs and 2.5″ SATA drives, on top of featuring a Celeron J3455 processor, one of the most powerful of the family. I took photos of the mini PC, accessories, and internal design in the first part of the review, so I’ll report about my experience with Windows 10 Home, explain how to manage the different drives, and test stability under load.

MeLE PCG35 Apo Setup, Drives Configuration, Display Settings

Last time, I’ve showed how to install an M.2 SSD and 2.5″ SATA hard drive inside MeLE PCG35 Apo, so I just have to connect a few cables (HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, Power) and USB peripherals with USB keyboard, USB mouse, and USB hard drive.

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When we connect the power the power button should be red, and we can press it to start the device, the power LED changes to blue, and within a few seconds we’ll be greeted by the setup wizard asking us to select the language. With MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro, I had Cortana assisting me through the process, but it did not happen here, so it must be a Windows 10 Pro only feature (TBC).

The process was actually the same as on other Windows 10 Home mini PC with configuration for keyboard, connectivity, privacy, user setup and so on. Once the setup was done, I went to check for my drives

C: is the eMMC flash with Windows 10, D: is the M.2 SSD, and E: and F: are respectively the NTFS and exFAT partition of the USB drive. I had to format D: to be able to use it, but my SATA HDD was nowhere to be seen. I’ve using the drive for Windows and Linux reviews, which explains why Windows did not show it. So I started Disk Management.

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Sure enough, I could see all the 4 drives with Disk 0 being my SATA drive. I deleted and create the partition for Disk 0 again, assigned letter G: to it, and formatted it with NTFS within Disk Management program.
I now had access to all my drives as shown in the screenshot above. A typical use would be as follows:

  • C: – eMMC flash, reversed for Windows 10
  • D: – M.2 SSD – Programs, caches, databases (e.g. email client data), and potentially user directory (not recommended). Best sequential and random I/O performance, but higher costs
  • G: – SATA HDD – Data like documents, photos, videos, large downloads, etc… that do not really benefit from fast random I/Os.
  • E: / F: (Normally only one drive) – Potentially for backup purpose

As we’ll see below, the M.2 SSD are much better performance compare to the eMMC flash, so you’d possibly gain a little bit performance by moving Windows 10 to the SSD, and use the eMMC flash for something else. The only problem is that it does not comply with Microsoft’s discounted Windows 10 license, which prohibits installation media larger than 32GB, so Windows would not be activated if you move it to another drive. Linuxium managed to move Windows 10 from the eMMC to SSD and keep it activated on Beelink AP34, but the instructions are a little complicated, and there’s guarantee it will work overtime, as Microsoft may change the way it detects the activation. So I’d recommend to keep Windows 10 on the eMMC flash, and if you need more space for program and/or better performance, add an M.2 SSD.

Now Windows will still try to install program to the C: drive by default. You can usually change that while installing programs, but it’s easy to forget, so it’s better to change the default to D:, or whatever the drive letter for your SSD. Launch Regedit, and go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion to change all default paths to D:.

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You may also consider moving your email client and browser(s)’ profiles to the SSD drive both to save space on the eMMC flash, and gain better performance. I have not done it for the review.

Then I right clicked on Documents, Photos,  Videos, Music, and Downloads folder in the File Explorer, selected Properties->Location, and change C: to G: in order to make sure all files are stored on my hard drive as shown below for the Downloads directory.

I did not have to remove any programs during this review, but at the end, I only had just under 4GB free space on the eMMC flash (C:).

WinDirStat can help you find out what takes space. For example, the screenshot below shows applications installed from Windows Store – such as Asphalt 8: Airborne – are found in the C drive. So you may want to move that directory, as I have already explained in MeLE PCG03 Apo review.

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Most people will probably just use an HDMI display with 1920×1080 resolution, but the mini PC also supports 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 resolution @ up to 60 Hz. Windows 10 Home will however show a message about “optimal resolution” being 1920×1080 when you do so.

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As with most other MeLE mini PC, PCG35 Apo also comes with an extra VGA port which allows for dual display setup, and I had no troubles using it.

Dual Display Setup – Click to Enlarge

The mini PC is also equipped with a USB type C port, but note that it is only for data (like another USB 3.0 port), and can not be used as a DisplayPort output, nor for fast charging.

MeLE PCG35 Apo System Information

Going to Control Panel > System and Security > System shows the mini PC is indeed powered by an Intel Celeron J3455 processor @ 1.50 GHz with 4 GB RAM, and runs an activated version of Windows 10 Home 64-bit.

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I’ve also taken a screenshot of Device Manager for people waiting more technical details.

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HWiNFO64 gives some more details about Celeron J3455, and unsurprisingly it has the same features as Celeron N3450, but the base frequencies (CPU HFM (Max)) and turbo frequencies are different.

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The memory clock (800 MHz) is lower than on MeLE PCG03 Apo (933.33 MHz = 14 x 66.7 MHz).

MeLE PCG35 Apo (Intel Celeron J3455) Benchmarks

As we’ve just seen above, and confirmed on Intel website, Celeron N3450 and J3455 are basically the same SoC, but later has higher base and turbo clocks for both CPU and GPU, resulting in a higher 10W TDP. So in theory, we should expect PCG35 Apo (J3455) to be very slightly faster than PCG03 Apo (N3450).

I’ve started benchmarking with PCMARK 10 and 8.

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MeLE PCG35 Apo achieved respectively 1,391 and 1,724 points for both, which compares to 1,334 and 1,767 points on PCG03 Apo. So both platforms actually perform about the same on those two benchmarks.

Passmark PerformanceTest 9.0 shows quite a different story with PCG35 Apo only getting 790.7 points against against 995.7 for PCG03 Apo.

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If we look at the detailed CPU Mark is higher, Disk Mark similar, Memory Mark a little lower, but most of the points are lost because of 2D graphics mark, and especially 3D graphics mark (163 vs 335.9). Very odd.

I’ve also run  Passmark 8 to compare with older results.

However, 3DMark results are much closer, with on average PCG35 Apo performing very slightly better.

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Detailed results:

  • Ice Storm – PCG35 Apo: 26,075 points; PCG03 Apo: 23,194 points
  • Fire Strike – PCG35 Apo: 248 points; PCG03 Apo: 275 points
  • Sky diver – PCG35 Apo: 865 points; PCG03 Apo: 945 points
  • Cloud Gate – PCG35 Apo: 2,322 points; PCG03 Apo: 2,073 points

For most results above, I doubt the user would notice any differences, except possibly for 3D graphics in Passmark 9.0 (I repeated the test twice to make sure).

Switching to storage performance with CrystalDiskMark 5.2.2 x64. The 32GB eMMC flash performs as expected with 164 MB/s sequential reads, and ~80 MB/s sequential writes, and average random I/O.

KingDian N480 SSD attached to the M.2 slot is much faster both for sequential R/W and random I/Os, and the results are about the same as during the SSD review.


I also tested the SATA hard drive, and again the results are as expect with around 110 MB/s sequential R/W speeds, and very poor random I/O due to slow seek time on mechanical drives.

Gigabit Ethernet is working well, as per iperf 2.9.x full duplex transfer results:

I had no troubles to connect to WiFi 802.11ac.

But for some reasons, data transfers results with iperf  were quite asymmetrical, with upload…

much slower than download:

Upload was similar to download speed in MeLE PCG35 APo (~250 to 275 Mbps). I repeated upload tests at three different times, but they were all around 55 to 57 Mbps.

WiFi Throughput in Mbps

I’ve pitted MeLE PCG35 Apo against other low power mini PCs in the chart below, including systems based on Braswell (MINIX NGC-1, Vorke V1), Cherry Trail (Voyo V3, MINIX NEO Z83-4), Apollo Lake (Voyo V1 VMac Mini, MeLE PCG03 Apo), and Skylake (Compute Stick) for various benchmarks.

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Note: The scores have been adjusted for easier reading on single chart., e.g. Ice Storm scores divided by 20, Fire Strike scores multiplies by 4 for scale, etc..

Kodi 4K Video Playback and HDMI Audio Pass-through

I also installed Kodi 17.4 to test a few 4K H.265, VP9, and H.264 videos from the USB drive, since I could not connect to Windows network (SMB):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264) – Not always smooth
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (H.265 Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, except for two audio cuts at the beginning
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • 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, 23.976 fps) – OK
  • 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 also working well with the resolution changed to 3840×2160 when playing video, and the refresh rate matching the one of the framerate video. VP9 is using software decode, and does not play well.

So I enabled audio pass-through in Kodi by going to Settings->System Settings->Audio, switching to Advanced mode, enabling Allow passthrough, and selecting WASAPI: HDMI TX-NR636 (Intel Display Audio)…. as the Passthrough output device. You should then get a list fof HD audio codecs to enable / disable, and I switched them all on: AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS-HD since those are supported by Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

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 (no audio)
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0 (no audio)
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0 (no audio)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0 (no audio)
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0 (no audio)
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0 (no audio)
DTS:X PCM 2.0 (no audio)

Same results, and disappointment, as with MeLE PCG03 Apo, the eDP 1.2 to HDMI 2.0 chip might get in the way with audio pass-through, as Apollo Lake HDMI 1.4 usually support AC3 and DTS at least.

User Experience, Stress Test, and Power Consumption

Beside playing with Kodi 17.4, I also did a user experience test like with other Windows 10 PCs

  • Multi-tasking – Launching and using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing with Firefox & Microsoft Edge
    • Loading multiple tab in Firefox with CNX Software blog
    • Playing Candy Crush Saga in Firefox
    • Playing a 4K (VP9) YouTube Videos in Youtube and Microsoft Edge
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8

It’s hard to see much differences between all those Apollo Lake platform, but in this case 4K Youtube videos were unwatchable in Firefox, even after disabling VP9 with h264ify extension. 4K VP9 YouTube video played fine in Microsoft Edge with no frames dropped (as per stats for nerd). However, I could head audio cuts every few minutes. I also used HWiNFO64 in sensor only mode, and thermal throttling was never reported by the program…, so MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device with good thermal design. You can watch Voyo VMac V1 video if you’ve never an Apollo Lake mini PC in action.

After that I tested system stability with AIDA64 Extreme, and for a little over 30 minutes, everything went fine, but then I noticed a sudden drop in temperature, but no CPU throttling detected. I waited a bit longer, and surely enough it happened again, and I could see the CPU frequency drop as low as 400 MHz before creeping back up to 2.2 GHz within a few seconds.

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As you can see from the red highlight, still not thermal throttling… But if we scroll down just bit we can see “Power Limit Exceeded” for Core #1, #2, and #3, as well as as “Package/Ring Power Limit Exceeded”.  So somehow the power used by the chip must have gone over 10W, and it automatically reduced the frequency.


If we continue with the stress test up to the hour, we can see waves in the temperature chart every few minutes, and each time frequency drops to around 400 MHz, then up to 900 MHz, etc… and up to 2.2 GHz. So performance is not perfectly constant.

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This must also be related to temperature, as during the first 30 minutes, CPU temperature was lower, and I did not see any sudden drops in temperature. That means the mini PC does not run at full capacity all the time when under load. I rebooted the computer, and ran HWiNFO64 while using the computer for web browsing, playing videos, and checking email, and the same power limit were exceeded too. My room temperature is close to 30°C, and you experience may differ at 20 or 25°C, as it should take longer for the problem to occur, if ever.

I also measured power consumption in various cases:

  • Power off – 0.4 to 1.1 Watts
  • Sleep – 1.3 Watts
  • Idle – 9.3 Watts (note that’s with SSD, SATA and USB HDDs attached)
  • Kodi 17.4 4K 10-bit H.265 Video Playback from USB HDD – 15 to 18 Watts
  • AIDA64 Stress Test – 18 to 20.1 Watts (Drops to around 13.1 Watts during temperature drops)

Conclusion

If you’d expected MeLE PCG35 Apo to perform better than MeLE PCG03 Apo you’ll be disappointed. Benchmarks are similar, but cooling? did not work as well with the system CPU frequency dropping from time to time due to “exceeded power limit”. Cooling is more tricky on that model due to the 10W Celeron J3455 SoC, and the fact that I tested it with both M.2 SSD and SATA HDD installed inside the device. However, HWiNFO64 never detected any over heating, but only “over powering”. Maybe there’s a BIOS option for that but I did not investigate yet. My room temperature is close to 30°C, so it may have impacted the results too.

Other features are very similar to PCG03 Apo with dual display support (HDMI 2.0 + VGA), 4K 60 Hz video output and playback, and so on. However I found some issues with 3D graphics in PerformanceTest 9.0 benchmark, and WiFi upload speed is quite slower than PCG03 (although most people will only care about download). I’ll try Ubuntu 17.10 installed to the M.2 SSD in a few days.

The main selling point of MeLE PCG35 Apo is support for internal 2.5″ hard drive, and if you don’t do anything too demanding you could purchase the mini PC for $179.99 shipped on Aliexpress (Wait for the week-end if the price is higher when you check it out). If you don’t care about the internal SATA bay, MeLE PCG03 Apo going for $159.20 including shipping is probably a better option.

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

September 18th, 2017 13 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.2 SSD 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.

[Udpate: Continue reading:

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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.