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MINIX NEO N42C-4 Pro Review – Part 3: Ubuntu / Linux

In the second part of MINIX NEO N42C-4 review (and on linuxium website), we looked at the device and the performance using Windows.  In this third part, we will look at how to install and the performance of using Linux (Ubuntu).

The BIOS does not include an option to select Linux as a boot OS and a standard Ubuntu ISO written to a USB will not boot. So to install Ubuntu to the eMMC as dual-boot first it was necessary to respin a standard Ubuntu ISO using my ‘isorespin.sh’ script with the ‘–apollo’ option, and which after creating a LiveUSB using the ‘dd’ command was used to boot and install Ubuntu.

First let’s remind ourselves of the hardware configuration by running some standard Linux commands:

This shows the memory will be dual-channel once the second slot (bank:1) is populated and also confirms that the eMMC 5.1 (mmc0) is running the faster HS400 interface. Headphones shows up as ‘Line Out’ in the sound settings and are selectable along with HDMI/DisplayPort and S/PDIF audio output:

Running my standard set of benchmarking tools shows performance is as expected:

and can be compared with other Intel Apollo Lake devices:

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Looking at real-world usage cases the first tested was watching a 4K video using Google Chrome was unwatchable with dropped frames:

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however at 1080p the video is watchable:

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Running Kodi videos encoded with the VP9, H.264 and H.265 or HEVC codecs used hardware for decoding:

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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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The internal fan was inaudible but works and prevents the device from heats up playing videos:

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with the external surface temperature not exceeding 38°C during continuous video playback:

Ethernet throughput measured using ‘iperf’ shows 941 Mbits/sec for download and 940 Mbits/sec for upload. For Wifi connectivity the 2.4 GHz throughput showed 42.2 Mbits/sec for download but only 30.1 Mbits/sec for upload. However 5.0 GHz throughput is good with download measuring 133 Mbits/sec and upload of 146 Mbits/sec.

Power consumption for the device was measured as:

  • Power off – 0.5 Watts
  • Boot menu – 4.0 Watts
  • Idle – 4.1 Watts
  • CPU stressed – 10.0 Watts
  • 1080p video – 9.3 Watts

When I reviewed Windows on the device I also added 4GB of RAM and installed a 240GB M.2 SSD. The updated memory hardware configuration now looks like:

After successfully installing Windows to the M.2 drive I also installed Ubuntu to the eMMC:

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And then after successfully reinstalling Windows on the eMMC flash, I also reinstalled Ubuntu on the M.2:

with no issues booting either OS from the BIOS boot menu (F11) showing that there is flexibility in installing Ubuntu either as dual-boot sharing a drive or using a dedicated drive.

Power consumption increased slightly with the extra RAM and M.2 drive and was measured as:

  • Power off – 0.5 Watts
  • Boot menu – 4.6 Watts
  • Idle – 4.6 Watts
  • CPU stressed – 10.9 Watts
  • 1080p video – 8.5 Watts

Finally given the price it is clear that MINIX have positioned this device as a Windows platform as evidenced by the lack of a Linux option in the BIOS. It performs well under Ubuntu however if that was to be the only installed OS then an Intel NUC or similar barebones device should probably be considered because the primary selling point for this device is the inclusion of the activated Windows 10 Pro license.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Mini PC Review – Part 2: Windows 10 Pro

January 7th, 2018 9 comments

MINIX NEO N42C-4 is the first Apollo Lake mini PC from the company, which also happens to be their first one with a fan, using internal antennas for WiFi and Bluetooth, and offering user-upgradeable storage and memory thanks to M.2 and SO-DIMM slots. The device also features three video output via HDMI 2.0, mini DiplayPort, and USB Type C  ports supporting up to three independent display.

I’ve received a sample and already checked the hardware, and showed how to install an M.2 SSD and SO-DIMM RAM to the device in the first part of the review entitled  MINIX NEO N42C-4 Triple Display Capable Mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown, so I’ll report my experience with Windows 10 Pro in the second part of the review, and there should also be a third part specifically dealing with Linux support.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Setup, System Info, BIOS

The device is basically an update to MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro mini PC, also running Windows 10 Pro but on a Cherry Trail processor instead, and maybe of the part will be similar so I’ll refer to that review from time to time.

I first connected the mini PC with the usual peripherals and cables including USB keyboard & mouse, USB 3.0 hard drive, HDMI cable to my 4K TV, Ethernet cable, and since the computer also comes with a USB type C port supporting DisplayPort Alt mode, I also connected Dodocool DC30S USB-C hub in order to get a second HDMI display.

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Time to connect the power supply, press the power button for two or three seconds to get started, with the blue LED on the front panel turning on, and shortly after getting to the Windows 10 Pro Welcome screen, where you could use Cortana voice assistant (or not) in order to go through the setup wizard to select the country and keyboard, accept the EULA, sign-in or create a user, set privacy settings and so on.

I won’t into details since the procedure is exactly the same as their previous moduel, and you can check the Windows 10 Pro setup wizard section of NEO Z83-4 Pro review to get more photos about the initial setup. What was different this time is that a large Windows update (2 to 3GB) was available, and I waited for it to complete before accessing Windows desktop, but as you can see from the photo below there’s also an option to “go to my desktop while my PC updates”.

Now we can get to the desktop, and check info about the Windows 10 license, and basic hardware info in Control Panel-> System and Security -> System. The mini PC runs an activated version of Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, and is equipped with an Intel Pentium N4200 CPU, 4GB RAM as advertised.

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I took a screenshot of the “Devices and drives” section in “This PC” right after initial setup, and the 32GB eMMC flash has a 28.1 GB Windows partition (C: drive) with only 7.72GB free, but later on a pop-up will show up asking whether we want to delete the old Window 10 update files, and free space will increase a lot.

The D: drive is the 240GB M.2 SSD I installed myself, but since I partitioned it for another review with EXT-4 and NTFS, only the 59.6GB NTFS shows up. E: and F: drives are the NTFS and EXFAT partition on the USB 3.0 drives, so all my storage devices and (Windows compatible) partitions have been detected and mounted properly.

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I tool a Device Manager screenshot for people wanting more technical details, and since we can see Trusted Platform Module 2.0 shown in security devices, I also launched tpm.msc “Trusted Platform Module Management” program to confirm the TPM was indeed ready for use.

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HWiNFO64 shows the same information as for other Intel Pentium N4200 systems, except for the CPU microcode (μCU) which has been updated to version 24, and hardware specific items like the motherboard name, and BIOS date and version.

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Since I don’t own any DisplayPort capable display, so I could not test triple display support, but I could still work with a dual setup display using the HDMI 2.0 port and USB type C port via my USB-C hub as shown in the photo below. You may want to read the video output ports limitation listed in the first part of the review to make sure the system meets your requirements if you plan to use three displays.

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Pressing “Esc” at boot time will allow you to access Aptio Setup Utility, often referred to as “BIOS”.

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In previous models, MINIX had added several extra features in Advanced->MINIX Feature Configuration, but when I went there I could only find EarPhone Standard selection, no more restore AC power loss, wake-on-lan, etc…But then I found the other extra MINIX options had moved to Advanced->Power Management Configuration, and we still have WoL, resotre AC power loss, RTC wakeup, etc.. functions. So all is well…

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Benchmarks

The performance of Intel Apollo Lake processor is now well know, but let’s still go through the usual benchmark to make sure everything is working as expected.

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A PCMARK 10 score of 1,568 points is actually quite better than the score I obtained with MeLE PCG03 Apo (Celeron N3450 – 1,334 points),  and MeLE PCG35 Apo (Pentium J3455 – 1,391 points), both quad core fanless Apollo Lake mini PCs, so it looks like the fan may be helping, as well as the faster storage as we’ll see below. For reference, NEO Z83-4 Pro’s PCMARK 10 score was 896 points, so there’s a clear performance benefit here.

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NEO N42C-4 passmark 9.0 score: 768.3 points. In this case, the mini PC is slower than MeLE PCG35 Apo with 790.7, which should be expected since Pentium J3455 (1.5/2.3 GHz, 10W TDP) is supposed to be a bit faster than Pentium N4200 (1.1/2.5 GHz, 6W TDP). However, if we compare to Voyo (V1) VMac Mini‘s score (1087.0 points) also based on Pentium N4200 processor, then it’s disappointing. But there’s an explanation, as PassMark attributes a significant share of the score to storage performance, and Windows 10 is install in the faster SSD in the Voyo mini PC, breaching Microsoft’s low cost license agreement in the process… However, there’s also another element of the score that is weak in N42C-4: 3D graphics mark (132.2 vs 325.8), and both systems were configured to use 1080p60.

I’ve run the 3G graphics mark manually again to make sure the issue was reproducible (it is), and get some data to compare to similar system with better score in the future.

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However, switching to 3DMark’s 3D graphics benchmarks, MINIX NEO N42C-4 performs better than Voyo V1 with respectively 366, 1,567, and 2,658 points for respectively Fire Strike 1.1, Sky diver 1.0, and Cloud gate 1.1, against 267, 1,384, and 2,347 points for the Voyo mini PC. Ice Storm benchmark failed to complete on NEO N42C-4 after three tries, even after a reboot, so there may be a problem with the 3D graphics drivers.

Links to results:

MINIX used a pretty good 32GB eMMC flash with sequential read up to 307.5 MB/s and writes around 81 MB/s, nearly twice as fast as their MINIX NEO Z83-3 Pro for reads, but random I/Os are roughly the same.

I also benchmarked KingDian N480 M.2 SSD, and results were even better than in MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC with significantly better sequential and random speeds in most tests.

USB 3.0 NTFS write speed was rather poor (35 to 45MB/s) in MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro mini PC, but NEO N42C-4 has no such problem getting over 100 MB/s for both read and write.

Full duplex Gigabit Ethernet performance is excellent:

802.11ac WiFi performance is also very good, and much better than MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro:

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So in my case, having switched to internal antennas do not negatively affect performance at all.

I’ve compared MINI NEO N42C-4 mini PC to other Apollo Lake mini PCs, as well as Cherry Trail based MINIX NEO Z83-4, and an Intel Core M3-6Y30 Compute Stick, whenever scores are available. First, there’s a clear advantage of upgrading from the Cherry Trail model to the Apollo Lake one, N42C-4 has the best eMMC storage performance (although systems run Windows 10 on an SSD will be faster), and usually performs better than other Apollo Lake mini PCs, except for Passmark 9.0 due to poor 3D graphics issues in that benchmarks.

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Note that the values above have been adjusted with different multipliers for each benchmarks (e.g. 3DMark Fire Strike multiplied by 5) in order to display all benchmarks in a single chart.

MINIX NEO Z83-4 Stress Testing, Power Consumption, and Fan Noise

 

I also use the device as a desktop computer, doing my usual tests such as multi-tasking with Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Firefox, etc, as well as multitab web browser, YouTube, playing Aaphast 8: Airborne game, etc… It works well with a user experience similar to most Apollo Lake mini PC, and the usual caveat like YouTube 4K working better in Microsoft Edge, but usual in Chrome/Firefox as long as you disable VP9. Whether Kodi 17.6 works suitably well with depending on your requirements. Automatic frame rate switching, HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby Digital 5.1, and 4K H.265 / H.264 are usually all working, but VP9 is using software decode and is quite slow, pass-through for TrueHD and DTS HD is not working, and from time to time some H.265 videos just show a black screen.

I stress-tested the mini PC using Aida64’s stability test for two hours, and CPU temperature never exceeded 60°C, so no thermal throttling problem at all, and it should make a good mini PC in relatively hot environments. CPU frequency averaged 1.8 GHz.

 

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While there was not thermal throttling, the power limit was exceeded during spikes to burst frequencies, but I’d assume this may be normal behavior.

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While the mini PC comes with a fan it is incredibly quiet, and if my main computer – which I admit is rather noisy – completely overwhelm whatever noise comes from NEO N42C-4. When I turn off all other equipment, I cannot hear anything while idle, unless I place my hear close to the device, in which case I hear some low level noise, either the fan turning slowing, or another source of noise. Under load, it’s possible to hear the fan, but again noise is very low.

I used GM1352 sound level meter, placing the device about 2cm above the enclosure (since I don’t happen to own an anechoic chamber), and as you can see from the table below measured sound levels are really low compared to a device like Voyo VMac Mini.

Noise Level (dBA)
Ambient voise (aka Silence) 38.5 to 38.9
MINIX NEO N42C-4 Idle 39.1 to 39.5
MINIX NEO N42C-4 Stress test 39.7 to 40.4
Voyo Vmac Mini – Idle 52.3
Voyo Vmac Mini – Stress test 52.5 to 57.5

Finally some power consumption numbers without USB-C hub, nor USB 3.0 expansion drive unless otherwise noted:

  • Power off –1.1 to 1.2 Watts
  • Sleep – 1.2 Watts
  • Idle – 6.4 Watts
  • Aida64 stress test – 13.4 Watts
  • Kodi 4K H.264 from HDD – 14.3 to 16 Watts
  • Kodi 4K H.265 from HDD – 15 to 17.1 Watts

Conclusion

If you’ve been using MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro mini PCs, MINIX NEO N42C-4 will offer a nice upgrade with significantly better performance, and all some problems I found in the Cherry Trail  device are gone: USB 3.0 NTFS write speed is normal (100 MB/s), and 802.11ac WiFI performance is excellent, the best I’ve tested so far (with iperf). Compared to other Apollo Lake mini PCs, the performance is also a bit higher, running temperature is very low (< 60 °C) thanks to the quiet fan, and you’ve got a TPM 2.0 chip, VESA mount, support for triple display setup, an activated Windows 10 Pro OS, all features normally not found in other cheaper models. The low running temperature should make it ideal in hot climates where room temperature may be 35 to 40ºC.

The mini PC has some of the same limitations as other Apollo Lake mini PCs, with Kodi 17.6 handling VP9 codec with software decode, and no TrueHD, nor DTS-HD pass-through), and watching online videos for example with YouTube works better in Microsoft Edge. The only small issues I found are low 3D graphics performance in Passmark 9.0 – but no such performance issues in other benchmarks – and 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark would not complete successfully.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Pro mini PC sells for $299.90 and up on various sites including Amazon US, Amazon UKGearBest, GeekBuying, etc…

Intel Apollo Lake Windows 10 Benchmarks Before and After Meltdown & Spectre Security Update

January 6th, 2018 36 comments

So this week, there’s been a fair amount of news about Meltdown & Spectre exploits, which affects all major processor vendors one way or another, but especially Intel, and whose mitigations require operating systems and in some case microcode updates that decrease performance for some specific tasks.

Microsoft has now pushed an update for Windows 10, and since I’m reviewing MINIX NEO N42C-4 mini PC powered by an Intel Pentium N4200 “Apollo Lake” processor, and just happened to run benchmarks before the update, so I decided to run some of the benchmarks again to see if there was any significant difference before and after the security update.

First I had to verify I had indeed received the update in the “installed update history”, and Windows 10 Pro was updated on January 5th with KB4056892, which is what we want, so let’s go ahead.

Benchmarks before Update

PCMark 10 is one of my favorite benchmark since it relies on typical program that many people would use on their desktop computer.

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Link to full results.

Let’s through 3DMark Sky Diver to get some 3D graphics performance.

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Link to 3DMark result.

Finally, I’ve run CrystalDiskMark to test I/O performance of the internal eMMC flash.

Benchmarks after Update

Let’s see if there are any significant differences, bearing in mind there’s always some variation for each benchmark run.

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Link to full results.

Right the score is lower, but it’s really insignificant, and represents at 0.63% decrease in performance, which should likely have nothing to do with the update. So no difference before and after update here.

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Same story for 3DMark Sky Diver 1.0, basically the same score as before the update. Link to 3DMark result.

Before (left) and After (right) – Click to Enlarge

There’s normally a lot more variation for I/O benchmarks like CrystalDiskMark, so results are a bit  more difficult to analyze, and have both screenshot side-by-side. We can safely say there’s no difference for sequential read/write (Seq Q32T1 & Seq), and I even got slightly better numbers after the updates. Random I/O look fairly good after the update, except for “4K Read” test. I repeated it several times, and always got 14 to 17 MB/s after the update (23 to 37% slower), while the “4K write” was always higher. This should not matter to most use cases.

At this stage, I was expecting to draw a table showing a 5% difference after the update, but I won’t, because there’s no clear performance hit after the update, despite Apollo Lake architecture being impacted by Meltdown and Spectre. Maybe some other database specific tests would have shown a difference, or the security fixes may mostly impact the performance of higher-end processors.

Year 2017 in Review, Top 10 Posts, and Some Fun Stats

December 31st, 2017 20 comments

2017 is coming to an end, and as I do every year, I’ll take a look back at the year that was on CNX Software. The pace of development boards launches has not slowed down this year, and we get an even wider range from the low-end with Orange Pi or NanoPi boards, to much more powerful ARM boards, and some new entrants like Libre Computer. The same is true for TV boxes, most of which now support 4K HDR, ranging from ultra cheap models selling for less than $20 to higher end Android TV boxes, while mini PCs were dominated by Intel Apollo Lake models, although some Cherry Trail products were also launched.

Processor-wise, Amlogic launched more Amlogic S905X derivatives with S905W/S905D/S905Z, which are popular in the TV box market. Rockchip’s most interesting processor this year was RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor designed for 4K HDR Android TV boxes, but also popular with single board computers thanks to Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 interfaces that provide good I/O performance. Allwinner H2+/H3/H5 were launched last year, but they kept being used in cheap development boards, retro game consoles, etc.. The company also launched A63 SoC for 2K tablets, and H6 for 4K OTT TV boxes, and we can expect the latter not only to be found in TV boxes such as Zidoo H6 Pro, but in more Orange Pi H6 boards, and likely other products in 2018 since beside media capabilities, the processor also supports Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, and PCIe. Intel’s Celeron and Pentium Apollo Lake processors dominated the entry-level Windows mini PCs market this year, and Linux was much better supported than in Bay Trail / Cherry Trail processors, but few manufacturers decided to offer Apollo Lake mini PC pre-installed with Ubuntu or other Linux distributions.

2017 was also an interesting year for the Internet of Things (IoT) with Espressif ESP32 going into full gear, and prices dropping to $5 for maker boards. Other WiFi IoT solutions that looked promising last year such as RTL8710AF, did not really took off in a big way. LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) solutions got even more traction with LoRa dominating, but far from being alone with Sigfox, and the emergence of 3GPP standards like NB-IoT and eMTC.

While I had written articles about 3D printing in the past, it really became a proper category on the blog this year, thanks to Karl’s reviews, and 3D printers provided by GearBest. I’d also like to thank Ian Morrison (Linuxium), TLS, Blu, Nanik who helped with reviews and/or articles this year.

Top 10 Posts Written in 2017

I’ve again compiled a list of the most popular posts of 2017 using the pageviews from Google Analytics, but for a change, I’ll show the results in reverse order:

  1. Google Assistant SDK Turns Your Raspberry Pi 3 into Google Home (May 2017) – Voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant went beyond the companies’own products, and Google Assistant SDK release allowed developers to make their own DIY smart speaker based on Raspberry Pi 3 board, or other ARM Linux boards. I could successfully implement my own using an Orange Pi Zero kit.
  2. Mecool BB2 Pro Review – TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 2: Android Firmware, Benchmarks, Kodi (January 2017) – Mecool BB2 Pro was one of the first Amlogic S912 octa-core TV boxes with DDR4 memory, but my tests did not show any benefits over DDR3 memory.
  3. Mecool KI PRO Hybrid Android TV Box with Amlogic S905D SoC, DVB-T2 & DVB-S2 Tuners Sells for $80 (May 2017) – For some reasons, post about VideoStrong/Mecool Android set-top boxes are quite popular on CNX Software, and KI PRO was the first model based on Amlogic S905D processor with support for multiple demodulators.
  4. Orange Pi 2G-IoT ARM Linux Development Board with 2G/GSM Support is Up for Sale for $9.90 (March 2017) – “Cellular IoT Linux board for $10? Where’s the buy button?” might have been the first reaction to many people. But when buyers received their board, it was a struggle and may still be, since it was based on a  RDA Micro processor for phones poorly supported in Linux.
  5. Installing Ubuntu 17.04 on CHUWI LapBook 14.1 Apollo Lake Laptop (February 2017) – People want their cheap and usable Ubuntu laptop, and if manufacturers won’t make one for them, they’ll find ways to make their own. Sadly, CHUWI massively changed the hardware, and it’s not such a good solution anymore.
  6. ASUS Tinker Board is a Raspberry Pi 3 Alternative based on Rockchip RK3288 Processor (January 2017) – A large company like ASUS entering the maker board market, and the solution inspired from Raspberry Pi 3, but more much powerful. That got people interested!
  7. Creality CR-10 3D Printer Review – Part 2: Tips & Tricks, Octoprint, and Craftware (May 2017) – It was the year of cheap $100 to $200 3D printer, but CNX Software visitors were more interested in a better model, and Creality CR-10 review was the most popular 3D Printer review/post this year.
  8. Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid STB Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, TV Center, and DVB-T2 & DVB-S2 App (March 2017) – VideoStrong sells some inexpensive Android TV boxes with tuner under their Mecool, and KIII Pro was their first octa-core model with both DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S2 tuners.
  9. ASUS Tinker Board’s Debian & Kodi Linux Images, Schematics and Documentation (January 2017) – ASUS board was somehow started selling before the company intended to, and while firmware & documentation were there, they were hard to find, so people looked for that information, and found it on CNX Software.
  10. MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17 (March 2017) – Apparently, I’m not the only to consider MINIX NEO U9-H to be one of the best Android TV boxes, as my review of the media hub was the most read post of 2017.

Stats

981 posts were published in 2017. Let’s go straight to users’ country and city location data.

The top five countries have not changes, but this year Germany overtook the United Kingdom in second position. Traffic from India increased on a relative basis, and Australia made it to the top ten at the cost of Russia. London and Paris kept the two top steps, but Bangkok rose to third position, while last year third, Tel aviv-Yafo went away completely from the list. New York is gone being replaced by Warsaw in 8th position.

The list of the most used operating systems, and browsers is fairly stable, but the trends noticed in past years continues, with Windows share of traffic going down, Android going up, and Linux stable, while Chrome dominated even more, with most other browsers going down in percentage basis, except Edge that is very slowly replacing Internet Explorer, and Samsung Internet that replaced Opera mini in the list.

Desktop traffic still rules, but mobile + tablet traffic now accounts for around a third of the traffic.

Finally, I went to dig into pagespeed data with pages loading in 15.58 seconds on average. I then filtered the countries with more than 5,000 pageviews, and CNX Software pages and posts loaded fastest in Portugal, Denmark, and Macedonia. However, people in Venezuela need to wait close to 2 minutes for a page to load on average, and in China and Iran around one minute.

Next year looks promising, and I expect to test Gemini Lake mini PC, and maybe some ARM based mini PCs or laptops, but I’ll review less TV boxes as due to some new regulations I can’t easily import them. The regulatory framework is now in place for LPWAN standards, and I should be able to start playing with LoRa and NB-IoT in 2018, using local services, or my own gateway(s). I’ll keep playing with development boards, as I’m expecting interesting Allwinner H6, Realtek RTD129x, Hilsicon, and other platforms in the year ahead, as well as various IoT products.

I’d like to come together with some of the devices and boards reviewed in 2017 (and a Linux tux) to wish you all a prosperous, healthy, and happy new year 2018!

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What’s the Best Android TV Box (2017/2018 Edition)?

December 26th, 2017 17 comments

Since I was often asked which TV box to buy, I wrote a guide entitled “What’s the best Android TV box?” in April 2016. Time has passed, new products have launched, I tested more devices, and got further reader feedback, so it’s time for an update.

There’s still no device that rules them all, and since everybody has different requirements and price points, what could the best Android TV box ever to one person, maybe be a piece of junk to another. Before purchasing a TV box, you should consider what you plan to do with it, and find the device with matches your needs and budget. So first, I’ll provide a list of things to look for – beside the SoC/RAM selection – before selecting three TV boxes that stand out (in no particular order), as well as alternatives worth looking at.

Things to Look for

The list is basically the same as last year, except I added two sections for operating systems, and extra features:

  • Operating System – There was a time when “Android TV box” only meant “Android” “TV Box”, but Google’s own TV box operating system has become more popular, and some companies have also started offering dual OS version with Android/Linux running at the same time, mostly for server purpose. Here are the options you may consider:
    • Official Android TV OS – Pick such device if you want the original experience with leanback launcher, and access to streaming services like Hulu, Netflix an so on. This operating system should come with all/most the licenses needed for streaming, is specially designed for the large screen, and works well with the IR remote control. However, you’ll only be able to easily install apps specifically designed for the TV (e.g. no Chrome browser, unless you sideload it), and the system may not always work well with an air mouse or wireless keyboard/touchpad.
    • Unofficial Android TV OS – Same as above, except some licenses may be missing, so some streaming services may not work as well, or be limited standard resolution
    • Android OS – Most – not to say all – boxes you’ll find in China are running Android operating system made for smartphones with customizations for the big screen. Those devices have good flexibility, since you can install pretty any app from the Google Play store, and they come with a launcher made for the big screen. The downside is that only parts of the interface or some apps will be usable with the IR remote control, so you’ll need to use an air mouse, wireless keyboard, or smartphone app to have good control of the device. Most boxes also lack proper DRM and other licenses, which may restrict the streaming services you may access, or at least the playback resolution.
    • Android + Linux – Dual boot systems have been around for a while, and IMHO not very useful, so what I’m referring to here are systems with two operating systems running at the same time with Android for media playback, and Linux for NAS/server functions. I’ve seen devices with OpenWrt or Debian so far.
  • History of regular firmware updates – If a company provides regular OTA (over-the-air) firmware updates, your device is likely to get better and better overtime. The cheapest TV boxes normally follow the ship-and-forget model, so you can’t expect any improvements, unless some community members offer custom firmware.
  • Support forums – Most reputable companies selling to end users offer support forums. For cheaper boxes, you won’t get any support, except through communities like Freaktab.
  • 4K & HDR Support – If you want to purchase a device that will support 4K videos, and the latest HDR (High Dynamic Range features) you should look for devices with HDMI 2.0a for 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 output up to 60 Hz and HDR. Double check 4K video codecs support (10-bit HEVC/H.265, VP9, H.264), and make sure they can decode the framerate used for your videos. The latter is usually not a problem with H.265, but sometimes it could be for VP9 or H.264 since some systems can only handle 30 fps or 24 fps.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – In case you own an amplifier or A/V receiver capable of handling Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD Master, DTS HD High Resolution, or DTS:X, you really need to check the reviews on this site or others, as many devices fall short despite claiming support.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – This is the ability of the device to match the monitor refresh rate to the video frame rate to avoid a phenomenon called micro stutter, which makes the videos not as smooth as it could be at regular intervals, and especially noticeable when the video is panning. if this is properly implemented, e.g. 24 fps videos played using 24 Hz on the monitor, then micro-stutter disappears.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming – If you’re paying for video streaming services like Netflix, you’ll have to make sure they are specifically supported, with Widewine Level 1 DRM necessary, but not sufficient condition for playing the videos at HD or UHD (4K) resolution. Most devices can only stream videos in SD resolution due to the lack of proper DRM and a hard-to-get “Netflix license”.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Many Android TV boxes have similar specifications, but IMHO, two key design choices are especially impacting the performance between apparently similar devices. Some TV boxes will overheat over time, leading to poor performance after a few minutes, while others with proper cooling will perform the same over hours. Fast storage will ensure the device boots quickly, apps load fast, and the device does not get slowed down while apps are installing or updating in the background.
  • Extra Features – You’d normally not care about those, if all you want is to do streaming, but if you want more from your TV box, you could check for digital TV tuner(s) (DVB-T/T2/C, DVB-S2, ATSC..), the presence of a an internal SATA bay, HDMI input for recording or broadcasting video from another device, etc…

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub

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Criteria:

  • Operating System – Android 6.0.1 OS
  • History of regular firmware updates – MINIX normally updates their devices for about a year or so.
  • Support forumsMINIX forums are fairly active, so you should be able to get decent support from MINIX themselves or the community of users there.
  • 4K & HDR Support – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported, with very good support for 4K 10-bit H.265, VP9 and H.264 videos.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through both working.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK (Kodi 17.x)
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming –  Widewine Level 1 & Microsoft PlayReady implemented. However, Netflix can only play up to SD resolution, or possibly up to HD (720p) with a trick, but not full HD, nor UHD since Netflix requires a separate agreement.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Good cooling thanks to a large heatsink, and very fast internal storage.
  • Extra Features – Separate microphone jack, Kensington lock

Just like MINIX NEO U1 I recommended last year, as long as you don’t need Netflix Full HD or 4K UHD playback, and are happy using their custom launcher and an air mouse, MINIX NEO U9-H should definitely be in your list of devices to consider. Please read MINIX NEO U9-H review for details, taking into account that some bugs may have been fixed since my review in March 2017.

Price: $149.90 and up with NEO A3 Lite air mouse on Amazon US, GearBest, GeekBuying, and other sellers. You can also find the box only (without air mouse) for around $139.90.

U5PVR Deluxe Set-top Box and NAS

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U5PVR Deluxe made it to the top three list because of all the extras like tuners and a 3.5″ SATA drive, and the fact that it runs both Android TV OS (unofficial) and Debian.

Criteria:

  • Operating System – Unofficial Android TV 5.1 OS and Debian running at the same time. Android TV 7.1 is now also available, as well as a dual boot image with Enigma2.
  • History of regular firmware updates – The company has released several firmware updates since the review. Previous model was U4 Quad Hybrid – Launch: January 2016; last firmware update: November 2016. So a little under a year of firmware updates.
  • Support forums – Available on SmartSTB forums (Somewhat active), or Google+ (not so active). The device is not as popular as MINIX models, so you’ll have less users involved.
  • 4K & HDR Support – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported, with very good support for 4K 10-bit H.265, VP9 and H.264 videos in Media Center app (but Kodi 17.x support needed some work)
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through worked in Media Center app.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK (Media Center app)
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming –  Support for Widevine L1 DRM and Netflix HD/4K (Not in my June 2017 review, but see comments)
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Excellent internal storage performance, and no noticeable issue with cooling (See teardown for design)
  • Extra Features – SATA bay for a 2.5″ or 3.5″ drive, dual DVB-T/T2 tuner

If you live in a country where DVB-T/T2 is supported (or various combination or DVB-T/T2/C, ATSC, DVB-S2 if you purchase an additional tuner board), and plan to use the Linux NAS features, U5PVR Deluxe looks certainly like a good candidate. However, if you mainly want to watch video streams from Netflix, Hulu, and other premium services, and use Kodi, there should be other devices that better fit your needs.

Price: $229.99 including shipping on Aliexpress.

Nvidia Shield Android TV (2017 Edition)

NVIDIA has launched a smaller version of their popular Shield Android TV earlier this year, and while I have not reviewed the device myself, it’s one of the most popular Android TV box on the market.

Criteria:

  • Operating System – Official Android TV 7.0 (Upgrade to Oreo likely)
  • History of regular firmware updates – Nvidia has been providing upgrades since 2015 for the original model (around 6 times a year)
  • Support forums – Active SHIELD Android TV board on Nvidia Geforce forum.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported with support for 10-bit H.265, VP9 and H.264 video playback @ 60 fps.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through supported
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK for Kodi and Plex at least.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming – Netflix HD & 4K officially supported, as well as Amazon Video
  • Thermal design and storage performanceGood storage performance, and I only read reports of isolated issues with overheating (i.e. not a design issue).
  • Extra Features – N/A

NVIDIA TV box also features the most power GPU of any TV boxes, so it’s also an excellent 3D gaming console. Availability is still an issue, although the company has launched the model in some more countries this year. This also means the device can be pretty expensive once you factor shipping, custom duties, and other fees (e.g. forward shipping) if you purchase it from a country where the device has not officially launched. Just like other devices running Android TV OS, not all apps will be available from the Play Store.

Price: Around $200 on Amazon US.

Other Alternatives

The three devices are not the only ones to consider, and other alternatives could meet some people requirements.

  • Above $100
  • Below $100
    • Xiaomi Mi Box US – Good officially Android TV option if you want to stream video from services like Vudu+, Hulu, YouTube, Netflix… and don’t care about playing games, and very high performance for other tasks
    • Mecool M8S PRO+ – Sub $40 box based on Amlogic S905X SoC with 2GB RAM/16GB storage that supports unofficial Android TV 7.1 firmware, Netflix up to 1080p. [Please note warning about eMMC flash version in the linked post]
    • Various low cost Amlogic S905/S905X TV boxes compatible with LibreELEC (Kodi Linux distribution). Note that stock Android firmware on those boxes may not be very good, so better only consider them to run LibreELEC supported by the community

I hope this guide will help some to decide on which model to buy. Feel free to comment if you think another model should be part of the top 3, or the list of alternatives.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Triple Display Capable Mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

December 18th, 2017 4 comments

MINIX NEO N42C-4 mini PC was first unveiled last September at IFA 2017, as the first Apollo Lake mini PC from the company. The device has some interesting features like the possibility to upgrade the RAM thanks to two SO-DIMM slots, and storage via an M.2 SSD slot, and support for up to three display via HDMI 1.4, mini DisplayPort 1.2, and USB type C connector. Just like MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro model, the device is pre-loaded with an activated version of Windows 10 Pro, and includes a VESA mount.

The company has now officially launched the device, with sales starting at the end of December for US$299.90 / 299.90 Euros on sites like Amazon [Update: NEO N42C-4 is now up for pre-order on GearBest]. MINIX has sent me a unit for review, so as usual, I’ll start by checking out of hardware, before testing Windows 10 Pro, system performance and stability in a separate post.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Unboxing

While it remains blue, they’ve slightly redesigned the package, as you can see by comparing it to the one for MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro.

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The specifications are the same as the ones unveiled at IFA 2017 with an Intel Pentium N4200 Apollo Lake processor, with 4GB RAM (upgradable), 32 GB eMMC 5.1 flash, a 2280 M.2 slot for an optional SSD, and support for three independent display via HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 Hz, Mini DP (DisplayPort) up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and USB Type C up to 4K @ 60 Hz.

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The mini PC ships with about the same accessories as NEO Z83-4 Pro model, including a HDMI cable, 6 screws for the VESA mount (not shown in the photo below), a 12V/3A power supply and power cord, MINIX product brochure, and MINIX NEO N42C-4 setup guide. The external WiFi antenna is gone, as the new design- as we’ll see below – uses two internal antennas instead, and this time the company included plug adapter for the US, Europe, and the UK.

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There’s also another small bad with rubber pads, more screws for an M.2 SSD for example, and what looks like an optical S/PDIF adapter.

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The enclosure is made of plastic, with three USB 3.0 ports and the power button on one side, a Kensington lock and a CMOS clear pinhole on the other. The rear panel features the power jack, a Gigabit Ethernet port, the miniDP port, HDMI output, USB type C, and a combo headphone / SPDIF audio jack.

The user manual indicate some of the limitations for the video output:

  1. Mini DP  port – N42C-4 only supports mini DP to D-Sub conversion or direct mini DP to mini DP/DP connection. Mini DP to HDMI or Mini DP to DVI is not supported
  2. USB type C – Only support video output, not audio output. Hot plugging is not supported, meaning you should only connect/disconnect the display when NEO N42C-4 is powered off.

The USB type C port supports 9V/2A, 12V/5A, and 15V/3A power input, but 20V/3.25A is not supported. Power output is limited to 5V/3A.

I’ve connected the SPDIF adapter, and could insert my TOSLINK cable into it. But I have not tested it yet.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Teardown / M.2 SSD + RAM Installation

In most cases, users do not need to open their mini PCs, and I do open them to check out the hardware design. But MINIX NEO N42C-4 is different since it’s upgradeable, and you can add more RAM up to 8GB, add an M.2 SSD, or even replace the WiFi module. The company confirmed that if users upgrade the RAM or internal storage it won’t affect their warranty status, neither will it void the warranty.

For that reason, I expected them to make opening the device a little easier, but you’d still need to remove the four rubber pads, and loosen four screws on the bottom of the case. Also notice the Genuine Windows logo, something I seldom see on other devices.

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The bottom still come easily, but ideally the rubber pad and screws should be located at different location, as the sticky part on the rubber pads may not work that well if you open the device two or three times. Maybe that’s why they included a spare rubber pad set in the box.

The bottom of the board includes the RTC battery, two SO-DIMM connectors with one Samsung 4GB stick, and an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168 (3168NGW) WiFi module with 802.11ac 1×1 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2.

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You can also add your own M.2 SSD, and I did so with KingDian N480 2280 M.2 SSD with 240GB capacity, but it looks like 2260 M.2 SSD may also be supported. MINIX told me you can boot from M.2 SSD. Simply re-install the Windows 10 OS on the M.2 SSD, and disable the eMMC in the BIOS.

Most people won’t need to further remove the board from the case, but I still took it out to check more of the hardware design.

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All other MINIX mini PCs I’ve reviewed so far were fanless with a large heatsink covering the board, but the company has instead gone with a actively cooled design for their NEO N42C-4, with a copper heatsink fitted with a fan blowing out the warm air from one of the sides (the one with Kensington lock). The fan is connected via a 4-pin, so it should be controlled depending on temperature, and not spinning all the time.

Some of the visible chips include Realtek RTL8111F Gigabit Ethernet transceiver, Realtek ALC662 5.1 channel HD audio codec, and an ARM MCU (MINI5870E?) for power control. Some headers are also exposed for the ICE (In-Circuit Emulator), and serial interface for debugging.

I have not tried the VESA mount, but the installation procedure should be the same as for MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro. Documentation and support are available through a dedicated forum.

Continue reading MINIX NEO N42C-4 Mini PC Review – Part 2: Windows 10 Pro.

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

September 5th, 2017 7 comments

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

MINIX NEO N42C-4 preliminary specifications:

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

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

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

Via Netbook Italia

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.