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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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The basic hardware matches the specification:

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

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

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

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the benchmarks were repeated:

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

Turbo Disabled

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

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

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

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

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and can be compared with other Intel Apollo Lake devices:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Looking at the detail specifications:

 

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

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

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The basic hardware matched the specification:

with just under half the storage used after Windows updates:

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

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

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

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

Performance is again as expected:

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and can be compared with other Intel Apollo Lake devices:

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

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

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

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

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with the GPU having to work harder.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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with no issues playing the videos.

On Ubuntu hardware is used to decode all three codecs:

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

 

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

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although the device can get quite warm:

with the highest observed reading being 45°C.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

BBen MN10 TV Stick Review – Windows 10, Ubuntu 17.04, Benchmarks, and Kodi

The BBEN MN10 is the second Apollo Lake device to be released in the stick form-factor and on paper looks to have a lot to offer:

It features an Apollo Lake N3350 SoC, an unusual 3GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and is cooled by a ‘mute’ fan. The devices comes in a plain box with a power adapter, and a leaflet style manual.

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It also included a three-pin UK power adapter, as this was advertised as the ‘BBen MN10 Mini PC  –  UK PLUG  BLACK’.

Looking at the detail specifications:

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We can immediately see discrepancies as the device does not have a ‘RJ45 Port Speed: 1000M LAN’ port, and was not supplied with ‘1 x HDMI Cable’ nor ‘1 x Remote Control’.

Powering on the device and the ‘mute’ fan is also a miss-representation as it starts immediately and is noticeably noisy. It also runs at full speed regardless of workload so the noise is a constant reminder that the device is switched-on:

Starting Windows and the disappointment continues with a message informing that ‘We can’t activate Windows on this device because you don’t have a valid digital license or product key’:

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also ‘Intel Remote Keyboard Host App’ is pre-installed (see icon top left) and the computer name is already been set as ‘BBEN’.

As a result I tried installing Microsoft’s Windows 10 Home ISO but because of the confirmed lack of license, I then installed Microsoft’s Windows 10 Enterprise product evaluation ISO in order to review the device.

The basic hardware matched the specification:

with plenty of free-space available post installation:

I then ran some standard benchmarking tools to look at performance under Windows. These are a new set of benchmarks as I’ve updated the tools and releases specifically for devices running Windows version 1709 and later:

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As can be seen the performance is as expected for the N3350 SoC and is comparable with other devices such as ECDREAM A9 or Beelink AP34 Ultimate:

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Next I installed Ubuntu as dual-boot using my ‘isorespin.sh’ script, which includes installing the rEFInd bootloader to enable booting on Apollo Lake devices when the BIOS doesn’t support Linux:

Performance is again as expected:

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And can be compared with other Intel Apollo Lake and earlier Intel Atom devices:

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

and rather interestingly a S/PDIF audio interface shows up in the sound settings. However given there is only a 3.5mm audio jack and when an external speaker is connected through it, sound works when selecting the S/PDIF interface. This again is somewhat misleading.

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Looking at real-work Windows usage cases the first being watching a 4K video using Microsoft Edge which works flawlessly:

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The same video when watched using Google Chrome results in occasional dropped frames:

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but notice how much harder the CPU and GPU are working.

Watching the same video and changing the video quality to high definition (1080p resolution) results in a better experience.

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Unfortunately this can’t be said for watching the same video in Google Chrome on Ubuntu. At 4K the video is unwatchable with excessive dropped frames and a stalled network connection after a short while:

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Even at 1080p the video still stutters:

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

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

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

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

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with no issues playing the videos.

On Ubuntu hardware is used to decode all three codecs:

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

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As previously mentioned the internal fan is screaming away merrily although it’s effectiveness with internal cooling is somewhat questionable:

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It does assist in keeping the device at a safe external temperature:

with the highest observed reading being 41°C.

So looking at the physical characteristics of the device its size is only slightly larger than the second generation Intel Compute Stick:

Initially I used the device upside down as it seemed sensible to have the case vents exposed:

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However cracking open the case reveals the fan actually uses the side vent between the two USB ports:

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with the bottom vents for cooling the memory and storage chips:

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Remarkably the WiFi chip appeared to have been exposed to excessive heat at some stage:

yet had still passed inspection as evidenced by the green ‘Pass’ sticker.

The only identifiable marking on the board were on the bottom under the sticky black coverings:

The BIOS is minimalistic:

which is an issue when booting with a connected USB to Ethernet adapter, as it defaults to PXE booting which needs to timeout before booting occurs from internal storage. A workaround is to boot Windows from the boot menu after pressing F7:

Notice also that the BIOS is unbranded and simply displays the Intel logo.

Finally after using Windows then Ubuntu and returning to Windows I encountered that audio over HDMI had disappeared:

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and reinstalling the Intel HD Graphics driver didn’t fix it.

So to sum up this is a device with specific limitations which the buyer should be aware of prior to purchase. I’d like to thank Gearbest for providing the BBEN MN10 for review. They sell it for $197.42 shipped. You’ll also find it on Aliexpress from various sellers with not-activated or activated Windows 10 Home / Pro.

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.

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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.

Intel Compute Card and Dock Hands On, Windows 10 and Ubuntu Benchmarks

September 29th, 2017 9 comments

We’ve recently seen Intel introduced Dock DK132EPJ for their Compute Cards, and released some pricing info. Ian Morrison (Linuxium) got sent a full kit by Intel with the dock and Compute Card CD1M3128MK powered by a dual core / quad Core m3-7Y30 processor with 4GB RAM, 128GB PCIe SSD, and Intel Wireless-AC 8265 module. You can get the full details in Ian’s post, but I’ll provide a summary of the key points here.

While the compute card and dock are thinner than most product, the computer card is quite wider than TV sticks, and the dock larger than an Intel NUC. It also comes with a fan, and cooling works well with maximum CPU temperature under being 70°C.

The Compute Cards do not come with any operating system, but you get to the BIOS easily, and install Windows or Linux distributions. Ian’s started with Windows 10 Enterprise Evaluation, and ran several benchmarks including PCMark 8 Home Accelerated 3.0.

Click to Enlarge – Full results here.

As expected, performance is quite good on this 4.5W TDP Core m processor, as the best results I got so far on sub 10W TDP processors was 1,846 points with Voyo VMac Mini Celeron N4200 mini PC. The NVMe SSD also helps with performance as shown in CrystalDiskMark Results.

The processor was apparently powerful enough to play 4320p / 8K videos in YouTube.

He then installed Ubuntu 17.04 for a dual boot setup, and it worked after tweaking Ubuntu NVRAM entry. Apart from that, everything seems to work out of the box.

Phoronix Suite benchmarks showed a jump in performance compared to the Intel Compute sticks, even against the Core-m3 one (STK2M364CC) as shown below.

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The iozone results are particularly striking, but easily explained as a 64GB eMMC flash was pitted against a 128GB NVMe SSD.

In conclusion, Ian explains that overall the Card and Dock combination works well, and while there may be use cases for the enterprise market, it might be a different story for the consumer market, but it might be worth it eventually if more docks come to market, for example Laptop docks, so you can switch the card between two or more types of docks. Since the solution is rather expensive, standard mini PCs will likely prevail in the consumer market.

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.