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Posts Tagged ‘zero devices’

List of Rockchip RK3368 Android mini PCs

August 9th, 2015 59 comments

Last year, Rockchip RK3288 was always going to be popular, since it offered a massive performance upgrade compared to its predecessor (Rockchip RK3188) with Cortex A17 cores replacing Cortex A9 cores, and a Mali-T764 GPU replacing an aging Mali-400MP4 GPU, plus the addition of 4K video output and decoding, as well as H.265 video codec support. So many manufacturers got involved that I decided to write a list of RK3288 TV boxes and sticks. Rockchip RK3368, the company’s new “flagship” processor for 2015, is a bit less exciting despite providing eight 64-bit ARM cores, since Cortex A53 cores are significantly less powerful than the Cortex A17 cores found in RK3288, and the performance of the PowerVR G6110 GPU used in the processor is a bit of an unknown for now. RK3368 might still rank pretty well in benchmark since it comes with eight cores instead of four cores, but I’m not convinced it will really show during normal use, although the upgrade to Android 5.1 on the newer processor may also help. The main improvement is probably support for 4K @ 60Hz video decoding and output (HDMI 2.0), which was not possible with RK3288 and lower end 4K UHD televisions.

Rockchip_RK3368_mini_PCNevertheless, it’s still interesting to look at new platforms, and I’ve compiled a list of RK3368 mini PCs announced so far, some of which already ship:

  • Eny EKB368 – TV box with 1 or 2GB RAM, 8 or 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG and HDMI 2.0. Price: TBD
  • Beelink i68 – TV box with 1 or 2 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG and HDMI 2.0. Price: $71 on GearBest (1GB RAM/8GB flash version)
  • Tronsmart Orion R68 – TV box based on Beelink i68 platform with two models:
    • Pro – 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG and HDMI 2.0. Price: $75 on GeekBuying.
    • Meta – 2 GB RAM, 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG and HDMI 2.0. Price: $99.99 on GeekBuying.
  • CSA90 – TV box with two models:
    • Model 1 – 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG and HDMI 2.0 & composite (RCA) output. Price: $70 on Aliexpress.
    • Model 2 – 2 GB RAM, 16 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG, and HDMI 2.0 & composite (RCA) output. Price: $96 on Aliexpress.
  • Rikomagic MK68 – TV box with 2 GB RAM, 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG and HDMI 2.0. Price: $111.90 on Aliexpress
  • Zero Devices Z64 – TV box apparently based on CSA90 “Model 2” but with Gigabit Ethernet. Price: $125 on Asiapads.
  • Measy B4T – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: $72.95 on Aliexpress
  • CloudnetGo CR13 Plus – TV box with 2 GB RAM, 8 or 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: TBD.
  • CloudnetGo CR18 – TV box with 2 GB RAM, 8 or 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 & composite (RCA) outputs. Price: TBD.
  • X6 – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth (Maybe), 2x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 & composite (RCA) outputs. Price: $57 on Aliexpress. Note: X6 model was supposed to be for the Chinese market, but the few who bought appear satisfied.
  • Himedia H7 III – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 & composite (RCA) outputs. Price: $89.89 on Aliexpress. The firmware is likely in Chinese only (TBC).
  • Ugoos UT4 – Upcoming RK3368 TV Box with Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi. Listing found on Android Warehouse. Price: TDB

All boxes run Android 5.1, and prices when available including shipping. The cheapest and lower end model is X6 selling for $57, with other 1GB RAM/8GB flash boxes selling for around $70. The best devices in terms of features appear to be Rikomagic MK68 and Tronsmart Orion R68 Meta both with 2GB RAM, 16GB eMMC flash, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi, and selling respectively for $100 and $112. For reference, their Rockchip RK3288 equivalent, namely Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta and Rikomagic MK902 II sell respectively for $115 and $113. So far, nobody appears to have come up with a Rockchip RK3368 HDMI TV stick. Not sure whether the cause is fading demand for sticks, the CPU gets a little too hot, or we just need to be patient.

Corrections and additions to the list are more than welcome.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko 4K H.265 TV Stick Review

November 26th, 2014 2 comments

Zero Devices Z5C Think is one of the rare HDMI TV sitck powered by Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A12/A17 processor available on the market. I’ve already take a few pictures of the device and internals, so today I’ll focus on testing the firmware, and performance of this thin and nice looking TV stick.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

There was a time when HDMI stick were powered by much slower, but power efficient processor based on Cortex A5 cores. One of these was CX-01 mini PC, and they could be powered by the USB port of the TV without problems. Now the processor are much more powerful, so normally you can’t power the device directly from the TV, but since I’ve seen people claim it was possible to drive RK3288 stick directly from the USB port of some TVs, I gave it a try, connected the stick to my Panasonic TV via the HDMI cable extension, as the two HDMI ports on my TV are too close, connected the micro USB to USB cable to my TV, and the power LED turned on, but the screen would stay black, and the TV display the message “Overcurrent error on USB device occured. Please remove the USB device and switch off the TV by mains power switch”.

Overcurrent_error_panasonic_TVSo that did not work out, but it was expected, and it’s not a problem with the stick, just that the TV can’t handle device with high power requirements.

So instead I used the power supply, and added a RF dongle for the Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Boot time is one of the best on the market so far, as it takes just 25 seconds between the time connecting the power supply, and getting to the Android Home Screen.

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

But the very first time, you’ll get through a wizard that let you select simplified Chinese, English or Others languages, scale your display for overscan compensation, and configure Wi-Fi. Unfortunately the first time, it did not find any Wi-Fi access point, so I went to Android Settings to check, and there was no MAC address either, probably meaning the Wi-Fi module was not detected. But everything got back to normal after a reboot, and Wi-Fi worked just fine.

Let’s have a look at the e Android settings. The Wireless & Networks sections comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet (for external USB dongle), and Data Usage menus, as well as a “More” section with VPN and Portable Hotspot. The Display settings mainly include font size adjustment, overscan compensation menu, and HDMI resolution selection between 9 modes: 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720x576p-50 or 720x480p-60. Options for 4K output will be display if you own a 4K UHD TV. You can select the “Sound Output Device” in the “Sound Devices Manager” either “Default Output”, “Spdif Passthough” (which is not available on the stick), and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through).

About_Z5C_ThinkoThe 8GB eMMC is partitioned into two partitions:  a 0.95 GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps with 658 MB free, and a 8 GB (black magic yet again) “NAND FLASH” partition for data, with about 5.20 GB available space.

The “About Z5C Thinko” section reports the model number is Z5C, and it’s running Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux 3.10.0, and the vendor software version is 1.0.3. There’s also a System updates menu, that appears to properly connect to a server, but no new firmware was available at the time of the review.

Google Play works pretty well, and I could install apps such as ES File Explorer, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…, with the only incompatible apps I’ve noticed being Vidonn Smartband app (as usual), and Real Racing 3. I’ve also installed Riptide GP2 through Amazon AppStore. However, I quickly ran out of space because of the sub 1GB app partition.

There’s no power button, and not proper power handling with this stick. Pressing the power button on the status bar will come up with a power off menu, but all it will do it reboot the device. Pressing the power button on Mele F10 Deluxe will simply blink the screen for one second, but it’s probably a remote key handling issue, which I’ve seen on another device, so after a fix, standby should be supported. But there’s probably nothing to be done to support power off, since it’s probably the way the hardware has been designed.

One of the biggest problems with Z5C Thinko is that it gets really hot, and sometimes hot enough to have the chip reboot itself. After Antutu, I could measure between 55 to 90°C, with the temperature especially hot on top of the Rockchip SoC, and close to the HDMI connector, since that’s where the heatsink spans.  The maximum temperature I got was 118°C. During idle time (i.e. in the home screen), the temperature is between 45 to 55°C, and in Kodi user interface it goes up to about 70°C. I’d like to point out the temperature varies a lot (-/+ 20°C on one given spot), probably because of the ventilation holes. So sometimes my IR thermometer may point to the plastic case, but sometimes I might measure the temperature directly from the heatsink, at least that’s my theory.

As long as you don’t perform demanding tasks, the firmware is mostly stable and smooth, but there are also various bugs, as I had to reboot to get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work, USB storage connection may not be reliable, and because of the high temperature, it’s basically impossible to play 3D games, and even playing videos for over one hour may cause reboots. The tiny app partition is also annoying, but it’s something that’s easily fixable with a firmware update.

Video Playback

Kodi alpha 14 was pre-installed in the stick,. and it even let me know I should update, but since I don’t know whether the XBMC/Kodi version installed as been customized or not, I’ve tried using that version. Normally I play video from a SAMBA share, but for some reasons Kodi did not manage to find my computer, as it happened frequently in my previous review. So I switched to using my USB hard drive. I tried to connect it via the micro USB OTG port with the OTG adapter, but it was not recognized, and I tried a USB flash drive, but same problem. So instead I attached a USB hub to the single USB host port of the Android dongle, and my hard drive LED went on, but at first I could not see any partition in Kodi or ES File Explorer. I rebooted, and it worked, but since relatively unstable. So instead I installed SPMC from Google Play, and … it did not anything in the Video menu. So I ended playing videos from a SAMBA share using ES File Explorer and MX Player:

I played 1080p videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and one extra 1080p H.265/HEVC videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – It’s playing, but not very smooth.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – OK

Some higher bitrate videos had troubles to play because I was over Wi-Fi:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often

Please note that most Android media player won’t be able to play these files smoothly over Wi-Fi + SAMBA, so the results are not really surprising.

High definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in MX Player, but since some of these are high bitrate I had buffering and audio cut issues:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK (5.1), audio cuts and buffering (7.1)
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Black screen only
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR –  Audio cuts and buffering

I tried to play Sintel-Bluray ISO, but it would load forever in MX Player.

4K video playback is about the same as with other RK328 boxes in MX Player, i.e. not that good:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Frequent audio  cut, and video in slow motion. It’s a 60 Mbps video so it can’t be realistically be played over Wi-Fi.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Severe decoding issues with heavily distorted image
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Slow motion
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Slow motion (maybe 1 to 3 fps)

This morning I tried again Kodi with SAMBA, and it worked for some reasons, so I tried the 4K videos in Kodi as well:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – First time black screen only, second try: plays but with many skipped frames, and then buffering.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Buffering a lot becasue bitrate is too high for Wi-Fi, but when video plays it’s not smooth either with many dropped and skipped frames.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  OK.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Kodi reports it plays at 8 to 10 fps, but it feels even slower than that. All four core at at 100% CPU usage.

I skipped the usual AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, FLV and MP4 videos testing, but I still did play a 2-hour video (1080p / mkv / h.264) to test stability. The video did not feel very smooth, so I enabled Kodi debug overlay by pressing the ‘o’ key, and I regularly saw dropped and skipped frames, and the frame rate oscillated between 10 to 26 fps for that 24 fps video. Nevertheless, when I play the 2-hour video, I usually go to do something else, coming to check a few times, and after about one hour, I noticed I got back to the Android home screen. I did not connect the stick to my UPS, and I thought I heard a “micro” power failure (1 or 2 seconds), so I tried again, but it did play for one hour or so, and suddenly I saw the black, and shortly after the boot logo. So I rushed to scan the dongle with my infrared thermometer, and I go an amazing maximum temperature of 118 °C!

So proper video playback does not seem possible yet on Rockchip RK3288, and the small form factor even amplifies the issues, as it can’t play a full movie, at least at my room temperature (28 °C).

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi)

I’m transferring a 278 MB between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa, for three times in ES File Explorer to get an idea of the Wi-Fi performance, and at 2.62 MB/s on average, the performance is decent, but not clearly outstanding. The good thing is that there was very little variation between the tests, so performance is not that great, but it’s reliable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Sixaxis Compatibility Checker indicated the driver in Z5C can handle Sony PS3 controller, but when I used my controller clone, I got the message “Fake controller detected, attempting workaround”, but it just got stuck there.

Right after, sixaxis test, I tried to enable Bluetooth in the Android settings, but it did not work. A reboot fixed that, and I guess is the Sixaxis app may have caused troubles with Bluetooth. I could then pair my phone with Z5c, and transfer pictures.

I install the APK for my Vidonn X5 fitness tracker in order to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE). The smart band could be detected, and the dongle retrieve data from it successfully.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and accessed.
Using my USB 3.0 hard drive was more problematic, as at times, it would just umount itself, or even not be recognized at all. But when it worked, it could detect all four partitions, but only mount the FAT32 and NTFS partition.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted

Due to stability issues, and I believe people are less likely to connect a USB hard drive to their stick than a full box, I skipped USB / NTFS benchmark, but still used A1 SD Bench to check the Samsung eMMC performance.

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

The eMMC flash has very good read speed (34.26 MB/s), but the write speed (6..62 MB/s) is not quite as good. Strangely, it’s still faster than the 6MB/s listed in Samsung eMMC product brief.  The fast read speed explained the quick boot time (25s), but I did not notice slowdowns due to the write speed.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 were the three games used for testing. No problem with Candy Crush Sag, as expected. I played the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, which works just fine as usual. Beach Buggy Blitz was ultra-smooth with maxed out graphics settings, but I decided to try to play a few races, and check the temperature with that games. At the second race, the stick rebooted automatically, and I measured up to 105 °C, and I was quite surprised, as it was the first time (I played games, before I played videos) I got a temperature over 100 °C with an Android gadget. I decided to let the stick cool down for about 2 minutes, which I reckon is way too short,  before “playing” Riptide GP2.  As you may gues,s I did not end-up playing very long, as the device rebooted very soon, and I measured a maximum temperature of 110 °C.

Z5C Thinko Benchmarks

I expected the CPU frequency to be lower in a tiny HDMI adapter, compared to the easier to cool down full size TV box, so I ran CPU-Z to check the information, and the maximum CPU frequency is still 1.8 GHz, which at least partially explained the very high temperature I got.Z5C_Thinko_CPU-Z

The CPU is still detected as a Rockchip RK3066 with eight Cortex A12 core clocked between 312 MHz and 1.8 GHz, so it seems CPU-Z developers are not that interested in keeping up to date with Chinese SoCs by Allwinner or Rockchip.The total memory is correctly reported as 2019 MB, and internal storage has 0.95 GB because the app only included the first partition.

Z5C_Thinko_Antutu

Antutu 5.3 score is quite lower than other Rockchip RK3288 devices. Z5C Thinko gets 29,001 points, whereas TV boxes such as Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta get around 37,000 points. If we look into the details of the scores, Z5C takes a hit with UX, RAM, and CPU tests, but the GPU performance is exactly the same. Storage I/O is also weaker probably because of the slower eMMC write speed. So a more aggressive governor must have been implemented, or the 1.8GHz frequency reported by CPU-Z and Antutu is incorrect.

Conclusion

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko is small, looks great, and comes with a powerful Rockchip RK3288 processor. But unfortunately, there are just oo many problem with the firmware right now, include potential unreliable USB hard drive support, poor video playback (mostly common to other RK3288 devices), and most importantly high temperature issues, which makes 3D gaming, continuous video playback, and other tasks that may require a sustained load currently impossible, as the stick will just reboot to “save” itself.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Gook looking, thin, and small. One of the rare TV sticks based on Rockchip RK3288 processor
  • Fast boot (25 seconds)
  • 4K and H.265/HEVC support (although it needs improvement)
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Support for OTA update (server detected, but not tested since no new firmware was available at the time)
  • Bluetooth features seems to all work (File transfer, BLE, and maybe Sixaxis)

CONS:

  • Gets extremely hot (I measured up to 118 °C), leading to reboot, and it might affect the useful life of the device.
  • No power button, or proper power off handling, which can lead to data loss.
  • Many issues with video playback including dropped/skipped frames,  and it failed the 2-hour movie playback, because of issue #1 (temperature).
  • 3D games are unplayable due to temperature issues
  • Potential USB hard drive issue (unreliable)
  • USB OTG adapter does not seem to work, at least with USB mass storage devices.
  • At first boot, Wi-Fi module was not detected. Fixed after reboot, and the problem did not occur again.
  • The internal storage partition is only 0.95 GB, and it can be full after installing a few apps.

So at this stage, Z5C Thinko can probably only be used reliably as a portable mini PC to browse the web, check emails, and interact in social networks. But they’ve got some serious work to do when it comes to video playback, USB support, 3D gaming, and overall bug fixing. The temperature issue may only be fixable by lowering the CPU frequency to 1.2 or 1.4 GHz, and for 3D gaming the GPU may also have to be clocked down, but then you’ll end up with a much less powerful platform than existing RK3288 solutions.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko can be purchased for $94.99 on Asiapads including shipping. The company also offers a USB + Ethernet Hub for an extra $5.

Unboxing of Zero Devices Z5C Thinko TV Stick based on Rockchip RK3288 Processor

November 22nd, 2014 3 comments

It’s been a long long while since I’ve received an Android HDMI TV Stick, probably because many people prefer TV boxes, and the new ARM processors usually dissipate a lot of heat so thermal management may be an issue with small form factors. But I’ll finally get the opportunity to test a powerful HDMI dongle based on Rockchip RK3288 quad core processor, as Zero Devices sent me their Z5C Thinko TV stick. I’ll start by listing the specifications, and taking some pictures of the device and the board, because doing a full review hopefully sometimes next week.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko Specifications

The stick has specifications similar to full sized Android media player minus ports like Ethernet and S/PDIF:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A12/A17 @ 1.8 GHz + ARM Mali-T764 GPU with support for OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 /3.0, and OpenCL 1.1
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Connectivity – Dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz/5GHz) with external Wi-Fi antenna, and Bluetooth 4.0 (AP6330)
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 output (male) up to 4k2k @ 60 fps
  • Video Codecs – MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4,H.263, H.264, AVS, VC-1, RV, VP6/VP8, Sorenson Spark, MVC
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port, 2x micro USB ports (1x OTG, 1x for power)
  • Misc – Flash button for firmware update
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 102 x 38.4 x 10 mm excluding antenna
  • Weight – About 30 grams

The device runs Android 4.4.2.

Z5C Thinko Unboxing Pictures and Video

I received the device by DHL in a ZERO Devices “MINI PC STICK” branded package.
Zero_Devices_Z5C_Thinko_Package

The TV stick comes with a small pouch bag, a 5V/2A power supply with its micro USB to USB cable, a short HDMI cable, and a USB OTG adapter.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

There should also be an authenticity card with an unique serial number to access the VIP zone on Zero Devices for firmware download and documentation, and a user’s manual in English, but these were not included with my sample.

Z5C Thinko Mini PC (Click to Enlarge)

Z5C Thinko Mini PC (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve placed the dongle on top of a typical Android media player (MINIX NEO X6) for size comparison. The stick features three USB ports: one micro USB port for power only, one micro USB OTG port and one full size USB 2.0 host port, as well as an HDMI 2.0 male connector, a micro SD slot, an external antenna, and a “flash” button used for firmware updates.

You can also watch Zero Devices Z5C Thinko unboxing video if you please.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko Board Pictures

There aren’t any screws with this type of device, and you normally just need to find a small opening around the connectors, and unclip the two plastic parts with a think objects such as a flat-headed precision screwdriver. I started with the micro USB port (power), and finished with the USB port, and I did not even break any clips in the process!

CX-929 Board found Z5C Thinko (Click to Enlarge)

CX-929 Board found Z5C Thinko (Click to Enlarge)

There’s a wide but thin heatsink on top of the processor and RAM chips. I did not really tried to remove it. The Wi-Fi module is AP6330 as advertised which mean dual band Wi-Fi (2.4/5.0 GHz) and Bluetooth 4.0. The board name is CX-929_V1.2 manufactured (or designed) on 2014-09-27. I believe the CX-xyz devices are made by Sunchip.

Botton of the Board (Click to Enlarge)

Botton of the Board (Click to Enlarge)

On the back of the board, we’ll find a 8GB SAMSUNG KLM8G1WEMB-B031 eMMC flash that in theory supports 100 MB/s read speed, and 6MB/s write speed, as well as Active Semi 8864QM power management IC.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko can be purchased for $94.99 on Asiapads including shipping. The company also offer a USB + Ethernet Hub for $5 extra. I’ll do a full review next week.

Allwinner A80 Android TV Boxes Coming Soon, Starting with Zero Devices Z8C Alice

October 12th, 2014 19 comments

Allwinner A80 based tablets such as Onda V989, and development boards such as A80 OptimusBoard started to ship one to two months ago, but there was absolutly no news about Android mini PCs / media player based on the latest Allwinner processor. This is about to change as ZeroDevices twitted about their Z8C Alice TV Box, apparently designed by Sunchip, and in collaboration with a UK based digital signage company called Eclipse Digital Media.

Zero_Devices_Z8C_AlicePreliminary technical specifications that we can infer from the picture above:

  • SoC – AllWinner Ultra Core A80 4x Cortex 15, 4x Cortex A7 big.LITTLE processor with Imagination Technologies PowerVR GC6230 GPU with support for OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0/3.0, Directx 9.3
  • System Memory – N/A
  • Storage – ?? GB eMMC + SD card slot + SATA port (most probably via a USB 2.0/3.0 bridge)
  • Video  Output – HDMI + AV port
  • Audio – HDMI, AV, and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, probably Bluetooth too
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 OTG port, 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – IR receiver (not soldered on the picture above).
  • Power Supply – N/A
  • Dimensions – N/A

There’s a header at the back of the picture that might be used to connect a small board with for power button, and/or LEDs (TBC). The four through holes very close to the power barrel and S/PDIF connector is most likely the UART pins. Zero Devices also started a thread on Freaktab, where they posted a picture with showing the device get 54,253 points in Antutu. For some reasons, Antutu scores reported with devices and boards powered by Allwinner A80 have varied a lot from just a little over 30,000 to 65,000 depending on the firmware used, so any score should be taken with a grain of salt.

Pricing and availability are unknown at this stage.

List of Rockchip RK3288 Android TV Boxes So Far

June 25th, 2014 62 comments

In the previous years, you’d normally learn about new devices as they get listed on Alibaba or Aliexpress, and that’s how I built my – now very incomplete – list of Rockchip RK3188 based devices. But now companies seem to be anxious to let people know about their new devices even before they hit the market, and albeit I’ve been told full production of Rokchip RK3288 powered Android TV boxes is only planned by the end of July, many companies are already showing off their new devices, even though only the PCBA may be ready, or in development.

Rockchip_RK3288_Android_TV_BoxLet’s go through the list of Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A17 media devices that’s known (to me) so far:

  • No brand D368 – HDMI 1.4 TV dongle with 1 or 2 GB RAM, 4, 8 or 16 GB flash, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac + (optional) Bluetooth, and 2x USB host ports.
  • No brand B368 – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB flash, GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth, 2x USB host ports, and HDMI 1.4 and AV outputs.
  • Ugoos UM3 – TV box with 2GB RAM (1GB as option), 8 GB flash (16/32GB as option), Wi-fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI 2.0
  • Ugoos UT3 – Same as Ugoos UM3, but with 16GB flash by default (option up to 64GB), and adds Gb Ethernet, and HDMI 1.4 input.
  • Rikomagic MK902 II – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8 or 16 GB flash, GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI and AV outputs.
  • Zero Devices Z6C – TV box with 2GB RAM, 16 GB flash, GbE, “Broadcom Wi-Fi”, and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI output.
  • Kingnovel K-R68 – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8 GB flash (16/32Gb as option), GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB host ports, and HDMI 2.0 and AV outputs. (Bottom right of the picture above)
  • MINIX NEO X9 – TV box (rumor)
  • Sunchip CX-920 and CX-998 – Respectively HDMI TV stick and TV box.
  • No brand GK388 ($99.99) – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB flash, GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB host ports, and HDMI 1.4 output.
  • Eny Technology EKB328 – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB flash, GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB host ports, and HDMI 1.4 output.
  • Artway Q8 – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB flash (16GB as option), GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB host ports, and HDMI 1.4a and AV outputs.
  • PMD OEM Box – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB eMMC flash (16GB as option), 10/100M Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI 1.4a and AV outputs. It also comes with a built-in 2MP camera.
  • Starlead Q8 aka Neken M9 – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB or 16GB flash, GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB host ports, and HDMI 1.4a and AV outputs.
  • CS928 / OTT928 ($114 to $120 – Added 27/6) – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB or 16GB flash, GbE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI and AV outputs. It also comes with a built-in 5MP camera.
  • CloudnetGo CR12 ($149 – Added 27/6) – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB or 16GB flash, GbE, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB host ports, and HDMI and AV outputs. It also comes with a built-in 2MP camera.
  • CloudnetGo CR16 (Added 03/7) – TV box with 2 GB RAM, 8GB or 16GB flash, GbE, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI, AV and VGA outputs.
  • MK903V ($122 – Added 02/9) – HDMI Stick with 2 GB RAM, 8GB NAND flash, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 1x USB host port, and HDMI output.
  • Nagrace NT-V6 ($129 and up – Added 02/9) – TV boxes with 2 to 4 GB RAM, 8GB, 16GB or 32GB eMMC flash, GbE, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI and AV outputs.
  • Tronsmart Orion R28 ($99 and up – Added 02/9) – TV boxes (3 models) with 2 to 4 GB RAM, 8GB, 16GB or 32GB eMMC flash, GbE, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI and AV outputs.
  • Uyesee G1H (Added 02/9) – TV box with 1 to 2 GB RAM, 8 to 16GB eMMC flash, GbE, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB host ports, and HDMI and AV outputs.

No prices are currently available, at least from reliable sellers, except for GK388 which is sold for $99.99 on Aliexpress by a seller with lots of positive ratings. But when I try to chat to now inquire about, it seems I was replied in less than a second, most probably by a chat bot, saying “you would get your parcel soon because I am processing your order now ,so we have no time to talk to you” :). Anyway with all these companies launching RK3288 mini PCs, prices are likely to be very competitive.

All the boxes appears to support both 802.11 b/g/n and 802.11ac and Gigabit Ethernet, except one. From this list the box with the highest specifications seem to be Ugoos UT3 as it features HDMI 2.0 output and HDMI 1.4 input, and a version may be sold with up to 64GB flash. There’s no way I can guarantee the specs are correct, but there are still a lot of boxes that list HDMI 1.4, and not HDMI 2.0, and it’s something you’ll have to check before purchasing one, although it is only important if you have, or plan to buy, a 4K TV, and need 60 fps. I have listed all details of the specs such as micro USB OTG, and optical S/PDIF both of which can be found in most full sized Android TV boxes listed above, and all are said to run Android 4.4 Kitkat.

Zero Devices Z900 Android mini PC Unboxing and Review

August 11th, 2012 22 comments

Zero Devices Z900 HDMI Stick hardware is very similar to CX-01 as it has the same Telechips TCC8925 Cortex A5 processor, 512 MB RAM and 4GB Flash memory. The only key difference is the presence of a microSD card slot which is lacking on CX-01 mini PC.

It ships in the same package as Zero Devices Z802 mini PC, and the only difference is the lack of marking to tell the device name. Let’s open the box and see what’s inside.

Zero Devices Z900 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

The package contains from top left to bottom right:

  • USB to mini USB cable to connect the power
  • 5V/1A power supply
  • Documentation in Chinese and English
  • mini HDMI to HDMI cable (about 30 cm long)
  • Z900 Android TV Stick
  • Zero Devices Authenticity Card.

The Authenticity Card is used to register your device on Zero Devices website and access a VIP area with access to support forums, a download section and more. At this time, The VIP area is still work in progress however.

I’ve tried the HDMI to mini HDMI cable on my TV, but it’s a bit too short for the mini PC to full rest on the table, so it’s just hanging by the TV if I use this cable. But since I prefer a direct connection this is not a problem for me. I connected the mini USB to USB cable directly to the TV, and did not use the power adapter, as I know it’s sufficient for Telechips TCC8925 platforms. Finally I added a USB mouse (my USB keyboard was not properly recognized) and after about a minute, the Android home screen appears with a live wall paper.

Z900 Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

The device was configured with Chinese display, and I’ve changed the language to English (US) before taking the screenshoot above. It’s a standard Android home screen, which I do not find the best on TV, but you can always install a TV Launcher app.  The good thing is the power button which allows to put the device in standby mode, and you can bring back Android with a simple mouse click.

The “About device” section shows they did not really provide a model number and gave a standard ANDROID_HDMI_DONGLE name, Android 4.0.4 is running on the device, with kernel 3.0.8 which is standard for Android ICS. Going further into the settings menu, I could find CEC support which should allow you to control your device with your TV remote as long as your TV supports CEC, Wifi Direct support, but no 3G or Bluetooth section.

I’ve had no problem installing different apps via Google Play, and there are about 20 APK in the flash that you can install with Easy Installer. The device is not rooted, but I had no problem rooting it with unlockroot. The firmware appears to be much more stable than CX-01, and I never encountered the kind of slowdown with high CPU usage I experienced with CX-01 during the few hours I used it.

As with CX-01, there are three players installed:

  • ES Media Player
  • PPTV Pad
  • Video Player

Z900 HDMI TV Stick has the same issue playing “high bitrate” 1080p videos over the network as CX-01, but I found it to play many different video codec/containers with the players pre-installed:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p – OK | 1080p – buffering a lot
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p – OK | 1080p – Some short (1 second) buffering occurred
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – FAIL
  • Real Media (RMVB) – FAIL
  • MOV file from Kodak camera – OK
  • FLV videos – Some videos can play, some can’t
  • WebM – 480p/720p – OK | 1080p – lots of buffering
  • MKV (several codecs) – OK, but no AC3 audio.
MX Player should be able to play videos that failed, although it may have to use software decode to do so.
Time for some benchmarks.

Z900 Antutu Benchmark Results

CX-01 has a score of 2216, so Z902 is about 5% slower on this benchmark, mainly because of CPU tests, but for some reasons is faster with 3D graphics. You may have noticed the frequency is 625 MHz whereas in CX-01, TCC8925 is clocked at 812 MHz, which may explain the lower CPU performance. Both Antutu and Quadrant reports that the frequency can be set between 343.75 and 625 MHz. It’s interesting because 625 MHz is not an option in the kernel config, and I wonder why they decided to lower the frequency that much. Another finding is that the memory available for Android/Linux is reported to be 390MB whereas for CX-01, Quadrant reports 512 MB. I wonder if the lower operating frequency and correctly setup memory could be the reason Z900 is more stable. Quadrant benchmark fails to start, as with many other devices.

One key advantage of Z900 over CX-01 is the microSD card slot. I tried it with a microSD card with a ext-4, but the system does not appear to support this, but there’s no problem accessing FAT-32 partitions on the SD card. It’s not always easy to insert the microSD card and my card got stuck in the device twice. I could retrieve it by opening the device, and found that you need to incline the microSD card slightly upward to insert it properly.

Luckily opening the device is straightforward. Look at your device with the microSD and USB port and turn 180 degrees to the other side, and lift the clip with a flat-head precision screwdriver.

Zero Devices Z900 "Motherboard" and module

Right, the picture above is not super clear, but at the top right, you’ve got the “mainboard” with Telechips TCC8925, the Memory, and all the ports,  at the bottom right, you can see a module with the Wi-Fi Module and Flash, and the microSD card is at the back. The metallic shield / heatsink? on the left was glued on top of the CPU. I could not find potential pins to connect a serial port on any of the boards.

The device is pretty good with 3 main issues:

  • Network performance, as it does not appear to be able to play video smoothly with bitrate > 6 Mbps.
  • USB keyboard can not be used properly. It appears to be detected, but does not to be ale to handle key presses correctly.
  • It’s possible to insert the microSD card incorrectly and it gets stuck inside the device.

The first two can hopefully be fixed with a firmware update, and the third one is not a major issue, but can’t be fixed easily, however once you know how you have to insert the card that’s not a problem anymore.

Zero Devices Z900 is available for $75 on Asiapads. That’s quite a steep difference compared to CX-01 ($50), but it includes a microSD card slot, a power supply and HDMI cable (Although I don’t find use for the last 2 personally). The main advantages for this stick is the microSD card slot and better firmware compared to CX-01 (for now), and lower power consumption compared to AllWinner A10 devices (I haven’t measured, but Smallart U-Host won’t boot when only connected to the USB port of my TV). The company also targets commercial applications such as digital signage, conversion of  standard TVs to smart TVs in hotels, etc.. where lower power consumption may be a slight advantage (TCO).

Zero Devices Z802 mini PC Unboxing and Review

August 9th, 2012 No comments

Yesterday, I received 2 mini PCs from Zero Devices: The AllWinner A10 based Z802 and the Telechips TCC8925 based Z900. Today, I’ll show the unboxing pictures of the Z802 and review the device, and I’ll take care of Z900 mini PC another day.

Zero Devices Z802 Package

Zero Devices Z802 is actually the same design as Rikomagic MK802, and was released about 2 weeks earlier, but fate made the media “gods” hype MK802 instead of Zero Device Z802. This mini PC features AllWinner A10 Cortex A8 processor clocked at up to 1.5 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 4 GB flash,  built-in Wifi 802.11 b/g/n, a mini USB OTG port, USB 2.0 host port, a microSD card slot and an HDMI female connector. I received the device in the package pictured on the left.

Once you open the box, you’ll see the Z802 on top, and once you pull off the cover, you’ll see quite a lot of accessories (Pictured below):

  • USB to mini USB cable
  • 5V/2A power supply
  • USB female to mini USB adaptor
  • mini HDMI to HDMI cable
  • mini CD with English user manual
  • Zero Devices Authenticity Card

The Authenticity Card contains a number at the back that allows to register your product on zero-devices.com, and access a VIP Area where you can access the Download section (Only the user manual is available, the same file as in the CD, but I’ve been told firmware will come very soon), forums (ready, but yet to be opened), promotions (nothing at this time) and contact section. The contact form in the VIP area is different from the general contact section on the site, so you may be able to get support faster via this channel.

Zero Devices Z802 & Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Let’s connect Z802 to the TV via the mini HDMI to HDMI cable, connect a USB mouse and the power supply, and get started. There has probably been a lot of reviews of MK802 HDMI TV Sticks, but I’ll give it a go anyway :).
After a few seconds (ok, one minute), the Android home screen shows up.

Screentshot UX trial, Quadrant and ES File Explorer are apps that I installed myself, but the rest is the same, and the UI was already setup to use English. This type of Home screen is fine, but personally I prefer the Smallart U-Host Home as it’s better adapted for the TV. Then I setup WiFi, configure Google Play, and install a few apps, no problem, except than Antutu was not available via Google Play, so I installed the apk instead.

I went to the “About mini PC” section (yep they changed the “About Tablet”!), and the device is codenamed AK-MINI-PC-001 and RISCTEK is mentioned in the build string, so it’s very similar indeed to the MK802 which is codenamed AK-MINI-PC-002 and also using the “RISCTEK” brand.

As usual, I’ve tested video playback with the Linaro media files and some videos of my own using pre-installed video plays: ES Media Player, PPTV Pad and “Video Player”.  I played the video via ES File Manager connected to a Windows Samba share, and as with other A10 devices there was no problem streaming videos over the network, but some files were not support. Here are the tests results:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK with “samplemedia: videos, but some other AVIs could not be played at all.
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – Videos play just fine, but I could hear audio noise regularly (short time 1 seconds) during playback.
  • Real Media (RMVB) – FAIL
  • FLV videos – FAIL
  • WebM/VP8 – It can play
  • MKV (several codecs) – OK

Interestingly Z802 appears to be better at playing some videos than Smallart U-Host, as it could play the MPEG2 and WebM without issue which was not the case with the Smallart U-Host. This could because it’s switch to another software (e.g. PPTV Pad) to play those files. For videos up to 720p resolution, I also recommend installing MX Player which can take advantage of hardware video decoding when available, and if not, switch to software decoding.

Z802 Antutu Benchmark Results

The Antutu benchmark results are disappointing (2253) as Smallart U-Host based on the same processor achieves 2918, especially since Allwinner A10 processor in Z802 is reported to be clocked at 1.5 Ghz, whereas it is only clocked at 1 Ghz in Smallart U-Host. A side by side comparison shows Smallart is faster in every aspect, and especially “SD card” read/write (SD card is here Flash).  As I mentioned above, I installed the apk from Antutu benchmark (version 2.7.1), but the version in Google Play used to test Smallart U-Host is 2.9, so this could be the reason. [Update: This type of score seems standard for MK802, and updated firmware could greatly improve performance]

I also noticed a bug reported for MK802, in which the screen rotates by 90 degrees in some applications, and it happens both with Antutu and Quadrant. I could not see those rotations in other applications such as the Browser, ES File Manager and the video players.

Speaking about Quadrant, Z802 was the first ever A10 device where I could run Quadrant successfully. Yeah! The score (1518) is not that far from Samsung Nexus S as you can see in the screenshot below.

Z802 Quadrant Results (Click to Enlarge)

One common complain about MK802 is that it overheats excessively, but during the few hours I played with Z802 I noticed the box gets hot, but nothing excessive, very similar to other mini PCs I tried.

Zero Devices Z802 appears to be exclusively available on Asiapads for $85 including shipping via Shenzhen Post. This is more expensive than other similar (not to say identical) devices, but the higher price could be due to extra accessories, and you may get better support than when buying a no-name device.

Zero Devices Z902 mini PC Can Now Be Pre-ordered for $75

August 6th, 2012 2 comments

Zero Devices Z902 is an upgrade of Zero Device Z802 (virtually identical to MK802) mini PC powered by AllWinner A10, with 1 GB RAM, a total of 3 USB ports (1 USB Host and 2 mini USB ports) and an HDMI male connector.

The device will eventually sells for $89, but the company currently offers the 500 first pieces for pre-order for $75 US including shipping via Asiapads. The company expects the first batch to be shipped by the end of August (25th to 31st).

The package includes a micro USB to USB (male) cable, a microUSB to USB (female) adapter, an HDMI female to male cable for those who can’t or don’t like connect the device directly in the TV, and a mini CD with a user manual in English.