Sunday, 27 March 2016

The mini PC comes of age


Nearly four years ago the world was introduced to the MK802, an Android 'stick' originally billed as:



and so the mini PC was born.

Although it used an Allwinner A10 processor capable of a maximum speed of 1.5 GHz it was clocked at 1 GHz. Immediately attention turned to running Linux on the device but because Android took over half of the 4 GB of available storage Linux had to be booted from a micro SD card that was supported by the included 'T-Flash card slot'.

Performance was dreadful as this early video of Ubuntu 10.04 shows even though it was optimistically talked up at the time:


Almost immediately an upgraded model, the MK802+, was released with 1 GB of memory. Then came the MK802 II which defined the form-factor we are familiar with today including a full-size HDMI connector located at one end of the device and a side located full-sized USB port.


Since then the mini PC has evolved using more powerful ARM processors to most recently with the introduction of Intel processors. From a Linux perspective the Intel processors were welcomed because they overcame the restrictive shortfall of lack of HD graphics due to closed source drivers.

Three years ago I started benchmarking the performance on mini PCs running Ubuntu and the performance improvement since then has been dramatic. It can best be seen by comparing the first MK802+ against the latest mini PC, Intel's Core M Compute Stick, the STK2M3W64CC:


First the system information:


Next a performance comparison using my standard set of benchmarking tests from the Phoronix Test Suite run on Ubuntu:


Which when viewed graphically highlight the magnitude of improvement:


As further comparison the following is a 're-enactment' of the above MK802+ video using the STK2M3W64CC:


It is with this latest evolution that the mini PC has come of age.

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