Monday, 16 May 2016

A Buyer's Guide to Intel Cherry Trail Mini PC Sticks

With the recent multitude of Cherry Trail mini PC sticks appearing in the market place I take a look at what is on offer and what to consider when buying one.

Currently advertised: (click on links for further details)

ZOTAC ZBOX PI221
MeLE Star Cloud PCG02 Plus
MOREFINE M1s
PiPO X1S
ASUS VivoStick PC (TS10)
ECS PS02
Meegopad T07 Pro
Dosupara Diginnos Stick DG-STK2S
Mouse MS-CH01F

Newly advertised: (click on links for further details)

Measy T8C
NEXBOX T5
Vensmile i8
Presale: (Not on manufacturer's website)


Meegopad T08

Also (and maybe of interest) there are some devices on a crowd-funding platform that may or may not materialise because at least one recent crowd-funding stick has ended seemingly as a fraud and two other crowd-funding sticks are very overdue.


A Comparison Of Key Features (with differentiators):

(click to enlarge)


Buying Tips:

A key factor that should be considered before purchasing a device is the level and quality of support from both the manufacturer and the seller of the product. Reputable companies have dedicated pages on their websites for support and include download sections where all the latest firmware and software can be accessed. Typically the absence of such support means the device will probably not have much longevity in the market and software issues will not get fixed. The cost, turnaround time and likelihood for a RMA should be considered in the event that the device is or becomes faulty. Quality control on the cheaper 'clone' devices can be much poorer resulting in more frequent device failures. Some manufacturers insist on repairing faulty devices and then returning the same device rather than providing an immediate replacement. Devices first have to be returning to the reseller often using slower shipping methods to avoid import taxes before they are sent to the manufacture for fault inspection and analysis. Customers typically have to pay return shipping costs and replacement devices if offered may then be subject to additional import duties and taxes which in turn may be influenced by changing exchange rates. The resulting costs often exceed the price of alternative devices with better localized support.

Community support is very important as unfortunately so many times issues are specific to a particular model and not to the broader range of devices with the same SOC. This can range from simply wanting to know what software works best with a device or whether a certain peripheral is supported by the device to the availability of alternative OS or drivers. Don't expect something that works on one device will work on all devices. Whilst a lot of devices appear to be simply re-badging and/or cloning of other devices often subtle changes are introduced and these changes are not necessarily features. Disappointingly manufacturers prioritise providing samples to people who write glowing reviews of their products but are decidedly reluctant to provide samples for development. Developers also rely on donations to purchase devices and frugal communities result in limited device support.

With the advent of Intel mini PCs and the option of running Windows OS the issue of licensing should be considered. Arguably this is only a concern for only some manufactures and resellers however not all devices with Windows pre-installed are able to be activated. Besides devices with 'Genuine Windows' licenses there are products sold with trial licenses, cracked licenses and OEM licenses that are not applicable to the product being sold, for example with some 4GB RAM devices.

Finally some specifications are not always accurate. Adverts can carry conflicting specifications due to the habit of reusing those from other products and incorrectly editing them. Checking the written specification for a product against the manufacturer website is sometimes not enough to clarify what the device actually is as these details can be incorrect or not updated.  Pictures of a device sometimes show ports that contradict the written specification. For new models often the pictures on websites are rendered images or artistic impressions of what the device might look like. As these are created prior to the product being released sometimes hardware changes are not reflected as the images are not updated. Manufacturers may change the components during the life-cycle of a product which may result in software support issues. Independent product reviews are sometimes based on pre-release devices that occasionally change slightly prior to commercial production resulting in even the most reliable websites to sometimes including incorrect information.

I recommend undertaking a small amount of research prior to purchasing a product using a set of personal criteria based on the above points together with your individual needs. The result is that the apparent prolific market of mini PCs soon whittles down to just a couple of choices for most and for some, caveat emptor.

4 comments:

  1. Nice job on this Buyer's Guide. Thank you.

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  2. T05 Nexbox is fan and has activated win10 64bit Home edition
    Also - there is a rumour that 2GB RAM is software limited and can be scaled to 4GB - its not clear how but some chinese forums show this is the case with Z8300 chip. Finally - many devices Fan is maxed - poor airflow through fabric style vent anti-dust. Open up and remove this and device fan is much slower / quieter (see russian youtube guide)

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  3. well... that was a good one !
    i got so comfused...!
    thanks for that.
    no one knows about the morefine m1s if it can go with win 10 but 32bit ans not 64...???...

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