Minix has recently released not one, but two new TV set top box or media box devices at once. Actually, hardware wise, both devices are identical but the difference is that one runs on Android while the other runs on a full version of Windows 8.1. Yes, the Minix Neo Z64 is both Minix’s first Intel based device as well as the first that runs on Windows.
Ever since I first came across the very first Android Mini PC, the Rikomagic MK802, I’ve been fascinated about how computing devices have shrunk. While the MK802 was a long way from a fully functioning desktop computer, it was a bonafide computer that could do a lot of things that my laptop could. In the last few years, Android hardware and software got more and more powerful. At the same time, the resources required to run a full version of Windows got more relaxed.
The Minix Neo Z64 is a convergence of both paths of technology advancement. Portable and mini-sized computer hardware that runs Windows is not new. In fact, one of my primary computers at home is an Intel NUC with an Intel Core i3 CPU that I’ve been using for the past couple of years. Although the NUC still triumphs over the Intel Baytrail Z3735F powered Minix Neo Z64 in many areas, the Neo Z64 with Windows is a whole lot cheaper.
While this review covers both the Windows and Android versions of the Minix Neo Z64, I will be concentrating mostly on the Windows version as I think that will be of most interest to most despite the fact that Androydz is an Android device blog. If there are parts about the Android version that you would like to learn more about and is not covered in the review below, feel free to post a comment below.
On the packaging side, Minix has upped the ante slightly. Both boxes look almost identical with a blue and white theme instead of the usual black and green designs that Minix products are usually known for. Personally, I like the blue/white design better.
Inside, the player and accessories are packed really nicely and securely. This means less chances of the buyer getting a unit damaged during transporting. However, the player itself looks almost identical to every other Minix media player that has been released in the past couple of years. This means a small square black box with an antenna attached to the side. In fact, the Windows version of the Neo Z64 actually has the same bottom design with the Android logo on it. Although there is nothing wrong with the design, it has come to a point that I cannot tell apart the Minix players I have on my home theater cabinet .
That complaint aside, I have nothing but praises for the build quality for the Minix Neo Z64. The construction looks and feel solid. It has quite a bit of heft to it although the casing is mainly plastic. The antenna is attached properly and it doesn’t feel like it is going to break off with rough handling.
At the rear of the unit are a analog 3.5 mm audio jack, an HDMI port, a 10/100 Ethernet LAN port and lastly a 5V DC power jack. On the right, there is a power button, a micro SD slot and 2 USB 2.0 ports. If you are familiar with previous Minix media players, you would have noticed right away that there is no optical or SPDIF digital audio out. While HDMI is slowly making optical audio outputs obsolete, it is a pity that it has been dropped.
On the other hand, I’m glad that the 3.5 mm audio jack is still there. For those who intend to hook up the Neo Z64 to a computer monitor, an analog audio output is required for sound if the monitor does not process the audio signals from the HDMI cable. It is also a pity that Minix did not include at least one USB 3.0 port. While the device has a micro SD for extra storage expansion, the ability to connect to a fast USB 3.0 compatible external HD would have been great.
There is no remote control included with the Windows version but there is one included with the Android version. Although this might seem a bit strange, it becomes obvious why Minix made this decision later on. The rest of the items included in the box are a power adapter, a user manual and thankfully, an HDMI cable, something that has left out of most media players of late.
Minix Neo Z64 Specifications
The Minix Neo Z64 is powered by an Intel Baytrail Z3735F quad-core processor with Intel HD graphics. The Intel Baytrail chipsets attracted a lot of attention for being low cost and low powered and are widely used in Windows tablets and low end laptops. It allowed manufacturers to produce Windows powered tablets and laptops that can rival the battery life of Android and iOS devices.
On the Neo Z64, being low powered is of no benefit as it is not a battery powered device. However, it allowed Minix to produce a very compact computer that does not require a fan for cooling. Therefore it is really silent and with the help of 32GB eMMC for storage and 2GB DDR3 RAM, it boots really quickly. The Android version takes about 20 seconds to boot up from a cold boot while the Windows version boots up in an incredible 12 seconds.
As for connectivity, you can either connect the Neo Z64 to your network or to the internet via the 10/100 Ethernet LAN port or wirelessly through 802.11 b/g/n WiFi. It is interesting to note that the Z64 does not come with dual-band WiFi support unlike some of Minix’s other Android media players.
The Windows version of the Minix Neo 64 comes with full Windows 8.1 that has already been activated. The Android version on the other hand comes with Android KitKat 4.4.4. The Windows version is just plain vanilla with no additional add-ons to make it more user friendly to be used with a remote control. The Android version on the other hand comes with Minix’s own customized launcher that makes it much easier to control the interface with a simple IR remote. This is why no controller is included with the Windows version.
Minix Neo Z64 Performance
The Minix Neo Z64 is obviously targeted at the media player crowd but since it runs on Windows 8.1, no doubt there are many who wonder how well it works as a desktop computer for productivity. The short answer is – quite well indeed. As I mentioned earlier, I have a Intel NUC based computer and although the NUC still holds an edge, the Neo Z64 performed quite well comparatively.
But first things first as we need to know how well the Neo Z64 performs as a media player. As expected, with the right software, the Neo Z64 beats just about any other Android based media player out there. This is not unexpected as there is no software or codec compatibility issue here. Windows is a very matured platform and there are codecs and video playback software to play just about any video and audio format out there. It is only restricted by the hardware itself but the Z3735F is no slouch when it comes to video playback. The Intel Baytrail Z3735F played every single video file I threw at it including 4K H.264 files.
If you have ever tried using an Baytrail based Windows tablet, you’ll have a very good idea on how well the Neo Z64 performs as a desktop computer. It is not super fast and if you try doing too many things at once, you will notice the lag and this is primarily due to the 2GB RAM. Adding another 2GB of RAM would have sped up things a lot more.
While you can play games on it including some 3D games, the Minix Neo Z64 is no 3D graphical powerhouse. Don’t expect to play the latest Windows 3D games on it even with the graphic settings turned way down. However on the other hand, you can be much more productive just because it is running Windows. It will run MS Office and just about any other Windows app out there. Hook it up to a large monitor with a keyboard and mouse, and you have a fairly competent desktop computer. It may not be good for gaming but it is perfect as a second computer for the kids that can also double up as a great media player.
Needless to say, it works great with Kodi (formerly known as XBMC) and much less problem free compared to the Android version. If you plan to use the Neo Z64 mostly as a media player then it makes perfect sense to install Kodi as its interface is well suited for use with a simple remote control.
The other great thing about Windows is that it will support all your hardware accessories. There is less of a worry of wondering if Android supports the webcam or Bluetooth controller or hard disk you connect to it. If it works on your current Windows computer, it’ll probably work on the Neo Z64.
The downside of running Windows compared to Android on a media player is that for easy navigation, you will need a keyboard with touch pad or a mouse. Media Player manufacturers like Minix has taken many years to come up with their own custom launchers that ease navigation without using a keyboard or mouse. On the Windows side, it is still lagging behind.
On the other hand, the Android version of the Minix Neo Z64 does not really bring much that is new to the table. It is not that there is anything wrong with the Android version but I just felt that if you wanted an Android based media player from Minix, there is actually no apparent advantage to go with the Neo Z64 rather than the Minix Neo X8 for example. In fact the only advantage I can think of is that if you get bored of Android, you can switch to Windows by replacing the OS.
If all that you need is a media player for your home theater system, it is probably a good idea to just stick with an Android based player. On the other hand, if you have a spare monitor lying around and you’re looking for a cheap desktop computer, the Windows version of the Minix Neo Z64 is a good candidate. All you have to do is slap on a few pieces of double sided tape and stick it to the back of your monitor and you have a desktop with a very small footprint.
The Android version of the Neo Z64 runs great as well except that by moving over to the Intel platform, a few hardware features were dropped including support for optical SPDIF audio and dual band WiFi. If you plan to stick with Android, it probably makes more sense to go for one of Minix’s other Android media players.