Minix Neo N42C-4 Mini PC Review
The expandability factor
What is the Minix N42C-4?Minix is one of the leading lights in the global Mini PC market and is a company with a justifiably excellent reputation for making products that not only perform well but are reliable and well-supported, far in to their life-cycle. The Neo N42C-4 is the company’s latest foray in to the Windows market – following the Z83-4 / Z83-4 Pro and NGC-1 – although Minix is arguably better known for its range of Android Media Hubs and Players. That’s not stopped them being successful in the Windows market, however, with the Z83-4 proving very popular at retail.
While Minix has a relatively sizeable amount of control over the software running its Android devices it, of course, is largely in thrall of Microsoft – and to a lesser degree, Intel here - so Minix has to ensure its hardware stands out in the marketplace. In actual fact, for reasons we’ll explain, the Neo N42C-4 doesn’t have a great deal of competition, when you look at the specifics. For starters there aren’t all that many Windows 10 Pro Mini PCs – Pro being the operative term here – and less still that offer the N42C-4’s hardware upgrade potential. This model can be expanded both in terms of RAM and internal hard drive capacity, with the latter close to being a prerequisite.
To keep costs to customers down to a minimum, the Minix Neo N42C-4 ships with only 32GB of built-in storage and 4GB of RAM as anything higher would mean that the Windows 10 Pro Licence would no longer be free and that’s worth around £200, at the time of review. The Minix Neo N42C-4 carries a suggested retail price of £269.90 so let’s see if it’s worth your money.
SpecificationThe Neo N42C-4 features an Intel N4200 ‘Pentium’ CPU with integrated Intel HD Graphics 505. As said above, there’s 32GB of eMMC (Flash) storage which, to be even more specific, is supplied by Samsung, as is the 4GB DDR3L RAM module. The N42C-4 comes with a fully licenced version Windows 10 Pro 64-bit and features an integrated dual-band wireless module with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.
Design & ConnectionsThe Minix Neo N42C-4 sports an all-black plastic hull with dimensions of 139x139x30mm (WxDxH) which is certainly compact but larger than the company’s previous Windows devices. There’s a couple of reasons for that; in another first for Minix the N42C-4 features a fan, rather than the (relatively) massive heatsinks we’re accustomed to seeing. We assume the thinking is that the upgradability could lead to increased heat. In practise we found the fan barely noticeable during normal use, bar on start-up when it first whirrs in to action. The other reason for the expanded dimensions is the new built-in wireless antenna that means there is no need for the external antennae used on the N42C-4’s predecessors and stable-mates. In fact, we think the new machine looks much slicker when compared to say, an NCG-1, with its antennae attached and its narrower, too, in that comparison. That said, we’d love to see the same casing used on the NGC-1 deployed here.The remaining connections are at the rear. From left to right, we have the 12V power supply connection, a Gigabit Ethernet port, Mini Display Port 1.2, HDMI 1.4, USB-C and a 3.5mm audio jack. Through its multi-video enabled connectors, the N42C-4 is triple-display 4K ready with both the USB-C and Mini DP connections supporting UHD up to 60Hz; the HDMI port is restricted to 30Hz for Ultra HD resolutions. The audio jack can be used for analogue stereo or digital optical with a cheap Toslink adapter attached. The NEO N42C-4 also includes a VESA mount for installation on the back of a VESA compatible TV or monitor and there are some screws and a mini-tool in the box to help you get the job done. We should also mention the Kingston Lock on the left-hand side if you need to bolt your device down.
SetupThat 32GB of eMMC storage doesn’t go far with Windows, especially when there’s more than 11GB of that reserved for the operating system and resources. In fact, once we’d gone beyond a few security updates and a minor Windows version bump, we hit an upgrade wall with Windows 1709 – AKA Fall Creators Update – unable to install due to a lack of space. There are several ways you can go from here, of course. You could simply attach some USB storage, most obviously, but you’re adding to the footprint of the PC, along with increased power usage and a slightly slower overall operation. You could also try and make the space on the built-in storage – and it is just about possible if you delete a few games, all totally unnecessary system files and any OneDrive files that may have synced in setup. This still leaves very little room for future updates, however, even if you rely on networked or USB storage for the bulk of the duties.
While it adds to the cost, our recommendation would be to take advantage of the 2280 M.2 SATA slot and marry it with some SSD storage. You can pick up a compatible solid state hard drive for around £40 for 120Gb – you can go up to 512GB, max. Installation is very simple: prise off the plastic feet on the bottom, insert a suitable screwdriver (we found a PH0 head did the trick) in to the cavities left by the feet and remove the four screws. Once you’ve slipped off the back casing, it’s trivial to insert the SSD drive. The keys to the Windows Licence are stored on the BIOS so you can re-install Windows to the SSD and disable the eMMC. The RAM upgrade process is similarly simple thanks to the pair of SODIMM slots, with up to 16GB (2x8GB) possible. We just stuck in a matching 4GB stick which cost about £30. Unlike the storage upgrade – by whatever means – the upping of RAM isn’t all that necessary but it does make a difference.
General Windows 10 Pro PerformanceWe’ve been using the Neo N42C-4 as our everyday PC for around seven weeks, at the time of publishing. Around half of that time, the N42C-4 was kept at stock and in the second half we ran the ‘souped-up’ version with 120GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. Installing the operating system to the solid-state storage brought about noticeable improvements to boot-up speed, as one would expect, but it has other benefits including read/write speeds for the internal drive. We clocked sequential internal read speeds at around 500 MB/s compared to 300MB/s from eMMC. Write speeds are also boosted from around 80MB/s to averaging around 400MB/s. It’s not that the Neo 42C-4 is sluggish in out of box state more that it’s performance with an installed SSD is excellent, overall. You could probably do even better than the performance we got if you were to buy a higher-end SSD.
While it’s all very well that the internal performance is good, the maximum of 512GB SSD limit is going to mean that many users will require more and that will mean USB, Networked (NAS) or Cloud based storage solutions. Fortunately, the Neo N42C-4 isn’t lacking in these departments, either with super performance over USB 3.0 and via Ethernet and Wi-Fi. USB 3 speeds were measured at 103 MB/S Read and Write while we iperf reported 900/865 Mb/s for Ethernet and 280/255 Mb/s Download/Upload for Wi-Fi.
Our primary reason for needing a Windows 10 device with excellent internal networking is to take advantage of the Windows 10 Xbox app which allows you to stream games from the console to PC . The Minix N42C-4 proved an excellent candidate for this, with highest quality settings streaming spotlessly over a wired or Wi-Fi connection, provided the console was wired to the router.
This isn’t a PC for power users, of course, but it’s more than capable of running day-to-day tasks extremely well. Our main uses, like many, are Microsoft Office, Web browsing and some light video and photo editing which were all well catered for by the Minix. Where the Windows Pro features make more sense is for business users with such features as Remote Desktop, Domain Join, Group Policy and Shared PC configurations, although Remote Desktop is something we find useful in-home too. Most businesses are set up in such a fashion that workers don’t need beefy PCs to run tasks proficiently and the Minix, with it’s low-power consumption, convenient size and all-round solid performance should fit the bill nicely there. It’s triple display capability also makes it a great candidate for Digital Signage duties.
Audio-Visual PerformanceAt around £270, before any upgrades you may or may not deem necessary, you would be a tad foolish to buy the Minix Neo N42C-4 as a dedicated media device when you could do significantly better for considerably less. However, if you’re after more of an all-round performer it is not an incapable device, by any means. Intel has long been producing chips with strong audio-visual capabilities
The Neo N42C-4 followed its specification by being able to handle Ultra HD up to 30 frames per second and slightly to our surprise decode 10-bit HEVC, although output was at 8-bit, according to our HDR Fury Vertex. And we couldn’t get it to play HDR (High Dynamic Range) at all. The Intel chipset provides top-notch video processing for 1080p and below with most formats and containers so the Minix provided excellent deinterlacing and scaling of sub UHD and is able to adjust the video output frequency to complement the framerate of the content being played, with no issues, the same should be said of the Ultra HD content above, too.
While we couldn't get the N42C-4 to bitstream HD audio formats, it was capable of playing all our test files, except Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 which was down-mixed to DD+ 5.1. The issue, for some, will be the fact that the audio is decoded and sent to the amp/receiver as uncompressed PCM so you won't get the Dolby or DTS lights on the display of your AV Receiver.
In more general terms, Windows 10 streaming apps and Desktop programs worked well. We tested with NOW TV, Spotify, Netflix and TIDAL, in particular, with browser streaming via YouTube and Amazon Video too. The ability to choose from a variety of screen refresh rates is good news for video enthusiasts, as you set to complement the frame rate of the content – provided you know it, although in most cases it’s easy enough to figure out. If you use Google Chrome you can also take advantage of the refresh rate options but that doesn’t hold true for the installed Edge browser which is ‘hard coded’ at 60Hz. Edge proved better for 4K YouTube, however.
Streaming audio from Audible, Spotify and TIDAL was also a positive experience with the latter’s MQA ‘Studio Masters’ playable, via the desktop app. We should also give a mention to the Bluetooth v4.2 capability which is excellent at maintaining and re-establishing connections with devices and certainly better in that regard to the v4.0 and V4.1 products we've reviewed. Audio performance was also excellent with a very stable signal maintained throughout testing. For those worried about the fan during entertainment use, we would say that if you’ve got a current-gen games console in your set-up it would drown out the noise of the N42C-4 quite easily – Xbox One X included – so, in other words, it’s generally very quiet indeed
- RAM and Internal storage upgradable
- Intel chipset excellent for audio and video
- Excellent price for Windows 10 Pro enabled PC
- Superb networking speeds
- Great connectivity
- Super build quality
- Paltry in-built storage
- Quite expensive if you don't need Windows 10 Pro
Minix Neo N42C-4 Mini PC Review
Should I buy one?The Minix Neo N42C-4 arrives with a strong heritage, with previous Minix Mini PCs – be they Windows or Android – notable for their reliability, build quality, after sales support, solid operating systems and firmware. The N42C-4 is a Windows 10 Pro device probably more aimed at the business market, than the domestic, but it’s a great all-rounder with the bonus of simple hardware upgrades being possible to boost storage, speed and general performance. That’s not to say the audio-video capabilities aren’t good – they are - including support for 4K up to 30Hz, multiple refresh rate support and HEVC decoding but if you want a specialist media player and you’re demands are exacting, there are better candidates.
The system features an Intel ‘Pentium’ N4200 CPU with 4GB of RAM but just 32GB of built-in storage. This is patently not enough for long-term use and, without deleting some of the unneeded system files and a few of the pre-installed apps, not enough to even install the Windows ‘Fall Creators’ Update (1709), which is a pretty big deal. It’s very easy to add USB storage, of course, which would negate the problem at the expense of adding more bulk to your set-up. You could also rely on network storage, which is probably less advisable, or combine the two but the most elegant solution is to upgrade the internal storage to SSD, courtesy of the 2280 M.2 SATA slot. You can pick up suitable storage for £35ish, and up, from 120GB to a maximum of 512GB, which is comfortably enough for OS and security updates, the Office suite, a bunch of Apps and more. You can also upgrade the RAM to a maximum of 16GB which will provide another significant performance boost, especially for multi-taskers.
The Minix Neo N42C-4 won’t be for everyone but we really like its upgradability, even if we would prefer to pay less for a Windows 10 Home Version, which is not going to happen, by the way. The build quality is very good, the networking speeds are excellent and the Windows 10 Pro License definitely adds value beyond the costs of the almost mandatory storage upgrade so we’re more than happy to endorse it with an AVForums Recommended Award.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £269.90
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality9
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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