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Minix NEO Z83-4 Pro Mini PC Review

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A well-sorted mini PC with a Windows 10 Pro Licence

by Mark Hodgkinson Oct 5, 2017 at 7:09 AM

  • SRP: £179.90

    What is the Minix Neo Z83-4 Pro?

    This Windows 10 Mini-PC is a product refresh to the highly successful Minix Neo Z83-4 with the Pro suffix denoting the Windows 10 Pro licence status, although there are a couple of other minor alterations to the package. The original Z83-4 has become Minix’s biggest ever selling Mini PC and was even the Number One seller in the Mini PC category on Amazon.com. The most notable hardware alterations are the slightly enhanced Intel X5-Z8350 CPU and an included VESA mount for mounting the device to the back of your display to remove cable clutter from your desk, or AV unit. The previous Z8300 processor proved a bit of a winner for audio-video performance while the general performance was easily enough for the majority of typical office duties and the Windows 10 Pro licence could certainly add to the appeal for a broader sector of businesses. The UK pricing has been set at £179, so £20 on top of the standard Z83-4, but that’s considerably less than shelling out for a Pro licence, let’s see if the Z83-4 Pro is likely to be as popular as the original.

    Specification

    As noted above, the Z83-4 Pro runs from an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 ‘Cherry Trail’ quadcore processor with on-board intel HD graphics and 4GB of DDR3L system memory (RAM). There is 32GB of eMMC 5.0 flash storage built-in, with 15.6GB available upon first use so, by default, there’s not a lot of extra room available if you want to keep up on top of Windows updates.

    Design & Connections

    Minix NEO Z83-4 Pro Design & Connections
    The Neo Z83-4 Pro has that familiar Minix feeling of being sturdy and well constructed. Inside the all black, high grade plastic hull sits an impressive looking heatsink and, again, that feeling of careful engineering. The unit measures 130x130x20mm (DxWxH) and is supplied with an external PSU, an HDMI cable and some brief instructions in a booklet. There is no means of control supplied so you’ll have to provide your own; if you’re using it primarily as a media device you might want to consider an ‘air-mouse’ with a full keyboard as it really simplifies life when you’re sat on the sofa.
    Minix NEO Z83-4 Pro Design & Connections
    Also supplied in the box, but not affixed, is an antenna which attaches on the left-hand side of the casing. It’s good that’s it’s optional as some will want to run a wired network connection and not have an unsightly antenna but it’s also needed for the Bluetooth (V 4.2) to work optimally. For the record, the Z83-4 Pro sports 802.11ac Dual-Band Wi-Fi. On the right-hand side of the Z83-4 Pro is a power button and a generous set of 4 USB ports, with three v2.0 and one v3.0 available. At the rear is a Gigabit LAN port, an HDMI 1.4 connection and a mini 1.2 DisplayPort together with a 3.5mm audio out jack for headphones or speakers.

    Windows 10 Pro & General Performance

    I honestly can’t pick any perceivable difference in using the Minix Z83-4 Pro over the non-pro version and that’s no bad thing. I’m not a power user in that my PC use is mostly Microsoft Office (Word and Excel), some light video and photo editing and mundane web browsing and emails. The only point of struggle was when trying to crop a (frankly ridiculously sized) 25k jpg file which saw the Z83-4 PRO stall, almost certainly a result of the RAM being oversubscribed. General read/write speeds to the built-in storage were as expected and top out at around 145 MB/s read and 72 MB write with performance to an attached Samsung USB 3.0 hard drive slightly slower with read at 93MB/s but write was faster at 96 MB/s. Performance over our Gigabit network was excellent and we got slightly better results here with files transferred at up to 88 MB/s but wireless to our 802.11ac router clocked at less with around 37 Mb/s, compared to around 50 MB/s with the older model. We put the Z83-4 Pro to the test streaming some Xbox One games and we were easily able to play on highest settings over a wired connection, direct to the same router and/or switch as well as over powerline but the wireless performance, from one room and around 5 meters away, meant we had to notch down quality by one.

    The only real reason to pick the Pro version over the non-pro version (aside from the VESA mount) is the Windows 10 Pro licence. It's more than likely that if you are in the position of needing the Pro features, including Remote Desktop, Domain Join, Group Policy and Shared PC configurations, that you would know but certainly most small to medium sized business would probably benefit by using at least some of them.

    Video & Audio Performance

    As per our normal testing regime, files were stored on a QNAP NAS on a gigabit network, as well as a Samsung M3 USB 3.0 HDD. Video and audio was assessed using a Samsung UE65JU7000 and two older Full HD TVs, via a Yamaha RXV-V679, using the same development build of KODI v17, which features playback of 3D video for Intel chipsets and was largely successful on the Minix Z83-4 non-Pro. It has to be said from the outset that the upgrade of the CPU in the Pro has had detrimental effects to video performance in terms of 3D but, other than that, performance is identical.

    Beginning with the 4K/Ultra HD tests:

    4K Tests

    KODI

    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24.000fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/25.000fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MKV/59.940fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/59.940fps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps

    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/50.00fps
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps

    The Z83-4 PRO followed its specification by being able to handle Ultra HD up to 30 frames per second but was incapable with anything above and the chipset doesn't support 10-bit HEVC decoding either. We don't see a massive issue with the framerate being capped to thirty – 4K movies and 'major' TV series aren't likely to move from 24/23.976 fps anytime soon but the lack of 10-bit HEVC support is a definite hindrance

    The Intel chipset provides top-notch video processing for 1080p and below with most formats and containers

    SD/HD/Interlaced

    KODI

    720 x 576/MP2/mpg/25.000fps - Interlaced
    Excellent scaling & deinterlacing
    1280 x 720/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    Excellent scaling
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.00fps - Interlaced
    Excellent deinterlacing
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/24.000fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.000fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/29.970fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/30.000fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/59.970fps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/ISO/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps

    The Z83-4 Pro, as expected, 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, where it would play.

    As we noted above, the networking speeds of the Minix Z83-4 are very impressive so we were expecting good things here with videos encoded at extremely high bit rates:

    High Bitrate

    KODI

    1920 x 1080/AVC/M2TS/23.976fps & 90mbps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 100mbps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 110mbps

    3480 x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps

    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    10-bit 3840x2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps

    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps

    10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps

    A point of note is that a Full HD Blu-ray rip with no compression will top out at a bitrate of 48 Mbps so there is plenty of headroom on this Minix for that but UHD rips, which could need up to 128Mbps, would be too much and the lack of 10-bit HEVC really doesn’t help either

    The playback of 3D directly through KODI using Intel chipsets has been a real boon for some users, with many very affordable, fanless and small form factor devices being capable with a special build by one of the KODI developers. Being a fork it has its drawbacks and, at the time of writing, the latest release looks to be the final one we’ll see so it/you will be ‘stuck’ on KODI V17 (Krypton). Depending on how you want to use KODI, going forwards, particularly in relation to potential integration of legit paid-for streaming services that might be a hindrance, it certainly would be for me. In any case, the Intel X5-Z8350 CPU is apparently not compatible with this special build and frame-packed 3D output was a bust. We say apparently because it might be that some, as yet undiscovered, combination of drivers and settings might unlock frame packed 3D but I wasn’t the one willing to find them.

    3D

    KODI

    1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed

    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed

    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side
    Had to maunually engage TV mode
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom
    Needed to manually engage 3D mode

    As you would expect, the Z83-4 Pro was able to output both top and bottom (TAB) and side by side (SBS) 3D but there was no signal to tell the TV to trigger its 3D mode (to be fair, that’s rare in a media player) but at least you would be able to view such content in all its ‘glory’

    There was success, for the most part anyhow, with the audio tests but you need to ensure you’ve instructed your PC of the capabilities of your amp or AV receiver.

    Audio

    KODI

    AAC (Dolby Digital) 5.1
    AC3 (DTS) 5.1
    Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
    Played as 5.1 PCM
    Dolby True HD 5.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    Dolby True HD 7.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    DTS HD-MA 5.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    DTS HD-HR 7.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    DTS HD-MA 7.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    LPCM 7.1

    While we couldn't get the Z83-4 Pro to bitstream HD audio formats, in one way or another, the Minix was capable of playing all the 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. If that's an issue for you, you'll need to look for another solution but, for many, this should be sufficient.

    How future-proof is this video streamer?

    4K Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second
    HEVC decoding Full HD

    Only 8-bit
    HEVC decoding Ultra HD

    Only 8-bit
    7 Channel HD Audio pass-through
    Netflix HD/4K

    HD
    3D ISO playback
    HDMI 2.0

    Conclusion

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Very good build quality
    • Great cooling
    • High quality components
    • Pro licence only £20 more
    • Excellent wired networking speeds
    • Good read/write speeds
    • Impressive connectivity
    • Included VESA mount

    Cons

    • Wireless performance not as good as predecessor
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Minix NEO Z83-4 Pro Mini PC Review

    Should I buy one?

    If you’re looking for a well performing, Windows 10 Mini PC with excellent build quality and, by association, high reliability, the Minix Z83-4 Pro makes for a fine choice. It is sturdy and features excellent connectivity including USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4, along with Bluetooth V4.2, up to 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. Minix’s decisions to choose the best components also pays dividends with snappy read/write performance, super networking speeds over a wired connection and the generally slick running of programmes and apps. The wireless performance wasn’t quite up to the standards of its predecessor, however, but there are quite a few variables that can affect performance here, so it’s not necessarily going to be a problem for all; in any case the speeds are better than many competing devices.

    As an all-purpose, everyday desktop replacement, the Z83-4 Pro would certainly fit the bill for many, we suspect, with the likes of MS Office 2016 throwing up no issues but, of course, CPU/GPU intensive tasks are going to need something beefier than the Minix. The real selling point of the Minix Z83-4 Pro is its Windows 10 Pro Licence, at only a circa £20 outlay on top of the non-pro version; we’d imagine any business looking for a prospective mini PC solution would definitely want to pay that small premium. There’s also the attraction of the included VESA mounting stand which is compact and sturdy and designed so that all buttons, ports and connections are easily accessible. You’ll need a VESA compliant monitor, of course, but it makes for a very clean and tidy set-up. Unlike its non-Pro counterpart, the Z83-4 Pro is not a device we’d recommend as strongly for media playback via KODI, however, as the upgraded CPU has broken the frame-packed 3D capability. It’s perfectly serviceable for most media needs however.

    The Minix Neo Z83-4 Pro succeeds in its intent of providing a reliable and efficient, silent, low-cost, low-energy-using and low profile Windows 10 Mini PC at an attractive price-point, given the added features, so we have no hesitation in awarding an AVForums recommendation. However if you don’t need the Windows 10 Pro Licence and/or the VESA Mount, the regular Neo Z83-4 will do you nicely.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    8

    Performance

    8

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    8

    Features

    9

    Set up, Menus, Remote

    8

    Value for Money

    8

    Verdict

    8

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