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Minix NGC-1 Mini PC Review

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Much more than just a media box

by Mark Hodgkinson Feb 26, 2016

  • SRP: £300.00

    What is the Minix NGC-1?

    The Minix NGC-1 doesn’t really fit the profile of the usual streaming media players we look at. It is a 4K Ultra HD capable box that will happily run KODI, or whatever Windows media software you care to choose, but its circa £300 price-tag is, quite honestly, going to be prohibitive for anyone looking for a simple media box. The Minix NGC-1 is actually going after the mini PC/HTPC market with the Intel NUCs very much in target but it comes pre-configured and assembled, unlike the generally more DIY scenario you get with the NUCs. As this is an audio/video focussed website, that will still be our primary focus but we will factor in other aspects of performance for the Minix NGC-1 so read on to see how it does.

    Specifications

    It is probably worth noting that the Minix NGC-1 comes with a fully licensed version of Windows 10 as that actually accounts for about 20% of the manufacturing costs, as payment from Minix to Microsoft. You might well have noticed other Windows 10 mini-computers on the market costing not far off that licensing cost (approx £60) alone but they will be much lower specified products as Microsoft discounts only for devices with 2GB of RAM, or under, and those with 32GB, or under, of built-in storage. The Minix NGC-1 has a spanking 128GB of Toshiba MLC SSD (Solid State Drive) storage and 4GB of (Samsung) DDR3L RAM, which should both contribute to ultra-slick operation. Processing comes courtesy of an Intel (Braswell) Celeron N3150 with the latest - Intel AC3165 802.11ac, dual band, and 1×1 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adapter.

    Design & Connections

    It’s normally difficult to get excited about these types of devices but the build quality of the NGC-1 is gorgeous. Minix is using exactly the same materials for the casing as you get with a MacBook and the result is a super sleek metallic housing in a pale grey colour which has the manufacturer logo blazoned on the top. There’s a subtle power indicator light on the front which illuminates green in standby/sleep mode and blue while on.
    Minix NGC-1 Design & Connections
    Minix NGC-1 Design & Connections

    Along the right-hand side is the power button and we also have three USB 3.0 ports. At the back, there’s an HDMI 1.4 connection, a mini DisplayPort 1.2, a headphone output and an S/PDiF Toslink digital audio out and a Gigabit LAN port; the Minix NGC-1 also boasts 802.11ac 2.4/5GHz WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2, facilitated by the pair of antennas on the left-hand side, but they are removable, if you don’t need them. This being a Windows device, the Minix NGC-1 doesn’t ship with any means of control so you’ll need to provide your own keyboard/mouse/wireless keyboard/air-mouse to suit your needs; for the record we used a Logitech K400 as our primary control method, which worked flawlessly with the NGC-1.

    General Performance

    Using the Minix NGC-1 as our everyday PC for a couple of weeks was actually a significant upgrade over our, admittedly ageing, Windows 7 i5 laptop in every way. CPU intensive tasks such as encoding video saw an impressive boost in speed – over three tests, the NGC-1 proved 20% faster to complete the same files. Networking performance was also much improved, which should have been a given the NGC-1 features gigabit LAN, compared to the Windows 7 machine’s 100Mb speeds and 5Ghz 802.11ac Wi-Fi against 2.4Ghz 802.11n. Still this has to be put in to practise but we’re happy to report the NGC-1 had no problem hitting its maximum throughput speed over wired LAN and, although mileage will vary depending on your own home network setup. We also regularly got wireless transfer speeds of around 50 MB/s, which was about 5x as fast as the Windows 7 PC from the same location, so if you’ve a large collection of movie, TV and/or music files to shunt around your network, the NGC-1 is well up to the task.
    Minix NGC-1 General Performance
    Minix NGC-1 General Performance

    Another fairly CPU intensive piece of software the hardware review team use is Calman 5 for Business, which we use to calibrate the samples for our TV, projector and PC monitor reviews and, again, the NGC-1 significantly outstripped our existing hardware, reducing start up times to around 25 seconds, compared to nearly a minute via the Win 7 machine; admittedly the lack of attached screen would be something of a hindrance if calibrating out in the field but it is a performance indicator, nevertheless . Our other main uses of a PC are somewhat less taxing; a spot - OK, a lot – of web browsing, emails and some Microsoft Office applications and although performance gains here are more marginal, we can definitely say the NGC-1 is more than up to those kinds of tasks – and so it should be. Also, for any gamers out there, specifically Xbox One owners, Windows 10 allows you to very easily stream games from the console to PC and the Minix proved an excellent candidate for this app, with highest quality settings streaming spotlessly over a wired or Wi-Fi connection, provided the console was wired to the router - Wi-Fi to WiFi is definitely not recommended. 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. The other main benefit we felt from the NGC-1 is largely down to the Solid State Drive (SSD) which allowed a cold boot-up time of just below 11 seconds.

    Video & Audio Performance

    There is clearly an absolute wealth of options for media playback via Windows but, for us, performance via open source software, KODI, is of prime importance as it’s the most comprehensive and flexible available. As a point of note, the extremely low power consumption of the NGC-1 does make it a very good choice to run as a PLEX server and we also had that up and running with zero issues to report with the NGC-1 comfortably able to serve at least four PLEX clients without breaking sweat – the excellent networking speeds again pay dividends here so, if PLEX is your thing, the NGC-1 makes a fine choice. Please note we used KODI v16rc3 for testing.

    But on with the testing, and beginning with 4K/Ultra HD material, which threw up a couple of surprises.

    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
    Some crackles with audio
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MKV/59.940fps
    It had a go but unbearable stutter
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps
    No video - green screen
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/59.940fps
    It did play but incredibly slowly and with terrible video artefacts
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps
    As above
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/50.00fps
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps
    Commendably switched in to 4096x2160 as well

    As expected, given the chipset, the NGC-1 really hasn’t got the power to handle 10-bit 4K video, although it did try, but it should be able to play 8-bit HEVC encoded (4K & 1080p)material without any problems. Strangely, all 8-but Ultra HD HEVC we tried produced only a green screen via KODI, albeit with accompanying audio, but we were surprised by the results. We had checked all our Intel drivers were up-to-date and used both KODI 15.2 and RC 16.3 but with the same outcome. We’ve contacted Minix who, in turn, are investigating along with Intel. We would expect that this situation will be resolved quickly but, as things stand, the NGC-1 is struggling with HEVC files – this wasn’t just using KODI, by the way. Besides that, performance was impressive playing 4K material with automatic refresh rate switching working a charm; it even switched from Ultra HD (3840x2160) to true 4K (4096x2160) when necessary. The review will be updated as/when/if the problem is resolved.

    Moving on to some less taxing material and we take a look at how the NGC-1 deals with video content at lesser resolutions, progressive and interlaced and over a number of different codecs.

    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
    No video - green screen
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps
    No video - green screen
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps

    Once again, the only file to throw up any issues was HEVC encoded, although this time it was a 1080p file producing the green screen. It’s good to see the NGC-1 is able to handle VC1 encoded material, as many Android media boxes struggle with that and the NGC-1 also displayed very good deinterlacing and scaling also; so, if you have broadcast TV as part of your home media setup, the NGC-1 will serve you well.

    Now Ultra HD Blu-ray is, just about, out in the wild the capacity of a device to handle material with very high bitrates will – provided someone finds a way to rip them – become increasingly important and when the move to higher framerates also happens, the need will likely increase. As we’ll see from the results, the NGC-1 certainly has plenty of power to handle them, albeit with some caveats. Note: all files were tested via local attached (USB 2.0 1TB Samsung HDD) storage and via a NAS (ASUSTOR AS6102T) with each producing the same results.

    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
    No video - green screen
    3480 x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps
    Unbearable stutter
    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    10-bit 3840x2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    Unbearable stutter
    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps
    No issues whatsoever
    10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps

    So we can see that the NGC-1 is well capable of handling material at even 200Mbps but it’s questionable what use that is when it can’t handle 10-bit HEVC Ultra HD, or even 8-bit, for the time being.

    Moving on to 3D video content and the situation is a little more difficult to define. There are a number of paid-for media players that claim to be able to do it but we’re not about to pay for any of those when what they will actually support, in terms of file type and codec are not especially clear. What we do know is that there is no native support for frame packed 3D - for Intel Windows – via KODI so we gave the (highly impressive) DS Player add-on – it calls on external players - a whirl.

    KODI 3D

    KODI

    1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Played fine in 2D
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Only with KODI DS Player installed otherwise plays in 2D
    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

    The DS Player allowed the playback of frame-packed 3D material in an MKV container but not as a full disc image (ISO). It’s not a bad result, all things considered, and at least the ISO played fine in 2D. The fact you have to engage the TVs mode manually to get Top-and-Bottom and Side-by-Side 3D is nothing more than a minor inconvenience really but if you’re big in to 3D, there are better alternatives than a Windows environment.

    That is also the case when it comes to HD audio too, unfortunately, with Intel yet to produce the drivers to enable HD audio passthrough in KODI. You won’t be completely bereft of audio, down-mixing works OK but it’s a current weakness in the platform.

    HD Audio

    KODI

    AAC 5.1
    Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
    Down-mixed 2.0 PCM
    Dolby True HD 5.1
    Down-mixed 2.0 PCM
    Dolby True HD 7.1
    Down-mixed 2.0 PCM
    DTS HD-MA 5.1
    Played as DTS Core 5.1
    DTS HD-HR 7.1
    Played as DTS Core 5.1
    DTS HD-MA 7.1
    Played as DTS Core 5.1
    LPCM 7.1
    Down-mixed 2.0 PCM

    There was semi-success with the DTS-HD formats which played through as core DTS in 5.1 but all Dolby Digital codecs returned only 2.0 PCM, which is a tad disappointing. Standard Dolby Digital 5.1 came through fine, as did DTS so if you don’t need/want HD audio there will be no issue for you but we do hope Intel gets their act together in releasing the necessary drivers. The hardware is certainly capable and since Windows 10 is featuring in more and more ‘TV Boxes,’ it is something that really needs addressing.

    It is worth noting that Minix is working on a version of NGC-1 that will either run on Ubuntu or OpenELEC which should shave a very decent amount off the asking price – at least the cost of the Windows license – so that might be something a lot of AV fans will hold on for as some of the lacking in support for various formats should be eradicated with either.

    Video Review


    How future-proof is this video streamer?

    4K Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second
    HEVC decoding Full HD
    HEVC decoding Ultra HD
    7 Channel HD Audio pass-through
    Netflix HD/4K
    3D ISO playback
    HDMI 2.0

    Conclusion

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Superb build quality
    • Super fast boot-up
    • Silent Operation
    • Excellent networking speeds
    • Mostly excellent audio/video playback
    • Low power usage
    • Linux based version incoming

    Cons

    • Could look expensive against some of the market
    • HEVC issues
    • No HD Audio capability
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 1
    You had this Total 0

    Minix NGC-1 Mini PC Review

    Should I buy the Minix NGC-1?

    There’s no definitive answer to this one, of course, first ask yourself exactly what you need. If you’re looking for a straight media player, the Minix NGC-1 is overkill, especially at £300, when you can pick up devices for a third of the cost which will give similar – or even better – media playback capabilities. If you’re looking for a more rounded HTPC (Home Theatre PC) experience, the NGC-1 makes a lot more sense with its excellent networking capabilities, impressive processing power and ultra-low energy consumption, add in the fact it’s totally silent in operation and it begins to appeal even more as a multi-purpose device. The Minix NGC-1 is also highly capable of acting as a media server, in its own right, as well as easily running your office programs, browsing the internet and crunching through all your usual everyday PC tasks so, if you want more than just a media player, it fits the bill very well. The build quality is excellent, the components used are top-notch and we could quite easily use the NGC-1 to replace at least a couple of our everyday devices so it comes with a hearty AVForums Recommended Award.

    What else could I consider?

    We haven’t reviewed anything recently that really compares to the Minix NGC-1 on all fronts. The closest we’ve seen is the Tronsmart Ara X5 but that’s at least a couple of classes below and nowhere near the multi-tasking capabilities of the Minix; it’s fine for KODI but its limited RAM, processing power and memory mean you couldn’t use it for much else. In terms of dedicated media players and hubs our current favourites include the Minix U1 which has more comprehensive video playback and support for HD audio formats, as does the Wetek Core which can also run on OpenELEC. For 3D video and HD audio, the HiMedia Q5 remains hard to beat, albeit with some inherent limitations, and if you want to stay with Intel processing, and avoid Android, the Chromebox makes for an excellent player when running OpenELEC and is currently available for an attractive price.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    10

    Performance

    9

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    10

    Value for Money

    8

    Verdict

    8

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