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It’s almost a rule. As time drags on, computers get smaller and smaller. Just cast your mind back 40 years, when they were massive hulking monstrosities the size of a walk-in freezer, to today where they’re in all sorts of unlikely form factors. From plugs, to USB sticks, to small paperback-sized boxes.

The Minix Z64 (not to be confused with the operating system of the same name) fits comfortably into the latter category. First announced at CES 2015, it is available to purchase now from GeekBuying.com for $160 – and if you use the coupon code MAKEUSEOF, you can grab it for $12 off.

This tiny, affordable computer aims to bridge the functionality gap between media-streamers like the Apple TV (which we reviewed in 2014 Apple TV Review and Giveaway Apple TV Review and Giveaway Apple introduced its set-top digital media player in 2007, and it's currently on its third generation of hardware. Read More ) or Roku 3 Roku 3 Review and Giveaway Roku 3 Review and Giveaway As more content becomes available online, the need for a traditional television subscription may not be enough anymore to justify the costs. If you’re already subscribed to services like Netflix or Hulu Plus, now may... Read More , and mainstream computers. It does this by offering a complete Windows 8.1 experience in a tiny footprint, but at roughly the same price point.

So, how does it compare? Is it a triumphant success, or one to be avoided? Read on to find our verdict, and how you can win one for yourself.

box-front

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What Powers The Minix Z64?

Inside the diminutive shell of the Minix Z64, you’ll find some fairly respectable hardware powering it.

  • Intel Atom Bay Trail Z3735F (64-Bit)
  • Intel HD Gen7 Graphics
  • 2GB DDR3L SDRAM
  • 32GB eMMC Storage

These are backed up by a similarly respectable array of ports and connectivity.

  • HDMI 1.4
  • 3.5MM stereo jack
  • Two USB 2.0 ports
  • 10/100Mbps Ethernet
  • Micro SD Reader
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi

Also included in the box was a US-to-UK travel adaptor, and a HDMI cable.

minix-box-inside

Just by glancing at the specifications, you can see that it’s built with energy efficiency in mind. Everything from the DDR3 Low Voltage RAM, to the power-efficient Bay Trail CPU, to the eMMC storage – screams that you can leave this on all day, without feeling guilty. Whether that’s a good idea or not is still up for debate Pros and Cons of Leaving Your Computer Turned On All the Time Pros and Cons of Leaving Your Computer Turned On All the Time It has been one of the most long-running discussions in computing: is it better to leave your PC turned on when you're not using it, or should you always turn it off? Read More , however.

How It Looks

The Minix Z64 isn’t going to win any beauty contests. This is a piece of kit that has thoroughly ignored the current trend for computers to be svelter and sleeker. It laughs in its face of good design, and looks rough even by the low standard set by budget computers.

minix-unboxed

Corners are rough. There are edges, and ledges, and dips, and ports galore. Compared to its closest rivals, like the Apple TV, Roku and Mac Mini, it’s perceptibly bigger. This is most definitely not an image-conscious device, but nor does it need to be when hidden under your TV.

I found its WiFi connectivity – in particular, its range – to be excellent. There wasn’t a single part of my house where I couldn’t find an adequate Internet connection. But the ridiculous Wi-Fi breadstick didn’t do it any favors in the looks department.

The Minux Z64 runs Windows 8.1. Interestingly, there’s a similar model made by the same manufacturer that runs Android 4.4. This becomes even more evident when you flip it on to its back, where you’ll find the Android logo. Amusing, but it’s hardly noticeable.

minix-bottom

But whatever you do, please don’t think of the inclusion of Windows 8.1 as an afterthought. The Minix Z64 is an ideal fit for Windows, working smoothly with anything I threw at it. Games, movies and browsing all worked without a hitch.

With Windows 10 updates rolling out, it’s still not entirely clear whether the new OS is fully supported on the Z64. According to the Minix forums, some have had success with the upgrade, while some have had driver issues. I’d advise you hold off until there’s a firm answer, but it’s safe to say that these teething problems with a new OS will be worked within a matter of weeks, not months.

Gaming Performance

Gaming is, of course, a huge part of owning a computer. Even if you’re not a die-hard gamer, it’s still incredibly commonplace to blow off some steam by playing a mind-numbing racing game or shoot-em-up.

When it comes to the Minix Z64, I was under no impressions that this was a gaming machine. Its weedy CPU, limited RAM and wheezing graphics chip means it wouldn’t stand a chance at keeping up with the latest and greatest games to grace the PC.

But that doesn’t mean that gaming on the Minix Z64 is a lost cause. Because it isn’t. You merely have to set your expectations lower. Much lower.

Games released before 2005, like Half Life 2, perform excellently for the most part. As do the latest batch of casual games that’ve been published on the Microsoft App Store. Games like Halo: Spartan Assault Windows 8 Gaming Hits Second Gear With Halo: Spartan Assault Windows 8 Gaming Hits Second Gear With Halo: Spartan Assault One of the greatest video game franchises, Halo has been shy of Windows PC since Halo 2 was released in 2004. Halo: Spartan Assault for Windows 8 changes all of that – but is it... Read More , and Overkill 3.

Admittedly, they’re not the most visually stunning games. Indeed, they were designed with low-powered Windows devices in mind. But nonetheless, they played smoothly and chugged along with little slowdown or stuttering.

Of course, gaming isn’t the focus of this box. It is, overwhelmingly, consuming video and other media. This is where it shines the most.

Video Performance

Admittedly, watching video isn’t the most strenuous of tasks. But it is, in all honesty, what this piece of kit was intended for. So, how does it stack up?

I started off by watching a bit of Netflix, in full 1080p with Internet Explorer, and it managed well with no stuttering. This excellent performance continued as I watched high-definition content elsewhere, on the BBC’s iPlayer, Youtube, Vimeo, and more.

At this point, it’s probably worth talking about storage. The Minix Z64 comes built in with 32GB of relatively fast, eMMC storage. That’s already a pretty paltry amount, particularly when you take into account the amount of space taken up by storage-hungry Windows 8.

No, out of the box, the Minix Z64 won’t be able to hold your entire movie collection. But that’s alright, as it’s easy to add additional storage. It comes with a built-in MicroSD slot, and a number of USB 2.0 port. Hardly the fastest, but they’re well designed and well spaced out, making it possible to fill each one with a USB drive and not have to worry about them colliding.

minix-side-connected

It’s worth adding that the Minix Z64 doesn’t come with a remote control. If you purchase this, you’ll need to bring your own input devices. I used a standard wireless mouse and wired Logitech keyboard, but you might be as well also buying an all-in-one keyboard 6 Of The Best Wireless All-In-One Keyboards For Mac and PC 6 Of The Best Wireless All-In-One Keyboards For Mac and PC Wireless all-in-one keyboards turn a boring living room computer into an exciting home theater PC. We've rounded up five of the best models around. But which one is best for you? Read More and trackpad, like Microsoft’s All-in-One Media Keyboard.

How It Compares

The Minix Z64 can’t really seem to make up its mind about what it wants to be. A media streamer in the same vein as the Roku or Apple TV? Or a low-cost, low-footprint PC, much like Apple’s Mac Mini, or even the Intel Compute Stick Intel Compute Stick Turns Any TV Into A Windows PC For Just $149 Intel Compute Stick Turns Any TV Into A Windows PC For Just $149 Read More ? With such a split personality, it’s hard to make a direct comparison between devices.

Perhaps the closest spiritual relative to the Z64 is the Apple TV. They both look similar, and have a similar look and feel. They both aim to appeal to the more budget-conscious tech-consumers. They both sit on the cheaper side of things.
minix-side-naked

With a wider range of software available to it – Plex and XBMC for instance, as well as anything that runs in a browser – the Minix is clearly a better choice for the ultimate media streamer. The general computing side of things though… feels a bit incidental. A bit Web TV. For a general computing and internet device, you’d probably be better off with a Chromebook, but then that wouldn’t sit under your TV nor would it have the media apps. See – it’s a tough call.

Should You Get It?

If you want a media streamer with all the customizability of a Windows 8.1 computer, the Minix Z64 is for you. Although, it’s worth stressing that it’s not the beefiest of machines, and you should set your expectations accordingly. With the launch of Windows 10, this piece of kit is about to get even better, with a faster, more mouse-friendly operating system. Good things do come in small packages.

Our verdict of the Minix Z64 Neo with Windows 8.1:
Great value – it can do a lot more than similarly priced TV streamers.
710
Minix Neo Z64-W Windows 8.1 Edition TV Box with HD Graphics, Black Minix Neo Z64-W Windows 8.1 Edition TV Box with HD Graphics, Black NEO Z64 redefines the desktop PC, with its minute form factor making it one of the world's smallest desktop PCs that allows for an array of space saving options. Intel Z3735F (64-bit) processor and HD Graphics. Buy Now At Amazon $242.82

Minix Z64 Neo Mini-PC Giveaway

Send your products to be reviewed. Contact James Bruce for further details.

  1. Deepak Mewada
    September 2, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    This is my 5th entry for giveaways by you guys! Still waiting!!!

  2. alfred chan
    September 1, 2015 at 3:04 am

    great giveaway. Thanks guys.!!!

  3. Milena Tsamourlidou
    August 22, 2015 at 12:39 am

    Perfect gift!!!!!

  4. Bram Carella
    August 19, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Fantastic giveaway

  5. John Cutrone
    August 18, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    I'd love to MakeUseOf this device.

  6. Arthur W. Arre
    August 7, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    "They both look similar,.." Would it be possible any other way?

  7. M Q Ahmed
    August 7, 2015 at 8:20 am

    What OS does it run ?

  8. Edmond Leung
    August 7, 2015 at 8:11 am

    OMG, luv the article. Divine. Thank you for the awesomeness, the contest, and generosity. :)

  9. alfred chan
    August 7, 2015 at 1:59 am

    32GB of eMMC storage? wow!!! I love it. :)

  10. Jan Dercon
    August 7, 2015 at 12:22 am

    Thanks for sharing

    If u are looking for a free alternative u can always use an usb mouse got lying arround; add windows on screen keyboard functionallity ; install teamviewer (or sort like) and use a smartphone with teamviewer app.

    If u got a smartphone / internet connection on smartphone and the minix it's easy without the hastle of a usb mouse/keyboard (wireless or wired) only a bit to set it up.

  11. rich lewis
    August 6, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    32GB is not a hard drive. You can get a Micro SD card for $15 with 32GB. As far as operating system, Raspberry Pi offers several O/S for free. They are all Linux based but what's better than free?

  12. Rick Peterson
    August 6, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Good article. Could be a good low cost media center box. Perhaps downgrade to Windows 7 and use Windows Media Center and MyMovies.dk client? Unless the Win8.1 in the box already has the MCE loaded. Could also be a reasonable Plex or XBMC/Kodi client.

  13. Dennis Primm
    August 6, 2015 at 12:55 am

    Thanks a bunch MakeUseOf!!! Pretty neat little package.

  14. rich lewis
    August 5, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Nice but you could use a Raspberry PI2 for 1/3 the price.

    • Jon Powell
      August 5, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      What about the cost of a HD & OS?

  15. Sherry Keef
    August 5, 2015 at 12:32 am

    I love this. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Fred Thompson
    August 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Been looking for something Windows-based to replace my Patriot box. Bet this would handle 80s-era emulators just fine. Wonder how it does with MAME...

  17. Gary Dauphin
    August 4, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    USB 2? Ethernet 100mb? Welcome back to the 2000s! Thanks for the review!

  18. Jens Ken Lundstrom
    August 4, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Great review!
    Really interesting!
    ad thank you for the opportunity!

  19. Benjamin Rodriguez
    August 4, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    The deals shop link is missing so that entry cannot be completed.

    • James Bruce
      August 4, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks for the heads up Benjamin, fixed.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez
        August 4, 2015 at 1:53 pm

        You're welcome, thanks for the giveaway. If you don't mind some website feedback too, the comment box is hard to see on lower contrast displays like mine(horrible TN laptop panel :P) it would be nice if the contrast was increased :)

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