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The Byte 3 is a perfect media center and general computing device for most people's needs, with an attractive design and running the full Windows 10. However, the included remote could have been much better, and the raw performance is lacklustre. With US-based support, we think the $200 price point is just about right.
From US-based Azulle Tech comes the latest in a line of fanless mini PCs: the Byte 3. Retailing at around $200 for the base model, that includes a full edition of Windows 10 Pro. Is it good enough for daily tasks?
Azulle Byte 3 Specifications and Design
Internally, you’ll find:
- Apollo Lake Quad-core N3450 CPU
- Intel HD Graphics 500
- 4 or 8GB RAM (4GB as tested)
- 32GB eMMC storage
- VGA and HDMI output
- 2 x USB3.0, 1 x USB2.0, 1 x USB-C
- Micro-SD slot
- M.2 slot for 2.5″ SSD
- Dual-band Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0, IR Receiver (remote control included)
You’ll find most of the abundant ports around the back. The SD card slot (and yet more USB ports) are on the right hand side.
The devices measures a miniscule 105mm deep by 152mm wide cm by 38mm tall (not including the Wi-Fi antenna). At only 400g, the device also runs completely silent. It does get warm to the touch during heavy usage, but not dangerously so.
Across the top of the device is a mesmerizing pattern of concentric rings, emanating from the back left. It’s such a simple concept, but one that raises the entire product design a notch above the competition. An almost fluorescent blue line extends around the middle, further adding to a distinctive look. Front and center, the power symbol glows blue or red. Azulle has clearly tried to make something that will look good on your TV stand, and it works.
If the included 32GB eMMC storage is insufficient, you have a number of options for additional storage. This can be done through an internal M.2 card, the external SD card slot, or the multitude of USB3 ports. A better option would be to store your media on the network, and use the Byte 3 as a slim media client.
Bring Your Own Monitor, Mouse, and Keyboard
The Azulle Byte 3 is a mini desktop PC, meaning it must be plugged into a TV or monitor to provide a display. To this end, both VGA and HDMI are supported. You can even run dual-monitors if you utilize both ports, though performance will take a hit. You’ll need to supply a keyboard and mouse, of whatever form factor you want.
A sleek remote control is included, but the functionality is somewhat limited given that device itself runs Windows 10 Pro, which isn’t exactly the friendliest of interfaces for a remote control, even in tablet mode. You’ll obviously want a full keyboard and mouse to take advantage of everything Windows has to offer. That said, once I had Plex setup, I was able to hide the mouse and keyboard in a drawer for daily media center use.
Sadly, the remote doesn’t have alternate modes or gesture/motion controls for the pointer, as the ProBox does with its Remote+. It uses the aging IR communication method, rather than Bluetooth. Considering how much thought has gone into the design of the Byte itself, you’d have hoped a little more thought would have gone into a suitable out-of-the-box control system. With a mouse emulator built into the remote, most people could have ditched the additional mouse and keyboard completely.
Byte 3 Performance Testing
The lacklustre internals reflect mediocre raw performance, with GeekBench scores of single core 1052, multi-core 3141, and a GPU compute of 5780. This a hundred points or so lower than the identically specced Chuwi 14 Lapbook.
As usual though, raw performance numbers can only get us so far. In terms of actual user experience, my testing revolved around a few aspects.
First, general web browsing. Can it support multiple Chrome tabs without slowdown? Is YouTube responsive and stutter free?
Some UI heavy sites seemed a little sluggish, such as the interface for my NAS (which is essentially a full OS in a browser). With ten random browser tabs open, the device was at 100% CPU usage and the slowdown was obvious, but it was still functional. YouTube was fine. Limit yourself to a few tabs at a time, and you should be frustration free.
Second, as a media client.
The device claims support for up to 60FPS 4K content, and sure enough, playback of the jell.yfish.us 120Mbs 4K h.264 file worked fine when played locally, with no stuttering at all. For use with Plex, HD content also worked well. The Wi-Fi network speed wasn’t fast enough to support native playback of the same 4K test file that had worked locally. Manually setting the playback quality to 1080p transcoded fixed that, but also, this is to be expected of a Wi-Fi connection. I’ve been using the Plex client on the Byte 3 every evening to watch some TV over dinner, and not once did it break, stutter, or underperform.
Lastly, for casual gaming, I used Steam to stream Civilization 6 from a more powerful gaming PC downstairs. There were a few hiccups with sound lagging on occasion, but it was still playable. Steam streaming isn’t really designed for twitchy button mashing.
Of course, any streaming task will perform better with a wired Ethernet connection: I used the standard AC Wi-Fi for all testing. Thankfully, the Byte 3 includes a Gigabit Ethernet port, and though it wasn’t possible to use in my case, I’d encourage you to use that if at all possible.
One common complaint any time we review something imported from China is that the technical support is terrible, unresponsive or just non-existent. Azulle is based in California, and offers full English chat and phone support. The devices are also sold through Amazon, so delivery issues and hardware breakages on arrival can be promptly dealt with, compared to some shady import sites.
The Azulle website hosts their own firmware and installation files. You won’t need it for the Byte 3 though, since Windows comes with a built in reset feature. Suffice to say, if something goes wrong with your Byte 3, you can actually get support for it. For a $200 purchase, I think that’s quite an important consideration.
Should You Buy the Azulle Byte 3?
As a media center running Plex or Kodi, the Byte 3 is perfect. You can even do some light gaming through Steam in-home streaming. You can install anything you like thanks to the full Windows 10 that’s running under the hood, and aren’t restricted to one particular app store. As a general purpose computing device, the included remote isn’t sufficient, but if you’re happy to add your own keyboard and mouse, then it’s certainly nice to have that option. For most people, this little PC can do everything needed.
In terms of value for money, the price is just about right, particularly when considering the fact it’s from a reputable US-based manufacturer with English support.
However, do consider your requirements carefully. As is the case with most PCs, the hardware is already outdated by the time you’ve got it home, and there’s very little room for upgrades other than some more storage space. $200 isn’t throwaway money, and for the same price, you could buy quite a nice tablet. Or if you’re already in the Google ecosystem and just want to fling videos from your phone to your TV, a Chromecast might be a better option at one-sixth the price, including Google Home compatibility.