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) or Roku 3, 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.
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 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? 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.
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.
Great value – it can do a lot more than similarly priced TV streamers.
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