[Updated] Review | Tronsmart Ara X5 Mini-PC Review

Tronsmart-Front-Unboxing2w

Introduction

The third review, after Open Hour Gecko, and Probox2’s EX+ TV Box, is about the new Mini-PC/TV Box from one of the leading TV Boxes manufacturers:

Tronsmart Ara X5

This is a brand new, Windows 10, Intel Atom (14nm Cherry Trail chipset) based TV Box and Mini-PC from Tronsmart.

The “Mini-PC” description means it’s an actual windows running computer engineered to fit in (quite) a small box, and is designed to run Kodi, but also most everyday PC related functions.

I must note, that this device is more difficult to compare to the more common android based Kodi/TV boxes, because of the difference in Operating systems (Microsoft Windows vs. Android), but I will do my best to give a fair comparison as to the abilities of the device – mostly inside Kodi.

This review unit was sent to me courtesy of the good people at Tronsmart, so thank you all, and especially Jim, for the helpful and great communication.

What’s in the Box?

The Ara X5 is Tronsmart’s first Cherry Trail based Mini-PC/Intel Kodi box.
So what do we get? The Mini-PC, a power adapter, and a HDMI cable.
It seems a bit sparse, but this is not a full system PC, and building a Mini-PC for use with televisions (HDMI port, but no DVI/VGA ports) while keeping the costs low (around 150 USD) requires keeping the package as basic as possible.

Looks

The Ara X5 is an unassuming small black box. And it hides its secrets well. There is a fully working PC inside a box the size of your palm, or a little bit bigger.

It runs off a brand new 14 nm Intel Atom based chipset. The pre-installed operating system is Microsoft Windows 10 Home, and it’s surprisingly fast… as long as you don’t try to bog it down with heavy duty programs.

It also includes Kodi 15 RC3 which is one of the latest versions of Kodi, excluding the new 16 Alpha versions. (Which I also tested, but was quite problematic during playback) SPMC and the new Kodi Jarvis Beta 2 works quite well.

No remote, mouse, or any other control device is included with the package. As mentioned before, it’s meant for keeping the cost down. However, you can use various windows-android remote control programs that rely on a server part installed on the device, and a client part installed on your smartphone or tablet. They use WiFi or Bluetooth communication in order to allow mouse/keyboard interaction with the device.

Specifications

CPUCherry Trail Intel Atom x5-Z8300
GPUGen 8 HD Graphics
Memory / Storage2GB DDR3L / 32GB eMMC
LANRJ-45 Ethernet jack (100 Mbps)
WirelessBroadcomm AP6330 802.11 b/g/n Dual Band (2.4Ghz / 5.8Ghz) WIFI
Bluetoothv4.0
OSPre-installed and Pre-activated Windows 10 Home
Video OutputHDMI 1.4, up to 4K** @ 30fps
Audio OutputVia HDMI 1.4b, 3.5mm Audio-out/Microphone-in Port
PowerDC 5V 2A adapter (CE, FCC, CCC Certified)
Peripheral InterfaceUSB 2.0 Port x 2, USB 3.0 Port x 1, TF Card Reader, 3.5mm Audio-out/Microphone-in Port
Packing IncludedTronsmart Ara X5 Mini-PC, Power Adapter, HDMI Cable, User Manual

Benchmarks and Testing

Novabench

Novabench

Novabench offers a marinade of tests ranging between CPU and memory to GPU abilities. As you can see, An above standard 3 years old PC leaves the Ara X5 in the dust due to a much more powerful CPU and GPU. But.. the X5 is not targeted at the same tasks as your work/home PC is. It is meant to be an HTPC that can also be used for casual gaming. As such, it surpasses a standard PC since it’s Kodi performance is very good.

The memory (RAM) copy speed is also lower (by about 23%) but by a smaller margin. The RAM used is fast DDR3L and shows good performance.

PC Mark 8 Benchmark

PCBench8

PC Mark 8 Basic tests go for 20-45 minutes in GPU-accelerated or standard mode and they test regular office tasks as well as memory and video performance. The X5 managed to go through the test a few times, but it also froze after being used for video testing in Kodi followed by a PC Mark 8 session. The box seemed to get quite hot, and left no option but a hard reboot by pressing and holding the power button for 30 seconds. This may not happen in an air conditioned/cooler environment.

  • Tronsmart updated me that the overheating issue which sometimes manifests itself, is dealt with in new batches that are coming out after September. The new batches includes a new and improved heat sink. 

Results show that the X5 is at about half the performance of the test Home PC. The subjective usage experience, however, is a good one. The results are just to show that a more basic HTPC cannot keep up with a home/gaming PC.

3D Mark Benchmark

3DMark

3D Mark does what the name says – it tests a device’s ability to handle 3d animation and simulation. The Ara X5 is definitely not a gaming machine, and it wasn’t designed to be one. It can handle 2d (mostly casual) gaming using its Intel HD graphics GPU, but don’t try giving it anything too heavy, or it will choke.

Video Playback testing (Using KODI)

ResolutionVideo FormatLocal PlaybackNetwork (Wi-Fi/LAN) Playback
720p (1280*720)AVC (High@L4.1)Playing correctlyPlaying correctly
1080P (1920*1080)AVC (High@L4)Playing correctlyPlaying correctly
 2160P (3840*2160)HEVC (H.265) / 8BitPlaying correctlyBuffering  and stutter
4K (4096*2304)AVC (High@L5.1)Playing correctlyBuffering  and stutter
4K (4096*2304)4K TS 10Bit HEVC (H.265)Does not playDoes not play
  • Issues with 4K playback with green bar on top, and Microsoft store applications installations have been resolved after a clean re-installation of Windows 10, and Kodi Jarvis Beta 2.

Gaming performance

I’ve tried four games:

Worms world party remastered would not load properly, and forced me to use task manager to close it.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a pretty looking unreal engine based puzzle game. It’s not the best choice for this machine since it’s limited to keyboard control. But it did work. Not smoothly.

Tinertia is a cute 3d action platformer. It did not run well at the beginning, even though it tops out at 720p resolution (!). But after reducing the visual settings to low, the game run quite smoothly at around 30 frames per second.

Volume is a nice looking stealth game. Its graphics are not top notch, but it gave the X5 a run for its money, keeping around 6-9 frames per second most of the time/

I imagine if I used a lower resolution TV, the performance would be better, but as it is I would say it’s playable, but not enjoyable.

Price Comparison

Unlike previous reviews, I will not compare it to other android kodi boxes, but also not to home PCs. I will compare it to similar devices:

 Tronsmart Ara X5Pipo X7-ProMEEGOPAD T04
Price (USD)149.99119.54128.99

As can be seen, the X5 is the most expensive of these 3 choices. However, I haven’t reviewed these units, and cannot attest to their build quality, performance, or stability.

Pros

Cons

Windows 10 with a wide app baseNo (10 Bit) TS file playback
Good image qualityOverheating issue (may be resolved)
Good performance for priceNot great image/video processing
Small sized PCSlower RAM/Disk performance than a Home PC
Great network performanceTop green bar and phase issues when playing HEVC in 4K

Did I like it? yes, but only as a basic HTPC. There is an overheating issue, and the X5 does not handle HEVC UHD well, even though that may change in the future with software updates.

Would I recommend it?  Mostly to those who like windows systems and want to keep their budget under 200 USD. The box performs well for its size and configuration and is quite stable (other than the overheating issue).

So you like the Tronsmart Ara X5 and want to buy it? Enjoy a 12$ off discount code by using this link: Geekbuying (click on the name to get to the product page)

And enter this coupon code: ISDFHMDV

I hope you like the review, and you can expect more to come soon!

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