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.
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.
|CPU||Cherry Trail Intel Atom x5-Z8300|
|GPU||Gen 8 HD Graphics|
|Memory / Storage||2GB DDR3L / 32GB eMMC|
|LAN||RJ-45 Ethernet jack (100 Mbps)|
|Wireless||Broadcomm AP6330 802.11 b/g/n Dual Band (2.4Ghz / 5.8Ghz) WIFI|
|OS||Pre-installed and Pre-activated Windows 10 Home|
|Video Output||HDMI 1.4, up to 4K** @ 30fps|
|Audio Output||Via HDMI 1.4b, 3.5mm Audio-out/Microphone-in Port|
|Power||DC 5V 2A adapter (CE, FCC, CCC Certified)|
|Peripheral Interface||USB 2.0 Port x 2, USB 3.0 Port x 1, TF Card Reader, 3.5mm Audio-out/Microphone-in Port|
|Packing Included||Tronsmart Ara X5 Mini-PC, Power Adapter, HDMI Cable, User Manual|
Benchmarks and Testing
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
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
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)
|Resolution||Video Format||Local Playback||Network (Wi-Fi/LAN) Playback|
|720p (1280*720)||AVC (High@L4.1)||Playing correctly||Playing correctly|
|1080P (1920*1080)||AVC (High@L4)||Playing correctly||Playing correctly|
|2160P (3840*2160)||HEVC (H.265) / 8Bit||Playing correctly||Buffering and stutter|
|4K (4096*2304)||AVC (High@L5.1)||Playing correctly||Buffering and stutter|
|4K (4096*2304)||4K TS 10Bit HEVC (H.265)||Does not play||Does 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.
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.
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 X5||Pipo X7-Pro||MEEGOPAD T04|
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.
|Windows 10 with a wide app base||No (10 Bit) TS file playback|
|Good image quality||Overheating issue (may be resolved)|
|Good performance for price||Not great image/video processing|
|Small sized PC||Slower RAM/Disk performance than a Home PC|
|Great network performance|
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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