The Azulle byte plus isn’t the most powerful pc I’ve ever had my chance to spend some time with(that distinction belongs to some dual socket Xeon monsters) but It’s probably the most well balanced mini pc I’ve seen to date. Powered by a mid range Atom X5-Z8300 it has a lot in common with some of it’s less capable siblings, the sample I was sent is an upscale model with 4gb lpddr3, Something that I think is a necessity for any type of multitasking in this day and age of memory gobbling browsers. The system was packaged well in sufficient protective foam and included an interesting “auto on” jumper although I did not dismantle the demo unit to test this there is a video of the procedure available on their YouTube that makes it look simple enough.

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Specs

  Baseline As reviewed
Cpu Atom x5-Z8300 Atom x5-Z8300
Memory 2Gb 4Gb
Storage 32GB emmc 32GB emmc+128gb microSD
Audio Combo in/out 3.5mm Combo in/out 3.5mm
Networking Axxis usb3 gigabit ethernet Axxis usb3 gigabit ethernet
Intel 3160 Dual band AC wireless Intel 3160 Dual band AC wireless
Ports 2 usb 3.0 2 usb 3.0
1 usb 2.0 1 usb 2.0
1 HDMI 1 HDMI
1VGA 1VGA
1 Gigabit Ethernet 1 Gigabit Ethernet
1 Kensington lock slot 1 Kensington lock slot

 

Changes

The system was augmented by a samsung 128gb microSD card(which we reviewed here) for the duration of testing due to the Size of some of the applications used to reduce install/uninstall cycles required, this is a relatively inexpensive addition to a system such as this and a usb 3 device like the sandisk cruzer fit would also fulfil the same role(perhaps slightly quicker) although would consume a usb 3.0 port. For many of the use cases of a system like this however the additional storage is not required.

Performance

Performance is without question impressive for such a small and fanless system, taking a look at geekbench 3, we see a solid improvement over older atom systems like the 330, and a small lead over other similar systems like a Gen2 compute stick, and mixed results compared to a core2 duo laptop I have on hand showing worse single thread but a solid boost to multi threaded performance thanks to the presence of four cores, Everything falls behind a newer core i5 however. The results against the older core 2 duo are even more impressive considering that they’re being reached at a 600mhz deficit. Open CL is an interesting performance aspect as well, coming in behind larger Intel HD graphics chips and professional grade quadro cards i had on hand but ahead of a card like the GTX470 it should so respectable performance in OpenCL accelerated applications.

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Storage performance was, a bit of a mixed bag, as with most systems in this segment the byte uses eMMC, in this case a toshiba part, This is Solid state storage but is not a SSD in the traditional sense and is a bit of an odd step between traditional spinning storage and Solid state drives, I’ve made a chart comparing it to some spinners I had nearby and an older smaller SSD for comparison, it isn’t setting any speed records but that’s not a bad thing either. It’s a solid performer and had good random response times, the write speeds are a bit low falling behind a modern 7200rpm mechanical drive sequentially but this would only impact first installs for most software, updated and incremental changes aren’t going to be a huge write. Overall this isn’t a bad place to be, I expect a 64gb option to perform better still when one becomes available but in the meantime an extra minute spent installing office is a small price to pay for completely silent operation.

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Productivity

In a basic office environment the system performed admirably, applications like word and excel are simply not an issue even on an atom powered system and there is sufficient storage for the suite and a school careers worth of essays and papers although our increasing reliance on web based technologies such as google drive and office online removes the storage burden. In fact most of this article was written in google drive using the system without any notable impact beyond missing my nicer keyboard. Some basic image manipulation and video editing was possible editing RAW photos without issue in zoner photo studio although I would not normally suggest these be it’s primary use cases due to limited internal storage although paired with modest USB or MicroSD storage I don’t see any issue with it for basic use in Zoner photo studio or lightroom(filters in Photoshop get very heavy quickly even on more capable systems)

Entertainment

Watching videos on YouTube or Netflix is a breeze and the IGP offloads most of this from the cpu admirably demonstrating low power consumption and even the ability to handle multiple decodes simultaneously, we see full support for all the modern codecs although the system struggles with 4k video even though the system is capable of outputting a 4k signal, this reflects a decision by Intel not Azulle to artificially limit what the lower end atom chips are accelerating as all the required hardware is present, a driver update in the future or other software changes may help this. We also see a very low power draw during decode pulling 7.2w during at 1080p YouTube video. Because of the offload to the IGP we also see no problems in a combined work and play scenario reading articles or working with a YouTube or Netflix stream running side by side.

Gaming

The Byte plus is not a gaming system but performs adequately for casual and retro gaming, I took some time with a few older titles in my steam library Homeworld 2 remastered (a RTS launched in 2003 and re-released with an hd remake in 2015) and Borderlands(2009 FPS) The most recent update of Minecraft was also used. All three were playable at lowered settings with the most impressive showing in Homeworld 2 staying above 30FPS and hitting 60 at 1920×1080, Borderlands was playable but ran at 20-25 fps at 1280×720, the lowered resolution wouldn’t be uncommon for a recycled monitor or older television if this was used as a secondary system for a household. Minecraft was unfortunately a bit unpredictable, at 1920×1080 the game maintained 30 fps but dropped to single digit numbers when exposed to a large amount of lava, this could be mitigated by playing on a server as opposed to locally(removing some of the processing from the byte) as well as by lowering the resolution. A few emulators I tested such as project 64 and a ePSXe ran their games at native speed without issue. Settings and some game play videos(without audio due to an oversight) are available to glance at, I was playing a bit slower than normal due to using a ~8 inch screen to play at 1080p on the HDMI recorder.

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Networking

Network connectivity for the byte plus is provided by what may be the best solution for a system this size, we have an intel dual band AC solution(the Intel 3160 which also supports intel wireless display) with Bluetooth capabilities paired with a usb 3 attached gigabit Ethernet adapter, neither of these showed any obvious weaknesses or connectivity problems in use although I do not currently have an AC network to push the 3160 to it’s limits an unfortunately.

Power

Power usage was minimal, I’ve seen energy efficient light bulbs that use more power than this system does at full load, in fact a bright(1600 lumen) LED bulb uses 16watts plus. Taking a look at a kill a watt meter while i’m writing this actively I see it bouncing between 6 and 7 watts, the highest i’ve ever seen was 14 during the test run in borderlands, with more standard use cases at 7.2-8 for 1080p video playback. The addition of storage devices(like an external hdd) could impact this but the system on it’s own uses so little power it’s difficult to comprehend. The only oddity i  see here is the choice of 12V power for their brick necessitating a barrel jack unlike other systems i’ve seen with a similar target using USB cables and high output(2-3amp) adapters. Although this does make replacing the adapter more difficult should the need arise it does open an ease of integration with automotive 12v DC power should you adapt one to use as an entertainment system or similar.

Final thoughts

Overall I have no major criticisms of this diminutive PC, it performs admirably as a media consumption system at 1080P, runs older games and emulators at respectable frame rates for it’s size and hardware, and has no issue with standard productivity tasks in office or home environments and could even be adapted for remote access or light server roles required a system be on 24×7, all while using less power than the light bulb you forgot to turn off. I would prefer to see more storage and have been told there will be a 64gb model made available limiting the use cases where a microSD or USB device would have to be used as a permanent installation, I would also expect that model to have better performance for it’s internal storage as Nand scales with capacity in most cases. My largest complaint is the choice for an integrated antenna, I would have preferred a more standard design allowing me to replace the antenna with a higher gain model(even Intel wifi can have problems cutting through 60” plasma panels) or in the case it were to be damaged.

For Streaming use cases only I see no reason to not recommend the 2GB model which is available on amazon  here.

Otherwise I very much suggest the 4gb model which was reviewed as the additional memory makes it vastly more flexible and it is available on amazon here.