Small form factor systems have many different and useful applications. Some of these include business systems, HTPCs and even general computing such as word processing and web browsing. Not every system has to have an ATX sized footprint and one such SFF mini-PC is the one currently on our test bench today; the MINIX Neo N42C-4. Is it worth the price tag and does it do the job? Let’s find out…
MINIX Neo N42C-4 Specifications & Features
Preinstalled onto the MINIX Neo N42C-4 is a full licenced version of Windows 10 Professional 64-bit which is a nice touch. The Neo N42C-4 also includes a VESA compatible mounting bracket which allows users to mount the system to the back of a monitor, or onto another surface such as a wall. While this mini-PC is designed to work straight from the box, MINIX also provided us with an extra 4GB DDR3L of RAM, a 128GB M.2 drive and a 2.4GHz Neo W2 Windows Remote which are available directly from MINIX at an additional cost. It’s also worth noting that despite the official specifications, with the right memory, up to 16GB can be installed. For the best experience, it’s best to stick to what is QVL’ed in the official specifications.
Below are the official specifications minus the optional extras:
Video Output- HDMI™ 1.4 (4K @ 30Hz)/Mini DisplayPort (4K @ 60Hz)/USB-C (4K @ 60Hz)
MINIX Neo N42C-4 Closer Look
The design of the MINIX Neo N42C-4 is quite interesting with an all-black plastic shell and with a total size of just 13.9 x 13.9 x 3 (cm); this is very small given the quad-core Intel Apollo Lake Pentium N4200 processor inside. From the first time I turned it on, I noticed that the plastic shell is a fingerprint magnet. Users have the option to use the Neo N42C-4 either as a standard system on a desk or mounted with the aid of the included VESA mounting kit.
Looking at the connectors and outputs of the Neo N42C-4, there is a 12V DCIN power input, an RJ45 1GbE LAN port, a Mini DisplayPort 1.2, an HDMI 1.4, a single USB Type-C port and a 3.5 mm jack for audio devices.
On the other side are 3 x USB Type-A ports and to the far-right is a power button. On the flip side is a Kensington Lock for securing it down and protecting it from theft. The front panel edging looks very sleek, while the two side edges have ventilation to help keep the internal componentry cool when in operation.
Gaining entry to take a closer look at the internals can be done by lifting off the four rubber feet and unscrewing each of the four screws that keep the case together.
Moving onto the internal components and on the rear are two x SODIMM DDR3L slots; one is populated with 4GB and the other empty. Installing the second stick provided by MINIX for the purpose of the review was simple and easy to do. While 32GB isn’t a lot of space on the internal MMC, especially with around 10-11GB of reserved space just for the operating system, installing critical and vital updates to Windows 10 could be a problem in the future. This also doesn’t leave a lot of space for applications and programs, but it’s not a pitfall as some internal memory is better than none. You could opt to use an external storage device such as a flash drive or external HDD to aid with this, especially as the Neo N42C-4 has three USB Type-A and one USB Type-C to utilise.
Supplied by MINIX was one of their 128GB M.2 SSDs which comes pre-installed with Windows 10 Pro and MINIX themselves offer a few different packages of the Neo N42C-4 to select from. Installing this was simple, it slotted in perfectly and is secured down with a provided M.2 installation screw.
Cooling the quad-core Intel Pentium N4200 processor is a basic low profile CPU cooler. While this looks like a cheap option, it’s actually more than capable and offers good acoustic performance as the system under full-load barely makes a fuss. The Intel Pentium N4200 belongs to its Apollo Lake range and has 4 cores and 4 threads; more than capable for a small form factor mini PC such as this. The chip also provides the graphics thanks to integrated Intel HD Graphics 505 graphics chip onto the processors die. Users can use the triple video output with up to three monitors simultaneously; the mini-DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4 and USB Type-C all offer up to 4K resolutions.
One of the interesting aspects of Windows 10 Professional is that it allows a media remote control to be used. This is a good thing for users looking to create a Windows-based HTPC for the living room, bedroom or even home theatre system. MINIX supplied us with one of their NEO W2 remotes which is specifically designed with Windows 10 in mind. This operates with a 2.4GHz frequency and uses 6-axis gyroscope technology. The front side looks like a conventional remote control, but the flip side does feature a fully backlit QWERTY keyboard. This remote requires 2 x AAA batteries to operate it, but unfortunately, they don’t come supplied (this is normal).
MINIX Neo N42C-4 Performance (General, HTPC and Benchmarks)
To approach the task of testing the performance of the Neo N42C-4 mini-PC, I used it for a total of 2-weeks as my main system for dealing with web-browsing, communications such as social media and emails, as well as for video playback. As a result, I’ve split my experiences and the results in two different sections.
Using the MINIX N42C-4 as my daily driver for the past couple of weeks was actually quite inspiring given I essentially went from a 16-core 64GB system with dedicated graphics, to a more SFF system such as this. As MINIX supplied a 128GB M.2 SSD, this certainly worked better for me given I use a variety of everyday applications; 32GB of eMMC memory just wouldn’t cut it. For users with hefty storage requirements, the N42C-4 supports M.2 drives up to and including 512 GB which isn’t exactly ‘great’, but it’s more than ample for a system of this size.
Below is a set of results from benchmarks which outline the general performance of the N42C-4. This includes the processor, memory, storage and overall system performance.
Cinebench R15 Single Core – 51 CB
Cinebench R15 Multi-Core – 110 CB
Cinebench R15 OpenGL – 13.37 FPS
AIDA64 CPU Queen – 18563 Points
AIDA64 CPU AES – 5364 MB/s
AIDA64 Memory Read – 14930 MB/s
AIDA64 Memory Write – 16950 MB/s
AIDA64 Memory Copy – 15721 MB/s
CrystalDiskMark Sequential Read – 508.8 MB/s
CrystalDiskMark Sequential Write – 84.5 MB/s
Video Playback Performance (HTPC)
One of the best uses for the N42C-4 is for a home-based media system. The three video outputs all support up to 4K resolutions with 30fps and 1080p HD resolutions beyond this. Streaming applications such as Netflix, Hulu and Spotify work seamlessly when used with Windows 10 and the included Neo W2 remote control, and the overall experience was a good one. For users rocking full A/V setups with dedicated amplifiers and sound systems, I’m sceptical that this is the best solution as the audio capabilities are limited to HDMI, mini-DisplayPort and a single 3.5mm audio jack. This means features such as Dolby 7.1 and Atmos and is somewhat limited in this regard. Visually though, the N42C-4 does a fantastic job for the price and would be more than suitable for a basic media system with its 802.11ac Wi-Fi support built in; Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity is also supported.
The MINIX Neo N42C-4 Review: The Verdict
The world of NUCs, HTPCs and miniature systems is one that’s growing exponentially, this is forcing manufacturers to come up with more unique ideas for implementation. While an Intel NUC is ultimately smaller than the Neo N42C-4, they generally don’t have the firepower attached and as a result, makes the Neo N42C-4 a very attractive offering.
- Very slender and sleek design
- Plenty of USB connectivity (3 x Type-A and 1 x Type-C)
- Handles 4K playback at 30fps without issues
- Great build quality
- Great price considering Windows 10 Professional (64-bit) comes pre-installed
- Intel Apollo Lake N4200 quad-core processor is great for a small form factor PC
- Upgradable with up to 512GB storage and 16GB DDR3L
- Limited 32GB eMMC storage isn’t enough as standard
- Audio is limited to a single 3.5mm jack (although HDMI and mini-DisplayPort also transmits audio)
It allows users to connect to the internet via the internal 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter and via a single 1 Gigabit Ethernet port. Also featured are three USB 3.0 Type-A ports which are more than enough for a system like this; especially given this is enough for a keyboard, mouse and gaming headset. I personally used it via the USB hub built into my Arctic Z1 Pro desk mount. Speaking of mounting, the Neo N42C-4 comes with a pre-supplied VESA compliant mounting kit and it can be mounted to a stand, left on the desktop or even mounted to the rear of a compatible monitor.
When combined with the MINIX Neo W2 remote, it makes the N42C-4 a formidable HTPC which not only looks great but is small enough to place underneath a TV without much fuss. Video playback is strong and 4K playback is also supported which makes pairing this up with a 4K TV something that can be favourable for the ultimate viewing experience. The only let down really is a single 3.5mm jack which does limit the use with a full home cinema system, but users can use the mini-DisplayPort or HDMI to transmit both picture and audio.
For users looking for a svelte and stylish mini-PC for general computing tasks such as word processing, web browsing and even light gaming, the MINIX Neo N42C-4 is a solid pocket-sized workhorse. This is attributed to the Intel Apollo Lake Pentium N4200 quad-core processor with integrated Intel HD 505 graphics. Paired with 8GB of system RAM and an M.2 drive, the system really flies and is only faltered when up against intensive computation workloads such as encoding, rendering or high-graphical scenarios such as gaming. For everything else, the N42C-4 is a huge hit despite its small size. For around £250 and upwards depending on the configuration, it’s a solid purchase and more than deserves our gold award.
Thanks to MINIX for sending a sample of the Neo N42C-4 in for review.