Things Mini PC Manufacturers Need To Fix Right Now

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If you’ve been reading Home Theatre Life, you’d have noticed that we focus a lot on mini PCs predominantly coming from China. These manufacturers are amongst the most innovative in the world, cramming unique features and impressive performance into an affordable package.
However, there is also a dark side. Often, many of these devices have a reputation for poor quality control, insufficient engineering or other oversights. These things can be fixed over time but we need the manufacturers to take notice.

I’ve put together a list of things, in no particular order, that I believe Mini PC manufacturers need to fix right now in order to improve their products for consumers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what else needs to be fixed. Let us know in the comments below!

Insufficient Cooling

HTPC Computer Fan

Cooling seems like such a fundamental element of design but it seems its not considered enough. There is nothing worse than buying a box that should offer excellent performance, only to have it struggle thanks to thermal throttling.

When a chipset is under load, it generates heat when it does work. As such, this heat needs to be  dissipated to stop the chipset overheating. These days, chipsets lower their clock speed (also called “throttling”) to cool down and not damage itself.

Some manufacturers do an excellent job on this. We found that both the Minix Z64 and the Ainol Mini PC offered excellent cooling profiles when placed under load.

Others haven’t fared so well. The Meegopad T01 was the first Windows PC to use the stick form factor. However, it was crippled by thermal throttling thanks to inadequate ventilation and heatsinks.

Similarly, the PiPO X7 had an excellent aluminium case that would have made the perfect heatsink, but a lack of connection from the SoC to the case failed to capitalize on this fact, causing it to throttle. Users on Freaktab were able to fix it for under $20 so it’s depressing that this wasn’t fixed at the manufacturer level.

Lack of Software Updates

HTPC Wifi

It seems that there is a real “churn and burn” approach by some manufacturers. We often see devices released one after the other with minor incremental hardware improvements.

But what happens to the old devices which are often just a few months old?

They rarely get updated. Sometimes there’s not a major need as the device functions perfectly fine and it’s just stuck on an old Android. However, I’ve seen other situations where significant bugs were never not fixed. This is not acceptable.

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Unfinished/Incomplete Software Features

Puzzle-Featured

There is nothing more frustrating than a device that promises the world but fails to deliver. I’d argue its much better to ship a device and surprise your consumers with new features in a later software update, than disappoint them by selling features that don’t exist yet.

Bloatware

Rubbish-Featured

Bloatware, those pre-installed apps that add no value to your device, are a real problem.

How often have you played “Fishing Joy” that appears on nearly every Android TV box I test?

I can tell you that I have never touched it and it’s frustrating that I have to spend extra time uninstalling these apps to free up precious space rather than using the box.

Microsoft explicitly prevents so-called “customization” of Windows 8.1 with Bing but Android is not so lucky. Manufacturers need to focus on apps that provide real value to users and avoid adding bloatware.

Not Providing Key Cables

HDMI-Cable-Featured

This one thankfully seems to be on the decline but early on, a number of mini PC manufacturers failed to include a HDMI cable inside the box.

This is particularly important if your device uses an uncommon cable. For example, few people are going to have a Micro HDMI cable or USB 3.0 OTG adapter lying around. This means their device will go unused until they get the required cable, offering a poor user experience.

When it adds very little to your Bill of Materials but lets your customers get up and running quickly, just include it in the box.

Per Country Power Adapters

Plug-Adapter-Featured

Few mini PC manufacturers develop devices for a single country. Instead, they target the global market to ensure they have the biggest possible market.

However, separate power supplies are often produced for the US, UK and Europe. And if you’re not in those regions, you have to use an adapter (like us Australians) which often doesn’t fit well.

Companies such as Apple and Asus have been leveraging power adapters with changeable plugs to meet worldwide plug standards. I’d love to see Mini PC manufacturers adopt similar designs. This should offer improved economics of scale too, as only one type of power adapter has to be made, with cheap plug adapters allowing them to be tailored to the destination country.

What Do You Think Needs to be Fixed?

What are your biggest issues with Mini PCs in the market currently? What changes do you think should be made to produce a better product for consumers? Let us know in the comments below!

 

  • saor

    I would like a mini PC to run Ubuntu or mint with hardware acceleration and not cost much more than current prices.

    • Thanks for the input! I’ve heard a few companies are working on getting Linux HW acceleration so I will post something as soon as I know more.