Review: Bay Trail, 64GB of storage, throttling
Over the past year or so, we’ve seen a flood of cheap tablets and micro PCs based on Intel’s Bay Trail SoCs.
While the humble Bay Trail processor isn’t the fastest thing around, and it’s about to be replaced by Cherry Trail parts over the next few months, it still has a few things going for it. The 22nm SoC is very cheap and extremely efficient, and it made $100 tablets and mini PCs a possibility.
These systems usually come with a few caveats, since they’re designed and built to a budget. Usually, you get 2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. The latter is perhaps the most important part of the spec, because the rest of the platform is practically identical on all Bay Trail mini PCs. However, a fast and spacious eMMC can make a big difference. Another thing to keep in mind is throttling. Although we are dealing with tablet processors, they can still heat up in minutes, because there’s no active cooling, not a lot of airflow, and limited dissipation surfaces.
The Voyo mini PC has been around for months, and it’s more of the same: an affordable media PC that can fit into your pocket, and all you’ll have to take out of your pocket to get it is $100 or so. Since it first launched, the company introduced a few new versions, with different operating systems and somewhat different specs.
We got one of these tweaked models, a sample with a 64GB eMMC drive, preinstalled with Windows 8.1 and Android 4.4. A version with 4GB of RAM is available as well. This particular version sells for $103 with free shipping (customs and VAT may apply in some markets).
Unlike some Bay Trail mini PCs we had a chance to test, the Voyo is based on an Intel Atom Z3735 processor, not the faster Z3736F variant. However, this does not make much of a difference, as we will explain in the performance section of this review.
It also packs an integrated battery, so it can double as an emergency powerbank.
Design and Build Quality
As far as aesthetics go, there is a lot to like about the Voyo. It measures 126 x 126 x 12mm (4.95 x 4.95 x 0.47 inches), so it’s roughly the size of a good old CD jewel case, just a tad thicker. It weighs 200 grams, not much more than your average phablet.
So, it’s small, but does it look good? Well, it’s available in a number of different colours, all of which feature a glossy finish. The plastic feels nice and our cyan unit can turn heads. Build quality is good, and so is the finish. The fact that it’s all-plastic may be a turnoff for some consumers, but in our opinion this isn’t very relevant when it comes to this type of product. It’s not a smartphone, so you are unlikely to scuff and scratch the finish, unless you plan to carry it around all the time.
At the front, you’ll find the power button and activity LED. The design is as clean as possible, so there’s nothing at the sides, save for one USB port on the right.
The good thing about this port, aside from the practicality of having a USB port that’s not on the rear for easy access, is that it can power an external hard drive.
The device rests on four rubber feet and features four cooling vents at the bottom.
At the rear you’ll find all the other connectors: two additional USBs, DC in (micro USB, 2A), HDMI, microSD slot and a standard 3.5mm audio port.
Overall, it’s a good looking device, although we feel it could have done with a somewhat smaller logo and Windows branding on the top cover.
Voyo Mini PC Specs and Performance
Since we’ve tested numerous Bay Trail devices over the past 18 months, we won’t spend too much time on performance. The chip is a decent performer, sufficient for content consumption and some basic productivity applications (Office stuff, for example).
Like most Bay Trail devices, the Voyo mini PC ships with 2GB of RAM, although a 4GB version is available. The good news is that it also packs a relatively spacious 64GB eMMC drive, which is a good thing because it’s a dual-boot system, and Android eats up a bit of storage.
Before we proceed to the benchmarks, let’s cover the specs:
Voyo Mini PC Specifications
- Processor: Intel Atom Z3735, quad-core, 1.33GHz stock, 1.83GHz Turbo, 22nm
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics, 311MHz base, 646MHz burst
- RAM: 2GB DDR3L
- Storage: 64GB eMMC, expandable via microSD slot
- Wireless: dual-band 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
- Dimensions: 126 x 126 x 12mm (4.95 x 4.95 x 0.47 inches)
- Weight: 200g
- Battery: 8000mAh
- Ports: 3 x USB 2.0, HDMI, 3.5mm audio, micro USB DC in 2A
While most Bay Trail PCs offer roughly the same level of performance in burst scenarios, this does not apply to heavy load. The reason is simple: once you push the tiny processor to its limits, it heats up in minutes, and the system throttles it to stay within the thermal envelope.
The Voyo PC, due to its compact design and all-plastic build, doesn’t do well in sustained performance. There’s not a lot of room for ventilation, and unlike metal, plastic does not help dissipate heat. This causes the system to drop clocks drastically after a few minutes of sustained load. It also explains why Voyo decided to use the somewhat slower 1.83GHz Atom variant. We guess the 2.1GHz part simply wouldn’t make a difference, because it would just be throttled anyway.
However, while this level of throttling would be a disaster for a proper desktop PC or laptop, we are not sure it’s a huge deal with a mini PC. After all, these products aren’t meant to be used under full load all the time, and it’s not like a lot of people will run games and heavy productivity applications on them. Performance is still adequate for content consumption, video playback and streaming, browsing and so on.
Still, things could have been better.
Like we said earlier, storage performance is another thing to check when getting a budget Bay Trail mini PC. It varies from vendor to vendor, and can be an important factor. However, you don’t really need an extremely fast SSD in such a system, because the SoC and limited amount of RAM will be the bottleneck. An average eMMC unit is good enough, and it keeps the cost down.
This particular SKU comes equipped with a 64GB drive, which is a nice touch, because dual-boot machines with a 32GB drive lack storage. A 64GB drive leaves you a lot more gigs to play around with.
The problem with Voyo’s choice of eMMC drive is that it’s relatively slow. We’ve seen this before, most stick PCs ship with such drives, while their bigger brethren usually ship with somewhat faster drives. The 64GB unit in the Voyo mini PC is unimpressive to say the least. It’s slow, and the 4K write results are particularly low.
Still, as far as overall performance goes, the Voyo is adequate for its intended use, although we've tried out snappier devices based on the same platform.
Setup and Everyday Use
Like most mini PCs, the Voyo is a pleasure to set up. It takes just a couple of minutes to connect everything, and since it’s a tiny, fanless device, you’ll forget it’s even there.
Whether you plan to use it as a base for a secondary home PC, or a home theatre box, you’ll be done in minutes. That’s more or less the point of all mini PCs, and the Voyo is by no means special in this department.
There are a couple of things that make it stand out. For starters, the extra storage comes in handy if you need to install a few applications or casual games. It also means you can download a bit more stuff, or maintain a small local audio collection.
If you need more storage, you can always get a cheap microSD card. Better yet, you can use the side USB port to connect an external hard drive. This is not the case with most Bay Trail mini PCs, as they simply lack the juice to power an external 2.5-inch hard drive. The Voyo manages to pull it off, which makes it a tad more attractive if you rely on external drives for your storage needs.
The integrated battery may come in handy in some situations, and at 8000mAh it is powerful enough to charge a mobile phone or two in an emergency.
As for the throttling, in normal, everyday use cases, it’s not a deal breaker. If you don’t push it too hard, the system doesn’t need to run at 1.8GHz to begin with. However, if you intend to use your mini PC for more than content consumption, you should probably get something a bit more substantial, with better cooling. On the other hand, the Voyo mini PC, like every other Bay Trail device, is extremely frugal and uses just a few watts an hour, which is great.
Intel hasn’t sorted out the video overscan issue yet, and it afflicts practically all Bay Trail mini PCs, including the Intel Compute Stick. It can be problematic on some displays, but chances are you will be able to sort it out. However, it is still a nuisance and could prove problematic on certain displays and TV sets.
Having Android on a media PC sounds like a good idea, but we’re not sold yet. For starters, Android TV is practically here, rendering the preinstalled Android 4.4 obsolete. The utility of Android on a desktop is questionable at best, although it has a few things going for it in a media machine. Still, we think the dual-boot approach makes a lot more sense on tablets than desktops.
The Antutu score is on a part with most Bay Trail devices, which is to say that it's similar to what you'd get on a $150 phone.
There is not a lot to differentiate the Voyo mini PC from other Bay Trail micro desktops out there. They all use a near-identical hardware platform, and performance is very similar in most scenarios.
We like the colourful, minimalistic design, the decision to integrate a 64GB drive, and the ability to hook up an external 2.5-inch hard drive for even more storage. Our biggest complaint is the throttling. Granted, it’s not that bad in a typical living room setting, but we just feel it could have been a lot better with a bit more effort.
In terms of value, the Voyo mini PC with 64GB of storage costs roughly as much as marginally faster competitors equipped with the 2.1GHz Atom Z3736F processor, but it offers more storage out of the box. Does 32GB extra gigs mean more than a slightly faster processor, or a design that doesn’t suffer from as much throttling? In many cases, it does, because performance is not the primary concern when it comes to such devices. If it were, you’d be better off getting an Intel NUC with a proper Core i3 processor.
In any case, the Voyo gets a thumbs up, but only if performance is not your primary concern. After all, this is a $100 media box, not a proper PC.
Voyo Mini PC Pros and Cons
- Sleek, compact design
- 64GB storage out of the box
- Ability to power an external 2.5-inch drive
- Integrated battery
- Low price
- A lot of throttling under load
- Slow storage
- We’re not sure whether Android adds much to the value