The CuBox-i review: Can an Android box get any smaller?

UPDATE: Win our CuBox-i review unit! Contest details are at the end of the article!!!!

So where do we start with the CuBox-i? What is it? What does it do?

The CuBox-i (pronounced “Que-box”) is one of the smallest mini PCs on the market today. And when I say mini I really mean mini. The CuBox-i comes in at an astonishing 2 inches by 2 inches by 2 inches. So it’s not only mini but it also lives up to the “box” implication of the name.

This mini PC isn’t one of the most powerful machines in the world, but it certainly has its uses. One of the great things about this mini-PC is that you really can run any OS you want to, depending on what you’re going to use it for. But, we’ll get to that a bit later.

Trust me, stick around. It’ll be worth it.

Five different CuBox-i versions?

There are a couple of different versions of the CuBox-i, but all use the same basic CPU: the i.MX-6 processor. You may have heard this referenced on this site by another name: the ARM Cortex A9.

The main difference lies in the number of cores that the CPU has. This ranges anywhere from one core on the CuBox-i1 to four cores on the CuBox.i 4×4.

The basic i1 model comes with a 1 GHz single-core processor and 512 Mb of RAM. This is the only CuBox-I model that is still 32-bit. There’s also a slight upgrade available to the CuBox-i2, which is a dual-core model with 1 GB of RAM. This is a 64-bit CPU. Both come with the Vivante GC880 graphics processor.

CuBox-i ports back sideFrom there you can move up to CuBox-i2-eX and i4Pro models. They both come with upgraded memory speed and the higher-performance Vivante GC2000 GPU. With 1GB and 2GB of RAM respectively these models are running on the low end as far as memory capacity. At least as far as what’s available today.

If you really want to go all out, you can step up to the CuBox-i 4×4. This is a quad-core CPU with 4GB of RAM – hence the name 4×4.

I don’t want to get too technical with the hardware. I’ve listed the full specifications below, so you’ll be able to look up the details there. I do want to mention the connectivity options. Considering the small size of the mini-PC, it still manages to fit 2 USB ports, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet port on the back in addition to the power socket and the compulsory SD card slot. You can also upgrade both of the basic CuBox-i models to include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if you want.

CuBox-i Specifications

From $89.99 From $119.99 From $169.99
CuBox i1 | CuBox i2 CuBox-i2eX | i4Pro CuBox-i 4×4
System On Chip i.MX6 Solo | i.MX6 Dual-Lite i.MX6 Dual | i.MX6 Quad i.MX6 Quad
Core Count 1 | 2 2 | 4 4
Memory Size 512MByte | 1Gbyte 1Gbyte | 2GByte 4GByte
Memory Config 32 bit | 64 bit @ 800Mbps 64-bit, 1GByte @ 1066Mbps 64-bit, 1GByte @ 1066Mbps
GPU GC880 GC2000 GC2000
3D GPU Type OpenGL ES1.1,2.0 OpenGL ES1.1,2.0 Quad Shader OpenGL ES1.1,2.0 Quad Shader
Accelerated Media Enc/Dec Yes Yes Yes
HDMI 1080p with CEC 1.4, 3D support 1.4, 3D support 1.4, 3D support
WiFi 11n Optional Optional | Built In Built In
Bluetooth Optional Optional | Built In Built In
Powered USB 2.0 2 2 2
Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps 10/100/1000 Mbps 10/100/1000 Mbps
Micro SD Interface Yes Yes Yes
eSata II 3Gbps No Yes Yes
RTC No Yes Yes
Optical S/PDIF Audio Out Yes Yes Yes
Micro USB to RS-232 No Yes Yes
InfraRed for Remote Control Receiver Receiver & Transmitter Receiver & Transmitter
Power adapter specification DC Jack 5.5mm 5V, Max 2A current DC Jack 5.5mm 5V ,Max 2A | 3A DC Jack 5.5mm 5V , 3A

CuBox-i packaging boxCuBox-i: Operating system options

The CuBox-i can support either Android 4.4.2 or any number of Linux distributions (distros). This gives it a ton of flexibility to run a range of media programs.

SolidRun, the company that produces the CuBox-i, provides a couple of Linux distros that are listed below: Some, like OpenELEC (Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center) or GeexBox XBMC, boot straight into Kodi media player.

Available Operating Systems:

  • Android
  • OpenELEC
  • Geexbox XBMC
  • Debian
  • Arch Linux
  • Debian Jessie
  • Debian Wheezy
  • Fedora 20
  • Lakka
  • Mini Distribution
  • OpenSUSE
  • RedSleeve
  • Volumio
  • Xbian

You can choose to either download these distros from SolidRun’s website or have them put the OS on an SD card when you order the device.

Installing a different OS

If you want to run a different operating system then the process is a bit more complicated. SolidRun tried to make it as easy for you as they can.

They’ve created an installer called Ignition, specifically for making OS installation easy. It will let you install all of the major OS options from one simple launcher.

Stick this card in the back, boot up your CuBox-i and you’ll get a menu with the choices of different operating systems to download. Pick one and Ignition will do the hard work, downloading the operating system and writing it to the card.

All you’ll need to do at that point is to reboot your CuBox-i. You’ll be up and running with your new operating system.

Easy right?

CuBox-i size comparisonWhat? You don’t like any of those choices? There are plenty of community distros available that can be written straight to a micro SD card and full instructions are available on SolidRun’s website. But, I’ll leave you to look that one up. CuBox-i isn’t just a media center though. If you order it with the Android operating system, you’ll get access to all of the same apps you’d expect from an Android phone or tablet.

The Verdict

So here’s the bit you’ve all been waiting for the price tag. The CuBox-i1 starts at $90, which, given the specs, seems a bit overpriced. It has a lot of flexibility, especially given the number of operating systems that you can install on it. The fact that it is proven to work with several Linux distributions is a plus.

Still, there are plenty of other choices out there in this price range that have much better specs. Unless you absolutely, positively need the smallest device possible, I would look elsewhere.

What do you think? Do you like the CuBox-i? Hate it? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. I have never heard of these before but would be a great device to own. Great review as well as the compare specifications.

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