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.
From 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.
|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|
|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|
|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|
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:
- Geexbox XBMC
- Arch Linux
- Debian Jessie
- Debian Wheezy
- Fedora 20
- Mini Distribution
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.
What? 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.
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!