Mini PC crossroads – is ROM development too rushed?

androidlogoIt’s worth remembering that the mini PC craze is only a bit more than a year old, thanks to the near-together but unrelated launches of the Raspberry Pi and the MK802 mini PCs. But these days with many more models now available, you read through the forums and the main complaints aren’t generally a lack of features or RAM or flash storage or extras.

It’s the quality of the firmware being loaded onto some of these devices. While the Raspberry Pi early on received the brilliant Raspbian OS that pushes its 700MHz-stock Broadcom BCM2835 SoC CPU to its limits, mini PCs – whether TV stick or set-top box in design – are preloaded with one version or another of Google’s excellent Android OS.

But while the base Android engine itself is built on the ever-reliable Linux, it’s down to the mini PC makers and suppliers to ensure that kernel performance and overall stability is there to make their mini PCs a pleasure to use.

But there are enough forum postings from disgruntled mini PC owners suggesting some models can be anything but.

From poor Wi-Fi connectivity to overheating to frame skipping playing video to a lack of true Full HD options, it seems some mini PCs on the market have been released a little before they’re really ready.

So what’s the problem? We can’t help but wonder whether part of it is due to the life-cycle of some of these devices.

The market went from single-core to dual-core to quad-core models in the space of a little over six months. New models come and go at a rate of knots – at a much faster rate than we see with any other computing-capable device. While its somewhat easier to tell if the electronic circuit design of a mini PC is going to work, it can be much harder to ensure an operating system ROM can match it. And it also takes longer to check a ROM – time you have to question whether is being spent on such tasks for some models.

In fact, these days, the user community is arguably doing as much to deliver optimised ROM updates to devices as some mini PC manufacturers are. Freaktab.com (we have no affiliation with this group) is one of the most active sites for mini PC ROM development.

If you’re happy to tinker with a mini PC, flash new firmware and tweak the daylights out of it to get near-to what it should be doing, you’ll be as happy as a pig in mud. But if you’re like the average user who expects these devices to work as easily and as simply as most Android smartphones, you may end up disappointed with some models.

The thing to remember is don’t go throwing the baby out with the bathwater – it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some excellent models available and some ordinary models that are greatly improved with community ROMs. But if you’re in the market for a mini PC, it’s well worth reading up on other’s experiences with any model you’re interested in, just to see if you’re buying yourself a whole lot of misery or a great little computing device.

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