MINIX NEO J50C-4 – Review

Mini-PC maker, MINIX, has released its long-awaited NEO J50C-4, its most powerful mini computer to date. We take one for a spin, and see how it fares against the company’s already impressive line-up.

Although officially launched over a year ago, the MINIX NEO J50C-4 is finally getting its day in the spotlight. Why so long? Well, blame the chip shortages that blighted Intel last year and the early part of this year. This bottleneck in the production of CPUs severely crippled the technology economy from mid-2018, and it’s only just beginning to find its feet again – hold on, though, as there’s another expected slow-down forecast to arise for 2020.

Despite the problems that faced technology manufacturers, MINIX’s release of the J50C-4 is a welcome breath of fresh air in the mini-PC market. Moving on from its predecessors, the J50C-4 sees MINIX adopting the more modern Intel Gemini Lake over the previous Apollo Lake. Gemini Lake chips are manufactured on a 14nm process, and are based on the Goldmont Plus microarchitecture and given the moniker Pentium Silver, to differentiate the new low power cores over the big core (Kaby Lake) CPUs, called Pentium Gold.

Inside the box

The MINIX range of mini-PCs has always been presented wonderfully. The blue box, indicating the Windows-line of PCs, opens to reveal the neatly packed J50C-4. Lift the PC out from its cardboard cradle and underneath you’ll find a compact user guide and product brochure, a HDMI cable, a power brick with UK and EU plug fittings, and a VESA mount place and fixings.

Specifications and design

The Specifications of the J50C-4 are the star of the show here. The Gemini Lake chips are significantly better than the former Apollo Lake, and it most definitely shows when the J50C-4 is up and running. Inside the J50C-4 you’ll find an Intel Pentium Silver J5005 (64-bit) processor, running at 1.5GHz and with a burst frequency of 2.8GHz. This four-core, four-thread CPU manages a TDP of just 10W, has 4MB of cache and includes the Intel UHD 605 GPU, with support for 4K resolutions at 60Hz.

Base memory is 4GB DDR4, and there’s 64GB eMMC 5.1 flash storage available. However, like its sibling, the NEO N42C-4, the J50C-4 offers the user the option to upgrade both the RAM and the storage. There are a pair of SODIMM, dual channel slots available, each supporting up to 8GB, and there’s a 2280 M.2 slot that will take up to a 512GB SSD. Needless to say, opt in for 16GB of memory and 512GB SSD and you’ll find that the J50C-4 becomes quite a formidable desktop workstation.

MINIX NEO J50C-4 (6)

As for connectivity, you’ll find a HDMI 2.0 port, Mini-DisplayPort and USB-C alongside a 3.5mm audio jack, gigabit Ethernet, three USB 3.0 ports and a Kensington Lock. There’s also 802.11ac dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity available, too.

The design of the J50C-4 is similar to that of the aforementioned NEO N42C-4. MINIX using the same chassis layout is a good idea – it cuts down on the overall cost to the end user, we imagine, and since the design works so well at clearing out any excess heat from within, why bother changing it. The MINIX logo is impressed on the top of the unit, with plenty of air vents around the sides, and easy access to the available ports. It works, and that’s all that counts.

One of the more important aspects of the MINIX range is the included, hard-coded into the BIOS, Windows 10 Pro licence. The J50C-4 is no exception here, and when booted you’ll be taken to the Windows 10 new user account creation setup wizard. Windows 10 Pro itself, from the Microsoft Store, costs £219.99 – at the time of writing – so having it included with the J50C-4 is a huge bonus and points awarded for MINIX.

In use

Depending on whether you’ve opted for an upgraded J50C-4, with extra RAM and an SSD, you’ll notice a marked improvement in performance over older models. Windows 10 takes seconds to boot into, you can run a three-screen setup at 4K, and videos played locally, via a NAS, and from YouTube, all play up to 4K without any noticeable defects, screen tearing or issues. Geekbench 5 reported a Multi-Core result of 5933, while the Single-Core result was a decent 2119.

MINIX NEO J50C-4 (7)

Gaming is something that the J50C-4 isn’t specifically designed to tackle, however, we did manage to get some decent frame rates from the likes of GTA V – albeit on low/medium settings – and older games are certainly playable. However, don’t think that the UHD 605 GPU is going to enable you to play the most recent triple-A titles.

Productivity is great on the J50C-4, though. The triple-monitor setup works a treat, and you’ll find that the usual slew of Microsoft Office, image processing packages and so on work perfectly well; although some intense Blender work, for example, will require the use of a more powerful GPU.

Upgradability

Taking the upgrade route, the J50C-4 is pretty fool proof. Providing you’ve got the required, and compatible, memory and M.2 components, it’s a simple case of unscrewing the base plate and slotting in the RAM to the slots, then removing the locking screw and fitting the M.2 SSD. It takes a few minutes to get the J50C-4 up to a better spec than the base, and thanks to the Windows 10 licence being built into the BIOS, it’s a simple case of downloading a Windows 10 Pro ISO from Microsoft and booting to the setup via USB.

Conclusion

MINIX has once again proved that it’s a company on top of the mini-PC market. The NEO J50C-4 is simply superb, offering a great level of performance within such a small footprint; take into account the upgrade potential, and you’ve got a fantastic little powerhouse of a machine.

It’s whisper quiet, capable of seamless 4K video, and fits nicely under, or behind, the TV. It’s one of the best Windows 10 media PCs we’ve used, and it even fulfils our retro gaming needs.

For the asking price of just £394 – from Amazon – we think the MINIX NEO J50C-4 is an excellent deal. Consider the cost of the Windows 10 Pro licence alone, then factor in the performance, design and connectivity. We suggest you get hold of one before Intel bottleneck themselves again and cause more mayhem.

MINIX NEO J50C-4
  • Overall
5

Summary

Superb performance, great design, upgradeable. The best MINIX mini-PC yet.

– Intel Gemini Lake Processor
– 4GB RAM expandable to 64GB
– 64GB Storage expandable to 512GB
– Triple-display available at 4K 60Hz
– Windows 10 Pro licence

David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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