PC Hardware

Product Review: Apcsilmic DOT 1 Mini PC

I’ll state this up front: I’m a fan of ARM64-based PCs. They may not always be the best choice for everyone, but there are always scenarios where they make sense (whether running Windows 11, some flavor of Linux, or even ChromeOS). So when the Apcsilmic DOT 1 Mini PC was announced, I had to get one.That recently arrived, straight from the company in Shenzhen, China.

DOT-1 Mini PC shrink-wrapped box

The DOT 1 Mini PC comes in a few different configurations. You can make those out from the side of the box:

DOT 1 Mini PC configurations

There are three configurations, from 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage, up to 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, and you can choose between Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi plus 4G (where “EA” and “NA” are likely 4G variants — no idea what the other items are for, perhaps regional certification requirements?). Prices range from $249 for 4+64 Wi-Fi only, up to $309 for 8+256 Wi-Fi + 4G. I hate trying to run Windows on devices with too little disk space, so I chose the $289 8+256 Wi-Fi only model.

The ordering process for these PCs is a little weird. You do it via the company’s website, with payment done through PayPal. No shipping costs, no sales taxes, just $289 via PayPal. For a company that popped up at the same time this device was announced, that seemed a little shady, but hey, I’ve thrown money away on lesser things.

So let’s look at the specifications for this device:

DOT 1 Mini PC specs

First, there is some company information at the bottom of the box that is a little harder to find on the company’s website. Apcsilmic is a subsidiary of Shenzhen Witstech Co. Ltd. Who are they? They are described on this page as a “global supplier of intelligent terminal key components for smart terminals.” OK, they’re in the IoT/specialized device space, not really in the retail PC space. No big surprise there, as everything about the device points to those sorts of use cases. But looking at the parent company’s website, there is no mention of PCs, just e-ink displays like you would see on shelves at supermarkets that display product prices (updated using phone apps). Well, I guess they make PCs now too.

Enough about the company, let’s look at the specs. It does have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7C, which is an entry-level processor that’s also used on entry-level phones and Chromebooks. It’s definitely not the fastest, being compared to Pentium Gold and Celeron processors (similar single-core performance), as well as 4th-generation Intel i5 CPUs (similar multi-core performance). So don’t expect miracles — you get what you pay for.

What about the other specs? Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi are good. Personally, I would like a gigabit Ethernet port, but I can understand a 100Mb one to save a little money. And the ports are fine, although I don’t like having all the USB ports on the front (along with audio/mic jacks) and everything else (except the SD card slot on the side) in the back. Since I tend to connect desktop computer via a KVM switch, connecting a combined USB+HDMI cable to one jack on the back and one on the front requires some “stretching” of the cable.

I would have also liked to have a USB-C jack, and USB-C power, but again that would add cost, so you just get USB-A and and old -style power cable. Weirdly, there are two HDMI jacks — I guess in the IoT/terminal space you may want to drive two monitors using one computer (think digital signs, menu boards, etc.). Each of those HDMI jacks supports a 2K display, but neither of them want to properly sync with my 1080p monitor (with or without the KVM), requiring some “creativity” to get the initial video out of it. (I switch to RDP later, so all good after that point. I had similar problems with an M1 Mac Mini, so this wasn’t a major surprise.)

Included in the DOT 1 Mini PC box

Also included in the box is an HDMI cable, a Wi-Fi antenna, and a mounting bracket in case you want to attach the device to the back of a monitor.

Here’s the port layout, first on the front:

Then on the back:

And finally one lonely port on the side (which would be where the SIM slot would be too if you had a 4G-enabled model):

Of course I had to open up the box to see what was in it. It appears that they have one main board, with a separate daughter card that has the different variants (storage, RAM, Wi-FI/4G). Other than the case differences (slot for SIM card, second antenna port) all the models are otherwise identical, just with a different daughter card.

So not surprisingly, pretty much no expandability.

That’s about all you can tell from the outside. The rest requires looking around in Windows. Let’s start with the OS. Initially when the DOT 1 Mini PC was announced, the company said it would ship with Windows 11 Pro, but that the OS wouldn’t be activated with a product key. Fortunately, they came to their senses later and reversed that (or had it wrong all along, who knows), so the machine does indeed ship with a Windows 11 Pro product key in the firmware and it activated automatically. The initial out-of-box experience took close to 20 minutes: initial boot, reboot for critical updates, reboot for the computer name, reboot for more updates, etc. And then it still needed more updates, so two more rounds to get the latest Windows updates and Qualcomm firmware.

Looking on the disk, the company left behind a C:\QCFactoryTool directory that contains OEM activation (OAv3) “stuff” — harmless overall I guess. But otherwise, it’s a clean Windows 11 OS, no extra stuff added — except for the 166 out-of-box drivers from the typical suspects (Qualcomm, Realtek, etc.).

Looking in Device Manager, I can see more interesting stuff:

First, the storage is from SKhynix, and from what I can gather (combined with what I see on the daughter card) this is likely a stacked device, where both the DRAM and storage are together on the same unit, just like you would find inside your cell phone. This appears to be UFS storage, which should be faster than the eMMC storage that older devices (and still some other cheap PCs) would have used, so disk performance should be OK — certainly not as good as M.2 nvme storage, but it could be worse and may get close to SATA SSD speeds. (This also confirms that there is no upgradability — you’d have to swap out that entire unit, which is soldered to the daughter card, so really you would need a new daughter card.)

Next, the display adapter is a Qualcomm Adreno 618. Again, entry level graphics, similar to what you would find on an entry-level phone or an older PC (or something with a Pentium Gold or Celeron).

As mentioned previously, there’s a 100Mb Ethernet controller, in this case using the ASIX AX88772C chipset connected to the USB 2.0 bus. I guess if it’s only going to do 100Mb, it might as well be connected via USB 2.0 too. Wi-fi networking is a little more reasonable, using a Qualcomm dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11ac 2×2 adapter. If you have a good connection to an access point, this could be faster than the 100Mb Ethernet controller.

And of course it meets the Windows 11 requirements, with UEFI, Secure Boot, a firmware TPM 2.0 “chip,” 8 CPU cores, plenty of RAM, disk space, etc. (Since it ships with Windows 11, it better meet those requirements.)

Since I’m often testing out deployment scenarios, the firmware (BIOS) is always of interest too. For this device, it’s pretty basic — it supports PXE booting, secure boot configuration, boot entries, etc. But it’s all via a simplistic text menu:

Better than nothing I guess. They did at least configure a logo:

But how well does it work overall? I would expect it to be fine for web browsing, video watching, and light productivity tasks (e.g. Office 365). I have another device (a Chromebook) that uses the same CPU and I use it regularly for similar tasks, plus as a remote desktop client to other Windows devices (in my case, a Windows Server workstation with lots of Hyper-V VMs, but it could just as easily be used with a Windows 365 virtual machine). I can’t generally use it until I work out the video situation (likely in the same way as I did with the Mac Mini, using a small HDMI dongle), so stay tuned for that. But then I’m likely going to reimage it, over and over again…

So while you could use this as an entry-level consumption device, it’s probably better suited for testing apps on ARM64, or for use cases that are probably more aligned with the original design: point of sale systems, digital displays, etc. Their small size, low cost, low power/heat (completely fanless), etc. is well suited for those types of usage. While Apcsilmic doesn’t try to tell you what to use the device for, it’s probably best not to think of it as a general-purpose device. If you do want a general-purpose ARM64-based device, you probably want something with a Qualcomm 8cx (or equivalent) at this point — at least until the next generation of ARM64 processors comes out (late this year?).

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3 replies »

    • Interesting, thanks for the note. I assumed both ports were the same, so I only tried port #1. Port #2 works fine with my 1080p LG display, whereas port #1 puts out an incompatible sync rate. So in my case, port #2 does what I need.