Plex Server on the Cheap! Intel N100 Mini PCs are a great choice.

In my latest sponsored Plex video, we look at using a very inexpensive Intel N100 based GMKtek G3 Mini PC as a Plex server. Despite being a budget device, its performance, particularly with hardware transcoding, is impressive.

You can see my initial review of this particular PC here.

I began by installing the Windows version of Plex Media Server on the mini PC since it comes pre-installed with Windows and the Windows installation process is the simplest.

The Intel N100 processor, part of Intel’s Alder Lake series, features QuickSync technology, which enables hardware accelerated video decoding and encoding. This is important for users who plan to stream content outside their home network. QuickSync compresses videos into lower bitrate files on the fly, facilitating smoother playback over varying network conditions. Additionally, the chip’s capability to handle multiple video formats makes it a versatile choice for media servers.

Hardware transcoding requires a Plex Pass (compensated affiliate link). You can learn more about hardware transcoding in this video. If you are just direct playing the files from your Plex server inside the home the hardware transcoding (and Plex Pass) aren’t necessary. You’ll be able to spin things up for free.

In my real-world testing, I demonstrated the mini PC’s ability to handle multiple simultaneous hardware transcodes efficiently. For instance, a 4K VP9 encoded video from Netflix and a Blu-ray MKV file were both transcoded without significant CPU load, maintaining around 20-25% usage. Even with five concurrent transcodes, including various formats like VP9, H.264 and a 10-bit HEVC, the CPU usage only reached about 35%.

However, the mini PC encounters limitations with 4K HDR Blu-ray MKVs when playing back on non-SDR displays. Windows does not support hardware-based HDR tone mapping, forcing the CPU to handle this task, resulting in poor playback performance. Hardware tone mapping does work on Quicksync equipped processors on Linux operating systems, however. We’ll explore that in a future video.

Despite these limitations, an Intel Alder LAke N100 mini PC is an excellent choice for most Plex users looking for a budget solution with low power consumption.

Disclosure: This video was sponsored by Plex however they did not review or approve the video before it was uploaded.

The Return of Budget 15″ Laptops? Ace Magic Laptop Review

My latest video looks at an inexpensive laptop from Ace Magician, a company that produced some impressive mini PCs I’ve reviewed over the last couple of weeks. While the laptop has its merits, there are a few caveats to consider.

The Ace Magic 15″ is currently available for around $310. However, it’s worth noting that the company frequently offers discounts and coupon codes, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for deals. For the price, the hardware is pretty good. The laptop boasts a 1080p 15.6-inch IPS display, which offers decent viewing angles with no noticeable backlight bleed. The brightness might not be the highest (I estimate around 250nits), but the quality of the display was a pleasant surprise.

Under the hood, the laptop is powered by an Intel N95 processor. While this might not be the most powerful chip on the market, it’s sufficient for basic tasks like web browsing, movie watching, and word processing. The laptop also comes with 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD, both of which can be upgraded if needed.

However, not everything is great. I encountered some issues with the laptop’s Wi-Fi, which is a 1×1 AC Wi-Fi radio. The data transfer rates were not impressive, and I had compatibility issues with the Unifi Wi-Fi hardware I use here at the house. The Wifi/Bluetooth radio is socketed so it’s easy enough to swap out later. Another area where the laptop falls short is the webcam. The quality is subpar, making it unsuitable for professional video calls.

On the brighter side, the keyboard is decent, with well-spaced but springy keys that offer good travel distance. The trackpad, while functional, can be a bit tricky due to its dual-button design. The laptop also offers a variety of ports, including USB 3, HDMI, and a micro SD card slot. There are two USB-C ports, however one is only for power and the other only works with USB data devices.

When it comes to performance, the Ace Magic 15″ handles basic tasks without issue. Web browsing is smooth, and video playback, especially on platforms like YouTube, is seamless. However, if you’re into gaming, this might not be the best choice. While older games run smoothly, modern titles are not playable, even at lower settings. You’ll need to stream those games from another PC in the house or a game streaming service.

Interestingly, the laptop excels in emulation. I tested it with the PCSX2 emulator, and it managed to run Burnout Revenge at a solid 60 frames per second.

As far as battery life is concerned, I managed to get around six to seven hours on a single charge while performing basic tasks.

For those interested in running alternative operating systems, the laptop can boot up the latest version of Ubuntu and have most of the hardware recognized. Unfortunately the laptop’s audio was not detected properly.

All in the Ace Magic 15″ laptop offers decent value for its price. While there are some shortcomings, especially with the Wi-Fi and webcam, the overall experience is positive. If you’re on a tight budget and need a laptop for basic tasks, this might be a good option to consider.