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Tiny $45 cubic mini-PC runs Android and Linux

Sep 3, 2013 — by Eric Brown 122,549 views

SolidRun refreshed its line of tiny 2 x 2 x 2-inch mini-PCs with four new community-backed models based on 1.2GHz multi-core Freescale i.MX6 SoCs. The CuBox-i devices run Android 4.2.2 and Linux, offer HDMI, S/PDIF, IR, eSATA, GbE, USB, WiFi, and Bluetooth interfaces (depending on model), and are currently available for pre-order starting at $45.

The CuBox-i mini-PCs look to replace the earlier CuBox and CuBox Pro models, which cost $120 and $160, respectively, and ran on a Marvell Armada 510 system-on-chip. The four new CuBox-i models advance to Freescale’s Cortex-A9-based i.MX6 SoC, which is also used in mini-PCs including the Utilite from fellow Israeli firm CompuLab. A wide range of potential applications are said to include use as a desktop replacement, presentation device, digital signage system, and XBMC-based media center.

SolidRun’s tiny CuBox-i mini-PC
(click images to enlarge)

The CuBox-i models continue to use the same basic 2 x 2 x 2-inch packaging design and 5V@2A power supply of the original CuBox, and provide a similar feature set. The main difference is in the capability of the more robust processors. All the models offer 1GHz to 1.2GHz clock speeds, OpenGL/ES 2.0 3D support, and video acceleration for 1080p video. The two higher-end models furnish more robust graphics processing units that add OpenCL 1.1 support.

Block diagrams: CuBox-i mini-PC and its i.MX6 SoC
(click image to enlarge)

With its focus on the general embedded market rather than smartphones and tablets, Freescale’s i.MX6 doesn’t have the same name recognition as other multicore Cortex-A9 SOCs like the Tegra 3 or Samsung Exynos. Yet, it’s an increasingly popular choice for embedded-oriented single-board computers (SBCs) and computer-on-modules (COMs), in part because it offers a choice of one, two, or four cores.

Feature differences among models


As detailed in the feature list farther below, there are numerous differences among the four models:

  • CuBox-i1 — The entry-level i1 model uses the single-core i.MX6 Solo with a GC880 GPU and 512MB of DDR3 RAM. Standard features include 10/100 Ethernet, an HDMI port, SPDIF out, an IR receiver, and dual USB 2.0 host ports. WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 are optional.
  • CuBox-i2 — The i2 model moves up to the i.MX6 Dual Lite, which has the same GPU as the i1, but advances to two Cortex-A9 cores instead of one, and ships with 1GB of RAM. Otherwise, I/O and options are the same.
  • CuBox-i2Ultra — The i2Ultra steps up the i.MX6 Dual, which also has two cores and 1GB of RAM, but boasts a more powerful GC2000 GPU and offers additional I/O. The i2Ultra offers all the features of the lower models, but swaps out the 10/100 Ethernet for a gigabit port, and provides standard WiFi and Bluetooth. In addition, it supplies an eSATA II port, an RTC with backup, and an IR transmitter, as well as a receiver. It also provides a micro-USB device port with an RS232 connection.
  • CuBox-i4Pro — This high-end model advances to the i.MX6 Quad and boosts RAM to 2GB. Otherwise, it is identical to the CuBox-i2Ultra.

The CuBox-i mini-PCs ship with an optional microSD card loaded with Android 4.2.2 (“Jelly Bean”). The computers are supported with a Cubox community site where other builds are “already completed or in the progress of porting,” says SolidRun. This includes the latest versions of the Linux kernel and various Linux distributions. There are also open source packages including the XBMC Media Center, as well as a forum, wiki, and other resources.

Specifications listed for the CuBox-i include:

  • Processor — Freescale i.MX6 (Cortex A9 with NEON @1GHz-1.2GHz):
    • CuBox-i1 — i.MX6 Solo (1x core); GC880 GPU (OpenGL/ES 2.0)
    • CuBox-i2 — i.MX6 Dual Lite (2x cores); GC880 GPU (OpenGL/ES 2.0)
    • CuBox-i2Ultra — i.MX6 Dual (2x cores); GC2000 GPU (OpenGL/ES 2.0, OpenCL 1.1)
    • CuBox-i4Pro — i.MX6 Quad (4x cores); GC2000 GPU (OpenGL/ES 2.0, OpenCL 1.1)
  • RAM (DDR3):
    • CuBox-i1 — 512MB (32-bit, 800MHz)
    • CuBox-i2 — 1GB (64-bit, 800MHz)
    • CuBox-i2Ultra — 1GB (64-bit, 1GHz)
    • CuBox-i4Pro — 2GB (64-bit, 1GHz)
  • Storage — MicroSD slot with optional card with OS; eSATA II 3Gbps (i2Ultra and i4Pro only)
  • Ethernet:
    • CuBox-i1 and i2 — 10/100 Ethernet
    • CuBox-i2Ultra and i4Pro — gigabit Ethernet; limited to 470Mbps bandwidth “due to internal chip buses”
  • Wireless — WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth (both standard on i2Ultra and i4Pro, optional on i1 and i2)
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 2.0 host
    • MicroUSB device (to RS232) on i2Ultra and i4Pro only
    • HDMI 1.4
    • Optical audio SPDIF out
    • Infra-red receiver
    • Infra-red transmitter (i2Ultra and i4Pro only)
  • Other features — Real Time Clock with battery backup (i2Ultra and i4Pro only)
  • Power — 5V; 2.1/5.5mm power jack optional power or BYO that can source 2A (3A for CuBox-i4Pro)
  • Dimensions — 55 x 55 x 42mm (2 x 2 x 2 inches)
  • Operating system — ships with optional Android 4.2.2 microSD card; supports Android and Linux


“Given the open source SDK and tons of available software packages, our computers can be used in a huge range of scenarios limited only by your imagination; ranging from embedded, multimedia, education, cloud client, HMI and many other fields, as well as all the fun projects you always dreamed of,” stated Rabeeh Khoury, CTO of SolidRun.

Limited pre-orders are now available with shipments due by the end of November. Prices, listed here in both special and standard amounts, includes: CuBox-i1 ($45/$50), CuBox-i2 ($70/$75), CuBox-i2Ultra ($95/$105), CuBox-i4Pro ($120/$130); shipping costs range from $18 to $38. More information and direct sales are available at SolidRun’s Cubox-i product page.

(advertise here)

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19 responses to “Tiny $45 cubic mini-PC runs Android and Linux”

    • CFWhitman says:

      The IVIEW tablet is a completely different thing (cheap iPod Touch aimed device). It has a less powerful (previous generation) processor. I can’t seem to find out what kind of GPU it has, but I imagine that’s less powerful as well, especially since it only has to drive a low resolution screen. It has no HDMI out, no S/PDIF, and no Bluetooth. It’s not readily hackable. It also has a reputation for not being durable at all. It’s simply not a comparable product.

    • eas says:

      Yeah, but that doesn’t have SATA, or Gigabit ethernet.

      And I can’t drive either one of them to pick up a load of plywood.

  1. Bob Johnson says:

    Yes, but with this I can hook it up to my TV and have a dirt cheap HTPC. I can hack it sideways and run emulators. I can make it a wifi repeater/server. Hell, I can how could have a Computer that can run xbmc and then some.

  2. alexx smith says:

    Now a small enough unit to run a myth TV back end, one for front end client.

  3. Alex says:

    Does it run Ubuntu?

    • lefty.crupps says:

      > Does it run Ubuntu?
      Probably, not; Ubuntu limits itself to x86 compatible processors (Intel, AMD).

      More importantly, does it run Debian and ownCloud?

      • CFWhitman says:

        Well, Ubuntu has an ARM version, though I have my doubts about an officially supported build for the CuBox. There may very well be an unofficial Ubuntu version. The CuBox site seems to be down (perhaps it’s slashdotted), so I can’t find additional information. I’d almost certainly expect a Debian version available. Other fairly possible candidates are Arch, Fedora, Bodhi, and perhaps Slackware.

  4. Michael says:

    No big deal. Not enough Ethernet. No great price. Silly to have this many versions. The difference in part costs make it not worth the effort.

    I’m not impressed.

  5. Pinguinpat says:

    Looks like a very useful thing to use as thin-client.
    To bad it comes from Israel.
    Any suggestions for alternatives?

    Thank you!!

    • Michael says:

      Depends upon the features. It could be a Beagle Board, TP-Link has a couple of nice tiny boxes (TL-WR703) or the TI ICE board (similar to Beagle but with two Ethernet). It’s all about the features that are required.

      • Pinguinpat says:

        Thank you!! What I’m going to give server lessons using virtual machines so everybody can control his/her server with a thin-client.

        I don’t need a lot of features: I obviously need a monitor, keyboard/mouse connection. I also need wireless because the classroom won’t be in the same building all the time.

        That’s about it.

    • CFWhitman says:

      I’m not sure about anything as small with comparable inputs and outputs that doesn’t require a bit of “do it yourself” work. Some of the “Related Posts” links refer to those types of things.

      There are of course the various Android dongles, mostly Chinese made, like, e.g., the MK802 series of devices. They don’t have the same types of inputs and outputs.

      The first link and the third link (if you don’t mind putting the board in an ITX case yourself) in the “Related Posts” cover some devices that are comparable, but not so small as this.

      One other possibility is the game system aimed devices like the Ouya, the upcoming Mad Catz M.O.J.O., etc. Again, they may not have all the input/output features of CuBox devices, but they do tend to have more than the Android Dongles.

      • Pinguinpat says:

        Thx!! a dongle won’t do the trick! Thin-clients have to be autonomous.
        ITX isn’t only more expensive, It’s also bigger what isn’t ideal.

  6. Marty says:

    I was considering this hardware for a project.
    I always consider input, opinions and reviews of others prior to purchasing.
    I’m puzzled as to why I should be wary of hardware from Israel?
    Is it inferior in some way compared to similiar hardware from some other country? If so, how?
    Thanks for any help.

  7. marky mac says:

    >why I should be wary of hardware from Israel?

    Some people boycotted South African products when it had Apartheight. Likewise, people morally objecting to what Israel has been doing exercise their right NOT to buy Israeli products.
    I don’t think it has much effects, but it could be a matter of principles.

    • Tal says:

      You do realize that this small company is owned and managed by Israeli
      Arabs, don’t you? (look at the company’s website). This just goes to show
      how boycotting is exactly 360 degrees removed from the bigotry it purports
      to resist. Bravo to you – just don’t fall off your high horse!

  8. Softdroid says:

    Thanks for the review! After reading I’ve got CuBox-i mini-PCs and it works for me too!

  9. Khalil Ahmaf says:

    I want to buy it.

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