Azulle’s Access4 (starts at $249.99; $269.99 as tested) is a candy-bar-size micro-PC meant for the back of your TV or a spare monitor. Its main charms are its tiny footprint and silent operation rather than anything approaching mainstream performance. Regular Windows use requires patience, but the Access4 has enough muscle to stream 4K video smoothly. Designed primarily for commercial use in a kiosk or for digital signage, the Access4 can also serve as an easy and inexpensive way for home users to add Internet smarts to an old TV or monitor. With an updated Intel Celeron processor on the inside and a USB Type-C port on the outside, this latest model offers slight improvements over last year’s Azulle Access3, but its capabilities remain the same as a low-cost PC built for a specific task rather than general use.
An Updated Celeron, the Same Storage
The Access4 is the same stick PC as the Access3 with a newer, slightly faster Celeron chip inside and the baseline configuration bumped from a measly 2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash memory storage to a better but still modest 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. You also have the option of outfitting the system with Windows 10 Pro or Linux. (The $249.99 base model features the same hardware as our $269.99 Windows 10-based tester, just with Linux.)
Although you have your choice of operating system, it’s one size fits all for the system’s internals. The Celeron J4125 is the only CPU on offer, and you can’t get more than 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage even if you’re willing to pay for it. Preloaded with Windows 10 Pro, our test system’s 64GB of flash had only 37.5GB of free space left, leaving little room to store much of a photo or video library.
Released roughly a year ago, the Celeron J4125 is two years newer than the Celeron J4105 in the Access3. The two chips, however, are very similar. Both are unthreaded, quad-core CPUs built on the 14nm process. The Celeron J4125 has a slight edge in processing speed, running at 2GHz to its predecessor’s 1.5GHz base frequency and able to hit a burst frequency of 2.7GHz to the older chip’s max of 2.5GHz. Even with the newer chip, the Access4 felt sluggish when attempting to navigate Windows. Lag was everywhere, from opening menus to switching apps. The simplest tasks require patience, and major multitasking is best avoided.
New Connectivity: USB Type-C
Measuring 0.75 by 2 by 5.2 inches (HWD), the Access4 is the same shape and size as the Access3, although there is a slight cosmetic difference in the pattern of the grooves on the exterior of the enclosure. (Last year’s circular pattern has been supplanted by a V-shaped pattern.) The grooves help the system dissipate heat; with no cooling fan, the Access4 is cooled passively and operates in utter silence. The system did get warm after prolonged use, but it never crashed during my time with it. A tiny LED on the top of the Access4 glows blue when the system is powered on and red when shut down.
The Access4 is a bit wider and longer than the typical stick PC. It was too wide to squeeze in next to the other HDMI inputs on my TV, which had other cables already plugged into them, blocking the way. But an included 9-inch HDMI extension cable allowed it to dangle off the back of my TV and clear of my other cables.
Unlike some streaming sticks that can draw power from your TV, the Access4 needs to be plugged into a wall outlet. And the power adapter has a clunky plug that forced me to reorganize my power strip to create free outlets around it so it would fit. With the HDMI extension cable hanging off one side of the device and the power cable hanging off another, the Access4 wasn’t the most elegant addition to my living room, but I was still able to hide everything behind my TV, so it ended up not being an issue. Thankfully, my TV isn’t mounted on a wall, or I would have had a much more difficult time disguising the addition of the Access4 to my home theater setup.
Given its small size, the Access4 has a useful selection of ports, headlined by its new USB Type-C port, which the Access3 lacked. In addition to a USB-C port, the Access4 supplies a Type-A USB 3.0 port, but there’s only one, so you might need to use a USB hub to connect a keyboard and mouse. You also get a microSD card slot for easy storage expansion, as well as a 3.5mm audio jack.
The swiveling antenna on the right edge is for the built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 radios, and there’s also a Gigabit Ethernet port if you’d rather establish a wired network connection to the Access4.
Azulle sells a few optional peripherals with the Access4, from a Logitech keyboard and mouse set to a remote control and webcam. None was included with our test system.
Low Scores, But a Smooth Streamer
Despite its newer Celeron processor, the Access4 was unable to complete any more benchmark tests than the Access3. It’s not uncommon, however, for very low-powered systems to fail to finish all of our benchmarks. The PCMark 8 Storage test crashed after a few minutes in, our Photoshop test cried “insufficient RAM,” and the demanding Superposition 3D graphics test refused to spit out a score. (See how we test desktops.)
In addition to the Access3, I compared the Access4 to three other mini PCs, two from Zotac and one from ECS…
The Zotac ZBox Edge CI341 features the Celeron N4100 CPU, an even more underpowered Celeron than that in either Azulle stick PC. The Zotac ZBox CI622 Nano is a slightly larger mini desktop that uses the Intel Core i3-10110U, while the ECS Liva Z3 Plus is the most powerful of the bunch, with an Intel Core i5-10210U processor.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
The Access4 finished a few points higher than the Access3, but given its newer Celeron with its higher clock speed, I had expected a larger delta. Even when avoiding multitasking, the Access4 felt sluggish when attempting to perform the most basic tasks in Windows.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The Access4 put a bit more distance between itself and the Access3 in Cinebench, but its score was well off the marks of the Core i3-based ZBox CI622 Nano and Core i5-based ECS Liva Z3 Plus.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
While the Access4 was 9 minutes faster than the Access3 in completing our Handbrake test, it still took 45 minutes to do the job, which is an agonizingly long time for this benchmark.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
None of the five mini PCs here will be mistaken for a gaming rig. These systems are built for streaming video and other producivity and display tasks and are not capable of driving demanding games. To its credit, the Access4 was able to smoothly stream 4K video.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We normally present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets.
These scores are reported in frames per second (fps), the frequency at which the graphics hardware renders frames in a sequence, which translates to how smooth the scene looks in motion. For lower-end systems, maintaining at least 30fps is the realistic target, while more powerful computers should ideally attain at least 60fps at the test resolution.
With an ultra-low framerate in the low-end Superposition test and failure in the high-end test, the Access4 again proved it is about as far from a gaming PC as a system can get.
Light Duty for the Living Room
You shouldn’t read too much into the poor benchmark results of the Azulle Access4. This mini PC isn’t meant to act as your primary computer and handle ordinary Windows chores. It’s a small, silent, and inexpensive system that you can add to an idle monitor or an old HDTV that lacks Internet connectivity.
I’d rather add an underpowered, silent mini PC that can do its one job of streaming HD videos to my living room than a more capable system with a cooling fan that has the potential to make me crazy as it whirs behind my TV. Of course, streaming sticks from the likes of Amazon and Roku may be able to do all (or much) of what you want in the streaming vein, and cheaper. So examine those products, too, if all you need, say, is to add Netflix access to an older TV.
While an option to double the RAM and especially the storage capacity would be appreciated, the Access4 has enough muscle to stream HD content without any hiccups, gets you basic Windows functionality, and offers ample connectivity to slide easily into your home theater. For its intended purpose as a customizable streaming stick, the Access4 is a winner for its low price and silent operation.