Azulle’s Access3 (Fig. 1) is a PC in a compact, fanless package aimed at digital signage applications as well as being a handy multimedia home PC solution. It’s a step up from the earlier Access Plus that I also tried out. Two key improvements are support for 4K video and gigabit Ethernet.
1. Azulle’s Access3 handles USB 3, gigabit Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi, and 4K displays.
The Access3 computer-on-a-stick is designed to plug into an HDMI display. It can be done with a cable, but usually it just pops into the HDMI socket on the display. Azulle provides an HDMI extension cable in case that’s needed. This is great for larger displays, where the HDMI connector is in the back and the unit is well hidden from view.
It doesn’t include a keyboard or mouse like a laptop, but it’s actually smaller and lighter than most portable devices short of a smartphone. The addition of a compact, wireless keyboard and/or mouse and a HDTV or nearby HDMI display is all that’s needed to turn the combination into a full-blown PC. I like using Azulle’s Lynk (Fig. 2) if using the system involves limited typing. Other options are Logitech’s K400 or Microsoft’s All-in-One. I’ve also used foldable Bluetooth keyboards.
2. The Lynk is a useful addition to many Access3 systems.
The Access3 sports a 2.2-GHz, quad-core, Intel Apollo Lake N3450 processor running Windows 10 Pro or Ubuntu Linux. Yes, finally a stock Linux without having to wipe Windows first. Windows 10 Pro is important as well, since digital signage applications are more likely to be part of a larger corporate network with multiple systems involved in presentations/advertisements. Windows 10 Pro Enterprise is one of the available configuration options.
The Access3 supports secure boot, but it’s disabled by default. I enabled it on Windows 10 Pro that makes it easy to boot to the UEFI-based BIOS. The systems are available with 2, 4 or 6 GB of DRAM and 32 or 64 GB of eMMC storage. For home use, buy the largest you can afford. For embedded applications, it’s usually a matter of determining system requirements based on the applications. An SD card slot supports up to 256-GB cards. Additional storage can be added using the two USB 3.0 ports.
The Kensington lock socket will keep the digital signage unit from walking away, but not from being disconnected. Then again, short of an enclosed system, most digital signage solutions are susceptible to malicious cable disconnects.
As noted, the Intel HD Graphics 500 GPU supports 4K displays at 30 frames/s. That’s sufficient for streaming video, but obviously not for high-end gaming. Then again, the Access3 is smaller than most GPU cards that a gamer would put in a much, much larger system.
Streaming 4K video needs decent network bandwidth, so the gigabit Ethernet is very useful for wired applications. The dual-band, 2.4-GHz/5-GHz Wi-Fi support uses Intel’s AC 3165 with 802.11ac support. It also provides Bluetooth 4.2.
I use the Access3 as a media-center device streaming content from diverse sources including my MythTV recorders, although they’re running at 1080p resolution that comes over cable these days with the help of a CableCard and an HDHomeRun unit.
For those occasional times I take it on the road, I often connect to it using my laptop instead of bringing another keyboard or mouse. Remote access works well, but VNC is typically better for Windows since Remote Desktop doesn’t use the remote display.
The Azulle Access3 is now my dedicated media-center device. It has its own USB digital camera, so Skype and other teleconferencing software works with my large screen HDTV. It’s handy for seeing the grandkids.