ASRock Beebox Braswell Fanless Mini PC Review (2/2)
Installing Windows 10 on the Beebox was simple. The bootup time is relatively short, thanks to the speedy mSATA SSD drive I had in the system. The performance in Windows is obviously not stellar. You can browse the internet, read your emails do some word processing etc. but even web browsing sometimes brings the Beebox to its knees when opening heavier websites with a lot of content.
The Beebox clocks reasonably healthy results in the Cinebench R15 benchmark. I had expected it to fall behind the Intel N3050 Braswell unit, but they’re pretty much on par. The quad-core N3700 processor in the NUC5PPYH shows much better performance in CPU-intensive tasks than the dual-core N3000 and N3050 processors.
Same tendency continues in the 3DMark tests, but here the Beebox is able to even gain some advantage over Intel’s product. As we’ll see later this is due to the use of dual-channel memory. In the 3DMark Firestrike the Beebox N3000 clocks a better result than the Intel NUC5PPYH, which leads me to believe that the test is very memory intensive.
Dual-channel vs. Single-channel
ASRock touts the dual-channel memory to be an enabler for 4K video rendering. While that is not likely the case (Intel NUC5CPYH is just fine with 4k video even if it is single-channel only), we wanted to understand the difference in performance. This we did by replacing the 2x2GB memory modules in the Beebox with a single 4GB module essentially just disabling the dual-channel memory mode but keeping the amount of RAM constant.
As we can see in the results above there was no difference in the Cinebench R15 CPU test, but the OpenGL test showed 11.25 vs. 12.74 fps difference – a healthy 13% increase. Approximately similar increase was seen in the 3DMark results as well with the exception of Firestrike where a much higher increase was observed.
Beebox vs. Intel Braswell NUC
The NUC5CPYH (review) must be one of the more popular NUC PCs, so it’s natural that the Beebox gets compared to that one. Let’s look at the advantages each model has.
- Two memory slots
- USB 3.0 Type C connector
- One more HDMI port
- DisplayPort port
- mSATA slot
- SD card reader
- Intel WiFi adapter (better Linux support)
As we saw in the previous chapter, the fanless Beebox shows better performance than the N3050-powered NUC5CPYH provided that dual-channel memory mode is active.
The Beebox has the promise of being a really nice low-cost HTPC. It does not consume a lot of energy (think 10 watts max), it is small and quiet. There’s even an infrared receiver (and a very simple remote controller, but I expect serious HTPC folks will replace that with something more substantial) integrated and what is very interesting for a lot of people: it can do HEVC decoding in hardware – something that the Core i3 and i5 Broadwell models cannot despite being more expensive. It also supports 4K resolutions up to 3840×2160@30fps. This is the maximum resolution that can be supported using Beebox’s HDMI 1.4 or DP 1.1a interfaces. For 3840×2160@60fps you would need a device with HDMI 2.0 interface or DisplayPort 1.2. However, movies at 24p or 30p should be fine on the Beebox.
The HTPC capabilities seem to be very similar to the Braswell NUC and that’s not surprising since both have the same Braswell 12-execution-unit GPU. I could play H.264 at 4K resolution and HEVC at 4K@30Hz, which is all that the Beebox will support anyway when it comes to getting the picture out from the box. The HW decoding of 8-bit HEVC video is supported as on any Braswell CPU. Which is to say that the software support is still catching up. In Windows if you want to watch 4K video, I suggest using a recent version of Media Player Classic or Kodi 16 (alpha 3) for proper HEVC HW decoding support.
Worth noting that the Windows driver Intel provides for it’s Braswell GPU does not support HD Audio bitsreaming. It’s supported under Linux though.
On Linux (custom-built or OpenELEC) you will need to install some experimental software to get the HEVC decoding working, but it’s actually quite alright. Read the first 2 posts of this thread at Kodi forums to understand the current situation. Under Linux I could not get my 4K@50fps test video to play without some dropped frames (4K@50fps needs to be downscaled to 1080p@50fps). 30 fps was flawless. If you’re running a Linux-based HTPC (or Linux in general on Braswell) please use at least kernel 4.1, or even better 4.3.
Results using OpenELEC:
- Does it support proper 23.976 Hz refresh rate? Yes
- Can it decode full HD video at high bitrates? Yes
- Can it upscale SD video using lanczos3 algorhitm? Yes
- Can it deinterlace SD and HD video with advanced methods? Yes (MCDI)
- Does it run heavier skins like Aeon MQ5 ok? Yes
- Can it decode H.264 video at 4k resolutions 60 fps? Yes, with the development build
- Can it decode HEVC video at 4k resolutions? Yes, with the development build
The Beebox is an interesting entry from ASRock to the NUC-sized PC market. It’s good to see ASRock didn’t just put out yet another copy of the NUC, but instead introduced a product that has several ground-breaking features: the first Braswell NUC with dual-channel memory, the first NUC with a type C USB port and the first NUC with triple-display support. And all this comes in a fanless, quiet package.
In most of the applications the fanless Beebox is as good or even better than the similarly priced Intel NUC5CPYH, provided that you have two identical memory modules installed in the Beebox. The performance won’t light you world on fire but if you need a low-power, absolutely quiet mini PC the Beebox offers rather good value. As long as you plan to stream the content from outside, it will make a nice Linux HTPC for sure!
If you’d like to get one, but are unsure of the needed components, check out what our NUC Guru would recommend for you!
- Dual-channel does improve performance
- Fanless, absolutely zero noise
- HW decoding of HEVC video (8-bit only though)
- Good connectivity options
- Good storage options
- Limited performance
- No 4K at 60 fps
Read also the part 1 of our review: Hardware overview!