Introduction and Setup Impressions

ASRock had taken an early lead in serving the mini-PC market, thanks to its Vision / Core series units. Based on motherboards meant for the notebook market (smaller than mini-ITX, but larger than pico-ITX), they have been regularly refreshed since the ION days. Over the last couple of years, mini-PCs in the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) - tagged as NUCs after being made popular by the Intel Next Unit of Computing systems - have emerged as one of the bright spots in the troubled PC market. Strangely, ASRock didn't have any play in this UCFF NUC form-factor. That changes with the arrival of Intel's Cherry Trail based on 14nm Braswell. The ASRock Beebox is a NUC based on the Intel Celeron N3xxx, and carries some unique features that include fanless operation, a USB Type-C port in the front panel and support for up to three simultaneous display (including 4K ones).

The ASRock Beebox is available with either the Celeron N3000 or the Celeron N3105 as the internal SoC. Each of these units can come either barebones (i.e, no internal storage or memory) or, as a ready-to-go system (with or without the OS). ASRock supplied us with the following reference pricing sheet for the N3000 series.

For a $20 premium, the increase in the internal storage from 32GB to 128GB is quite welcome. Both memory slots get occupied (and 4 GB of RAM is appropriate for the system's use-cases in the intended target market - digital signage, embedded applications and industrial usage). Note that only the N3000 series is fanless. The N3150 series uses active cooling. The specifications of our ASRock Beebox N3000-NUC review configuration are summarized in the table below.

ASRock Beebox N3000-NUC Specifications
Processor Intel Celeron N3000
(2C/2T Airmont x86 @ 1.04 / 2.08 GHz, 14nm, 2 MB L2, 4W TDP, 3W SDP)
Memory 2x 2 GB DDR3L-1600 C11
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) Team Group TIM3F49128GMBA04S6 128 GB mSATA 6 Gbps SSD
Networking 1x Realtek RTL8168 GbE, 1x1 Realtek 8821AE 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output over HDMI
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $220
Full Specifications ASRock Beebox N3000-Series Specifications

The ASRock Beebox N3000-NUC kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a CD containing Windows drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off ASRock's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 36 W (12V @ 3A) adapter with a replaceable US power connector, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a driver CD, user's manual and a quick-start guide. In addition, we also have the appropriate cables - both data and power - to install a 2.5" drive in the system. A small IR remote control with a pre-installed CR232 battery is also part of the package.

The gallery below takes us around the hardware in the unit.

One of the interesting aspects shown in the gallery above is the chassis and motherboard design to accommodate a 2.5" drive with the SATA port and the power pins to the right of the SO-DIMM slots. The other aspect is the maximum possible memory in the system. Even though Intel's official specs indicate a maximum memory size of only 8 GB, we were able to install 2x 8GB panram P8D3L1600C116G2VS sticks for a total of 16 GB of RAM. These operate with the same latencies as that of the pre-installed sticks - no benchmark improvements were found with the panram sticks, but there was a slight increase in the power consumption. So, we retained the pre-installed DRAM kit for our benchmarking purposes.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ASRock Beebox N3000-NUC against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment, but all of them are fanless units. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the ASRock Beebox N3000-NUC when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ASRock Beebox N3000-NUC
CPU Intel Celeron N3000 Intel Celeron N3000
GPU Intel HD Graphics (Gen8-LP) Intel HD Graphics (Gen8-LP)
RAM Team Group TI9B8S05H41159
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x2 GB
Team Group TI9B8S05H41159
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x2 GB
Storage Team Group TIM3F49128GMBA04S6
(128 GB; mSATA 6Gb/s; 20nm; MLC)
Team Group TIM3F49128GMBA04S6
(128 GB; mSATA 6Gb/s; 20nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Realtek 8821AE Wireless LAN 802.11ac
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Realtek 8821AE Wireless LAN 802.11ac
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $220 $220
Performance Metrics - I
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  • losergamer04 - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    The lack of bitstream audio is surprising given the box includes an IR remote.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Very few people actually use home theater systems and those who do can probably afford to spend a bit more on a media computer. I can see why they wouldn't bother on such a low-end system.
  • waldojim42 - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Just because people can spend more, doesn't mean they want to. A $220 media PC, with bitstream audio that will bolt on to the back of the TV sounds quite nice. Especially if it works well in that role.
  • owarchild - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Agreed! The Raspberry Pi2 and the Celeron 2955U Chromebox are widely used for inexpensive HTPCs by the Kodi community. Braswell could become a nice alternative featuring HEVC support.
  • chrnochime - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Or just go buy the NUC version that does support DTS-MA/HD
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Flunk: It is not about whether it is low end, but whether it does what is needed. I have a home theatre system and want something like Beebox. What I need is something that plays ripped Blu-rays perfectly, correctly delivers the sound to the AV receiver, can deal with Netflixs, Amazon Prime, Youtube in HD and light web browsing yet at the same time sips power so that it is on 24/7.
  • Gadgety - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    @cjs150 Yep, me too.
  • Cinnabuns - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Me three.
  • GTVic - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Everything has a purpose. If you purchase a Vitamix it also will do a spectacular job of not delivering bitstream audio to your HTS.
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Can an iPad with Airplay do all that? Or an iPad with a $15 HDMI adapter? Seems like it would be much better than any HTPC for everything you mentioned. I use Air video for watching movies on our iPads (best $3 I ever spent) but haven't tried connecting it to the TV. You can buy used iPads for $200, and that's a much better deal, as you can do a lot more with it, besides the typical HTPC functions. Also, don't modern "Smart" TVs do everything you mentioned?

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