The Skylake-U platform for mini-PCs has turned out to be an interesting one. Numerous challenges were faced by the first one in the market - the Intel Skylake NUC. Eventual BIOS fixes made the platform realize its full potential. All these aspects made Intel's partners take it a bit slow when it came to promoting their Skylake-U mini-PCs. Vendors like GIGABYTE and ASUS have been selling their version of NUCs for a few generations now. The Beebox-S is ASRock's first play in the Core-based UCFF (ultra-compact form-factor, i.e, NUC-type machines) PC market.

Introduction and Platform Impressions

ASRock was one of the pioneers in the mini-PC market, thanks to their Vision / Core series units. Based on motherboards meant for the notebook market (smaller than mini-ITX, but larger than pico-ITX), they were regularly refreshed starting with the ION-based nettops. 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.

ASRock's first play in the UCFF market segment was the 2015 Beebox series based on the Intel Braswell SoCs. The mini-PC brought in plenty of premium features without driving up the price compared to other Braswell units, and even came in a fanless version. The Beebox-S adopts the same chassis design, but, the internals make a move up to the Skylake-U platform. ASRock's marketing angle with the Beebox-S is similar to that of the Braswell Beebox - attempting to provide more value for money compared to competing units.

The ASRock Beebox-S series is currently made up of two SKUs, one based on the Core i3-6100U and another based on the Core i5-6200U. Both of these come barebones (no storage, RAM or OS). The specifications of our ASRock Beebox-S 6200U are summarized in the table below.

ASRock Beebox-S 6200U Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-6200U
Skylake, 2C/4T, 2.3 GHz (Turbo to 2.8 GHz), 14nm, 3MB L2, 15W TDP
Memory Mushkin MES4S213FF8G28 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 520
Disk Drive(s) Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Gigabit Ethernet Connection I219-V
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C
3x USB 3.0
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $720
Full Specifications ASRock Beebox-S Specifications

The ASRock Beebox-S 6200U 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 65 W (19V @ 3.42A) adapter with a 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 unique part of the package is a small plastic tab and an additional screw that allows for installation of a M.2 2280 SSD in the unit. The gallery further below has a photograph showing the placement of this tab to enable the installation. It also takes us around the chassis and internal components of the unit.

Interesting components on the board include the ASMedia ASM1442K level shifter for the HDMI 1.4 port, the TI TS3DV642 video signal multiplexer/demultiplexer (that allows one of either the HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort outputs to be active). Note that even though Skylake-U can theoretically support up to three simultaneous displays, the Beebox-S supports only two at a time (either HDMI 2.0 + HDMI 1.4 or HDMI 2.0 + DP). Other components that reside on the underside include the ASMedia ASM1142 USB 3.1 bridge chip and the MegaChips LSPCon to enable the HDMI 2.0 output from the DisplayPort output of the Skylake-U SiP.

Platform Analysis

The Beebox-S is an obvious alternative to the Skylake NUC, with our review unit going up against the NUC6i5SYK. The board layout of the Beebox-S is presented below.

It is interesting to compare this layout against that of the Intel NUC6i5SYK. We find the following important differences.

  • The PCH PCIe lanes are distributed as below
    • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #4: In Use @ x1 (ASMedia ASM1142 USB 3.1 xHCI Controller)
    • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #5: In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160 AC HMC WiFi Adapter)
    • PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #9: In Use @ x4 (M.2 NVMe SSD)
  • Replacement of the mini-DP port with a HDMI 2.0 port using a DP to HDMI LSPCon
  • Removal of SDXC 3.0 slot and one of the front USB 3.0 ports (the front port is replaced by a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port from the ASM1142 controller)

ASRock's BIOS has plenty of features that are missing in the BIOS from other vendors. I will not go into the details of all the BIOS features, but, readers interested in checking out the available options can peruse the user manual available here.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ASRock Beebox-S 6200U against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. 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-S 6200U when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ASRock Beebox-S 6200U
CPU Intel Core i5-6200U Intel Core i5-6200U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 520 Intel HD Graphics 520
RAM Mushkin MES4S213FF8G28 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Mushkin MES4S213FF8G28 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $720 $720
Performance Metrics - I
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  • Arnulf - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    Where is Apollo Lake?

    I want one of those on a desktop-sized motherboard (uATX?).
    Reply
  • Ro_Ja - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    The Celerons and the Pentiums? They'll be better off with Compute Sticks. Reply
  • maglito - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    Someone needs to make something like this with passive 24v 4wire Power over Ethernet or one of the active PoE standards that supports voltage in the 48v range. I have a NUC rigged up to run off of one of these switches: https://www.netonix.com/wisp-switch.html with this PoE extractor: http://tyconsystems.com/index.php/passive-gigabit/... (using 24VH mode on the switch) but it required a bit of cutting. There isn't really any good SFF PC with PoE input anywhere on the market I've found. Reply
  • BedfordTim - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    On the plus side at least there are still NUCs that support 24V input. Reply
  • MrCommunistGen - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    Wouldn't some of the Skylake NUC's performance advantage be related to the fact that the i5-6260U has 64MB of eDRAM? Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, August 11, 2016 - link

    Very true. I had mentioned Iris graphics in the comparison table for the NUC6i5SYK, but didnt mention the eDRAM aspect in the text. Reply
  • Wineohe - Thursday, August 11, 2016 - link

    I can appreciate the desire to test the unit in it's best light with a 950 Pro and the 16GB of RAM, but it seems like overkill and jacks up the price way up. You fail to even mention the base price, although I can go shopping. A more likely configuration for me is a mainstream 250gb SSD and 8GB. It would be perfect in my sailboat. Reply
  • Jookie - Wednesday, August 17, 2016 - link

    I would love to see a NUC/UCFF that doesn't sandwich a hot WiFi adapter between the SSD and the MoBo. I usually don't install the WiFi if I care about the data on the drive. Reply
  • Mathewlin - Thursday, August 25, 2016 - link

    Cool be good for my mom! :) Reply
  • Detosx - Saturday, August 27, 2016 - link

    Another over-priced mini PC based around a low powered ultrabook-series CPU. Wouldn't it make more sense to buy an ultrabook laptop where a screen, keyboard, trackpad... memory and storage are included in the price?! I know it's a smaller footprint an ultrabook but I feel like potential customers are getting hammered on price, or certainly here in the UK. The NUC, with the much better Iris HD 540 graphics component, seems much more appealing, to me, but again the price is the big off putter and lack of things like a Thunderbolt 3 port limit the appeal of mini PCs, at the moment. If the price were much lower, I think the things it lacks would be less conspicuous by their absence. Thanks for the review. It would be nice to think it might spark some competition but here in price fixing UK, competition seems to be a dirty word. Hopefully the next generation will make for viably priced and appealing little gaming console alternatives. Reply

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