The Bottom Line
- + Price
- + Dual 2.5Gbe LAN
- - Performance
Should you buy it?AvoidConsiderShortlistBuy
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
The NUCBOX and its 4x4BOX counterpart have both been solid platforms for ASRock. The former being the Intel side of things, one of the more recent releases has been the NUCBOX N97, which features Alder Lake N series processors. N-Series processors use Intel's Gracemont technology, which is part of what gives the current "Core" desktop series its efficient cores. These new CPUs supersede Jasper Lake SoCs like the N4500,4505 and N5100 series we most recently found in a few NAS appliances.
The NUCBOX N97 is built out with the Intel N97 processor at its core; this is a four-core CPU with no hyper-threading. It offers a base clock of 3.6GHz and 6MB of Cache on a 12W TDP. ASRock has paired this unit with 16GB of DDR4-3200. The unit does offer a single SO-DIMM slot, so upgradability is there. Adding to this, we have Intel UHD Graphics with 24 execution units with support for 4K60 resolution and support for three displays.
The NUCBOX does support the NVMe solution, with a single Gen3 slot available; we also have connectivity for a single SATA 6GBps drive as well. Connectivity for the N97 includes five USB 3.2 Gen 2, split between the USB-C and USB-A interface, and the front-mounted USB-C ports offer DisplayPort support. Further connectivity includes a Key E NVME for Wi-Fi, dual 2.5GBE on the rear I/O, and dual HDMI 2.0b.
The pricing of the ASRock NUCBOX N97 comes in at $249.99.
Mini PC Overview
The N97 was delivered in the same box we have seen with all past ASRock Industrial products.
Unboxing, we have the power adapter on the left and the VESA plate on the far right with reading materials centered.
Once again, the N97 uses a very similar 4x4 chassis to past NUCBOX products, including the glossy exterior and top-mounted power button.
The front of the N97 includes a 3.5mm audio jack alongside two USB-C and one USB-A. All three USB ports support 3.2 Gen 2 technology, while the two USB-C also enable DP1.4a support.
The side of the N97 offers full venting.
The rear I/O includes power on the far left, followed by dual USB 3.2 Gen 2, dual HDMI 2.0, and dual 2.5Gbe LAN.
BIOS/UEFI and Software
The BIOS for the N97 is the text-based setup. This includes hardware information on the main page; you do have the ability to set the date and time at the top. The advanced menu includes options for configuring the chipset, CPU, and storage, while near the bottom, there is a utility for updating the BIOS. Further options include a hardware monitor followed by the usual security and boot tabs.
Cinebench is a long-standing render benchmark that has been heavily relied upon by both Intel and AMD to highlight their newest platforms during unveils. The benchmark has two tests: a single-core workload utilizing one thread or 1T. There is also a multi-threaded test that uses all threads or nT of a tested CPU.
The N97 offered up a 984 single-core score, followed by 2700 for multi-core
CrossMark™ is an easy-to-run native cross-platform benchmark that measures overall system performance and responsiveness using real-world application models. CrossMark™ supports devices running Windows, iOS, and macOS platforms.
CrossMark landed at 820 overall, productivity being a solid workload for the N97.
Geekbench landed us a score of 1289 in single-core while multi-core picked up 3146.
Graphics workloads in Geekbench landed us with a 5121 in OpenCL.
Looking at Vulkan, our score went up slightly to 5868.
Graphics, System I/O, Battery, and Gaming
System I/O Performance
PCMark Extended finished up with an overall score of 2667. Productivity and Essential both being strong workloads.
CPU Profile started with a rather low single core of 407. This ramped up slowly, finishing at 1119 at sixteen threads.
Time Spy is the only gaming workload we ran on the N97 Box. The N97 came away with a score of 538.
Running 3DMark Storage, the N97 pulled a score of 1402, with bandwidth at 245MB/s.
The NUCBOX N97 is an ultra-low power machine that I wouldn't necessarily say is for the home user but is more so for small businesses that need a point-of-sale kiosk or similar. That being said, the NUCBOX N97 does have limited potential if one wants to use it as a basic web browser or email machine.
Further, another solid use case for this machine would be a PFSense Gateway machine, allowing for high-speed connectivity from your ISP out to a managed switch. The biggest reason I say this is it offers decent connectivity with five USB 3.2 ports alongside dual HDMI and dual 2.5Gbe LAN, not to mention Key E NVMe for any Wi-Fi module you want to install.
The performance of the N97 was quite good when looking at it for its intended use. We picked up nearly 1000 points in single-core R23, a touch over 1200 in single-core Geekbench and CPU Profile, and showed more of the same with a single thread of just 407. Multi-core workloads were only a touch better, with 2700 in R23, 3100 in Geekbench, and CPU Profile finishing up at 1119.
Pricing of the NUCBOX N97 comes in at $259, on par with other Alder Lake N Series Mini PCs, though ASRock does seem to be the only vendor offering dual 2.5Gbe.