TECHNOLOGY

Alder Lake-P and Cezanne UCFF Faceoff

In recent years, Intel and AMD have delivered new processors in staggered numbers. In the sub-45W category, Intel’s established position has allowed it to deliver products for both the notebook and the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) within a few months of each other. On the other hand, AMD’s focus was on the high-margin notebook market, with the chips trickling down to the desktop market a year or so later. In this context, AMD’s Cezanne (most SKUs based on the Zen 3 microarchitecture) and Intel’s Tiger Lake went head to head in the notebook market last year, while Rembrandt (based on Zen3+) and Alder Lake-P battle it out this year. On the desktop, Cezanne-based mini PCs started appearing a few months ago, coinciding with the first wave of Alder Lake-P systems.

ASRock Industrial has a reputation for being one of the first vendors to launch UCFF systems based on the latest available processors from both Intel and AMD. We had tested their NUC BOX-1165G7 as our first Tiger Lake-U mini PC, and the 4X4 BOX-4800U was one of the first Renoir-based desktops. The company continues the tradition with the NUC BOX-1200 series for Alder Lake-P and the NUC 4X4 BOX-5000 Series for Cezanne, with product announcements coming within a month of each other.

The company sent the flagship models in both lineups for review, which gave us the chance to evaluate the performance and value proposition of the NUC BOX-1260P and 4X4 BOX-5800U. The review below provides a detailed hands-on comparison of the two models. It also brings out several configurable aspects that can be modified by the vendor and/or end user to extract the maximum possible performance within the constraints of the form factor. In that process, we also gain insight into what helps ASRock Industrial introduce mini PCs based on the latest processors, well ahead of its competitors.

Introduction and product impressions

Intel introduced heterogeneous computing into its product line last year with a mix of performance cores (P) and efficiency (E) in Alder Lake. While the desktop line went out for the first time, Intel followed up on the sub-35W processors in February 2022. Manufactured in Intel 7, Alder Lake brings a multitasking focus to computing and hints to the operating system where different tasks need to be run. Overall, this should deliver a better user experience – and the Alder Lake-P series should deliver all that within a 28W power envelope. On the other hand, AMD’s Cezanne was announced in early 2021, bringing the Zen 3 microarchitecture into the notebook space. Its 8C/16T configuration of homogeneous high-performance cores gives it the edge in multi-threaded workloads over Intel’s solutions.

Despite the release of the solutions more than a year apart, the ultra-compact form factor and small form factor desktop systems using these processors hit the market around the same time. Both Cezanne and Alder Lake-P use an updated microarchitecture, promising a healthy performance improvement over the previous generation. The integrated GPU is also clocked higher. System-wise, high-speed I/O options are inherited from Renoir and Tiger Lake – Cezanne retains PCIe 3.0 lanes for storage and provides only USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) ports for high-bandwidth external peripherals . In contrast, Alder Lake-P offers four dedicated CPU-enabled PCIe 4.0 lanes for storage drives and two Thunderbolt 4/USB4 ports for external peripherals. Aspects that require a deeper look include system performance for different types of workloads and power/energy consumption profiles.

ASRock is a well-known supplier in the consumer PC market. In 2011, the company established the ASRock Industrial business unit to focus on industrial motherboards. The division will branch out in 2018 as an independent supplier with an exclusive focus on B2B products. The company has products for deployment in small business (offices), automation, robotics, security and other industrial/IoT applications. The company mainly develops motherboards and sells them to various system integrators who add their own value. In addition, the company also sells mini PCs based on the developed motherboards in the retail channel.

ASRock Industrial tested their flagship models in the Alder Lake-P (NUC BOX-1260P) and Cezanne (4X4 BOX-5800U) lineups. It is rare that two flagship products are reviewed at the same time – so we took the opportunity to evaluate them in parallel.

As a reminder, the NUC BOX and 4X4 BOX series both use a chassis that traces its roots back to ASRock’s now-defunct Beebox product line. The cooling solution is tried and true within that case design, and all ASRock Industrial does is slightly adjust the I/O cutouts to accommodate different motherboards. As the photo above shows, at first glance it is difficult to distinguish between the two systems because the cutouts are exactly the same (in fact, the previous generation NUC BOX-1165G7 and 4X4 BOX-4800U are also the same) . Only on closer inspection does the presence of two black USB 2.0 ports in the rear I/O of the 4X4 BOX-5800U (compared to the blue USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports in the NUC BOX-1260P) serve as a differentiator.

The main focus of ASRock Industrial is on B2B customers. It’s no surprise that their systems are packaged in an unobtrusive way. Within the package, however, the company includes everything an end user would need: a VESA mount and accompanying screws, 2.5-inch drive and M.2 SSD installation tools, a geo-specific power cord, and a 90W power adapter.


ASRock Industrial NUC BOX-1260P Package Content


ASRock Industrial 4X4 BOX-5800U Package Content

Since our copy of the NUC BOX-1260P was an early engineering one, it had no model number markings on the bottom (unlike the 4X4 BOX-5800U). Both examples were barebones – the RAM and disk are left to the discretion of the end user. To make a comparison between apples, we chose to use the same set of components that were used in the ratings of the company’s systems based on Tiger Lake-U and Renoir. The NUC BOX-1260P was equipped with an ADATA XPG GAMMIX S50 Lite and 2x 32GB Kingston FURY Impact DDR4-3200 SODIMMs. A Patriot Memory P300 SSD and 2x 32GB Patriot Memory DDR4-3200 SODIMMs were installed in the 4X4 BOX-5800U for evaluation.

In addition to the similar build and industrial design, a closer look at the NUC BOX-1260P and 4X4 BOX-5800U reveals a number of differentiating aspects, both internally and externally. They are summarized in the table below. The rationale behind the (BIOS 1.2E) and the (Performance) passes are covered in the next section.

System Specifications:
(as tested) ASRock NUC BOX-1260P (BIOS 1.2E) ASRock 4X4 BOX-5800U (Performance) Processor Intel Core i7-1260P
Elzenmeer 4P + 8E / 16T, up to 4.7 GHz (P) up to 3.4 GHz (E)
Intel 7, 18MB L2, Min/Max/Basic TDP: 20W/64W/28W
PL1 = 28W, PL2 = 64W AMD Ryzen 7 5800U
Zen 3 (Cezanne) 8C/16T, 1.9 – 4.4GHz
TSMC 7nm, 16MB L3, 10-25W (15W)
Min/Max/Target TDP: 10W/54W/25W-30W Memory Kingston FURY Impact KHX3200C20S4/32GX DDR4-3200 SODIMM
20-22-22-48 @ 3200MHz
2×32 GB Patriot Memory PSD432G32002S DDR4-3200 SODIMM
22-22-22-52 @ 3200MHz
2x32GB Graphics Intel Iris Xe Graphics
(96EU @ 1.40 GHz) AMD Radeon Graphics (Renoir) – Integrated
(8 CUs @ 2 GHz) Disk Drive(s) ADATA XPG GAMMIX S50 Lite
(2TB; M.2 2280 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe;)
(Micron 96L 3D TLC; Silicon Motion SM2267 controller) Patriot P300 SSD P300P512GM28
(512GB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe 😉
(Kioxia BiCS4 96L 3D TLC; Silicon Motion SM2263XT controller) Networking 2x 2.5GbE RJ-45 (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX211 (2×2 802.11ax – 2.4Gbps) 1x 2.5GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8125)
1x GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Mediatek MT7922 (RZ616) Wi-Fi 6E (2×2 802.11ax – 1.9Gbps) Audio Realtek ALC233 (3.5mm front audio jack)
Digital audio with support for bitstreaming via HDMI and Display Port Realtek ALC233 (3.5mm front audio jack)
Digital audio with support for bitstreaming via HDMI and Display Port Video 1x HDMI 2.0b
1x DisplayPort 1.4
2x Display Port 1.4 via Type-C Alt-Mode 1x HDMI 2.0a
1x DisplayPort 1.2a
2x Display Port 1.2a via Type-C Alt-Mode Various I/O ports 1x Thunderbolt 4 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (rear) 2x USB 2.0 (rear)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (Front) Operating System Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.832) Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.778) Pricing (Street Pricing on July 24, 2022)
U.S $650 (barebones)
US $1090 (as configured, no OS) (Street Pricing on July 24, 2022)
U.S $630 (barebones)
US $858 (as configured, no OS) Full specs
ASRock Industrial NUC BOX-1260P Specifications:
ASRock Industrial 4X4 BOX-5800U Specifications:

The 110mm x 117.5mm x 47.85mm chassis used by ASRock Industrial for both systems is made of polycarbonate, although a metal inner frame does exist. The bottom panel is held by four screws that must be removed to access the M.2 and SODIMM slots. The top of the chassis is glossy and easily attracts smudges and fingerprints, although it comes with a plastic film that can be preserved without losing any cooling efficiency. The two sides have perforated windows for air intake. The back panel has openings at the top to allow the internal fan to exhaust the hot air after it has passed through the heat diffuser.

A closer look at the two cases and internal photos are available in the galleries above. It can be seen that ASRock Industrial has support for mounting a 2.5″ drive inside. This makes it difficult to include a thermal gap filler for the M.2 SSD. In fact, the components are packed closely together on the board, and even mounting an M.2 2280 SSD requires a special plastic tab that hangs on top of one of the USB-C ports on the board.

In the next section, we’ll look at the BIOS options along with an analysis of the motherboard platform. Then we have a number of sections that focus on different performance aspects before concluding with an analysis of the system’s value proposition.

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