Saturday, 27 May 2023

REVIEW: Beelink EQ12 Mini Computer - Intel N100 CPU (12th Gen, 4C/4T, 24EU iGPU), 8GB DDR5, 500GB NVMe. And on journalistic objectivity, truthfulness and non-neutrality.

For more than a year now, since the MeLE Quieter2Q, I've transitioned media playback away from the Raspberry Pi system in my main sound room as I've explored options in the MiniPC world. This is the result of technological progress as x86/x64 processors have become significantly more energy-efficient, available in smaller packages, with increasing processing speed, access to the huge library of PC software, and capabilities including support for multichannel HDMI audio output and 4K video decoding.

Yes, we could easily build massive "He-Man" computers these days sucking hundreds of watts to power fast CPUs and modern discrete GPUs, even as "audiophile computers", I believe these are clearly inelegant solutions for AV playback or even as a media server.

Today, let's look at a new entry - the Beelink EQ12 (currently just around US$250-300 depending on deals, with 8GB of DDR5 RAM, 500GB NVMe storage as tested). This machine uses the latest 12th Generation 10nm "Alder Lake" quad-core Intel N100 low-power processor running at up to 3.4GHz turbo. With this new generation, Intel has moved away from names like "Celeron" and "Pentium". While the specs say TDP of 6W for the part, in real life the computer does suck up more power.

For audiophiles thinking of using HQPlayer, these new processors feature the AVX2 instruction set; opening the doors for using the new versions of that software under Windows again should you desire. For the record, this machine was purchased through the usual retail channels.

Let's have a look today at this hardware, and evaluate the speed compared to previous reviewed machines on this blog.

Open box contents is typical for Beelink products. There's the computer with its 12V/3A switching wallwart, a couple of HDMI cables (1m and short 8"/20cm one for mounting behind a monitor), a wall mount plate with screws. Usual brief multilingual manual with a card informing users that only the rear USB provide standby to wake from sleep; important to know for keyboard/mouse to wake the computer.

The front also looks typical for Beelink devices. Two USB3.2 Gen 2 ports (10Gbps), a headphone jack, and power switch. Note the vents on the side. Also the pinhole CMOS clear button on the left. The size of this machine is officially 12.4 x 11.25 x 3.84 cm, basically same as the AMD-based SER4 discussed previously.

With this cooler white balanced image above, we can see that the box is actually a very dark blue, appearing basically black under most lighting conditions. The rear again features two USB3.2 Gen 2 (one of them USB-C with DisplayPort 4K60 ability for potential triple screens), two 2.5Gbps ethernet ports (nice to see higher speed standard these days beyond 1 gigabit, using Intel i225-V controller), dual HDMI2.0 video (no problem with 4K/60Hz/HDR10 in Windows), and power connector.

Removing the 4 screws at the bottom, we can see the space for a SATA 2.5" SSD/HD:

Note the small system fan which is very quiet. There's also a CPU fan which is not easily accessible. In general I found the fan noise very acceptable even without tweaking fan speed.

Let's we go further and take off the 2 screws for the SATA connector and 3 holding down the plastic fan piece:

Notice the light brown thermal pad normally pressing over the NVMe under a heatsink. Be careful with the thin cable attached to the fan when lifting off.

Here we see the 500GB M.2 2280 NVMe SSD storage upgradable to 2TB and single 8GB DDR5 4800MT/s SODIMM stick. I recommend getting the DDR5 model rather than some DDR4 versions because with the integrated GPU, having higher speed shared RAM will make a significant difference if you want to utilize the device for video playback duties (which I intend to!). Beyond the ability to support higher capacities, and lower 1.1V, DDR5 is inherently dual-channel so you'll notice the improved data throughput in an all-in-one computer like this.

Speaking of the iGPU, it's a 24EU (Execution Unit) Intel UHD graphics processor which has support for hardware decoding including the new next-gen royalty-free AV1 codec. This should provide a great platform for HTPC-type video playback.

Wireless connections include 600Mbps dual-band WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5.2 "Harrison Peak" AX101 module. On a side note, I installed the latest Ubuntu 23.04 and noticed the WiFi was not working - probably just driver issues for the time being to be supported in the near future.

Overall, we're looking at a very capable low-power, low-cost mini PC package on the hardware side!

Booting up in Windows 11 64-bit, I see it's preinstalled with 22H2 (which I updated to 23H1 for testing and benchmarks later). Here's what HWiNFO64 shows about this machine at first boot:

Nothing unexpected. Notice the AVX/AVX2 feature. 8GB of dual-channel DDR5 RAM. Let's have a look at the speed of that PCIe 3.0 x1 (8Gb/s) NVMe SSD drive using CrystalDiskMark:

Those are respectable numbers - faster than the Beelink Mini S, but slower than the SER4.

And let's run LinPack Extreme 1.1.5 to get a sense of the 64-bit floating point performance; a little preview into further benchmark testing at stock BIOS settings:

Nice, we're seeing >65GFLOPS performance which suggests more than twice the speed of the previous-generation Celeron N5095 such as that in the Beelink Mini S. Running this heavy CPU load, I'm seeing total machine power draw around 25W which is about the same as the N5095 machine. That's what I call technological progress! At rest, the computer sips around 9W, most of the time with general use, it bounces around 15-20W.

I've been using AIDA64 Extreme 6 as my computer benchmark standard over the last couple years as I like the way it splits up memory, integer, and floating point CPU performance. Let's see what the results show compared to other machines I've looked at over the years across generations:

Memory Tests:           Read (MB/s)    Write (MB/s)   Copy (MB/s)    Latency (ns)
Beelink EQ12 N100        31480           29051          27778          44.9
Beelink Mini S           15910           17470          15860          60.8
MeLE Quieter3Q N5105     16959           22453          19042          66.9
MeLE Quieter2Q J4125     10409           10631          12860          93.5
Beelink Ryzen 7 4700U    36173           35510          29360          99.8
Intel NUC 6i5SYH         32161           45606          36301          66.1
Intel i7-7700K Server    31323           33913          31512          61.9
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X        49044           45780          46165          77.1

CPU Speed (Int): CPU Queen  PhotoWorxx(MPx/s)   ZLib(MB/s)  AES(MB/s)  SHA3(MB/s)
Beelink EQ12 N100 22647       16139              219.2        21796        801

Beelink Mini S    22293       7383               188.0        19420        515
MeLE Q3Q N5105    20157       8640               144.5        15822        431
MeLE Q2Q J4125    19156       6771               120.4        9301         365
Beelink 4700U     49409       20336              422.8        48864        1534
NUC 6i5SYH        18092       15463              119.3        6101         553
i7-7700K Server   54240       20647              392.4        20509        1874
Ryzen 9 3900X     124348      29694              1191.3       107024       3705

CPU Speed (FP):   Julia    Mandel    SinJulia    Ray-Trace(kRay/s) FP64 Ray-Trace
Beelink EQ12 N100 11439    5778      1124        2188                 1176

Beelink Mini S    7462     3967      1003        1244                 677
MeLE Q3Q N5105    5604     2974      1003        1034                 533
MeLE Q2Q J4125    5835     3179      1112        933                  499
Beelink 4700U     50212    27457     8003        8750                 4870
NUC 6i5SYH        11358    6126      1603        2417                 1352
i7-7700K Server   38236    20577     5422        8160                 4505
Ryzen 9 3900X     113102   59539     20537       21413                11413

Nice. Across the board this is faster than the previous-generation low-power mini PCs from Beelink and MeLE. We can see the speed advantage of the DDR5 memory compared to DDR4. There's a bit of variability with the integer performance depending on the benchmark; for example, we're not seeing much increase in CPU Queen, or AES, but others like PhotoWorxx and SHA3 are showing substantial gains >50%. Floating point tests again show some variability but we're again seeing some significant gains >70% like with the Ray-Trace tests.

There's still a big performance gap compared to say the AMD Beelink SER4 4700U speedwise, but that's also because we're comparing to an 8-core Ryzen 7 Zen 2 processor.

This machine rates quite well at stock settings compared to other Intel N100 builds out there using similar components, achieving 70th percentile ranking although at this point the number of submitted comparison user results are still low. A sore spot is the integrated Intel UHD Graphics bench result of around 3.5%. That's a test of Direct3D performance to measure gaming potential. While the CPU performance is good, clearly this is not the kind of machine recommended for 3D gaming!

Given that this is basically a faster Windows 11 machine than the Beelink Mini S or the fanless MeLE computers I reviewed previously, what I discussed before like setting up the video capabilities of the Mini S remains the same. Likewise, no problems setting up Windows to output multichannel audio to an HDMI AV receiver.

In the picture above, we see a 4K/60Hz YouTube video played back fullscreen on Windows 11 with an insignificant 22 dropped frames over >10,000 on Chrome, most of the frame drops just at the start as it buffers. I assume the new Alder Lake graphics (24EU in the N100, similar to the MeLE Quieter3Q's N5105) is a bit faster than the previous generation and feels more "snappy" comparatively. I'm sure the DDR5 RAM's extra bandwidth is helping significantly.

For HTPC duties, I downloaded the latest beta of Kodi 21 on this machine and I am impressed by how well it runs:

The Windows version of Kodi is able to bitstream lossless TrueHD Dolby Atmos to the receiver without problem (something the AppleTV 4K still cannot do, only lossy EAC3-Atmos still). SDR to HDR10 switching was flawless. It would be great to get Dolby Vision capability but given the proprietary system, this might not be something we see on Windows Kodi any time soon even though Kodi 21 is able to handle DV in some Android versions (check out LibreELEC 11 for Android TV boxes).

Beelink EQ12 top, SER4 bottom. Same size.


I love the technological progress with each generation of these low-power, high value, mini PCs. It has been 10 years since Intel released their first generation NUC and this in my mind stuck as the beginning of the proliferation of these small-box machines with many companies now making them.

The release of the "Alder Lake-N" processors such as the Intel N100, as in this Beelink EQ12 (there's also a 16GB DDR5/500GB NVMe model) is a nice evolutionary step forward. Running at approximately the same wattage as the previous generation, this new processor can deliver significantly more computational ability (I'm seeing about 20-50% increase in general applications, with >75% possible with floating point heavy tasks). In day-to-day applications like web surfing, image editing and Office-type programs, I simply cannot complain. In fact, I think this would make a wonderful small form-factor Roon music server machine that would be great over a 2.5GbE network, easily competitive with Roon's own i3 Nucleus machines at lower cost. It would not be hard to install a 2TB SSD internally, or maybe 8TB external USB storage for the music library.

Don't be installing a bunch of 3D games and expecting great performance on this type of machine yet on your 1080P or 4K screens! I think 720P resolution may be playable for a number of games.

For this kind of machine with shared iGPU graphics memory, the inherent dual-channel performance of DDR5 makes a significant difference. Be mindful of this if you see a lower-spec DDR4 model. Also, if you want the fastest version of this machine, consider the 8-core/32EU iGPU Core i3-N305 16GB model which I think looks like a good deal for around US$350.

As in the past, I'll be looking at integrating this machine into my sound system next time as a stereo/multichannel Roon endpoint, maybe incorporate HQPlayer high-quality filtering, and as shown above, this can be a very nice low-power HTPC 4K/HDR/60fps video streamer with the capability to bitstream lossless TrueHD(-Atmos) and dts:X audio.

Of course, let's also "underpower" the machine while performing sound room duties to keep things even quieter and cooler than stock setting. Chat more next time... ;-)


To end, I thought I'd share something interesting I heard about being objective as a journalist. Here's a quote from Christiane Amanpour's comments at this year's Columbia Journalism School commencement speech (May 17, 2023) at around 46:10 into the video:

"Be truthful, but not neutral. Both siderism - on the one hand, on the other hand -  is not always objectivity, it does not get you to the truth. Drawing false moral or factual equivalence is neither objective or truthful. Objectivity is our Golden Rule, and it is in weighing all the sides and all the evidence - hearing everyone, reporting everything - but not rushing to equate them when there is no equating."

The basic implication here is that objectivity requires honest judgment on the part of the journalist. Objectivity is not remaining neutral in the face of propaganda and false information; we should mindfully consider all sides of an argument, but recognizing that not all voices are equally valid, and not all ideas equally good.

Considering the subject matter of this blog. I think this is particularly important when we as audio consumers consider the articles "sold" to us in audiophile magazines and advertising-sponsored media online. I suppose there was a time many years ago when what we read in print likely was also true because for the most part, there was a certain standard of journalistic integrity in much of what we read. Clearly this is not the case these days, especially within certain areas of media including large parts of what's published in the audiophile hobby. At least here in North America, it seems that the audio journalists these days rarely "weigh all the sides and all the evidence" anymore. How many reviewers in Stereophile or TAS care to balance both subjective opinion and objective measurements? How many online writers or YouTube channels? How many reviewers openly reject the unsupportable claims of High-End manufacturers speaking obvious nonsense? How do we differentiate those who are truly "journalists" intending to be more objective or seeking facts from those writing as "advocates", or "salespersons"?

Every day, 4.4M new blog posts are published across all platforms. Every day, 3.7M videos spanning >270,000 hours go up on YouTube. Let's not forget social media with >500M tweets daily, or millions of Facebook and TikTok posts plus native videos uploaded. I think it's hard to overestimate the power of how much media there must be from these sources compared to more reputable journalistic organizations! At one time, I think many were concerned about how the kids would be influenced, but these days, judging by how many shares of "fake news" articles I've seen among adults who really should "know better", concerns extend beyond any one demographic group. The implications are profound if large portions of otherwise responsible citizens are no longer educated enough, prudent enough, or are able to apply critical thinking adequately, to negotiate the paths toward objectivity and truth when wise (or just common-sense!) decision-making is needed.

In the political/cultural arena, many get upset very quickly when controversial topics are brought up about race, gender, party affiliations, morality, decency, and the various causes and rights we might fight for; upset enough that honest debate cannot be tolerated as if infringing into moral taboos. I thought liberal, free-thinking education helped us escape from this?

I've always considered the audiophile hobby as a testing ground to explore truth in a relatively harmless fashion, a sort of "attenuated manifestation" of those larger, and more meaningful battles we see in society when the delineation between opinions and facts have become blurred. Often, this is correlated with journalistic standards that have dropped to the level of superficial sales pitches and propaganda. In the relative safety of this little hobby as we figure out truth from fiction, snake oil from meaningful therapies, and frivolity from value, perhaps we can use similar principles as we look beyond the hobby at the real life battles of ideas and cultures. Achieving both objectivity (in our arguments) and truth (in our understanding) even in the esoteric audiophile corner of the universe, would already be something good. ;-)

I hope you're enjoying some wonderful music with high-fidelity reproduction friends!


  1. I'm interested in hearing more about the various playback platforms that you are using or could use with this device. I like the idea of being able to replace the various streaming dongles like FireTV and branded platforms like AppleTV with something that could function for multiple purposes but there seems to be a huge variety of choices for playback. I don't think I'm enthusiastic enough to try them all out. I would like to hear more about the few choices that cover the widest variety of use cases and which platforms aren't available outside of the branded players like Apple. Maybe an idea for follow up posts?

    1. These mini-PCs do indeed make for very competent network players.

      If one chooses to go with the inexpensive option for audio duties, Logitech Media Server is an excellent choice and very competitive with Roon when configured with the appropriate plug-ins.

      As well as the mini-PC acting as a LMS host, it can double as a network player with the Local Playback plug-in and then remote controlled from an Android or iOS mobile. I actually use my LMS host machine that way on occasion when I'm actually sitting at it doing general computing stuff, or when my main AV system is occupied and I want to listen to music regardless.

    2. Hey Doug and Art,
      Yup, for sure there's a plethora of playback platforms out there and I imagine a table listing all the compatibility options could be pretty massive! For me, the flexibility of a MiniPC like this would be that it can run whatever app one might need so long as it works on Windows. Having said this, it's still not a "turnkey" solution like say a Bluesound, Auralic, Aurender, etc... with their support for various services.

      Even with Windows compatibility, I'm mindful that some features like Apple Music multichannel/Atmos as far as I can tell is still not available in the new app even though lossless should be OK.

      As a Roon user though, this works really well with Roon Bridge as with the other MiniPCs. Nice to be able to stream both my stereo and multichannel collection over HDMI.

      Yeah, LMS is still a great option! I still have it running on my music server concurrently with Roon for Squeezebox Touch streaming for family members who want to access my music collection.

  2. With the MeLE Quieter2Q one of the big attractions was that it was fanless. I think you mentioned that this was essential if you were going to put a PC in your music listening area. Have you changed your thinking on this? Even if someone else is happy with the low fan noise, it's possible that a different unit could be noisier. I'm not confident about the quality control and consistency of fans in computers.

    1. Hi Loosehead,
      Yeah, I still think fanless is the ultimate, no-compromise solution! Even though once I "underpower" this machine with BIOS settings and reduce max fan speed I practically cannot hear it in my sound room on a quiet evening, a part of me is still looking forward to a day when equivalent speed can be achieved in a fanless, low-power option.

      Since nothing is black/white, practically, a "silent" fan option like this is good (for now). ;-)

  3. Another HTPC server package that you might wish to explore is Emby. There's a rather full featured freeware version available for auditioning.

    I've used it for a number of years now (8+) and am very satisfied with and impressed by its attractive and friendly UI/UX. As a software engineering professional I'm very discerning about that sort of thing.

    All the best.

    1. Thanks Art,
      Looks like a nice thorough server package! Good to hear about the thumbs up on UI/UX. Will keep this option in mind as one that allows access to media throughout devices; I presume it does a good job with transcoding between different video/audio formats.

      Wondering in your experience, is it able to maintain 4K and HDR through your devices? I assume lossless TrueHD-Atmos is a step too far, right?

  4. What is the test which is the most significant to juge HQPlayer performance among those is this review ?

    1. Focus on the floating point performance, JCB. Generally the machine with higher FP scores like higher Linpack GFLOPS or the AIDA tests will be better for HQPlayer...

  5. Wow, that thing is a beast. It's pretty awesome, especially considering how much RPI4s cost these days. Do you know whether the Linux ecosystem can use that fancy AVX instruction set? The Achilles heel for Windows is the frequent update/reboot cycle, sometimes resetting sound settings (especially Equalizer APO).

    It's amazing that a W11 Pro license comes with a device that cheap, which makes me forgiving of the paltry 500GB hard drive. Clone the contents onto a $65 2TB Gen3 NVMe drive, and you're in business!

    BTW, do you have a reference for DDR4 being a bottleneck for video playback? This seems unlikely to me. I could see it helping for gaming, but I would not want to game on this thing.

    1. Hey Neil,
      Yeah, these Intel x64 machines are way faster than the Pi 4. And good price for what you get with NVMe and DDR5 RAM these days.

      Rumors are that the Pi 5 might be released later this year with a quad-core Cortex A76 part at 2GHz and DDR5 so we might see something like 20-30 GFLOPS on the Linpack which would be excellent. I guess will see how this plays out and if the price is right...

      You're probably right about DDR4 not being a significant bottleneck just for video decoding / playback. Will need to take a peek into this more. I remember running Kodi on the MeLE Quieter machine and noticing a more sluggish response than this machine when playing 4K/HDR and interacting with the GUI. Of course, other variables would be involved, including just the fact that this N100 processor is faster in general...