Kick starting 2017, Intel's Kaby Lake processors made some minor performance improvements to Skylake through what might as well be described as factory overclocking. Making the release more exciting, board partners including Asrock launched alongside some drool-inducing Z270 motherboards. Two of which we are reviewing today.
I've been using the Asrock Beebox as my day to day HTPC for a few months and it's been doing a fantastic job, so I didn't expect it to be replaced so soon. Nonetheless, Asrock has sent an updated Beebox-S model sporting Intel's new 7th-generation processor based on the Kaby Lake-U architecture.
Those on the hunt for an affordable book-sized HTPC will have likely come across the impressive Asrock Beebox. Now meet the faster Asrock Beebox-S. Powered by a Core i5-6200U, the mini PC has received other enhancements including DDR4 memory support, a high-speed PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slot, USB 3.1 Type-C and 4K support at 60Hz via HDMI 2.0 and DP 1.4.
The Asrock DeskMini 110 mini-STX form factor PC certainly has an industrial look about it, and it looks a bit drab sitting next to the Cubi 2 Plus from MSI. What it lacks in aesthetics, however, it makes up for in ease of installation and flexibility, thanks to those very same design choices, with support for pretty much any Skylake desktop processor and high-speed NVMe SSDs.
For the most part we test using DDR4-3000, as it occasionally shows some benefits over the more typical 2400 and 2666 MHz speeds. Going to 4000 MHz and beyond is a massive increase in frequency (and cost) and I struggled to imagine where this would be useful, particularly when gaming. Then again, curiosity had gotten the better of me...
Building a new PC is all about choices and tradeoffs. Picking between AMD and Intel is usually the first choice you have to make, but it certainly isn’t the most complicated. Instead, that honour goes to the motherboard, with each board maker typically offering at least half a dozen different models based on a single chipset. We've done a lot of the homework for you to save you some time, money, and/or regret. Here's what we believe is the very best out there.
In overclocking circles it was recently noted that BCLK (base clock) overclocking might become a possibility in Skylake processors, but it would be up to motherboard manufacturers to circumvent Intel's restrictions. Last night Asrock contacted us with an updated BIOS that enabled this. We jumped at the opportunity and have already tested and benched a Core i3-6100 Skylake CPU with a 1GHz overclock (4.7GHz) on air cooling.
Launched alongside new Skylake processors are accompanying motherboards using the Intel Z170 chipset that go from $100 right up to $500. Having that said, most capable Z170 motherboards can be had for around $200 to $250 and today we'll be looking at six options in this bracket.
The Asrock Beebox N3000 measures 0.6L and boasts a mere 4 watt TDP. This incredibly low power rating has allowed Asrock to create a tiny HTPC that is completely fanless draws less than 10 watts under typical usage. The company is heavily promoting the fact that its latest mini PC can support triple-monitors using three video outputs simultaneously.
Asrock doesn't mind taking chances with design and proof of this is the X99E-ITX/ac, the first and only Mini-ITX X99 motherboard to support an Intel Extreme-series chipset. Though we were skeptical at first, it delivers the performance of a full-sized EATX X99 board in a 170mm x 170mm package that manages to carry enthusiast trappings from Wi-Fi & Bluetooth to SATA Express & M.2 connectivity.
In our budget CPU roundup earlier this year, AMD's Kabini Athlon 5350 squared off against Intel's Bay Trail-D Celeron J1900, showing itself to be better at gaming and encoding workloads. The new Asrock Q2900-ITX ships with a Pentium J2900 on a Mini-ITX board for $104 and is aimed straight against the same AMD offering.
Codenamed 'Wildcat Point', the Z97 chipset brings support for future Broadwell CPUs, along with SATA Express and the M.2 socket. With over 90 designs available right now, picking the right one can be a difficult decision. Hoping to narrow the search down, we have taken seven popular boards and compared them in every way possible.
It's been a few years since we published an enthusiastic review of Asrock's pricey yet powerful Vision 3D HTPC. The company has since kept our attention with annual updates, now on its fourth generation, the Vision HT 420D has received a proper upgrade to Intel's Haswell architecture as well as other improvements that contribute to the system's respectable list of features, making it one of the most impressive HTPCs to date.
Asrock's new Z87 Extreme11/ac may very well be the most extreme motherboard we've handled. It touts four-way GPU support, over 20(!) SATA ports, premium onboard audio, dual gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and -- unsurprisingly -- the largest price tag in its class. So, how exactly does a company justify $540 for a motherboard?
Even if the Asrock M8's style is not your thing, there's less room to argue that this is a unique gaming PC barebones kit and that was enough to earn our attention. We've been impressed with the looks of previous Asrock products -- including its mini PCs -- but the M8 is a clear step up having been designed by BMW Group DesignworksUSA, the driving force behind Thermaltake's Level 10 chassis, a case as overpriced as it is iconic.
For years now we've had the ability to take a compact Micro ATX motherboard along with a high-end GPU and squeeze them into a custom case not much bigger than a shoe box.
We are putting today's top small form factor hardware together in hopes of building an enthusiast-worthy gaming system that you can easily transport, use as a a small workstation or fit comfortably along your living room equipment for HTPC purposes.
The idea behind the Thin Mini-ITX form factor, besides the obvious which is to create seriously compact computers, is also to allow for DIY all-in-ones (think of little PCs you can attach to the back of your monitor). Having that said, we don't fully intend to go the all-in-one route in this article, but are aiming to build a powerful Thin Mini-ITX system that can be used in the office or at home as a media PC.
This is what our finished system should look like: extremely compact, powerful, and near silent operation, as in no-moving-parts silent. For less than $700 including a 256GB SSD, we believe you'll love what the final product will look like.