We've looked to for innovation in the past, and the company didn't disappoint us at this year's Computex. Its upcoming M8 is an attractive barebones system with a mini-ITX motherboard, Haswell-based processor, 450 W power supply (the team claims a GeForce 680 isn't a problem), and 802.11ac wireless networking. The round LED display up front is able to display the time, CPU utilization, and more. ASRock also claims to be considering an API for more customizable control.
The chassis was developed by BMW Group DesignworksUSA, the same organization responsible for Level 10 family. Its side panels are secured magnetically; overall, it's a pretty cool little enclosure. The whole package is expected to see availability in July for $500. Could this become a more potent alternative to the next generation of consoles? Once you populate it, the M8 is going to cost quite a bit more. But you're also looking at significantly more horsepower, too.
We also saw ASRock's next generation of the Vision HT miniature HTPC. Of course it employs a mobile Haswell-based processor. More surprising to us was the addition of a new ability that lets you use the HDMI input as a pass-through for a Mobile High-Definition Link-capable phone, sending the display output to whatever monitor you connect to the Vision HT. A hotkey enables the switch when the PC is on, and the feature auto-senses when the Vision HT is off. Additionally, 802.11ac comes standard, offering throughput as high as 866 MB/s. The higher-end Vision X is expected to offer the same pass-through functionality, but with an MXM module and Radeon HD 8850M graphics. Availability is expected in July, though company representatives couldn't give us pricing details.
ASRock is pushing a feature suite it's calling A Style on its newest motherboards, including Purity Sound (leveraging Realtek’s 7.1-channel ALC1150 codec), a TI 5532 premium headset amplifier, HDMI input for sharing a monitor between devices, 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, a form of waterproofing, and a feature it calls Home Cloud, allowing remote wake and control of your PC via smartphone or computer.
A little more about that waterproofing feature: this is an option for high-end overclockers who don't want to worry about condensation, mostly. The process of adding a liquid-resistant film limits production to about three boards per hour, so quantities are limited. ASRock demonstrated a Z87 OC Formula running while water was being poured on it.
ASRock splits its boards into the bottom-tier Pro, gamer-oriented Extreme, higher-end Fatal1ty, and overclocker-oriented OC Formula line-ups, each with specific capabilities and features to attract eyes in those respective segments.
The company had a lot of motherboards on display. Starting with the mini-ITX Z87E-ITX, we see six-phase power, a sextet of SATA 6Gb/s ports, mSATA support, 802.11ac wireless connectivity, and a processor interface positioned as far away as possible from the to avoid cooler interference. It also has the same HDMI pass-through functionality mentioned previously, otherwise limited to Pro4/Extreme4 boards and higher.
Next is the Z87 Extreme6/ac. Also equipped with the 802.11ac Wi-Fi module, ASRock demonstrated this board driving a 4K display through Intel's on-die HD Graphics engine. It also sports the company's Purity Sound suite through the Realtek ALC1150 codec. This board currently sells for $200 on Newegg.
The Z87 Extreme9/ac will include four-way support and a Thunderbolt controller.
ASRock was showing off its Z87 Extreme11/ac driving a total of 22 SSDs, six of which were hosted by Intel's Z87 PCH and 16 attached to LSI's next-gen SAS controller and expander. The configuration was capable of more than 5.4 GB/s of sequential throughput. ASRock has a PLX switch on-board to enable four-way graphics configurations, and it also challenges the possibility of a bottleneck with a Thunderbolt controller, too. We're told to keep an eye out for the Extreme11 sometime between July and September.