ASRock M8 Mini-ITX Barebones Gaming PC Review

Is ASRock's M8 A High-End Mini-ITX Winner?

Lacking any other barebones PC to compare, I built ASRock’s M8 up as a competitor to Don’s $1300 System Builder Marathon machine. And it did well, enjoying a 12.4% performance lead. There’s still a matter of value though:

A value loss of 3% is still a loss, even if it is marginal. And I have to take credit for that, if only because the parts I chose made this configuration lose its value race. It might look like I over-spent on my effort. In reality, though, I over-saved. Rather than picking and choosing what I wanted to put inside the M8 during an online shopping trip, I used hardware I had in the lab.

The $550 ASRock M8 includes $150 worth of overpriced optical drive and power supply, and style is the justification for that disc drive. The remaining parts include a $180 motherboard and a case that, based on subtraction, needs to be worth $220. Since M8 buyers are paying over $100 extra for a bit of pizazz, I experimented with the charts and found that the parts I picked really weren't bad. If the M8 sold for $450, I would have even beaten Don's $1300 machine. Ouch.

It's not that there aren't enthusiasts who'll pay an extra $100 or so for style. We simply don't like paying for it with money and a performance compromise (that's why Chris was so stoked about the Tiki, with its then-fastest GTX 680 and a then-fastest -3770K at a constant 4.3 GHz). The M8 is supposed to be a high-end gaming machine, but it runs too hot for that. And if you want to make a case for HTPC placement, let me assure you that it's too noisy. And yet, everyone I’ve asked still loves the machine, with its thick aluminum side panels, cast aluminum handles, and splendid good looks. ASRock could justify its price by simply pointing to how much it costs to make.

I won't blame ASRock for the M8’s shortcomings. DesignworksUSA conceptualized this thing, after all. And even if BMW Group hadn’t specified the easily-correctable (and poor-performing) fan orientation, there are still problems with the size of these fans. The limited airflow of 70 x 10 mm fans forces ASRock to use 4000 RPM models, and the design team could have switched to 80 x 25 mm fans early on without significantly altering the case’s size or shape.

With the tooling paid for, there are few things ASRock could do to turn this barebones system into more of a winner. First, it could start shipping the machine with the fans configured for bottom-to-top airflow, since that solved the worst of my thermal issues. Second, it might want to include (and even charge for) a custom-fit CPU cooler to maximize surface area within its confined space. Third, it could lower the minimum fan speed below 1000 RPM, so that the machine at least idles quietly. None of those changes require ASRock to sacrifice the money already spent on manufacturing the M8.

Update October 28

ASRock has informed us that it has shipped the M8 with upgraded fans that have a wider RPM range, with an 800 RPM minimum, to reduce low-load noise. We can only hope that they also fix the fan direction.

A second look at the Page 6 airflow diagram appears to indicate that the chassis designer intended the CPU fan to receive air through vents in the side panel. Another photo on that page shows that this side panel is molded with faux louvers. Actual louvers have slots, and modders would likely find additional cooling benefits by slotting these louvers.

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  • rolli59
    Definitely only reason to purchase is the style.
  • lpedraja2002
    Quote:
    The old saying that hot air rises is usually true because it's less dense. To take advantage of this phenomenon, I flipped the bottom exhaust and top intake fans. Both bottom fans were now intakes, both top fans were now exhaust, and all I needed to do was: Completely gut the system, since the bottom panel is secured from the inside with four screws. And then slice up the wire sleeves, since the guide on each fan frame was farther apart. CPU load temperature immediately dropped by roughly 20°, but at the expense of messier cabling.


    Awesome way of thinking Thomas, that's why I love you guys. I am curious however to know if you emailed them to tell them about this solution. Since it made such a dramatic difference they should change the way those fans are positioned.
  • second_exodous
    I'm looking into barebones to build a steam box and I'm finding they all have noise/thermal issues. I hope that Valve has a hand in some sort of certification program and hires their own engineers to test these barebone systems before giving the stamp of approval as a system to be used as a steam box. I'm also a Linux user and if they can clear up Linux compatibility for me that would also be great.
  • jestersage
    I hope this fans the flames of trend and others follow suit - so innovation goes up and prices go down. I like the M8. And Thomas gives it a very good once-over - including answers to some issues. Good job!
  • gadgety
    Thank you for a thorough review.
  • razzb3d
    Just remove the plexiglass window and replace it with a nice honeycomb metal mesh. Cooling problem solved.
  • Onus
    This case looks like a good idea, that just needs some refinement to make it even more generic. Another 10mm of thickness to allow 80mm fans (and possibly a full-size optical drive) could go a long way.
    Does the added trace length or extra connection required to use a riser card impose any kind of penalty on graphics cards? Please test this, by using one on a typical motherboard just for some measurements.
  • Crashman
    47340 said:
    This case looks like a good idea, that just needs some refinement to make it even more generic. Another 10mm of thickness to allow 80mm fans (and possibly a full-size optical drive) could go a long way. Does the added trace length or extra connection required to use a riser card impose any kind of penalty on graphics cards? Please test this, by using one on a typical motherboard just for some measurements.
    It doesn't need extra thickness to support the larger fans, just a minor redesign of the top and bottom panel. But the top panel redesign would include a different locking mechanism, so the tooling cost would be high.
  • thespaceduck
    Maybe it is just me, but doing 9 different test for "performance" for a CHASSIS seems redundant and obsolete.
  • crenwelge
    I purchased an ASRock mini-ITX HTPC that never worked. It continually blue screened and crashed. I sent it to ASRock 5 times for repair before finally giving up. Its technicians are either incompetent or dishonest [or perhaps both]. Once they sent it back with parts loose inside the case, another time without the power supply. Every time they claim to have tested it, but every time it came back blue-screening and crashing. Newegg refused to take it back and instead offered me a $100 credit. When I tried to use it, I found Newegg had deactivated my account. ASRock may be a competent motherboard house, but they cannot build and service reliable systems.
  • Crashman
    931332 said:
    Talk about redundant...
    Yes, you are repeating yourself far too much.

    It's probably obvious to most people that those nine pages of tests were primarily motherboard validation.

    Or is it a power supply review?
  • Onus
    8708 said:
    931332 said:
    Talk about redundant...
    Yes, you are repeating yourself far too much. It's probably obvious to most people that those nine pages of tests were primarily motherboard validation. Or is it a power supply review?

    Not without oscilloscope shots of noise and ripple. I think this particular PSU has been reviewed though, perhaps when HardwareSecrets reviewed one of the Silverstone cases that uses it. I'm not sure; they may have only done the 300W version that way, but I thought I'd seen this one done somewhere too... Anyway, FSP is one of the better PSU OEMs, and I'd be inclined to trust this one.
    I wouldn't expect ASRock to want to re-tool this, but a case manufacturer might readily do so. I really need to post some pics of "Hobo," a build I finished recently (except for the graphics card) using one of those InWin slim cases. I'm waiting for some R7 reviews before deciding what graphics card it gets, which is limited to a low-profile model.
    Incidentally, that build uses an ASRock Z77E-ITX. I got it quite some time ago from HardwareSecrets (it was their review sample), without a warranty, but when it died suddenly (apparent VRM failure), ASRock replaced it for $50. I was happy about that.
  • thespaceduck
    Talk about redundant...
  • cknobman
    Your rig might have won because of the processor but when it comes to gaming Don's creamed yours.

    The reason I would build such a small machine like this is for portability to take and game at friends houses so gaming results matter more than productivity.

    In my perspective you lost.
  • funtasticguy
    I'm curious about the slim ODD. Can you replace the ODD with any standard slim Blu-ray ODD, or is Asrock using a non-standard ODD? Thanks!

    P.S. It's shocking that you figured out a dramatic and easy solution to M8's cooling and noise problem and their engineers couldn't figure that on their own. I wonder if they're going to fix this so that I could wait on the fix, or just buy it now with the i5-4670K CPU and not have to worry so much about it overheating.

    Thanks for this wonderful and thorough review!
  • Crashman
    931332 said:
    Talk about redundant...
    Yes, you are repeating yourself far too much.

    It's probably obvious to most people that those nine pages of tests were primarily motherboard validation.

    1458185 said:
    I'm curious about the slim ODD. Can you replace the ODD with any standard slim Blu-ray ODD, or is Asrock using a non-standard ODD? Thanks!
    It's a "standard" slot-loading drive, so you'd need to find a different slot-loading drive to replace it.


    1458185 said:
    It's shocking that you figured out a dramatic and easy solution to M8's cooling and noise problem and their engineers couldn't figure that on their own. I wonder if they're going to fix this so that I could wait on the fix, or just buy it now with the i5-4670K CPU and not have to worry so much about it overheating.
    The shape of the side panel indicates that its designers might have intended it to be "louvered" rather than simply rippled. If that's true, the slots between the louvers would have probably made this thing work "as-designed".

    1458185 said:
    Thanks for this wonderful and thorough review!
    You're welcome!
  • Onus
    59464 said:
    Your rig might have won because of the processor but when it comes to gaming Don's creamed yours. The reason I would build such a small machine like this is for portability to take and game at friends houses so gaming results matter more than productivity. In my perspective you lost.

    I don't understand this response at all, in particular since it seems to contradict itself.
    If portability is the goal, this machine creamed Don's (to be fair, Don wasn't building for portability). I'd probably say the same even if it used an i3 with the stock cooler. A rig built to provide "show-off" settings is unlikely to be easy to carry around at all. Here is a small, easily portable machine that can play any game on enjoyable settings, and does quite well at a variety of tasks.
  • clonazepam
    The 80mm fans I've used in the past are awesome. I'd get them from the local hobbyist / electronics shop, and do my own wiring. They move tons more air than your typical 140mm fan that's marketed for PC. Sadly, they don't carry these beasts in any larger sizes.
  • cobra5000
    I would love to see a pic of the M8 right next to a Tiki!
  • logainofhades
    I kinda want one. Due to heat issues, I would probably skip the overclocking ability and go with a slightly cooler E3 1230/1240 v3. Would have been nice if they had a bit more wattage on the PSU though. 550w would have been perfect. Essentially being limited to a 760 or 7950 is kind downer.
  • Onus
    You could easily run a HD7970 on it. Back when I mined BTC with mine, I had it overclocked to 1130MHz (I'm sure it could have gone higher; I think I just set it there to maintain 750MHash/s). Running at ~98%, that rig drew only 312W from its UPS.
    Heat might have been an issue in a small case though. I mined on my open testbed.
  • logainofhades
    47340 said:
    You could easily run a HD7970 on it. Back when I mined BTC with mine, I had it overclocked to 1130MHz (I'm sure it could have gone higher; I think I just set it there to maintain 750MHash/s). Running at ~98%, that rig drew only 312W from its UPS. Heat might have been an issue in a small case though. I mined on my open testbed.



    I was going by the recommended TDP rating. The 200w TDP limit, limits you to 7950. Also I am trying to think who had the bright idea of the fan configuration? The way the fans are configured from Asrock is just silly.
  • Onus
    I agree about the fans. It is intuitive to any builder that fans should create flow through a case, not some kind of in-and-out whorl.
    Thomas, I hope you are providing feedback to ASRock on this. They could easily make some cheap changes that would really improve their product.
  • davefromcalgary
    Hi Thomas,

    Great review. System building is my favorite aspect of tomshardware. You mentioned you were using parts you had around the lab. If you were building this system based on buying all of the other required parts new, would you have used something like a 770 for more graphics muscle, and could the PSU have handled a 770? Did your gpu use centrifugal type fan (I think I got the term right, the kind that exhausts out the back)? Would a centrifugal fan be the best bet for this form factor?