ASRock VisionX 420D-8G1T88
We've seen a number of powerful home theater-oriented mini-PCs from ASRock. The first model I reviewed was the Core 100HT-BD back in 2010. It stuck out as a high-performance option in a sea of Atom-powered nettops thanks to its Core i3 CPU. Over time, that product evolved into ASRock's Vision family, which culminates in the VisionX 420D we're evaluating today.
While the 420D's Core i5-4200M processor doesn't have the extra megabyte of shared L3 cache compared to the Core i7s in this round-up, it does offer the highest base clock rate at 2.5 GHz, and it ties the most aggressive Turbo Boost frequency of 3.1 GHz. Consequently, and helped by Intel's Haswell architecture, we expect it to lead the CPU-oriented benchmarks we'll be running.
The VisionX's real differentiator, though, is its Radeon HD 8850M graphics chipset. With 640 shader cores at 775 MHz and 1 GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory at 1125 MHz, this is essentially an underclocked Radeon HD 7770. We should see 3D performance notably quicker than the GPUs built-in to Intel's mobile processors.
Originally, ASRock told us to expect the VisionX 420D to sell for $700. With no operating system. It recently surfaced on Newegg going for $850, though. Add in $140 or so for Windows 8.1 Professional, and you're looking at close to $1000.
Bundle And First Impression
ASRock's package includes the VisionX 420D, an media center remote with batteries (this is the only bundled remote in our round-up), power and data cables for an extra SATA drive, an AC adapter and cables, and an HDMI-to-Micro-USB cable for use with the MHSL input. More on that shortly.
The Vision line's newest addition doesn't arrive in a new enclosure. ASRock continues leaning on a classy black brushed aluminum box measuring 7.9" x 7.9" x 2.8". Weighing 5.9 lbs, it's the largest and heaviest PC in our round-up, but that's somewhat relative. In reality, this system isn't much wider than a DVD.
Up front, you'll find an optical drive slot, headphone and microphone inputs, a memory card reader, an infrared sensor for the remote, a USB 3.0 port, the power button, and the MHSL input.
The rear I/O panel offers HDMI and DVI video outputs, an eSATA port, six USB ports (five of which support third-gen data rates), a GbE port, the power supply input, optical audio output, and analog audio connectors.
A single button releases the plastic cover. Immediately below is the removable optical and hard drive cage. ASRock populates the two memory slots with 4 GB of Asint DDR3-1600 for a total 8 GB, which is plenty, even for a full-sized desktop. The 1 TB Western Digital Blue mechanical drive spins at 5400 RPM. ASRock offers enthusiasts an mSATA slot if you'd prefer to boot from an SSD. Our sample came with a slim Lite-On DVD drive, though there should be an optional Blu-ray, too. ASRock is ahead of the curve when it comes to Wi-Fi, bundling a Broadcom BCM4352 802.11ac Wi-Fi card. The board also integrates Bluetooth 4.0 functionality.
Special Features And Livability
Although this is the largest PC we're testing, and even though you can't attach it to a monitor's VESA mount, the VisionX 420D justifies its size with exclusive features like optical storage and powerful discrete graphics. It's clearly aimed at the HTPC space, but is just as comfortable handling general-purpose duties on the desktop. This system is also capable in games. Thanks to its Radeon HD 8850M GPU, it's the only PC truly capable of playable 108op performance.
That MHSL (Mobile High Speed Link) port on the front of the box is the exact same size as an HDMI output. The difference is that MHSL supports both data and video, and can actually interface with MHL-compatible devices to not only charge and sync, but also to mirror their displays on a monitor. That sounds cool; however MHL compatibility is limited, including the Sony Xperia Z, Xperia Z Ultra, HTC One, and Galaxy S3 (with Micro-USB-to-five-pin-adapter).
Perhaps more practically, the MHSL input can also be used as a pass-through. For instance, you could plug a PlayStation 4 into the PC and switch between the PC and console output on the monitor using ASRock's included A-Tuning software.
|ASRock VisionX 420D|
|Chipset||Intel HM87 Express|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-4200M, Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 2.5 GHz (3.1 GHz Peak Turbo Boost), 3 MB Shared L3 Cache|
|Graphics||Radeon HD 8850M, 775 MHz GPU|
|GraphicsMemory||1 GB GDDR5, 1125 MHz (4500 MT/s)|
|SystemMemory||2 x 4 GB Asint PC3-12800, 1600 MT/s DDR3, 11-11-11-28-1T|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Blue, 1 TB, 8 MB Cache, 5400 RPM, SATA 3 Gb/s|
|Optical Drive||Lite-On DL8A4SH, Slim DVD-RW (Blu-ray optional)|
|Operating System||Not Included|
|Included Peripherals||Media Center Remote|
|Memory Support||Dual-Channel, 2 x DDR3L SO-DIMM slots, 1.35 V, 1333/1600 MT/s, 16 GB Max|
|Mini-PCIe||One slot (occupied by bundled wireless card)|
|Mass Storage Controllers|
|Chipset SATA||3 x SATA 3 Gb/s (Two used for optical and hard drive)1 x mSATA 6 Gb/s (unused)|
|I/O Panel Connectors|
|USB||1 x USB 2.0, 6 x USB 3.0|
|Memory Card Reader||MMC, SD, MS/PRO|
|Digital Audio out||Optical/HDMI|
|Analog Audio||Five rear, two front|
|Ethernet & Wireless|
|Wi-Fi||2T2R Dual Band, Broadcom BCM4352 802.11ac, mini-PCIe card|
|Bluetooth||Integrated Bluetooth 4.0 / 3.0 + High Speed Class II|
|HD Audio Codec||Analog and S/PDIF: Realtek ALC1150HDMI: Intel Display Audio|
|Audio Channels||7.1+2 Channel HD Audio Codec with Content Protection and DTS Connect support|
|Size||200 x 70 x 200 mm(7.87" x 2.76" x 7.87")|
|Weight||2665 g (5.88 lbs)|
|As tested: $980 (with added Windows 8.1 Pro x64)|