Introduction

ASRock has been one of the few motherboard vendors to focus on mini-PCs targeting the HTPC and portable gaming markets. Starting from the ION-based nettop days, they have consistently refreshed the mini-PC lineup in sync with Intel's product cycle. We have been reviewing members of their CoreHT lineup (rechristened as VisionHT last year) since the Arrandale days, but today, we are focusing on their mini PC targeting gamers. The VisionX lineup marked the departure from NVIDIA to AMD for the discrete GPU component, and their Haswell version, the VisionX 420D combines a Core i5-4200M with an AMD Radeon R9 M270X.

ASRock's VisionX 420D, like the previous generation mini-PCs from the company, comes barebones (no OS). It provides some flexibility to the end user in terms of upgradability (better RAM, SATA drives, addition of a mSATA drive etc.). The marked departure from the older versions is the absence of a SKU with Blu-ray ODD. The only VisionX Haswell model comes with a DVD rewriter. The configuration of our review unit is provided below.

ASRock VisionX 420D Specifications
Processor Intel Haswell Core i5-4200M
(2C/4T x 2.50 GHz (3.10 GHz Turbo), 22nm, 3MB L2, 37W)
Memory 2 x 4GB ASint SSA302G08-EGN1C DDR3-1600
Graphics AMD Radeon R9 M270X (1 GB GDDR5 VRAM)
775 MHz (core) / 1125 MHz (memory)
Disk Drive(s) 1 TB HGST TravelStar 5K1000 2.5" HDD + Spare mSATA Slot
Optical Drive(s) Lite-On Internal Slim DVD+/-RW Drive (DL-8A4SH-01)
Networking 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 2x2 802.11ac mPCIe
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Separate microphone and headphone jacks (front panel)
Analog audio out (2.1) (rear panel)
Optical SPDIF
Operating System

Barebones (reviewed after installing Windows 8.1 Pro x64)

Pricing (as configured) $860 on Superbiiz
$937 on Amazon
Full Specifications ASRock VisionX 420D Specifications

In addition to the main unit, the package includes a MCE remote (the same model that we have been seeing from ASRock for the last four years), a 120 W (19V @ 6.32A) adapter and screws / SATA data and power cables for the installation of an additional 2.5" drive. We also have a DVI-to-VGA adapter, driver and software CDs as well as a MHL cable.

Talking of the MHL cable brings us to one of the unique aspects of the VisionX 420D. The front face of the unit has a 'HDMI-In' port which allows for the connection of a smartphone supporting MHL specifications to it. The MHL functionality is fulfilled by the Silicon Image Sil 1292 MHL/HDMI-to-HDMI bridge. The gallery below takes us around the hardware in the unit.

Compared to the previous models, we find that ASRock has added an additional fan in front of the 2.5" drive. This fan could be of use in cases where the user decides to add another 2.5" drive. Even if that is not the case, anything that can keep the internal components at a lower temperature is always welcome. In our usage, we didn't find the noise levels to be much different from earlier ASRock mini-PCs.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ASRock VisionX 420D against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the VisionX 420D when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ASRock VisionX 420D
CPU Intel Core i5-4200M Intel Core i7-3720QM
GPU AMD Radeon R9 M270X (1 GB GDDR5) Intel HD Graphics 4000
RAM ASint SSA302G08-EGN1C
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x 4GB
Super Talent W1333SB4GH
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
2x 4GB
Storage Hitachi HTS541010A9E680
(1 TB, 2.5in SATA, 5400 RPM)
Intel® SSD 330 Series
(60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s, 25nm, MLC)
Wi-Fi Broadcom BCM4352 802.11ac Wireless Network Adapter
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
N/A
Price (in USD, when built) $860 $1300

 

Performance Metrics - I
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  • blackmagnum - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    Post-Anand... I see that the quality of the article still continues to impress. Thanks. Reply
  • lurker22 - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    Yeah, a whole 2 days after he "officially" resigned lol. Wait a year before you evaluate ;) Reply
  • pectorvector - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    The table at the bottom of the first page (look at the GPU row, Habey BIS-6922) has "Graphisc" written instead of Graphics. Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    Any word on temperatures? I know that toms hardware recorded temps in the 90c range with their model when it was reviewed. Did you guys observe anything similar? always wondered what would happen if you were to mill out the top and mount a nice fan there, blowing down on the components. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    On the graph in the final section 'System Loading vs. Temperature Characteristics', you can see the CPU temperature rise to 90 C, but only with both Prime 95 and Furmark running simultaneously. This is hardly a valid practical use-case.

    I don't believe thermals are a cause for concern with this PC for normal workloads in home / office scenarios.
    Reply
  • monstercameron - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    come on oems put a kaveri apu in one of em! Reply
  • Nickname++ - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    FYI, I have the 420D running under Debian Linux and it can idle at ~12 W. The trick is to force PCIe ASPM (power management) using a kernel option, which is disabled in the ACPI configuration but well supported as it's all laptop components. I guess disabling it reduced the testing effort. Then enabling "laptop mode" gets you there.

    So as usual with Linux it's not plug n' play, but it's reasonable easy to lower the power for an always on HTPC+server combo.

    Another info: the Intel integrated graphics are disabled, and the AMD card is always on. With a hybrid laptop architecture I guess the idle power could get lower, like an Intel only NUC. But again, it's a simpler configuration for ASRock with a fixed set-up.
    Reply
  • tuxRoller - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    Linux, and open source in general, doesn't exist at this site.
    You might as well say beos:)
    Reply
  • yannigr2 - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    As long as there is no detailed info about the cpu/gpu in the charts, charts are still a red bar between gray bars that most people will never really spend time to understand what they represent. And now they are only 8 mini-PCs. If those become 12-15 or more in the future it will be a total hell of strange model numbers. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 01, 2014 - link

    As a reader myself, I would first take a look at the table at the bottom of the first page and note down the two or three PCs that I hope to see how the PC under review fares against. The full details of each system are provided in that table with the drop-down selection.

    In addition, I do have data for 12-15 PCs even right now, but I choose the 6 - 7 appropriate PCs to compare against and only include those in the graphs.

    It is a trade-off between having cluttered graphs (presenting all the info for the reader in one view) vs. splitting the info into two (a table on one page, and cleaner graphs on other pages - but expecting the reader to do a bit of 'work' before viewing the graphs). I went with the latter for more readability. The benchmark numbers depend heavily on the DRAM being used, the storage subsystem configuration etc., and not just the CPU / GPU. Under these circumstances, I believe the 'split into two' approach is the better one.

    If you have any other suggestions on how to tackle this problem, I am all ears.
    Reply

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