Small form-factor (SFF) machines have emerged as a major growth segment in the desktop PC market. Performance per watt is an important metric for such systems, and Intel has pretty much been the only game in town for such computers, given that AMD platforms prior to the launch of Ryzen could barely compete on that metric. The NUC (UCFF) and mini-STX (5x5) were introduced by Intel as the standard motherboard sizes for the SFF market, and we have previously seen AMD-based NUC-like platforms (namely, the Zotac ZBOX CA320 nano back in 2014, and the Compulab fitlet-XA10-LAN in 2016).

Not to be left out entirely, however, AMD's vendors are finally starting to dip their toes back in to the mini-PC market with Ryzen-based systems. Earlier this year, ASRock became the first vendor to announce an AMD-based mini-STX system - the DeskMini A300. So for today's review we're delving deep into the performance and features of the DeskMini A300, and seeing how it stacks up against other contemporary SFF PCs.

Introduction and Platform Analysis

ASRock's DeskMini series is a family of barebones systems in the mini-STX (140mm x 147mm motherboard / 1.92L chassis) and micro-STX (188mm x 147mm motherboard / 2.7L chassis) form-factors. Here, 'barebones' differs slightly from the NUC terminology. While the NUCs just require the user to plug in RAM and storage, the mini-STX and micro-STX boards are socketed. This gives users a choice of CPU to install, making it similar in more respects to a typical DIY build.

The DeskMini A300 that we are looking at today is a mini-STX machine capable of supporting AMD AM4 processors with integrated graphics. The board uses the AMD A300 chipset, and supports both Ryzen-based Raven Ridge APUs and the older Bulldozer-based Bristol Ridge APUs with a TDP of up to 65W.

There are multiple versions of the DeskMini A300 available, depending on the optional components that are bundled. The product page mentions the DeskMini A300 and the A300W, with the latter's accessory pack including an Intel AC-3168 Wi-Fi kit. On the Overview page, however, a number of optional components are mentioned - an AMD APU cooler (for up to 65W, with a dimensions of 77mm x 68mm x 39mm and speeds between 1950 and 3500RPM), a VESA mount kit, a M.2 Wi-Fi kit, and a USB 2.0 cable to put the dual USB-port slots on the top / side of the chassis to use.

It must be noted that the chassis design only allows for coolers up to 46mm in height - this means that the Wraith coolers (Stealth @ 54mm, Spire @ 71mm, and the Max @ 85m) are all unsupported. Users might be better off the optional cooler that ASRock advertises for use with the DeskMini A300.

Overall, our barebones review sample came with the optional cooler in the package. ASRock also provided us with an AMD Ryzen 5 2400G APU to install in the system. We completed the build with a 500GB Western Digital WD Blue SN500 NVMe SSD and a 16GB G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-3000 SODIMM kit.

The specifications of our DeskMini A300 review configuration are summarized in the table below.

ASRock DeskMini A300 Specifications
Processor Ryzen 5 2400G
AMD Zen, 4C/8T, 3.6 (3.9) GHz
2MB+4MB L2+L3, 65 W TDP
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws F4-3000C16D-16GRS DDR4 SODIMM
16-18-18-43 @ 3000 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics
Disk Drive(s) Western Digital WD SN500
(500 GB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe SSD; SanDisk 64L 3D TLC)
Networking Realtek RTL8168 (MAC) / RTL8111 (PHY) Gigabit Ethernet controller
Audio 3.5mm Headphone / Microphone Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 1x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0 Type-A, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Enterprise x64
Pricing $150 (barebones)
$465 (as configured, no OS)
Full Specifications ASRock DeskMini A300 Barebones Specifications
Thanks to Western Digital and G.Skill for the build components.

Similar to the other DeskMini systems, the A300 is equipped with two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots (supporting DDR4-2400 with Bristol Ridge APUs, and DDR4-2933 with Raven Ridge). There are two M.2 2280 slots on board (one on the same side as the CPU socket, and another on the underside). This is in contrast to the Intel-based DeskMini 310 board which comes with just a single M.2 slot. The two M.2 slots are PCIe 3.0 x4. However, if the Athlon 2xxGE series APUs are used, the second slot operates in PCIe 3.0 x2 mode.

Other features are similar to the DeskMini 310 - two SATA ports and space in the chassis for the installation of two 2.5" SATA drives, a Realtek ALC233 audio codec chip to support a headphone / microphone audio-jack, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, and a single USB 2.0 Type-A port. The 120W (19V @ 6.32A) power adapter is external. The LAN port is backed by a Realtek RTL8168/8111H controller compared to the Intel I219V in the DeskMini 310.

The package includes the drivers on a CD (a USB key, even read-only, is much more preferable), a quick installation guide, screws to install the storage drives, rubber feet to raise the chassis when it is placed vertically, a couple of SATA cables, and a geo-specific power cord.

In addition to the extra M.2 2280 NVMe SSD slot, the DeskMini A300 scores over the DeskMini 310 by sporting a native HDMI 2.0a display output. Note that HDMI display output support on Intel processors is restricted to HDMI 1.4a. Vendors wanting to implement a HDMI 2.0a port in their system have been forced to place a LSPCon on board to convert on of the Display Port 1.2 outputs from the processor to HDMI 2.0a, which results in increased board costs. Since the target market for the DeskMini 310 could make do with a single 4Kp60 output using the DisplayPort port, ASRock didn't bother to place a LSPCon on that board. The DeskMini A300 supports simultaneous dual 4Kp60 displays using the DisplayPort and HDMI ports in the rear. Triple display output is also supported, but the D-Sub port can support only a 2048 x 1536 resolution at the maximum.

The gallery above takes us around the chassis design and the board features. Without the Wi-Fi antenna pigtails to worry about, it was a breeze to draw out the board from the chassis and install the components.

The DeskMini A300 comes with an AMD A300 Promontory chipset. It is the most basic offering from AMD in the AM4 lineup. Overclocking is not supported. There are no USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, and StoreMI (storage acceleration using a combination of PCIe and SATA drives) is also not supported. From the AIDA64 system report, we see that the second M.2 2280 port (on the underside of the board) is enabled by the x2 / x4 NVMe link from the processor. The remaining 12 free PCIe lanes from the Ryzen 5 2400G are configured as two x4 links for the M.2 slots on the top side (Wi-Fi and storage). The remaining x4 link is used in a x1 configuration for the Realtek LAN controller. All the rest of the I/O ports (USB and SATA) are direct passthrough from the SoC portion of the Ryzen 5 2400G.

Moving on to the BIOS features, the use of the A300 chipset rules out any overclocking of the Ryzen processor itself. Upon boot up, our configuration came up with the G.Skill SODIMMs in DDR4-2400 mode. The BIOS allowed us to load the available XMP profile (DDR4-3000), and a simple saving of the change followed by a power cycle resulted in the DRAM configured for 3000 MHz operation.

Our review sample shipped with the BIOS v1.2. Prior to benchmarking, we upgraded to the recommended version, 3.40. Screenshots from both BIOS versions can be seen in the gallery above.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ASRock DeskMini A300 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 ASRock DeskMini A300 when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ASRock DeskMini A300
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 2400G AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
GPU AMD Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics AMD Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics
RAM G.Skill Ripjaws F4-3000C16D-16GRS DDR4 SODIMM
16-18-18-43 @ 3000 MHz
2x8 GB
G.Skill Ripjaws F4-3000C16D-16GRS DDR4 SODIMM
16-18-18-43 @ 3000 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Western Digital WD Blue WDS500G1B0C
(500 GB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2; SanDisk 64L 3D TLC)
Western Digital WD Blue WDS500G1B0C
(500 GB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2; SanDisk 64L 3D TLC)
Wi-Fi N/A N/A
Price (in USD, when built) $150 (barebones)
$465 (as configured, No OS)
$150 (barebones)
$465 (as configured, No OS)

The rest of the review will deal with performance benchmarks - both artificial and real-world workloads, performance for home-theater PC duties, and an evaluation of the thermal design under stressful workloads.

BAPCo SYSmark 2018
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  • BigMamaInHouse - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    Comparing 2400G with Real iGPU vs $431 i7-8559U - I'd say it performs Great!. Reply
  • Irata - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    To be more specific, on the "productivity benchmark", the A300 has 89% of the A310's score with 86% of its power consumption, so for office type tasks, it is actually a bit more efficient. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    Ah, the pitfalls of saying ProdA scores X% of ProdB in metric M at Y% in metric N, when M and N are not linearly correlated!

    Extending it the same way, if I were to build the DeskMini 310 system with the same original review components at the current prices, I am going to splurge : 162 (DeskMini 310 board with Wi-Fi compared to DeskMini A300 without Wi-Fi) + 139 (Core i3-8100) + 76 (DDR4-2400 2x8GB SODIMM) + 78 (PCIe 3.0 x4 240GB NVMe SSD - Corsair Force MP510) = $455 ; Let me look up the table for the DeskMini A300 cost without Wi-Fi - tada, it is $465 - oh oh oh!!!! Does the lower upfront cost for the AMD system (as claimed in the article in the same BAPCo section) evaporate into thin air? No!

    The reason is that when you are looking at SYSmark 2018 scores and SYSmark 2018 energy consumption numbers, you compare against systems that score approximately the same in those particular metrics.

    For the overall SYSmark 2018 scores, the DeskMini A300 is approximately the same as the Baby Canyon NUC - then, let us look at the energy consumption numbers for those two - the Baby Canyon consumes lesser energy.

    For the energy consumption numbers, the A300 and 310 are approximately in the same ball park - and there, you see the the 310 with a higher score.

    As for accusations that 'Intel CAN"T be shown in anything other than their best light' - take a chill pill - the PCMark 8 numbers back up SYSmark 2018. And, in the gaming section, we show that AMD outperforms the best that Intel can offer. As an impartial reviewer, my aim is to present the facts as-is and provide my analysis - if you come with pre-conceived notions that one product / vendor is better than the other, then, no amount of facts will convince you otherwise.
    Reply
  • Irata - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    Replying to two different comments with one reply is a bit unfortunate as another poster made the "Intel can't be shown in..." comment.

    As for the price, if you check Newegg, the $150 A300 does include a Wifi kit.
    Looking at Newegg prices, I get the following:

    Desk Mini 300: $150
    Desk Mini 310: $168
    Ryzen 2400G: $150
    Core i3-8100: $142
    Memory: 100 (for the AMD system) vs. 80 (for the Intel based one)
    note: I had a hard time finding the exact memory so I was looking at Team Group memory with roughly the same specs
    WDS500G1B0C: $78
    Corsair FORCE MP500: $130

    When possible, in stock retail items with free shipping were chosen.

    This gives me a total of $ 478 for the Desk Mini 300 (including WiFi) and $ 520 for the 310. But calling the price even would be OK, considering how prices can fluctuate.
    Reply
  • Irata - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    Second reply as I wanted to keep things separately.

    As I stated below, the comment regarding Intel having to be shown in the best light was made by another poster. Why could (she) have said this ?

    For one, Intel is a client of your parent company Purch. They even mention this on their web site under "experience", stating "We’re focused on serving our action-oriented audience, as well as elevating the sponsor’s brand with that audience. We tailor the Native content that runs across our sites to better suit each environment, while keeping the integrity of the sponsor’s original content and brand."

    In addition, you are using Bapco Sysmark, a benchmark that - given this "organization's" history - leaves a rather bad taste.

    Now, I am not attacking your personal or journalistic integrity, however you must admit that the though AT may not be impartial does cross ones mind.

    And this does not have to be overly obvious shilling (as that would be counter productive), but can be small nuances or tones, stressing one thing while leaving out another.

    Do I have a pre-concieved notion of which one is better ?

    Besides seeing the Intel iGPU as inferior (with the exception of video encode / decode) not really, but I admit that I do not particularly like Intel as a company
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    "Now, I am not attacking your personal or journalistic integrity, however you must admit that the though AT may not be impartial does cross ones mind."

    Above all else, I think people vastly overestimate both how much work vendors are willing to put in, and how much they actually care about AnandTech. Being underhanded is a lot of work, especially for as small an audience as AnandTech has.

    To be sure, there is a significant editorial firewall up between ad sales and editorial. I honestly couldn't even tell you about our (former) publisher's comments, because none of that ever involved AnandTech. It was probably a campaign that ran on Tom's Guide or such.

    But regardless, we don't do shenanigans, and I won't stand for them. Vendors don't get to see articles early, we don't let vendors buy preferential treatment, and any sponsored content is going to be very clearly labeled as such. All AnandTech has its its honesty; so to sacrifice that would cost us everything.

    Which, to loop back to the discussion of Sysmark, Ganesh uses it as part of his mini-PC evaluations. It's a pretty useful benchmark, especially for the energy efficiency metrics. It works well for what Ganesh needs, and the workloads seem reasonable. At the same time we're well-aware of the controversy surrounding it, and we'd never trust a single benchmark for a review - and certainly not Sysmark. Which is why we run many benchmarks, to look at different workloads and get different points of view on performance.
    Reply
  • Irata - Saturday, April 27, 2019 - link

    Thanks for the clarification Ryan. I still think that Sysmark is a no-go, but that's just my personal opinion. Reply
  • Smell This - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    *As an impartial reviewer*
    _____________________

    I snorted.
    Reply
  • BPB - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    I have one of these, and really like it. My problem is I bought this to replace an older NUC, and the older NUC runs Windows 8.1. I use the older NUC for WMC. Obviously the DeskMini doesn't support 8.1, but I thought I could get it to run 7. I can't. I noticed that ASRock has a utility for installing Windows 7 on AM4 motherboards, and I was given the impression that ASRock would update the DeskMini BIOS so I could install Windows 7. Then I found out the 2400G is only Windows 10 compatible. I don't know how I missed that when I did my research... So, my son gets nice little PC to replace his older one. This is a nice little setup, I just wish Windows 10 had something even 80 percent as good as WMC. Reply
  • kaidenshi - Saturday, April 27, 2019 - link

    We get by with Emby Server on a Dell PowerEdge tower server, and a Roku Ultra for the TV. It's not as ideal as having it all in one box, but it allows for more flexibility in storage as well as media sources (besides Emby, the Roku has hundreds of streaming channels). In the past we used a Mac mini but it was simply too limited in storage options. Reply

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