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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  • CharonPDX - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    Now that "integrated graphics" are starting to reach actually-usable levels, I'd like to see VR added to these SFF reviews. We keep the Oculus Rift in the living room, but have to bring the "gaming PC" out every time we want to use it. I'd love to get a small "capable enough for basic VR games" PC to just live in the living room to run the Oculus.

    Relatedly, it mentions the DP, HDMI, and VGA ports - but does the front panel USB-C port allow video output via DisplayPort Alternate Mode? If it can play basic VR games acceptably (BeatSaber is the big one,) I'd rather use the front-panel USB-C with one of Accell's USB-C VR adapters.
    Reply
  • GreenReaper - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    It's "usable" up to 1080p on a single screen. Most VR systems use resolutions higher than this, one in each eye, and require twice the frame rates offered here. Don't get me wrong: I want this too, but if top-end Navi-based APUs *doubled* performance they'd still struggle, and they're a year away. Maybe if we had a dual-APU system? (Man, now I'm imagining this for a console.) Reply
  • piasabird - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    I have the Intel 310 version of the Desk Mini. I think on your review it is too technical while not stressing the ease at which a 2.5 SSD can be installed. The Data/power connectors on the back of the motherboard make it fairly easy and with not much cable clutter. However, I found the cables were easier to connect if you remove the motherboard first. Since some people may want to use a 2.5 SSD, you should have tested that. I wish a similar design was available in Mini-ITX. However, it seems unavailable on the consumer level for the most modern CPU's like the one used in this review. Reply
  • mikato - Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - link

    I completely agree. I don't think it was mentioned anywhere in the review that you can add a 2.5" drive - and you can actually add 2 x 2.5" drives according to the ASRock specs page. That sets it apart from other mini PCs significantly. Most only support 1 x 2.5" drive, or the thin NUCs don't support any. That gives you some solid storage options. You can actually forgo the media server and have both ends of the HTPC in one compact box (front-end with all streaming options, and the file storage for local media). Reply
  • sor - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    I picked up two for my kids, with 2400Gs. Can’t beat the price. I have them mounted to the backs of their monitors which makes for a compact powerful all in one.

    I’ve got Ubuntu 19.04 on them and they run Dota2 like butter. Better than my 2018 MacBook Pro with discrete Radeon 560x.

    My only ask might be two more rear USB ports, but it hasn’t been an issue so far.
    Reply
  • sor - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    Come on guys! The wraith cooler fits and is clearly superior to the boxed one.

    It may not be listed as supported dimensionally, but you just need to take the superficial ring off the fan and you can ease it in with a little care.
    Reply
  • oliwek - Saturday, April 27, 2019 - link

    Or just add a low profile Noctua cooler, it's dead silent even under full load, and you won't ever see (nowhere near) 80 degrees celsius as with the stock cooler!
    https://noctua.at/en/nh-l9a-am4
    Reply
  • sor - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    I just checked and I’m averaging about 57FPS on my 2400G deskmini A300w in 1080p, all settings max.

    That’s about 50% better performance than the review sees, which is huge. I am running Ubuntu 19.04 out of the box (no munching with drivers).

    I AM using the wraith cooler as mentioned, which is also a difference. Are the windows drivers that bad? Or is it the cooler, or something else?
    Reply
  • oliwek - Saturday, April 27, 2019 - link

    The stock cooler is adequate for a 35watts athlon 200ge, but I'd avoid those high temps with 65W APUs we see here. I don't understand why not to mod the Wraith cooler as you chose to, as it's delivered with the processor, or else take an aftermarket low profile cooler (the Noctua looks like it was designed around this A300 motherboard). Reply
  • abufrejoval - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    Very nice review!

    But surprisingly little relative change (relative to publicity...) from the previous (major) iteration, which I interpret as the Kaveri vs. Skylake Iris Plus that I own and tested, A10-7850k vs. i5-6267U.

    Intel still seems to never use more than 15Watts for the CPU, yet manages scaling single to 4GHz at great IPC while it manages to sustain admirable Hertz even at multi-core constant loads, taking a nice sip of cool on every little stall. AMD seems to retain a much more linear efficiency curve where clocks and cores just eat power, while the difference at the wall plug is much smaller in this iteration (was 3:1 for exactly the same performance on my old systems).

    The good thing is that on a device like this, peak power is much less important than on a notebook, so it’s ok, as long as maintains quiet on constant peak and (finally) reaches acceptable idle: Here I see a lot of progress on AMD's side, Intel has much less room to beat itself.

    For graphics, bandwidth is so crucial and I wonder what the AMD could do with a bit of eDRAM, HBM or even a lower-power variant of GDDR5… but I guess the latency issues could kill browser performance and that is unfortunately a large chunk of what buyers would want these for…

    Still dreaming of a way to put well-proportioned APUs in a scalable system with 1x/2x/4x configs… With storage and RAM no longer eating box space, 75/150/300 Watt configs could be relatively small yet remain quiet.

    Speaking of idle power and quiet, this is where I get interested in the AMD. The NUC is great in everything but noise on peak load, but it would really only take a replacement top and a Noctua to make it great… There is so much space behind these giant 4k screens, nuc/NUC can become a little pointless.

    Good Linux support is where I am getting concerned. Current reports praise AMD on their Linux vision… but progress seems a very different story and one where Intel (sorry Charly), really shines, even Nvidia seems better in practical terms (sorry Linus). I’m also somewhat disheartened by power management there: Not sure I’ll be able to reach 10 Watt of idle on CentOS or Ubuntu *and* Steam/Vulkan performance comparable to Windows (it’s actually gotten quite good on bigger Nvidia GPUs, even GPU pass-through to a Windows VM is kind of fun).
    Reply

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