Intel introduced the 5x5 mini-STX form factor late last year with the aim of creating a small form-factor PC between that of a NUC and a mini-ITX build. Compared to the NUC-type machines, the mini-STX allow the end-user to choose a CPU appropriate for the budget and requirements. We have already looked at mini-STX offerings from ECS and MSI before, but, their computing power was restricted by the use of low-power T-series (35W TDP) CPUs. ASRock's first mini-STX machine, the DeskMini, is the first mini-STX system to have full support for 65W CPUs along with a stock Intel cooler. The DeskMini is quite affordable - $130 gives the end user a chassis, H110 motherboard and a power adapter.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

ASRock is no stranger to mini-PCs. Their Vision series (using custom mobile processor-based motherboards with an optional discrete mobile GPU), larger than the NUCs, but smaller than a mini-ITX build, have proved to be quite popular in the small form-factor market. The DeskMini is ASRock's play in the mini-STX field. Like all other current mini-STX machines, the DeskMini board comes with a LGA 1151 socket. However, the chassis is large enough to support a stock Intel CPU cooler. This means that the unit can support CPUs with TDPs up to 65W. The two SODIMM slots are of the DDR4 variety (like the MSI Cubi 2 Plus, and unlike the ECS LIVA One).

The other interesting aspect is the M.2 SSD slot - usually, vendors want to maintain both SATA and PCIe support, but ASRock has decided to support only PCIe SSDs - this means that the I/O lanes feeding the slot are not multiplexed from the H110 PCH, but, come from the CPU directly. The H110 chipset used in the DeskMini is one of the lower-end 100-series chipsets. The PCIe lanes from the PCH are PCIe 2.0 and the I/O options are limited. Therefore, it is a point of differentiation for ASRock to utilize the CPU's PCIe lanes for the M.2 SSD slot.

Other than the 65W TDP CPU support and the PCIe 3.0 M.2 SSD slot, other aspects are similar to currently available mini-STX machines - support for 2.5" drives, and flexibility to add serial ports / extra USB ports with tweaks to the connectors / using a slightly different chassis.

ASRock sent across an unusual set of components for the build. A Core i5-6500 and a G.Skill DDR4 2133 MHz 2x8GB kit were included in the package in addition to the main kit (chassis with the motherboard pre-installed, a 120W (19V @ 6.32A) power adapter and appropriate power cord). However, the M.2 WLAN adapter slot was empty. We reached out to Intel for the AC8260 PCIe card, and used a Samsung SSD 950 PRO in order to complete the build.

The specifications of our review sample are summarized in the table below.

ASRock DeskMini 110 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-6500
Skylake x86_64, 4C/4T, 3.2 GHz (3.6GHz), 14nm, 6MB L2, 65W
Memory G Skill F4-2133C15-8GRS DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 530
Disk Drive(s) Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
Intel I219-V Gigabit Wired Ethernet
Audio 3.5mm Headphone 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 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $739 ($130 for barebones chassis, motherboard, power adapter)

The gallery below takes us around the chassis and the internals of the DeskMini, as well as the Intel WLAN adapter.

The BIOS is one of the more comprehensive ones that we have seen in the mini-STX space. The gallery below shows the various tweaks available.

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

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ASRock DeskMini 110
CPU Intel Core i5-6500 Intel Core i5-6500
GPU Intel HD Graphics 530 Intel HD Graphics 530
RAM G Skill F4-2133C15-8GRS DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
G Skill F4-2133C15-8GRS DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $739 $739
Performance Metrics - I
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  • dj_aris - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    What if mini-STX boards came with an MXM slot? That would spawn a really fresh and interesting form factor... Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    Unless the OEM was also able to solve the problem of MXM cards not being readily available on the aftermarket (and what is available tending to be obscenely priced) I suspect it'd be more likely to spawn frustration and rage. Reply
  • bill.rookard - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    Well, that's the point of putting it out there. If you make it available, and people do start to use it, companies will start to produce boards for it, competition ensues, prices drop and availability goes up. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    But MXM has been available for over a decade (laptops) and it hasn't helped anything. I still remember trying to upgrade my Dell laptop to a 7950GTX and the MXM chip was $900 on eBay. even now, the 980M is over $800. If it hasn't caught on by now... Reply
  • xchaotic - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    Basically MXM, if priced exactly the same as desktop PCIE boards should give vendors more margin. So IMO MXM should be prices identically to their big cousins and that wouldn't be bad for both consumers and OEMs Reply
  • wolrah - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    Except that it would make no sense for them to be priced the same considering the same parts would have to be packed much more densely in to the MXM board compared to a desktop board.

    That's like saying a laptop should be the same price as a comparable desktop + monitor + keyboard + touchpad.
    Reply
  • xenol - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    Probably the reason why MXM boards are so expensive is that there are no official markets for them. People complain why Mini-ITX boards can be as pricey as ATX boards or why SFX power supplies are as pricey as ATX ones. They're probably pricey because there's a niche demand for them (though I'd argue mITX boards tend to have more core features than ATX ones) Reply
  • Morawka - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    No cooling fan, no heatsink, no display outputs, reduced bill of materials Reply
  • Namisecond - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    You're asking for 80 square inches of board real estate to be miniaturized and crammed into about 5., and then to be sold at the same rate as that bigger item.

    You may as well demand all labor to be priced at the same rate as that of a Shenzhen assembly line worker.
    Reply
  • barleyguy - Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - link

    I had an Asus laptop with an MXM slot. The major problem there was compatibility. Asus put custom firmware on the boards that was required for the computer to function. Basically the first 512K (I think) of the firmware was Asus specific, and the remaining part came from NVidia.

    I think that's been the issue with MXM all along: You can't just buy any laptop with the slot, buy any card for the slot, and expect it to work without serious technical wizardry.

    Low profile PCI Express probably makes more sense. It wouldn't greatly increase the size of a box like this.
    Reply

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