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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  • Haawser - Sunday, April 28, 2019 - link

    @oliwek That's the 310, it's an Intel barebones system, not Ryzen. Reply
  • sor - Saturday, April 27, 2019 - link

    If you sign up for Newegg notifications you’ll probably have one within a week. I got one of mine about three weeks ago and the other last week. Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Monday, April 29, 2019 - link

    I'm just going to throw it as a suggestion.
    I understand the purpose and the rationale in comparing similarly priced models, and all relatively recent/available, however ... I think it would add an enormous value to "normal" users to be able to somewhat put things in perspective with slightly dated hardware.

    I am not saying that we should be able to compare the Ryzen 5 2400G with an 80486, but, to give you an example, I have an A10-8700P and I have been considering an upgrade, but it seems really difficult to find a way to get an idea of just how much faster the 2400G is.
    The A10-8700P is certainly not efficient, but it does have 4 cores, and a decent iGPU, already based on the GCN. There's no question that the 2400G will trounce it in efficiency, but is it a worth upgrade?

    It is just an example, to indicate that having also 2-3 previous generations in the comparisons would not be such a bad idea, in my opinion. Just a thought.
    Reply
  • Irata - Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - link

    If you are looking for this type of comparison, planet3dnow de has one between an Athlon 5350 (Jaguar) vs Athlon 200GE. It's in German but maybe you can get useable results using Google translate.

    They also did a review of the Hewlett-Packard 17-ca1004ng notebook with a Ryzen 5 3500U comparing it to its Bristol Ridge predecessor.

    Both show just how far AMD has come with Ryzen.
    Reply
  • mikato - Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - link

    Ganesh, you didn't talk about noise at all. I feel like that should always be included in these mini PC articles. You have 3 pages on HTPC credentials and 1 page on Power Consumption and Thermal Performance but no mention of noise. How does it compare to the Intel NUC8i7BEH that you mentioned had a noisy fan with any load? Or the ZBOX CI660 which was fanless but had a dull whine and a strange grating sound though it wasn't noticeable beyond 10 feet? Did you think that optional CPU heatsink/fan they included was adequate?

    By the way, 10 feet isn't close enough. How about 6 feet? If you give one noise impression from 10 feet, you could move a few feet closer and check what it is at 6 feet as well... for future reviews.

    If you keep doing these Mini PC reviews, I will keep reading them!
    Reply
  • Lucky Stripes 99 - Sunday, May 5, 2019 - link

    I was also puzzled at the lack noise testing. One of the reasons I'm looking at mini-STX and thin mini-ITX systems instead of a NUC is because of the fan noise many of those NUC systems suffer from.

    Some folks have been installing low-profile Noctua CPU coolers in their Deskmini systems and they report that they are "nearly silent", even while under heavy load. I'd really like to know how silent that really is.
    Reply
  • werpu - Monday, May 6, 2019 - link

    I have a ryzen 2400g mini itx system with the flat noctua, and it is very silent, even under heavy load it is almost not hearable. I however had to add 2 smaller noctuas later in my system because the vrm would get rather hot with my standalone noctua and the case I was using. Still a very silent system and definitely less noise than a nuc. Reply
  • mikato - Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - link

    At first I thought Bean Canyon was the best way to go for an HTPC with the performance and power efficiency. But with an idle power usage of 11.24 watts for this DeckMini A300 vs the 8.45 watts of the NUC8i7BEH with Bean Canyon - that difference is so little. As my HTPC, it would be left on and most of the time it would be idling. And the "as configured, no OS" prices in your reviews for these were $465 for the DeskMini A300 and $963 for the NUC8i7BEH...

    Let's see, your DeskMini A300 had:
    G.Skill Ripjaws F4-3000C16D-16GRS 2x8 GB (newegg $100)
    Western Digital WD SN500 500 GB (newegg $70)

    While your NUC8i7BEH had:
    G.Skill Ripjaws F4-3000C16D-32GRS 2x16 GB (newegg $185 - your review listed RipjawsV F4-3000C16-16GRS but I couldn't find that anywhere and the photos in your NUC8i7BEH review showed it was F4-3000C16D-32GRS instead so I think your specs table was incorrect)
    Western Digital WD Black 3D NVMe SSD (2018) 1 TB (newegg $238 for the SN750, older 2018 one costs more)

    Let's see... that's $185-100=85 and $238-70=168. 85+168=253
    So your combined storage and memory choices for the NUC8i7BEH cost $253 more.

    And the difference in your overall "as configured, no OS" prices was $963-465=498.

    So if I remove the difference in your storage and memory choices, I calculate that the DeskMini A300 is still $498-253 = $245 cheaper!

    Sure the A300 doesn't look as nice or compact as the NUC, but that is some solid money.
    Reply
  • Irata - Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - link

    The Intel models are usually configured with higher end components vs. the AMD based models. Same for laptops where $600 AMD based notebooks go up against $1,600 Intel ones .

    I guess it's a hold over of the "AMD = budget" days.
    Reply
  • mikato - Thursday, May 2, 2019 - link

    Well, it's not a laptop. What do you think might be a higher end component here? This is basically a case, motherboard, and power supply, right? Reply

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