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Pros: First, let me explain my intended usage scenario for this build. I have this in an ARK ITX/CS-Ci02 server case VESA mounted to my 55" HDTV for Steam In-home Streaming and to a secondary degree, acting as an HTPC. After doing a lot of research into an energy-efficient Steam streaming box, I settled on this embedded option mostly due to its H.265 hardware decoding capabilities. "But wait," you might ask, "Doesn't Steam streaming encode in H.264, why need H.265?!" Well, basically I want to be future-prepared so that if Steam enables encoding in H.265 and the benefits it brings, this low-powered streaming box will handle it. I guess as an aside, if I ever upgrade to a 4K HDTV, I'll be able to Stream UHD 4K content using this machine as well. Supposedly the n3700 can handle UHD 4K at 30hz, but I haven't tested it. In a nutshell though, the primary purpose is streaming my Steam library from my rig across the house to my mancave in the basement.
Continuing on, this review is going to be more about the Intel Pentium n3700 than the AsRock board itself, but for simplicity, let's start with the board.
For the price-point, AsRock did a nice job on the build quality. There is a very small amount of flex in the board compared to some more layered PCBs, but nothing to be worried about; it feels sturdy and not prone to warp. Some other pros: 4x SATA3, lots of USB ports.
The LAN is passable, not great, but at least it's full gigabit which is needed in my streaming usage scenario. I do wish this came with better integrated audio to pass along a cleaner source, but the ALC892 is again, passable (and I guess I could always add a x1 sound card). Since the AsRock n3150-ITX has now been upgraded to the ALC892 as well though, I feel like they should make this a more premium board than just the processor upgrade. An ALC1150 with some shielding would have been nice. I can't speak for everyone, but I know I would have been willing to pay more for it.
The heatsink (more on this later with the n3700) - again, passable, but really should have been upgraded from the n3150-ITX. I pulled it off and applied Arctic MX-4, but I'm not sure if it's made any difference.
That's about it for comments I have on the board.
Cons: One issue I did have was with the SO-DIMM slots. I had to apply some SERIOUS pressure to get my RAM to seat and the clamps to snap into place. I was concerned about snapping the contacts or damaging the slot, but there seem to be no standing long-term issues that I've been able to ascertain. Maybe I just got a board with a weird anomaly.
Minor gripe: I do wish the mPCIe was also configured for mSATA as well. In my usage scenario, I have no need for Wifi and it would have been nice to have the option to install an mSATA drive. (Though I'm not sure if this chipset supports it...)
Needs a DC option like the recently updated n3150-ITX to get rid of the space-taking 24-pin ATX power supply and improve case options.
Other Thoughts: This brings me to the Intel Pentium n3700 itself and I'll do my best to explain the pros & cons of the chip and why it's both a good chip and a disappointing one at the same time. AsRock's not absolved in this, as a lot of this behavior is probably caused by the heatsink in question.
The good: Uses little energy; can playback 1080p Blu-ray and stream H.264 content without any hiccups at only about 15-25% CPU usage; feels snappy in the OS (windows 10); future-ready with H.265 hardware decoding; can decode 30MB/s+ Steam in-home game streams smooth-as-butter.
The in-between: In my testing, the n3700 can sustain 2.4 GHz on all 4 cores up until about 40-45% CPU utilization, after that, it will start throttling cores; it also struggles to hit high GPU clock speeds when all the 16 EUs are being taxed, with the average speed I've tested to be about 538 MHz. Due to this, the Steam Big Picture interface is laggy and runs at reduced FPS @ 1080p. I got this chip over the n3150 and the older J2900 and I was expecting a more fluid Big Picture experience based on the 8th Gen 16 EUs, but alas, this was not to be. Big Picture still works fine and I can navigate to stream my games with no issues - it's just not visually impressive, especially blown up to 55".
The bad: For the life of me, I cannot get consistent performance out of the n3700. I've run many Passmark performance benchmarking tests and the machine has scored as high as 977 and as low as 533 on the overall benchmark suite, with the CPU scoring as high as 1871 and as low as 1077. These were not back-to-back torture tests either where you could expect residual heat to remain; most were from cold-boots after letting the machine cool down. The temps in every test look OK (not great) with ~75C being the consistent average temperature recorded when stressed during the benchmark suite. I'm not sure what's causing such a variance in performance if it's always using the same power profile.
I think a lot of the performance hinges on the heatsink used by Asrock. It does a passable job of allowing the n3700 to function in a fanless design, but it won't allow it to utilize its full potential, especially on the GPU side of things.
In summary, the n3700 with AsRock's fanless design works great as a media streamer or file server without any issues and I think it's even quite-capable of being in a low-powered internet browsing machine or an Office PC without any content creation needs; however, I just feel like I'm not getting all of its performance and it leaves me feeling somewhat underwhelmed at the end of the day.
Even getting to the end of writing this, I'm frustrated because it DOES do everything that I ask it to in my usage scenario, so I can't really complain, but it just seems that with active cooling or a better heatsink design this embedded solution could go from good to great.
Maybe it's the Snapdragon 810, Intel-style?
Pros: This case is, for the money, unbeatable in the mini ITX space. Sure you can get more features and thicker steel/aluminum with more money, but for under $40? It's the leading model.
I bought this case before the mesh front and water cooler supported variant came out, but I heavily modified this version to fit a whole bunch of goodies inside, including 2x LCS systems. More below.
Basically, I have a regular high-end gaming PC fit into a case the size of a shoe-box. What's not to love?
Case is great for modding.
Cons: These aren't really cons. Consider them comments/feedback.
- The build quality is good, but nothing spectacular.
- The included fans are extremely weak, you'll want to upgrade if you are going to be putting any decent components in.
- The PSU extension bracket should be something that can detach and reattach without screws so that it's easier to install/upgrade/access the PSU.
- The hard drive cage should be removable (big con for my build).
- As this is a mini ITX case and space is at a premium, a bottom door panel to access the back of the motherboard would be helpful. As it is, you'll have to take apart your whole build to get to the CPU bracket, even for something as mundane as tightening the cooler nuts.
Other Thoughts: I cut out the HDD cage and installed 2x Zalman LQ-320 LCS systems (120x120x52mm radiators) below the 5.25" bay overhang (rads mounted by drilling through the bay). That's double-width rads for those keeping score at home.
There are 3 PWM 120mm fans in a stacked radiator config (F>R>F>R>F). I JUST had space. The last fan shroud actually sort of touches the mobo, but nothing interferes with the fins or rotation. I have one LCS hooked up to a 3570K and the other is hooked up to a GTX 770 4GB with a Dwoods GTX water cooling bracket. The hose angle for the GTX barely made it and there was some trial-and-error before success; but in the end, it all worked out and fits in the space between the card and the case side just fine.
I also have a 120mm fan on the 80mm fan side between the case siding and the stacked rads. So that's 4x 120mm fans just in the drive bay area alone with the rads. Nice!
I used a Silverstone bay converter in the 5.25" to store my drives and still have a slot-load optical drive.
Here's what I was able to cram in this sucker:
- 7 fans: 4x 120mm PWM, 80mm (case provided), 92mm Antec Spot Cool blowing on back of the GTX, 92mm Zalman PWM over GTX VRMs.
- 2x Zalman LQ-320 water cooling systems with 120x120x52mm radiators.
- CPU: i5 3750K
- RAM: 16GB 1866 MHz
- MOBO: ASUS PZ77-I Deluxe mITX
- VGA: GTX 770 4GB (modded)
- PSU: 650w (non-modular; I'm using each cord)
- 5.25" Bay: Silverstone SST-FP58B bay converter
- OS Drive: 64GB SSD
- Storage: 3x 1TB 2.5" 7200 rpm HDD in RAID 0
- ODD: Slot-load Blu-ray RW
The 3570K is overclocked to 4.5GHz and idles at 26C. Running small FFTs in Prime95, I hit 50C.
The GTX 770 4GB is overclocked to 1300 MHz base, RAM at 8,000 MHz (effective) and idles at an incredible 23C and only hits 48C in FurMark (it's the rad closest to the front intake).
My HDDs hover around 27C in RAID 0 and I'm getting 320+ MB/s read.
This much performance in a case this size is unbelievable. I installed a latch on the bottom connected to the side for safety purposes and a handle on top, and I can now cart this thing around like a console to friends' houses.
Seriously, buy this case.
Pros: Thus far, running great with no errors or bad sectors. No arm clicking or platter whirring noises.
I run three of these in RAID 0 in a 5.25" bay converter with an SSD too, and the temp of my highest drive is 28C. Most of the time they are 26-27C, so the thermals not only check out, but seem to be stellar considering this is a 1TB 7200 RPM drive.
Comes with a 3 year warranty, which gives me much more peace of mind than those 1 and 2 year warranty drives that practically scream "FAILURE" on the product sheet.
Other Thoughts: Came with free coupons for ~3GB with Hitachi's Touro (or something) cloud storage service. I haven't used it, but just as an FYI.READ FULL REVIEW