Introduction

ASRock has been one of the few motherboard vendors to focus on mini-PCs targeting the HTPC and portable gaming markets. Starting from the ION-based nettop days, they have consistently refreshed the mini-PC lineup in sync with Intel's product cycle. We have been reviewing members of their CoreHT lineup (rechristened as VisionHT last year) since the Arrandale days, but today, we are focusing on their mini PC targeting gamers. The VisionX lineup marked the departure from NVIDIA to AMD for the discrete GPU component, and their Haswell version, the VisionX 420D combines a Core i5-4200M with an AMD Radeon R9 M270X.

ASRock's VisionX 420D, like the previous generation mini-PCs from the company, comes barebones (no OS). It provides some flexibility to the end user in terms of upgradability (better RAM, SATA drives, addition of a mSATA drive etc.). The marked departure from the older versions is the absence of a SKU with Blu-ray ODD. The only VisionX Haswell model comes with a DVD rewriter. The configuration of our review unit is provided below.

ASRock VisionX 420D Specifications
Processor Intel Haswell Core i5-4200M
(2C/4T x 2.50 GHz (3.10 GHz Turbo), 22nm, 3MB L2, 37W)
Memory 2 x 4GB ASint SSA302G08-EGN1C DDR3-1600
Graphics AMD Radeon R9 M270X (1 GB GDDR5 VRAM)
775 MHz (core) / 1125 MHz (memory)
Disk Drive(s) 1 TB HGST TravelStar 5K1000 2.5" HDD + Spare mSATA Slot
Optical Drive(s) Lite-On Internal Slim DVD+/-RW Drive (DL-8A4SH-01)
Networking 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 2x2 802.11ac mPCIe
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Separate microphone and headphone jacks (front panel)
Analog audio out (2.1) (rear panel)
Optical SPDIF
Operating System

Barebones (reviewed after installing Windows 8.1 Pro x64)

Pricing (as configured) $860 on Superbiiz
$937 on Amazon
Full Specifications ASRock VisionX 420D Specifications

In addition to the main unit, the package includes a MCE remote (the same model that we have been seeing from ASRock for the last four years), a 120 W (19V @ 6.32A) adapter and screws / SATA data and power cables for the installation of an additional 2.5" drive. We also have a DVI-to-VGA adapter, driver and software CDs as well as a MHL cable.

Talking of the MHL cable brings us to one of the unique aspects of the VisionX 420D. The front face of the unit has a 'HDMI-In' port which allows for the connection of a smartphone supporting MHL specifications to it. The MHL functionality is fulfilled by the Silicon Image Sil 1292 MHL/HDMI-to-HDMI bridge. The gallery below takes us around the hardware in the unit.

Compared to the previous models, we find that ASRock has added an additional fan in front of the 2.5" drive. This fan could be of use in cases where the user decides to add another 2.5" drive. Even if that is not the case, anything that can keep the internal components at a lower temperature is always welcome. In our usage, we didn't find the noise levels to be much different from earlier ASRock mini-PCs.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ASRock VisionX 420D 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 VisionX 420D when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ASRock VisionX 420D
CPU Intel Core i5-4200M Intel Core i7-3720QM
GPU AMD Radeon R9 M270X (1 GB GDDR5) Intel HD Graphics 4000
RAM ASint SSA302G08-EGN1C
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x 4GB
Super Talent W1333SB4GH
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
2x 4GB
Storage Hitachi HTS541010A9E680
(1 TB, 2.5in SATA, 5400 RPM)
Intel® SSD 330 Series
(60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s, 25nm, MLC)
Wi-Fi Broadcom BCM4352 802.11ac Wireless Network Adapter
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
N/A
Price (in USD, when built) $860 $1300

 

Performance Metrics - I
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  • mschira - Monday, September 1, 2014 - link

    Nice article, and interesting machine. I think the hardware documentation and pictures could be a bit better (disassembly), but otherwise a decent work.
    The lack of blue ray and 4K decoding are the obvious shortcomings, though mostly when one has a 4K TV - which I guess not many do.
    Reply
  • boxof - Monday, September 1, 2014 - link

    Any chance we can start getting sound recordings as part of SFF reviews? It'd be useful to get a sense of the nature of the sound (e.g. whiny) under load. Perhaps post some audio up to soundcloud or youtube if bandwidth is a concern. Reply
  • albiglan - Monday, September 1, 2014 - link

    I'm also surprised by the lack of Blu-Ray option, but am noticing this more and more on laptops as well (no ODD, but if there is, it seems DVD only). I'm wondering if it is just a cost thing or if the format is on the decline? Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - link

    Yes, my problem with this too. Looks like a great little gaming HTPC but I'd love a blu-ray and a 2TB HD option (I'll add an mSATA SSD myself). Really, my current HTPC is a little long in the tooth, but has the benefit of 3.5" HD and standard 5.25" Blu-Ray drive support. Reply
  • Gadgety - Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - link

    "The VisionX 420D has a much better acoustic profile compared to the BRIX Pro and even the ZBOX EI750 (thanks to the larger chassis, which, in turn, allows for a better thermal solution). Subjectively speaking..."

    Nice article. There's detailed objective measurements for just about every metric conceivable.That said there's always room for improvement. I find acoustics and noise to be just about the only area left to subjective impressions. Why is that? For these small boxes cooling and noise is where it's at in terms of separating the winners from losers, and that area is left to subjective impressions. Please include measurements and graphs of acoustic noise levels and signatures.
    Reply
  • dj_aris - Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - link

    Systems of such footprint literally crave for Maxwell. Maxwell is out for like 7 months now, why isn't it alredy in the hands of OEMs? AW Alpha is great and all but it's not here yet. Even Gigabyte has a low profile 750Ti ready now, I bet Asrock could have managed to fit that easily inside and make a perfectly capable mid/high 1080p machine. Reply
  • milkod2001 - Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - link

    I'm not sure if there's something to like about 420D except the size.

    Looking at specs(medium class mobile CPU & GPU) and price($860),420D is basically laptop with no keyboard and screen. When you add cost of HD screen and keyboard(min.$120) you could get laptop with i7 quad & Maxwell 880M or proper PC gaming machine.

    420D is pretty much useless for gaming unless you are happy with 7-13fps on 1080p and overkill & overpriced as office PC/HTPC.

    I'm very confused with reviewer quite positive conclusion. What I'm missing here?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - link

    The market segments are different. $120 in savings is still $120 when the use-case involves a notebook being docked to a display almost all the time.

    On the other hand, there is a reason why SFF PCs are becoming more and more popular compared to full-blown PC gaming machines - people appreciate and are willing to pay the premium for it. If the BRIX Pro and ZBOX EI750 are good Steam machines, the 420D is definitely much better at that job.
    Reply
  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, September 3, 2014 - link

    I think the point the poster is making is that these are *laptop specs* in a small PC that is marketed to gamers -- which means pretty weak performance.

    Someone interested in gaming (the target audience) would be much better off getting a slightly larger chassis with a low-power desktop CPU and GPU. You'd still get a fairly small chassis and low power consumption, but with a HUGE boost in gaming performance. That makes a lot more sense to me, given the supposed target audience (gamers).
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, September 4, 2014 - link

    For $100 more you can get a Yoga Y50 with a maxwell based gtx 860m. I'm sure there are several notebooks with better specs that are cheaper. What is the purpose of this form factor given the price premium compared to both desktops AND notebooks???? Reply

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