At first glance, Asrock’s DeskMini X300 ($169.99) looks very similar to the company’s other mini PCs, though the front panel has a bit more flair. On the inside, though, the X300 is something else entirely. Unlike Asrock’s other compact desktops, the X300 is based on AMD technology and has completely different strengths and weaknesses. Since it’s a bare-bones system (you supply the CPU, RAM, storage, and operating system), performance will vary greatly depending on the AMD graphics-equipped processor (up to 65 watts) and supporting components that you install. But one thing is for certain: You can squeeze a bit more graphics power out of the X300 given the capability of AMD’s on-chip Radeon graphics versus the integrated graphics on Intel’s equivalent desktop CPUs.
The DeskMini X300’s motherboard is in the rarely seen mini-STX form factor, which makes it a perfect 5-inch square. Technically, it’s up for debate whether this really should be called a mini-STX board, as that form factor was designed by Intel, but the board is the same size, and it has a similar array of ports.
Real estate is at a premium on compact boards such as this one, but Asrock tried to squeeze as much onto the X300 motherboard as possible. The AMD AM4 CPU socket will accept an AMD Athlon or Ryzen APU (that is, a CPU with built-in Radeon graphics) from the “Raven Ridge,” “Picasso,” or “Renoir” families, up to 65 watts. These comprise certain Athlon 200GE series, Ryzen 3 G series, and Ryzen 5 G series CPUs, along with several OEM-only Ryzen Pro G series chips.
In addition to the AM4 socket, there are two vertical SO-DIMM memory slots (for compact laptop-style RAM) on the top side of the board, taking up to two 32GB modules for a surprising 64GB possible total. There’s also an M.2 Key-M slot on the top of the board for an SSD, as well as an M.2 Key-E slot for adding a Wi-Fi chip.
On the reverse side of the board is a second M.2 Key-M slot and two ports that work as both power and data lines for SATA drives. The case is also able to house two 2.5-inch drives, so between these two drive mounting points and the two M.2 solid-state drive mounts, you can outfit this little box with a really substantial amount of storage. Both of the M.2 SSD slots support PCI Express drives only, up to 80mm long. You’ll get four PCIe Gen 3 lanes on each drive, unless you install an Athlon 200GE series CPU, which will limit one of the slots to two lanes.
The case measures 6.1 by 6.1 by 3.1 inches. On the front of the system are two USB 3.1 ports—one Type-A and one Type-C—along with two audio jacks and a power button. The four ports are attached directly to the motherboard and poke through the front of the case.
The rear I/O panel has a second USB-A 3.1 port, as well as a legacy USB 2.0 port. There’s not much else on the back panel except an RJ-45 Ethernet jack, a power connector, and three monitor outputs (DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA). Set around the I/O panel are holes for adding up to three Wi-Fi antennas and a cutout for adding a serial port. The motherboard doesn’t have a serial port header, though, and this appears to be just a holdover from other Asrock DeskMini chassis.
On the top of the case are two more cutouts that can be used to add two additional USB 2.0 ports. This system doesn’t ship with the necessary cable and port mount, however, so you won’t be able to use these without locating a compatible USB 2.0 adapter. The rest of the top panel, as well as much of the rear panel, are peppered with holes for ventilation.
The onboard audio and networking chips are fairly basic but not problematic. The front audio ports connect to a Realtek ALC223 codec, which is found more often in laptops. The board also has an integrated Realtek RTL8111H Gigabit LAN controller. Neither of these chips is noteworthy, but they worked without issue in my testing.
Building the DeskMini X300 is an easy and straightforward process. The motherboard comes pre-installed, and the hardest part of the entire process is trying to get the antenna cables clipped onto the Wi-Fi chip—if you have one, that is. As noted, the X300 doesn’t ship standard with a Wi-Fi chip. Asrock does sell one for it, but any M.2 Key-E Wi-Fi module will do. For this review, I dug out an older sample of Asrock’s DeskMini 310 that I reviewed last year and borrowed its Wi-Fi chip and antennas.
The two 2.5-inch drive mounts sit below the motherboard on the other side of a steel tray. Screwing drives into place here is as simple as adding 2.5-inch drives anywhere, but it is easiest to attach the cables to the drives prior to mounting. You can attach them after you mount the drives, but doing it beforehand is a little easier.
Other than that, installing M.2 devices, RAM, and the CPU and its cooler goes essentially the same as with any motherboard. For this build, I opted to use an AMD Ryzen 5 3400G processor, along with 16GB of HyperX Impact SO-DIMM RAM clocked at 3,200MHz and a 512GB NVMe SSD from Kingston.
Asrock sells several optional accessories for this system. In addition to the aforementioned Wi-Fi chip and USB 2.0 port assembly, there’s also an optional rear audio jack, a VESA mounting kit, a CPU cooler, and an RGB LED illumination strip. The company sent the CPU cooler and light strip to test with this unit.
The light strip may be gratuitous, but it definitely does add some flair to the system and helps it shine as much as any budget-friendly low-end desktop could. The CPU cooler isn’t particularly impressive, with a simple aluminum heatsink and a compact fan that measures 3 by 2.7 by 1.8 inches. The noise generated by the fan is noticeable the entire time the system is running, though it isn’t particularly loud.
One of the biggest surprises I found with the DeskMini X300 is how quickly it turns on. Booting to Windows will of course take a varying amount of time depending on the hardware you use, but booting to the BIOS is seemingly instantaneous. It’s almost like checking your phone; you just tap the power button and the screen lights up ready to be used. Of course, in this case you also need to press the Delete key, but as soon I do that, the BIOS shows up on screen immediately.
This isn’t important most of the time, but as a sometimes reviewer of motherboards, I still couldn’t help but be impressed with how quickly this happens. Undoubtedly this process is expedited by the lack of extra chips and components on board that need to be initialized during the POST sequence, but it’s quicker than similar devices I’ve tested in the past and worth reporting.
The BIOS itself is relatively basic, though. It’s a UEFI BIOS and looks similar to the BIOS on some other Asrock boards. It’s also highly responsive, but there’s not much else of note.
It has all the basic settings you would expect, as well as a tool to securely wipe SSDs. I didn’t spot any overclocking support, but for a desktop this small, and given the CPUs and cooling gear you can install in it, that’s perfectly acceptable.
Before we look at some performance benchmarks, it’s important to first discuss the advantages and disadvantages inherent by going with AMD over Intel in this and other such very small desktops. Due to their compact size, these systems rely on integrated graphics for video output. This is obvious, but this is a more limiting factor for AMD systems than Intel.
Ultimately, in terms of raw CPU performance, this hands the advantage to Intel. AMD has a fantastic-value series of Ryzen CPUs, of course, but you can only use the subset of them that have integrated graphics. (The most powerful ones don’t.) The strongest possible CPU that the DeskMini X300 can accept is AMD’s mid-2020 Ryzen 7 Pro 4750G, a “Renoir” -class chip that has eight cores that top out at 4.4GHz turbo speed. Unfortunately, the Ryzen Pro chips with integrated graphics, like this one, are only available via grey-market sources; they are OEM-only chips, meant for makers of PCs, not consumers. The top processor for the comparable Intel-based DeskMini, the DeskMini H470, is Intel’s Core i9-10900, which has 10 cores that can reach 5.2GHz at their boost peak.
It’s difficult to tell exactly how much of an advantage the Core i9 system would have if the two went head to head, but it is worth considering if raw CPU performance is what concerns you most. The DeskMini X300 has advantages of its own, though. In addition to costing less than the Core i9-10900, the Ryzen 7 Pro 4750G (and lesser, consumer-available G-series chips like the Ryzen 5 3400G we used) has a far more capable integrated graphics processor.
If your goal is to build a less expensive DeskMini or to build one with the best graphics for light gaming, the DeskMini X300 is going to be the more attractive system. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a DeskMini H470 or either high-end processor on hand for testing; this is just to consider the system’s best possible configuration. Without further ado, let’s see how well the DeskMini X300 performs with the humbler Ryzen 5 3400G inside.
For testing purposes, I put the DeskMini X300 up against several similarly sized mini PCs with a fairly wide range of hardware. The toughest competition for the system as configured is likely to come from the Dell OptiPlex 7080 Micro, which has a more powerful graphics chip (a Radeon RX640, the only discrete GPU in this bunch) in addition to an Intel Core i3 processor and 16GB of RAM. Comparisons with the Intel NUC “Bean Canyon” system should also prove interesting as it employs Intel’s Iris Plus graphics in addition to having a relatively fast mobile processor.
Starting things off with PCMark 10, the results we see are exactly what I expected…
Dell’s OptiPlex 7080 Micro held a sizable lead, but the DeskMini X300 came in second, just slightly ahead of the Intel NUC.
The results from our Cinebench CPU test were also predictable, but the DeskMini X300 slipped to third place here…
The OptiPlex with its eight-core Intel Core i7-10700T processor ran circles around its quad-core competition. The Intel NUC managed to surpass the DeskMini X300 and its Ryzen 5 thanks to slightly higher clock speeds, but the performance gap between the two was quite small.
The Intel-powered systems fared far better in our Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark…
The DeskMini X300 didn’t come in dead last, but it just barely managed to beat a lower-clocked, dual-core mobile Core i3 processor in the Zotac model.
The situation was almost completely reversed in our Handbrake video editing test, which showed the DeskMini X300 back in second place…
It wasn’t quite able to catch the OptiPlex, but it was several minutes faster than the other systems.
The DeskMini X300 with AMD Ryzen 5 3400G performed reasonably well in our raw performance tests, but as I mentioned, if CPU strength is your chief concern you can get better results overall in this market segment by going with Intel. When it comes to graphics, however, the story is different.
Utilizing its Radeon RX Vega-based iGPU, the DeskMini was finally able to take the top spot in the charts during the 3DMark Sky Diver test. The results from 3DMark’s Fire Strike were more mixed, with the Asrock dropping to third place.
Another gaming simulator, Unigine’s Superposition, also showed mixed results, but illustrated the higher graphics performance of AMD’s iGPUs…
None of the Intel-based competition came close to matching the X300 except the OptiPlex, which features the “Polaris”-based AMD Radeon RX640 GPU. The Dell’s CPU power gave it the gold medal at 720p resolution with low image quality, but the DeskMini showed a less precipitous drop when switching to the more demanding 1080p preset. Indeed, the X300 was almost as fast at 1080p as some of the other systems were at 720p.
A little online shopping will get you the bare-bones Asrock DeskMini X300 for under $170, which we consider an excellent price for this device. The system is exceptionally easy to build—anyone with a little experience could probably get it built and start installing Windows in under five minutes. (Cutting through the packing tape was more work than setting up this PC.) For someone who has never built a computer before, it would be a good first-time project.
The total cost of ownership is also quite low. Putting the cost of a Windows 10 license aside, if you wanted to build out the DeskMini X300 with similar parts to what we used, you can find 16GB of SO-DIMM RAM and a roomy M.2 SSD for around $70 each. CPU prices at the moment are higher than usual, so a Ryzen 5 3400G might set you back $225, but that still brings your total cost to only a bit over $500 (maybe less, if if the processor were selling at MSRP, or you opted for a smaller SSD or just 8GB of RAM). Either way, getting an impressively mini desktop with strong performance and a little gaming power for under $500 is not bad at all.Source