ASRock M8 Barebones Z97 Mini ITX System

ASRock M8 Barebones Z97 Mini ITX System

ASRock delivers a LAN party barebones for those who crave high performanceHave you ever been to motor show where you see an amazing concept car that is breath-taking, and then the company responsible then actually makes something utterly horrible instead? The M8 is, in many respects the complete opposite of that notion.

Having previously shown off a quite radical design (styled by BMW no less) ASRock then actually went ahead and delivered it. This review model is actually a second generation M8, using a Z97 Express motherboard (which previously offered a LGA1155 Z87 design) and, while we’ll accept this isn’t visually to everyone’s taste, when you get this very heavy (9kg) barebones computer out of the packaging it is certainly a ‘wow’ moment.

What’s difficult to get your head around from the pictures, you see, is the scale; the whole system is just 40cm square and 12.3cm wide, making it a compact solution. In many ways this harks back to the classic Shuttle era, where people tried to fit implausibly hot Intel Prescott CPUs in tiny metal shoe-boxes. Except with the M8, the case is a more feasible size, and the technology the very practical LGA 1150 architecture on a Mini ITX form factor motherboard.

Once you remove the magnetically attached side panels, the inside of the M8 is quite wondrous if you’re excited by seeing tons of technology squeezed into relatively tiny spaces. The centrepiece is the custom ASRock Z97-M8 Express motherboard that has been scaled down to occupy minimal space. Yet, it still manages to have six SATA ports, four USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit LAN, eSATA, DisplayPort and HDMI. ASRock even managed to shoehorn in an 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0 module and an x16 PCI-E slot, with enough space to mount a 295mm long dual slot video card.Doing something similar with the old Shuttle boxes was guaranteed to blow the PSU up shortly afterwards, but ASRock got a miniature 600W one made specifically for this system that should handle most single GPU video cards without exploding.

Those budgeting to use the M8 need to consider that they’ll also need a LGA1150 CPU, some SO-DIMM DDR3 (up to a maximum of 16GB using 2x 8GB sticks), and a hard drive. There is only room for a single 3.5″ mechanism, but that space can be alternatively occupied by up to four 2.5″ SSD or hard drives. Optical drive needs are covered with a pre-installed slim Super-Multi DVD Drive.

It’s a standard laptop mechanism, so swapping it out for a Blu-ray design is possible at additional cost.

One part that doesn’t need much help is the integrated audio, as ASRock used the Creative Sound Core3D DSP, providing EAX 1.0 to 5.0 inclusive and a baker’s dozen other audio processing standards It even chucked a headset amplifier for those headsets that can handle the higher impedance rating of its output. It’s all very impressive.

The M8 like any custom design is a mix of practicality and style, and for the most part it stays impressively balanced. However, there are a few bits of this computer that are compromised, and that any prospective buyers need to be aware of. Getting to the bay where the video card is installed involves taking the top cover off, an exercise that requires you to dismantle a portion of the case. That portion is also where the hard drives are also mounted, unfortunately. It’s a tricky task.

Space for mounting a cooler is also very limited, and I’d recommend you find one made for a 1U high rack server instead of installing the Intel stock item.I was surprised that ASRock didn’t make its own cooler and integrate it to the metal in chassis for dissipation, logically.

Other than those points, and the limited customisation that you’d expect with this type of barebones, this is a really interesting design that could make an exceptionally slick and powerful LAN party rig.

If you factor in the cost of the M8, add an Intel Core i5 4430, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD storage and medium range video card then you could be facing a £1000 bill or more. Though that could be tweaked down a little by some astute purchasing, and I’m also confident that the RRP price can easily be bettered for those who can sniff out a deal.

The M8 doesn’t offer all the flexibility of a conventional cased PC, but it’s significantly better than most barebones for those that want portability and performance in a visually striking, if pricey, package.

A stylish and powerful barebones Z97 gaming platform.• Material: Steel/Aluminium/Plastic• Dimension: 372mm (W) x 123mm (H) x 400mm (L)• CPU: Supports 5th and 4th Generation Intel Core i7/i5/i3/Xeon/Pentium/Celeron Processors (Socket 1150)• Memory: Supports DDR3 1600/1333/1066 MHz, 2 x SO-DIMM slots, Max. up to 16GB• VGA: Supports 1x Dual-slot Graphics PCI-E Card Max.• Supported VGA Dimension: 295mm x 138mm x 43.5mm.• HDD: Supports 3.5″ HDD and 2.5″ HDD• Optical Drive: 1x Slim Slot-in Super-Multi Drive• Wi-fi: 2T2R WiFi 802.11 ?? + ?? v4.0• Front I/O: 4x USB 3.0, 1x Mic, 1x Headphone, 4-in-1 Card reader (SD3.0/MMGMS/MS PRO)• Rear I/O: 1x 7.1 HD audio with Creative Sound Core3D, 1x Intel Gigabit LAN, 4x USB3.0, 4x USB2.0, 1x eSATA2, 1x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI• Cooling: 2x 70mm fan (Top), 2x 70mm fan (Bottom)

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