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ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming-ITX/ac Review

Thanks to the wide compatibility of AMD’s AM4 socket, we aren’t locked into to the high end Ryzen processors. The socket is compatible with cheaper APUs equipped with integrated graphics, meaning the platform is well suited to a wide range of price points and performance levels. Users chasing mega multi threading performance to those looking for a cheap low power mini PC have a really compelling SFF option. Enter the ASRock Fatal1ty Gaming-ITX/ac, one of the few ITX motherboards released for the AM4 platform so far.

Introduction

AMD’s Ryzen series of processors have been out for some time now. They really shook up the market, offering excellent performance and more cores at competitive prices relative to their Intel counterparts. Even before the release of Ryzen, AMD’s APUs made a convincing case for small form factor PCs due to their strong integrated graphics performance. This case will be further bolstered with the upcoming release of the Raven Ridge series of APUs, which combine the Zen architecture with the Vega graphics architecture. We’d expect these processors to be a great choice for an ultra compact mini PC that should be capable of reasonable quality gaming even without a discrete GPU. The Fatal1ty X370 ITX is one of very few fully featured options that on paper are perfect for this kind of application.

Here is a look at some of the key specifications. The full specifications can be found here

 

The AMD X370 Platform & CPU family

AMD is betting big on the future of multi core, and with good reason. In addition to the standard explanations of the benefits of multi cores, such as multitasking and content creation, these days, even gaming API’s such as DirectX 12 and Vulkan benefit from multi cores. Some game engines themselves are running into some bottlenecks with 4c/4t CPUs. Something like a Twitch streamer, who play their games and stream at the same time have exploded in number. There’s no doubt that multi core is becoming truly mainstream and the pressure is on Intel to up their core counts, which have been the same on their mainstream CPUs for over a decade now.

Competition is good! A fit and firing AMD has clearly forced Intel into a response, with the upcoming Coffee lake CPUs featuring mainstream 6 core models for the first time. The PC space needs a fit and firing, healthy and competitive AMD, and this is exactly why rabid fanboys need to take a step back and cheer for a competitive industry, not just the team they back.

The venerable AM3 socket has been put to pasture. Now we have the AM4 socket paired with the accompanying X370 chipset. This brings the AMD platform right up to 2017 standards, with PCIe 3.0, NVMe, USB 3.1 Gen 2 and DDR4 memory. In a perfect world, we’d like to have seen X370 have a full 16x/16x to a pair of PCIe slots for multi GPU, though this is really nitpicking and would have added significant cost and complexity to the design, not to mention the additional pins required. Of course this doesn’t apply with the ASRock Fatal1ty ITX which only has one slot.

Below are the specs of the 8 core Ryzen 7 models. Note the X at the end of the model names. This denotes the CPU features AMD’s new XFR Extended Frequency Range technology. This means the CPU will automatically clock itself higher then the specified turbo clock when thermal and power conditions allow. Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 processors will work in the ASRock X370 ITX, though if you are pairing a lower processor, you might wish to consider saving a few dollars and consider the B350 equivalent.

Unboxing and Overview

Lets get to the board itself, starting off with the packaging. The box is very small and the red and black theme reflects the Fatal1ty branding that ASRock have been using for several generations now. The rear of the box covers all the major features of the board as well as specs so buyers will know what they are getting before purchase.

Moving onto the accessories; we have a fairly standard bundle, with a driver installation disc, a case badge, user and software guides, two SATA 6Gb/s cables and the I/O shield. The key inclusion is the bundle WiFi/Bluetooth Antenna.

Say hello to the ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming-ITX/ac. Mini-ITX boards have to compromise a bit with their layout as the amount of PCB real estate is obviously limited compared to a ATX motherboard.

We’d like to see an extra fan header as we are limited to three, one of which is capable of 1.5a of power output (18w) for a water pump. The clear CMOS header location is in an awkward place too. Most regular graphics cards will need to be removed to access the header, though this is more of a reviewer and tester issue than one that will impact a set and forget user who is unlikely to run into a scenario requiring a full reset. Other than those little niggles, the layout is pretty good.

There’s good clearance for very large heatsinks and there’s a RGB header at the top of the board for adding a bit of bling to your system.

Next, we take a look at the rear I/O panel. From left to right:

  • PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • 2x HDMI port (APU dependent)
  • USB 3.1 Type-A & Type-C ports
  • LAN, 2x USB 3.0 ports
  • Optical S/PDIF Out connector
  • 5 x analogue audio ports
  • WiFi Antenna Ports

We’d like to see an extra couple of USB ports here. There’s plenty of space above thee HDMI ports to accommodate them.

The network port is controlled by a Intel I211AT Gigabit NIC. You generally can’t go wrong with Intel. The overhead is low and they are very well supported.

The WiFi is powered by a dedicated daughter board with a Intel 7265 controller, offering up to 867Mbps WiFI along with Bluetooth 4.2

The audio controller is a common Realtek ALC 1220. This codec is a big step forward compared to some of the rubbish that has come in the past from Realtek. It starts with a very nice 120Db signal to noise ratio which addresses one of the common criticisms of Realtek controllers in times past. We have Nichicon Gold Series electrolytic capacitors, PCB isolation to prevent electromagnetic interference and support for the Sound Blaster Cinema 3 software suite.

Here are the major headers of the board. There are four SATA 6Gb/s ports which should be enough for most builds out there. To the right we have a USB 3.0 header and a USB 2.0 header. Lastly there’s a LPC header. his is where you can plug in a trusted platform module, though you can use this header for other things such as a debug LED card too.

The X370 Fatal1ty ITX features what appears to be a 6+2 phase PWM controlled by a Intersil ISL95712 regulator. While we wouldn’t call this a weak solution, it is not really a spec that you’d use to push your CPU to the maximum. The six mosfets will tax the rather small heatsink if pushed too hard, and we’d be wary of pushing too far beyond the stock voltage. If OC is important to you, you might want to consider a full sized motherboard.

On the back of the board we have a single M/2 slot capable of holding a 2280 sized NVMe drive with up to 4x PCIe 3.0 lanes (for 32GB/s)

BIOS Overview

The ASRock X370 Fatl1ty ITX uses the layout that will be familiar to ASRock users over recent generations. Below is the default ‘Main’ Page where you can see the systems’ basic information.

The OC Tweaker page is where the magic happens. The OC options here aren’t as in depth as you’d see on most Intel platforms, but then this isn’t really designed to be a top shelf OC board.  Most users will be happy with the options here however.

Moving away from the OC page, we come to the ‘Advanced’ page. There are a ton of system related settings to be found here, mainly to do with the various devices and integrated peripherals and their configurations. Key settings include SATA/M.2 controls, CPU feature options and onboard device options.

The ‘Tools’ page contains the important BIOS flashing function (which we used with no problem to update to the latest available version) as well as a cool tech support feature and the RGB control page. The board itself doesn’t have RGB lighting, but it does have a header for controlling RGB strips, RAM, cases or heatsinks.

The next page is the hardware monitoring page. All the key parameters are seen here, with voltages, fan speeds and temperatures monitored as well as the configuration options for the fan speed hysteresis and headers.

Next up is the security page, Not much to say here really.

The boot page is again pretty self explanatory.

Ditto for the exit page, where you can load the system defaults.

Software Overview

We like to get our motherboard software and drivers online at the time of installation rather than rely on often outdated and obsolete software on the driver disk.

For this purpose, ASRock have an all in one software call the App Shop, where all the motherboard drivers and utilities can be downloaded in one place. It functions quite well and we think If ASRock really wanted, they could add some really cool content for user to download, but then that would add cost and brings all sorts of licensing headwinds that may make it easier said than done.

ASRock have chosen Creative’s Sound Blaster Cinema software suite to bring an extra layer of control and customization over and above the default Realtek suite. Like most 3rd party audio control suites, there are an extensive range of configuration options for headphones and speakers with equalization, profiles, virtual surround and all the other goodies you might want. We still prefer to keep the audio signal as unadulterated as possible though, preferring to keep the original source as intact and pure as possible, but that’s just us.

ASRock’s RGB LED app is shown below. It controls the solitary white header you can see just above the right hand side of the memory slots. ASRock could have gone with a more neutral board color scheme, perhaps with black heat sinks. This would remove any possible coloring conflict that may occur. In fairness though, most of the board is covered by other components, so it matters little. This is also a good reason to skip RGB lighting on ITX motherboards, as it adds cost and complexity despite being mostly covered over.

Test Setup & Benchmarks

For our test platforms, we try to keep things on a level playing field with relatively low memory settings and all CPU parameters set to default, including all turbo modes in order to best reflect out of the box performance. Of course the Haswell-E and Broadwell-E X99 CPUs have the inherent advantage of being equipped with quad channel memory.

Lets start of with Cinebench. It supports up to 256 threads, so it will be a standard test of ours for some time to come. Cinebench really shows the strength of the Zen Architecture. Just look at those multithreaded scores! Intel retains the single threaded advantage, but in a rendering task, that’s not really important to be honest.

SuperPi is still a darling of the OC community despite its age. It doesn’t have too much relevance to day to day performance, but it is still a good indicator of single thread performance. The Intel CPUs are the king of SPi and it shows here.

File compression is an application that makes significant use of available memory performance and tends to scale well with more cores. AMD is very strong here, obliterating everything in sight, at least until the higher core count Intel CPU’s make their appearance. The R7 1800X is matching the 5960X despite the handicap of its dual channel vs quad.

Ryzen was always promoted as being very strong for content creation and video work. One of the prime reasons for owning a PC in 2017 is video capability. Smartphones and tablets will just never cut it. It’s the era of 4K, Netflix and millions of twitch streamers and Youtubers all relying heavily on compute capability for video encoding and decoding. We have switched to Handbrake for our encoding benchmark, but it seems there is something in the code that is preventing the 1800X from reaching its potential and pulling away further. We used an older benchmark in previous reviews and saw the 1800X getting within striking distance of the Intel 10 core 6950X. Despite what you see below, the Ryzen series are very fast at video encoding.

This is more where we’d expect to be, with almost linear increases in performance with increasing core counts. AMD killing it here on performance and value.

This kind of result bodes well for intensive graphics with lots of particles and objects being rendered.

Now for a couple of quick gaming tests, starting off with Shadow Of Mordor. At 1080p our results are still in line with what we’ve been seeing from other Ryzen processors.  In any graphics limited scenario, the results will come right back to the GPU. Gaming isn’t everything, though if you are a streamer or multitasking, using it for work and play then you will be well placed, with plenty of performance on hand.

As AMD has stated, we expect differences like these to be minimized in the future as game engines are built with Ryzen optimizations in mind. We’ve already seen some games patched specifically to address Ryzen performance along with BIOS improvements.

As we can see here when we move to 4K, once the graphics become the limiting factor, the CPU becomes much less relevant. So while there have been some headlines criticizing 1080p gaming performance, its really a non issue once you move to a powerful GPU and higher settings.

Overclocking

We have yet to really go in depth with our sample CPU on other motherboards, so its hard to say at this stage exactly where the ASRock Fatl1ty ITX stands up at this point. There’s no doubt that memory speeds have improved significantly with later BIOS. We were able to boot at 3600 which was absolutely impossible with launch BIOS, though 3600 was quite flaky and we had to dial it back to 3200 to reach full stability. With some tuning and additional SoC voltage, we think 3466-3600 should be doable.

Our CPU can hit 4Ghz with all cores but it takes 1.425v to do it, and to be honest we’re not that comfortable pushing this board hard with its fairly standard PWM. If you want to push for every last Mhz, a ATX board and appropriate PWM is recommended.

Conclusion

AMD really does offer an excellent price performance ratio with the AM4 platform and the ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming ITX-/ac fills a SFF niche that many users were crying out for at launch.

We always love ASRock’s willingness to offer something a bit different. Its amazing how often you see a mountain of ATX boards at the launch of a new platform, leaving forums filled with thread after thread of users hanging out for a ITX option. These days, with the level of chipset and/or SoC integration, the need for a full sized ATX board is not as critical as it once was. There really is a significant market for ITX solutions, and ASRock continues to cater for this market, long may it continue!

The ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming ITX-/ac doesn’t appear to be available in Singapore at this time, though it’s still relatively new and should follow at some point. It costs $159.99 USD at Newegg. Perhaps that’s a touch on the expensive side, but you do get a quality feature set, an impressive refined BIOS, good software suite and of course the heart of a powerful small form factor system with up to 16 threads (!) It’s pretty unlikely we’ll ever see X299 ITX, so building a small system with a Ryzen 7, ASRock’s X370 ITX, 32Gb of RAM and a powerful GPU is going to provide you with mega performance for years to come. On the other hand, there’s the upcoming Vega equippped APU’s and these could be the killer part that brings a board like the ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming ITX-/ac right to the forefront of consumers minds.

 

Pros:

ITX!

Excellent feature list

Quality, refined UEFI

Wifi equipped

 

Cons:

Awkward CMOS clear location

Not really a supreme OC board

We want Raven Ridge APU’s!

More USB on the rear would be nice

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