It’s been quite a while since I last talked about new fanless, CPU onboard Mini-ITX systems. Not because I didn’t want to, but because there’s been literally nothing happening in this space. It’s ironic because my main point for these self-built Mini-ITX systems (over pre-built “mini PCs”) has been that you can just replace the mobo every few years, keep the case, the SSD, etc. and be done with it… well yeah, assuming there’s actually a mobo that you can upgrade to. Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case for the last 5 or 6 years. The last newsworthy system was the ASRock J5005-ITX, and that J5005 chip was released in 2017Q4. Yes, ASRock eventually had the courtesy to release another mobo with the J5040, but really, that’s much of the same Goldmont Plus / Gemini Lake, a.k.a. J5005 on steroids, nothing extraordinary. Definitely not something you’d want to spend a good sum on.
There was also the disappointing paper launch of the Gigabyte N5105I H (Tremont / Jasper Lake), which looks like a somewhat decent upgrade over the J5005, but with one big caveat: it’s nowhere to be found. It’s been like 10 months already, but nope, you still can’t have it. At least I could learn from this article that this glaring lack of new Mini-ITX systems happened due to the “chip shortages” since COVID et al. To be honest, even if they DID make this board available, the lack of M.2 Wi-Fi slot is a huge bummer for HTPC builders. I’ve been complaining about the lack of M.2 SSD support on these Mini-ITX systems, now you would get that with this Gigabyte one, but at the expense of Wi-Fi + BT. Gee, that’s not what I meant.
So after all this storytelling, ladies and gents, now we have a real successor, so please welcome the ASRock N100DC-ITX!
Let’s take a quick look, shall we?
- It rocks the brand new Gracemont / Alder Lake Intel N100, with a hefty 3.4 GHz boost clock. Base clock speed is not yet public at the time of writing.
- The processor has the option for both DDDR4 / DDR5 / LPDDR5, but ASRock went with good old DDR4, 1 slot at that. Maximum capacity is a big question mark, because the Intel specs say 16 GB while the ASRock specs say 32 GB. We’ll see about that.
- TDP is quite hard to believe: just 6W, while the previous Mini-ITX systems usually came with 10W. It may be just the fact that they’ve changed methodology again – we’ll see the real numbers once I can get my hands on one.
- PCI-E stays at 3.0, but I’d be hard pressed to imagine a scenario where this becomes a serious bottleneck.
- HDMI is bumped from 2.0 to 2.1, nothing to write home about, same 2160p @ 60 Hz. I’m also a big advocate for DisplayPort (and against HDMI), but virtually all TVs in existence use HDMI instead of DP, so what could you do?
- 1x M.2 Key E for Wi-Fi and BT. The specs say it only supports CNVio chips, but once again I’m not entirely sure that’s actually the case – there’s been misunderstandings about this in the past. It’s not a big deal though, if the Intel AX200 doesn’t work in this mobo, just try with an AX201 and be done with it. These things are cheap, usually in the $20 range.
- And finally, at last, after all these years, drum roll… 2280 M.2 Key M slot for… storage! That’s right, finally we can use M.2 SSDs in these, even PCI-E (NVMe) ones at that, instead of clunky 2.5″ SATA SSDs with their stupid cables, eww!
- If that’s not enough, this mobo even has a PCI-E x4 slot… and an open ended one, too! That means you can actually install an x16 GPU in this gem, like the fanless MSI GT 1030 with DisplayPort. Isn’t that amazing?
And how exactly does it fare against the aging J5005? Well it’s pretty darn impressive, to say the least…
What could I say? I’m impressed. I’m amazed. It looks like ASRock ticked all the boxes with this one. I really can’t think of anything else I could wish for. It also shows perfectly just how much we needed an upgrade over the ancient Gemini Lake.
Now there’s only one question left: WHERE CAN I BUY ONE?!