Good reviews on mini-ITX hardware are hard to come by. Not only is the format always the last on the list for the ‘big’ sites to review, but when they do get around to reviewing, the first thing they do is compare the mini-ITX offering to larger formats and find the mini-ITX model lacking in some way. It’s rare to find a review on a ‘big’ site that actually compares apples to apples.
However, there are exceptions…
TweakTowns’ Shane Baxtor has recently posted a thorough review of the ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT and it’s worth the read for anyone interested in building a high-end mini-ITX gaming system. In addition to putting the ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT through its paces, he offers up comparisons with an ASUS P8H67-I to see how each of the chipsets handles the powerful Intel i7-2600K. It’s an excellent apple to apple comparison.
Overall, both boards put up similar numbers on the benchmarks but the overclocking ability of the Z68M-ITX/HT shows its usefulness when the i7-2600K is overclocked to 4.09GHz. It easily pulls ahead of the P8H67-I while consuming less power and running only slightly warmer.
The only issue with the review is the inclusion of the benchmarks for the ASRock A75M-ITX motherboard with the A8-3850 Llano APU. This is where the apples are now being compared to the oranges.
While commendable that the review includes an offering from AMD, it’s frustrating to see the A8 constantly being compared to high-end Intel processors. Even though the Llano APU holds its own in gaming tests (except for a slight bottleneck on Metro 2033 at lower resolutions) it simply cannot compete with the i7-2600k in any other performance area.
Forums are awash with users putting down the Llano FM1 APU’s due to the fact that they cannot compete with the i5’s and i7’s that are experiencing such popularity. People are assuming that because the A8-3850 is the shiny new top-of-the-range AMD FM1 processor that it should compete with the top-of-the-range Intels. They don’t stop to think that the Llano APU’s are not meant to compete with the i5’s and i7’s. The Llano APU are mid-range chips at best, maybe even entry level, targeted more at the i3 than anything else.
After reading a 13-page review where the A8-3850 gets slammed by an Intel chip it’s easy to understand why most users believe that the A8 is not an option for their systems, even though the Intel costs more than twice as much.
Mr Baxtor, however, isn’t fooled and shows that although the AMD gets beaten handily, it’s not unexpected. Focus your attention on the final page of the review, third paragraph down:
The mITX Z68 offering we have here today is overall faster than the A75 one we looked at just the other day. The A75 one, though, shines in other areas and as silly as it sounds, for low end to mid-range systems, the A75 option is fantastic thanks to the GPU capabilities embedded into the A8-3850 APU.
He specifically states that the Llano A8-3850 is designed for low-end and mid-range systems, but after 12 pages of benchmarks showing the AMD trailing far behind, how many readers ar egoing to notice this small saving grace tucked away on the last page?
It’s not silly at all, Mr Baxtor. The A75 is exactly what it’s supposed to be and shines where it needs too.
Nonetheless, it is a great review of the Z68M-ITX/HT and shows a solid comparison with a leading H67-based mini-ITX motherboard. Not once does it mention a comparison to any other form factor, a refreshing change from most other mini-ITX reviews.
As a counterpoint to the disparity of the A8’s performance, anyone considering a Llano mini-ITX gaming build should not be put off by its performance relative to the considerably more expensive i7-2600K. For a more appealing comparison, check out AnandTech’s CPU Benchmarks and see how the Llano FM1 A8-3850 compares low-end and mid-range processors from Intel. May I suggest the Core i3 2100 for starters?