It’s become quite difficult to buy into PC gaming on a budget. Not only do we have an unfavourable rand/dollar rate, but components in general have become increasingly more expensive. PC gaming is and will continue to be an expensive hobby, which means opportunities for entry are limited at best. That said, it does happen that once in a while we come upon products that represent great value, and PC gaming becomes that much more affordable.
One such component is the ASRock Fatal1ty AB350 Gaming-ITX/ac motherboard. It’s not often you find fully featured (within limits) boards at this price, and here it’s dressed in the typical Fatal1ty-themed, cherry-red-and-black colour scheme. For around R1,600, ASRock has made it possible to build a gaming machine that can go head to head with the best of them.
It features, for starters, support for all the latest AMD Ryzen CPUs. It may only be a three power phase board, but that doesn’t mean much when it comes to performance. The AMD CPUs draw a conservative amount of power and feature clock speeds which, by today’s standards, are pretty pedestrian. As such, it’s more than capable of powering the Ryzen 7 1700X CPU and achieving the typical 4GHz limit when overclocked. Moreover, memory performance and overclocking are more than acceptable as well, with a stable 3,200MHz reached using tight C14 timings. These are two frequencies across two components that’ll guarantee butter-smooth gaming at the highest resolutions and settings.
Getting to this configuration is done via software or the BIOS. You’re better off using the BIOS though, as you can simply key in the desired frequency and memory timings. There were some minor issues with the initial release BIOS, but with the latest one all seems to be well, barring some user interface quirks.
The ASRock AB350 offers all the features we’ve come to expect from high-end motherboards in 2017. You have USB 3.1 and USB 3.0 support, in both Type-A and Type-C. There’s even backwards compatibility for PS2 peripherals (for those who’re still holding on to their legacy hardware). I wasn’t able to test the HDMI output as there are still no Ryzen-based APUs available for retail, but all should be working as documented. This board and others may be re-examined at a later date once those APUs become available.
Connectivity on the ASRock board is second to none in practical terms. You have the tried-and-tested Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller. It has none of the fancy network traffic management software, but that’s probably for the better as that doesn’t do much at all in the real world. More importantly, there’s wireless connectivity of the highest standard via a dual-band 802.11ac controller, and there’s Bluetooth 4.2 support as well. Audio is delivered via the familiar ALC1220 audio codec, which does a more than adequate job, particularly when paired with the Sound Blaster Cinema 3 software.
As always on Mini-ITX boards, everything is a tight fit and space is limited, but even with those constraints you have M.2 support on the underside of the board. Just be mindful of the location and its subsequent thermal restrictions. If you have one of the high-performance M.2 drives that require a heatsink, make sure you have enough clearance between the motherboard standoffs and the drive.
As with all things though, it isn’t perfect – even though it comes dangerously close for this form factor. It’s lacking just a couple of features that would’ve made it hands down the Mini-ITX board to own for the AM4 platform. There’s no POST LED, and no power, reset or clear CMOS buttons. It’s understandable given that, again, space is limited, but these go a long way to helping you prepare a machine and ensuring all is working accordingly before installing into your Mini-ITX chassis. Purely because of that, the ASRock board loses out on a perfect score.
Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with this offering – and at such an excellent price, it’s near-impossible to beat.