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The best mini-ITX board for Ryzen, offering striking looks and decent overclocking, but the X370 chipset needlessly inflates the price
- Ideal for overclocking AMD Ryzen CPUs
- Looks great
- Battery sticks out like a sore thumb
While we’re still mourning the loss of Asus’ ROG Impact series mini-ITX motherboards, there’s still plenty to get excited about with its new ROG Strix boards, and this mini-ITX X370 board looks particularly interesting. Aside from the premium chipset, the standout feature is a combined board for the Realtek ALC 1220 audio codec, which also provides an M.2 slot with a large heatsink on top.
The heatsink still stands shorter than low-profile memory, so there should be no issues with large CPU coolers. There’s another M.2 slot on the underside of the PCB too, although only the top slot supports SATA-based M.2 SSDs, with both slots also supporting PCI-E-based M.2 SSDs.
That’s a bit of a shame. If you want to use only M.2 SSDs to cut cable clutter, using a cheaper SATA M.2 SSD for data storage and a high-speed PCI-E M.2 SSD for your games and OS, then you’ll be forced to put the former in the top slot with the heatsink, when it’s the PCI-E that needs the extra cooling.
Given that M.2 and 2.5in SATA SSDs are basically the same price now, using an M.2 drive instead of a 2.5in one is definitely worth considering in smaller cases. Still, at least you have the option of using two M.2 SSDs – most of the competition, including Gigabyte’s AB350N-Gaming WiFi, only allow you to use one.
Cooling is much better than the Gigabyte board too, with a huge VRM heatsink sitting level with the rest of the I/O panel components. This heatsink did get very warm once we’d overclocked the CPU, but we’d be much happier applying an everyday overclock here than with the comparatively skinny Gigabyte board. There’s onboard 802.11ac Wi-Fi too, with a desktop antenna included in the box.
Also, while we’ve seen mini-ITX motherboards with more SATA 6Gbits/sec ports, the four ports included on the Asus will be more than enough for most people’s needs. Two of the four SATA 6Gbits/sec ports are located on the right side of the PCB for easy cable routing, as is the 24-pin ATX connector and both USB 2 and USB 3 headers.
Meanwhile, the trio of four-pin fan headers can take advantage of Asus’ excellent fan-control system, via the EFI or AI Suite software, and amazingly, Asus has also managed to cram two RGB LED headers onto the board.
Move around to the back and the rear I/O panel offers six USB Type-A USB ports, two of which support USB 3.1. Another pair of ports would be handy here for anyone with a plethora of USB devices, though, and there’s also no USB Type-C port either.
The ROG Strix X370-I Gaming scores very highly for aesthetics too, with a row of bright RGB LEDs underneath the right side of the board, plus an RGB-illuminated ROG logo in the M.2 heatsink. It’s a shame about the CMOS battery’s location though – there are ways this battery could have been hidden, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s a minor complaint about an otherwise great-looking board, however.
Asus ROG Strix X370-I Gaming motherboard review: Performance
The Asus board’s M.2 heatsink cut the SSD’s temperature by 10°C from an already low 67°C, most likely thanks to its position sitting an inch or so higher than usual, where it’s able to make use of a case’s airflow. Audio performance was as you’d expect from Realtek’s ALC 1220 codec too, with a dynamic range of 112dBA and noise level of -108dBA – both close to the top of the results we’ve seen from other AM4 motherboards.
In terms of raw performance, there wasn’t much separating any of the AM4 boards we’ve tested, with the ROG Strix X370-I Gaming keeping pace with its ATX siblings. The idle power draw was just as low as well, if not lower, but only after we’d enabled the enhanced power-saving feature in the EFI, which was disabled by default.
When testing AM4 motherboards, we aim for an overclocked frequency of 4GHz on our Ryzen 7 1700 using a 1.425V VCORE – these settings are fine for an everyday overclock with decent air cooling, and the ROG Strix X370-I Gaming was perfectly happy here. It was also completely stable at 4.05GHz, but pushing it any further resulted in crashes in our benchmarks.
Even so, that’s the joint highest overclock we’ve ever seen from an AM4 motherboard – you might get fewer ports and slots on a mini-ITX board, but this Asus board proves you won’t lose any overclocking potential.
This bump in frequency, which was applied as an all-core overclock, saw the system score rise from 164,005 to a much more substantial 185,229 – one of the fastest AM4 results we’ve seen.
The overclock also saw the minimum frame rate rise from 28fps to 32fps in Ashes of the Singularity, although the total system power draw at load saw the usual hefty hike from 126W to 256W when overclocked.
Asus ROG Strix X370-I Gaming motherboard review: Verdict
If you want to overclock AMD Ryzen CPUs as far as possible in a mini PC then the ROG Strix X370-I Gaming is the best foundation we’ve seen. It also looks great, sports two M.2 ports and is backed up by Asus’ excellent EFI and software. That said, a cheaper B350-based version of the board will shortly be made available to system builders – it looks nearly identical, and the X370 chipset’s extra PCI-E 2 lanes and dual-graphics abilities are no use on a mini-ITX board anyway, needlessly bumping up this board’s price.
At £185, the ROG Strix X370-I Gaming remains a great-looking AM4 board and a solid overclocker, it’s just a shame that it’s not cheaper.