Earlier this year, ASUS introduced a new version of the compact gaming computers ROG GR8, which in 2015 came out within the concept of Steam Machine, to compete with the game consoles in the living room. We have already tested the first version of the mini-PC together with the operating system Steam OS. The new edition is available only with the Windows operating system, and also boasts an updated hardware stuffing. In our review, we will take a closer look at the new ASUS ROG GR8 II system with Kaby Lake processor and Pascal video card.
In recent months, the Steam Machine theme has subsided, but many manufacturers are still working on new models of compact gaming computers that can move game consoles in the living rooms. Here you can mention MSI Trident 3, ZOTAC ZBOX EN1060 or Gigabyte Brix GB-BNi7HG4-950, which we tested not so long ago. With the ASUS ROG GR8 II system, the Taiwanese manufacturer decided on a second attempt.
The first version of ASUS ROG GR8 was based on the Intel Core i7-4510U generation Haswell and the video card NVWIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti first generation Maxwell, now ASUS switched to the Kaby Lake processor and Pascal graphics card, added RGB-backlight and new interfaces such as USB Type C. If you believe the manufacturer, ASUS ROG GR8 II can be called one of the most compact gaming computers on the market, while it provides enough computing performance for VR points like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
Our test configuration was equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700 processor, which Intel introduced at the beginning of the year. ASUS did not just switch to a new generation of CPU, but also changed the line. Unlike the first ROG GR8, it uses a non-economical processor for ultrabooks, and a full-fledged desktop model. An important step forward was made on the graphics processor. Now for 3D acceleration is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, which corresponds to 1: 1 desktop model, but only 3 GB of video memory GDDR5. In our sample, we received 16 GB of DDR4 memory and a high-speed SSD of 256 GB. In the case with dimensions 88 x 299 x 281.3 mm there is a place to install a 2.5 “drive, but in our test configuration we did not get it, however, the user will be able to install a drive with SATA interface without any problems.
We note high-quality audio subsystem, stylish Aura lighting, numerous modern interfaces, including Gigabit LAN or USB 3.1 Gen2 Type C, Bluetooth and WLAN module. A compact system provides an external 230-watt power supply. The computer is preinstalled with Windows 10 in 64-bit version. ASUS ROG GR8 II is available in several different configurations. You can purchase mini-PCs with “younger” variants of Kaby Lake processors, other memory and drive configurations. ASUS also offers different combinations of SSD and HDD. But the case and video card are the same for all models.
But everything has its price: ASUS requests 1.050 euro for our configuration.
Before we move on to the ASUS ROG GR8 II tests, let me review the hardware.
The first version of the ASUS ROG GR8 relied on Haswell’s processor for ultrabooks, but now we have a generation of Kaby Lake, and in the desktop version. Namely, our test laptop was equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700 processor. But you can buy ASUS ROG GR8 II and with a less powerful processor Core i5-7400 or corresponding models of the previous generation Skylake.
In our test sample, we got the Kaby Lake processor, which is manufactured using a 14-nm process technology, like the previous generation CPU. But Intel changed the architecture slightly, which led to further improvements in performance and efficiency. Details on the new processor can be found in our detailed review of the Intel Core i7-7700K. Unlike the flagship model, the tested Intel Core i7-7700 multiplier is blocked, so it’s not possible to overclock the CPU easily. And the nominal frequencies are slightly lower. The base frequency is 3.6 GHz, in Turbo mode it is increased to 4.2 GHz. For comparison, the K processor frequency rises to 4.5 GHz.
Four physical cores can perform two threads each thanks to SMT support. Note the standard L3 cache size of 8 MB, which is common to all four cores, as well as 256 KB of L2 cache for each core. In total, the Intel Core i7-7700 has 1,024 MB of L2 cache. The instruction and data cache of the first level is 32 KByte per core. Because of the lower clock speeds compared with the top model, the heat package was also reduced from 91 to 65 watts. However, in comparison with the ASUS ROG GR8 generation of 2015, the CPU power consumption still increased four-fold, so the cooling system will not be easy.
Two DDR4 slats are connected to the memory controller at a frequency of 2.400 MHz in a two-channel mode. In our sample ASUS ROG GR8 II, the capacity of each bar was 8.192 MB, as a result, we got 16 GB of RAM. The Intel Kaby Lake processor is equipped with a graphics core with increased performance compared to the previous generation, the Intel HD Graphics 630 is based on 24 EU executions, but the speed is still too low for modern games. It is for this reason that ASUS has installed a much faster discrete graphics card.
Namely NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060. We have already tested a lot of models of this video card, but in this case we get not only 6 GB of video memory GDDR5, but only half. But this is not all the victims: the 3 GB version is equipped with a smaller number of stream processors. If 6 GB of video card has 1.280 stream processors, then for GeForce GTX 1060 3 GB we get only 1.152 stream processors. Also from 80 to 72, the number of texture blocks also decreased. Probably, NVIDIA took such a step to use partially defective GP106 GPU. The number of pipelines for raster operations (ROP) remained the same: 48, as well as the memory configuration (except for volume). Thus, for a 3 GB version of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, we get a 192-bit memory bus.
On the other hand, there were no changes with the clock rates. Both versions of the video card work with a base frequency of 1.506 MHz, in Boost mode the minimum bar is 1.709 MHz, the memory chips run at 2.022 MHz. In the case of ASUS ROG GR8 II, the video card operates in accordance with NVIDIA specifications and is equipped with a reference cooler. Typical power consumption is 120 watts, although the 3 GB version should be slightly lower in practice.
According to NVIDIA, the 3-Gbyte GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, on average, is 5% slower than the GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB. The loss of 10% of stream processors and texture units is compensated by the same number of ROPs, L2 cache, etc., so that 5% seems quite realistic. So far, we have not conducted comparative tests of 3 GB and 6 GB of video cards, so we did not have our own performance conclusions yet. In any case, the video card must cope with all modern games in the resolution of 1080p. Higher resolutions are also possible. For fans of the VR system also suitable, because it meets the minimum requirements of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
The rest of the “hardware” mini ASUS ROG GR8 II is also quite modern. Our test system was equipped with 16 GB DDR4 and 256 GB SSD in M.2 format, although it was not connected via PCI Express and NVMe. If necessary, an additional 2.5 “SATA hard drive can be installed in the mini-PC.The home network ASUS ROG GR8 II can be connected via cable through the Gigabit LAN port or via Wi-Fi, standards up to 802.11ac are supported. And Bluetooth 4.1 The Mini PC is equipped with modern interfaces, such as USB 3.1 Type C, there are various video outputs and standard USB 3.1 ports .The power is supplied through an external power supply with a power of 230 W. There was a high-quality audio and smart lighting subsystem. Do without Thunderbolt 3, although this standard allows data transfer through the Type C port at a speed of 40 Gbit / s instead of 10 Gb / s .The case has dimensions of 88 x 299 x 281.3 mm, weight 4 kg, so we get a typical ROG design .
ASUS ROG GR8 II comes with a variety of software utilities. The central component here can be called ASUS Command Center. In it, you can not only read the parameters of installed components, but also make changes to some settings. For example, you can select a performance profile and switch between predefined settings, create a recovery disc, download the software and drivers in a few mouse clicks. Another important item is the “Aura” backlight management utility. At ASUS ROG GR8 II you can choose not only the color of RGB-backlight, but also the effect. In addition to the constant glow of the RGB LED on the front panel, you can activate the pulsation, rainbow or wave mode, respiration. You can adjust the speed and brightness. Utility Sonic Studio III allows you to manage the built-in audio system ASUS ROG GR8 II.
Unfortunately, ASUS has installed other applications that are not needed by everyone. On SSD, the user will find a demo version of numerous programs. Including “Kaspersky Anti-Virus”, Microsoft Office 365 in several language versions, the Yahoo search plugin, Ramcache II and PC Cleanup. Of course, without all these programs it was possible to do.
ASUS slightly modified the design in comparison with the first version of ROG GR8. The red lacquered insert between the two sidewalls was repainted in copper color. However, the typical futuristic design of the ROG has survived.
Front panels are located in the center of the copper insert. Namely two USB ports Type A, two 3.5-mm audio jacks for connecting the headset. Not without the inscription “Republic of Gamers”.
But most of the ASUS ROG GR8 II interfaces are on the back panel. There we get a classic set of ports on the motherboard and video card.
On the two sides of the ASUS ROG GR8 II there is nothing remarkable. Is that ROG engraving, bringing a variety of black design. A side window is not provided, so the user can hardly enjoy the view of the interior.
On the rear panel there are three standard USB ports, a modern Type C jack, but without the Thunderbolt 3 protocol support. There is also a Gigabit LAN port as well as audio connectors. To protect against theft, a Kensington lock hole is available.
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card provides available video outputs. Namely two HDMI and one DisplayPort. On the left, behind the additional ventilation holes, you can see the connection socket of the external power supply unit at 230 W.
In front of the interfaces, there is a power button that turns on / off the system. After switching on, the Aura illumination with RGB LED draws attention to itself.
On top of the ASUS ROG GR8 II there are a few ventilation slots through which hot air is ejected from the mini-PC.
Of course, we have opened ASUS ROG GR8 II to get to know the components. At first glance, the case has only one screw, but after its unscrewing you can not open it. First, remove the plastic cover from above by pressing the button. Then unscrew the additional screws, and only then you can remove both side panels.
As we mentioned above, ASUS chose a desktop video card in the reference design. It connects to the motherboard via a riser card, and is mounted vertically in the case. To distribute power in the case, another board is provided.
The cooling of the video card is provided by a radial fan, the characteristics of which are familiar to us on Founders Edition. In general, the system is adjusted to the dimensions of the video card, so finding a model for the future upgrade will not be easy. MSI solved this problem with the Trident 3 system, for example, but even there you can not install the latest high-end video cards, similar to the recently introduced NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti.
Cooling Intel Core i7-7700 is provided by the cooler with the displaced radial fan. For the passage of airflow in the motherboard made cutout under the fan. The WLAN and Bluetooth module is installed in slot M.2.
As for memory, ASUS ROG GR8 II chose the SO-DIMM slats for laptops. Used modules at a frequency of 2,400 MHz from Sk Hynix. The system has an SSD in M.2 format, but there is room for an additional SATA hard drive.
The hardware above ASUS GR8 II provides a high level of performance in everyday tasks and games. It will be interesting to look at the practical results.
Thanks to the Intel Core i7-7700 processor and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, as well as the high-speed SSD M.2, we get a high level of performance from ASUS ROG GR8 II. All the game tests went fine with the highest settings in the resolution of 1.920 x 1.080 pixels. In some games, it is possible to switch to QHD resolution. Namely in Grand Theft Auto 5 and Tomb Raider. In games The Witcher 3, Total War: Attila and The Shadow of Mordor, such a resolution is not recommended, the reason probably lies in 3 GB of video memory. However, since most TVs still support resolutions no higher than 1080p, we see no special problems.
SSD does not support the NVMe protocol and does not work through the PCI Express interface, so the average reading speed of 559.3 MB / s was not surprising. But to download applications and games it is enough. The operating system Windows 10, preinstalled by ASUS, is loaded in seconds. Processor Intel Core i7-7700 in two tests Cinebench showed the usual results of 8.52 and 772 points, respectively. And 16 GB of DDR4 memory provided a throughput of 22.72 GB / s. In the file compression test, the 7-Zip mini PC scored 22,423 points. Other systems of similar price and performance class usually do not reach the mark of 20,000 points.
Despite the very compact size and powerful hardware stuffing, ASUS ROG GR8 II works nicely quietly. Under normal Windows load, the noise level of the test computer was only 33.6 dB (A), the work was barely noticeable. If Prime95 is fully loaded, the noise level will increase to 41.4 dB (A), and with the additional graphic load – up to 47.8 dB (A). As a result, ASUS ROG GR8 II will work with a noticeable noise level, but compared to modern high-end laptops, it can be called quite good – the magic bar of 50 dB (A) mini-PC does not exceed. Under the game load ASUS ROG GR8 II worked a little quieter – 44.6 dB (A).
The Kaby Lake processor and Pascal video card work very efficiently in the idle mode, which we have repeatedly noted in our reviews. And ASUS ROG GR8 II was no exception. Although under the load, the new ASUS ROG GR8 II consumes slightly above 225 watts, which is much higher than the first generation of the system. Recall that the first version consumed from 17 to 91 watts. But it was equipped with an Ultrabook-level processor and a Maxwell graphics card, so the performance was much lower. This is especially true of the CPU.
Although the Intel Core i7-7700 processor in our tests was heated to 94 ° C, we did not notice any performance throttling, let alone the “departures” of the system. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card worked with a noticeably lower temperature of 74 ° C, the same applies to the motherboard and SSD, where we got temperatures of up to 56 ° C or 34 ° C. Under the usual 2D load, ASUS ROG GR8 II temperatures are significantly lower, they did not exceed 45 ° C.
Compared with the ASUS ROG GR8 II system tested today, the first Steam Machine or console PCs from ASUS and other vendors, such as Alienware, seem rather slow. If in the first versions of ROG GR8 ASUS installed a processor class ultrabukov generation Haswell and mid-level video card generation Maxwell, now ASUS has chosen a desktop processor category Core i7 along with a video card of the middle-class generation Pascal. As a result, gaming performance has increased markedly. All our gaming tests were fine at 1080p resolution, in some cases a transition to QHD is possible. So the performance gain in comparison with the predecessor is very significant.
However, a more powerful “iron” leads to a higher level of energy consumption. If ASUS ROG GR8 generation of 2015 consumed less than 100 watts under load, then at ASUS ROG GR8 II we got the level up to 230 W from the socket. However, this concerns the scenario of the worst case under the load of Prime95 and Furmark. In games, our test computer consumed much more modestly – about 175 watts. In any case, the system in 2D mode was very quiet and economical, and even compared to most modern gaming laptops. We received a noise level of 33.6 dB (A) in idle mode up to 47.8 dB (A) under stress load. Although the processor under the stress load was heated to 94 ° C, this did not lead to any problems. We did not face either “departures” or with a drop in productivity. So the cooling system copes with its work.
The ASUS ROG GR8 II mini-PC has a USB Type C port, but it does not support the Thunderbolt 3 protocol. Therefore, you will not be able to increase the performance of the system in the future with the same ASUS ROG XG Station 2 external module with a discrete graphics card. And the bandwidth is limited to 10 Gbit / s. Unfortunately, the SSD does not support the NVMe protocol. ASUS chose a M.2 format drive, but without connecting via PCI Express. As a result, the average read speed was about 550 MB / s. But for games and everyday applications it will be enough. In the case there is room for an additional 2.5 “hard drive, although it was not installed in our configuration, but the user can easily add it himself.
All of the above components are installed in a futuristic ROG enclosure with high quality manufacturing. Someone thinks the MSI Trident 3 body will be more thoughtful, but it’s still thicker. Both models of mini-PCs can well be considered as game consoles for the living room. In favor of ASUS says the famous backlight Aura, which can be customized to your liking. It fits perfectly into the design. But the case is completely “pinched” under the installed components, so the upgrade will be problematic, despite the components of the desktop class.
In comparison with competitors, the price of ASUS ROG GR8 II seems quite reasonable. For our configuration with Intel Core i7-7700, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, 16 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD will have to give around 1,050 euros in Europe. In Russia, the prices for the similar configuration of ASUS ROG GR8 II-T031Z, but with an additional 1-TB HDD, start from 100 thousand rubles, which is much more expensive than Europe. For comparison, the same mini-PC ZOTAC ZBOX EN1060 will cost 900 euros, but without storage and memory. And for MSI Trident 3 with similar equipment in Europe will have to pay more. In Russia MSI mini-PC has just started appearing, so comparison is difficult to make. However, if you start building a mini-ITX computer yourself, you can save money.
Due to the excellent performance level, relatively low noise level, stylish design and minimum disadvantages of the mini PC ASUS gets our award “Excellent Iron”. Our congratulations!