ASRock DeskMeet B660 Review: An Affordable NUC Extreme?

ASRock DeskMeet B660 Review: An Affordable NUC Extreme?
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ASRock was one of the earliest vendors to cater to the small form factor (SFF) PC market with a variety of custom motherboards based on notebook platforms in their Vision/Core series devices. They ended up missing the NUC bus for the most part, with the Beebox series being put into cold storage after Skylake and Kaby Lake were phased out. The industrial design and lessons learned from Beebox have since been passed on to ASRock Industrial for systems aimed at the commercial and embedded markets.

After Kaby Lake, ASRock shifted focus to Intel’s 5×5 mini-STX form factor introduced in 2015. Although it allowed the installation of socketed processors, the form factor could not support a discrete GPU slot. Around the same time, Intel also started marketing enthusiast NUCs with a discrete portable GPU soldered onto the motherboard / integrated into the package. ASRock has introduced several Intel- and AMD-based mini-STX DeskMini systems since 2016, and has also created the micro-STX form factor to offer a socket alternative to enthusiast NUCs.

Intel’s next big push into the NUC market came with the rise of Compute Elements and Extreme NUCs, the latter supporting user-replaceable discrete GPUs. In order to offer options in that segment, ASRock introduced its DeskMeet product line early last year with support for socket processors and a PCIe x16 slot for installing add-on cards. The review below provides a detailed analysis of the features, performance and value proposition of the DeskMeet B660 – an 8L SFF PC based on the Intel B660 chipset, which can accommodate Alder Lake or Raptor Lake processors and select dual-slot GPUs.

Introduction and product demonstrations

The increase in processor capacity and power efficiency, along with innovative thermal solutions, has also allowed small form factor machines to enter markets previously limited to bulky, power-hungry tower form factor machines. While a majority of SFF and UCFF machines on the market are typically based on sub-45W processors, there is a growing market (in the gaming and workstation space) for small systems that can accommodate socketed processors. ASRock’s DeskMini series of mini-STX and micro-STX machines have served this market since the Skylake days. In conjunction with the launch of Intel’s Alder Lake, ASRock introduced a new option for consumers in a slightly larger form factor – the DeskMeet B660.

The DeskMeet B660 focuses on the do-it-yourself market for gaming and esports systems. This segment has served as a growth vector for the otherwise moribund PC market in recent years. Gaming laptops have the added advantage of being compact and suitable for use cases not easily served by traditional tower computers. Compared to the DeskMini mini-STX series, the new systems provide the following updates:

  • PCIe 4.0 x16 slot that allows installation of a dual-slot discrete GPU
  • Increased memory capacity, thanks to the presence of four full-length DDR4 DIMM slots
  • Integrated PSU

The package contains the following components:

  • ASRock B660-ITX motherboard (with associated cables, screws and an I/O screen)
  • 500W (80+ bronze) ATX PSU
  • Metal chassis (168 mm x 219.3 mm x 218.3 mm) (with associated mounting aids)
  • assembly instructions

Compact systems with a PCIe x16 slot and an integrated PSU can be realized with mini-ITX motherboards. Such standard cards are limited to two DIMM slots due to space limitations. In order to accommodate two more DIMM slots, ASRock has chosen an in-house developed form factor. Their “Deep mini-ITX” board measures 210mm x 170mm (compared to 170mm x 170mm on a standard mini-ITX board).

End users have the flexibility to choose their own CPU, storage, RAM and optional discrete GPU. However, space limitations place some limitations on these. The 8L system can support liquid cooling if a PCIe add-in card is not used. CPU coolers up to 54mm in height can be used (any higher would end up hitting the bottom of the PSU). Processors with a TDP of up to 65W can safely be used in air cooling. Although select 125W TDP processors are supported, it requires the use of liquid cooling (which precludes the PCIe add-in card’s usefulness). The F-series SKUs can be used, but it requires a mandatory installation of a graphics card, as the built-in display outputs on the B660-ITX require a CPU with an integrated GPU.

ASRock sampled us the DeskMeet B660 along with their AMD Radeon RX 6400 Challenger ITX graphics card and an Intel Core i7-12700F Alder Lake-S processor. The following additional components were used to complete the build:

  • SilverStone Hydrogon H90 ARGB CPU Cooler
  • Mushkin Redline Frostbyte DDR4-3600 DIMM (4×16 GB)
  • Mushkin Vortex Redline 2 TB M.2 2280 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe SSD

The system is supposed to be actively cooled, but the DeskMeet B660 unit itself has no fans included with the chassis. The fans in the CPU cooler and graphics card cooler should be sufficient for most installations. However, the side of the chassis near the PCIe slot can also be used to mount a 120 mm case cooler or a liquid cooler (thickness up to 45 mm). In such cases, the PCIe slot is rendered unusable.

The full specifications of our review configuration can be found in the table below.

ASRock DeskMeet B660 Specifications
(as tested)
Processor Intel Core i7-12700F
Alder Lake-S 8C + 4c / 20T, 1.6 – 4.9 GHz
Intel 7, 12 MB L2 + 25 MB L3, 65 W
(PL1 = 65W, PL2 = 126W)
Memory Mushkin Redline Frostbyte MRX4U360GKKP16G DDR4-3600 DIMM
16-19-19-39 @ 3600 MHz (XMP 1.0)
Graphics AMD Radeon RX 6400 (Navi 24) 4GB GDDR6
(768 SP @ 2039 MHz)
hard drives) Mushkin Vortex Redline MKNSSDVT2TB-D8
(2 TB; M.2 2280 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe;)
(Micron 176L 3D TLC; InnoGrit IG5236 Controller)
Network 1x GbE RJ-45 (Intel I219-V)
Audio Realtek ALC897 (3.5mm audio jack on the front and line-in/speaker/microphone jack on the back)
Digital audio with Bitstreaming support over HDMI and Display Port (via dGPU)
Video 1x HDMI 2.1 (up to 4Kp60, VRR and FRL)
1x Display Port 1.4a (both via dGPU)
Various I/O ports 2x USB 2.0 Type-A (rear)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C (front)
2x USB 2.0 Type-A (front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (front)
Operating system Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.1335)
Pricing (Street pricing on January 23rd2022)
$191 (barebones)
$863 (as configured, no OS)
Full specifications ASRock DeskMeet B660 Specifications

Installation of the system

The DeskMeet package comes with the power supply and motherboard bundled inside the chassis with appropriate padding. Assembling the system involves removing a single screw from the underside of the case and pulling out the motherboard tray. One of the nice aspects here is that the front panel of the case directly adjoins the components on the motherboard. This eliminates the tangle of cables seen in the previous DeskMini systems when the motherboard tray was separated from the chassis. The motherboard comes mounted on the tray, and the CPU and cooler installation steps are no different from other socket CPU boards.

Up to four DDR4 DIMM modules can be installed in the system. An M.2 2230 slot is available for a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo PCIe/USB card. The case has suitable holes for the antennas. There are two M.2 2280 slots (one next to the PCIe slot and another on the bottom) for installing NVMe SSDs. The card slot next on the bottom is PCIe-only, while the other can accommodate both NVMe and SATA SSDs. Unfortunately, the documentation does not state which of these slots are directly connected to the CPU. On other cards, the slot that multiplexes the SATA and PCIe lanes usually comes from the chipset (PCH), while the pure PCIe is from the CPU. Based on this assumption, we reviewed the system with the SSD installed on the underside.

The card contains 3 SATA ports. The enclosure itself allows the installation of one 3.5″ hard drive (in which case a PCIe add-on card cannot be installed), or two 2.5″ drives (which eliminates the possibility of dual-slot add-on cards, while still allowing single-slot cards to work). Using such SATA drives also excludes the possibility of mounting a fan or a water cooling radiator in the system.

GPU installation involves releasing a latch and retaining screws after the add-in card is in place. The PSU is secured in place at the end, with all the necessary screws in the back panel. The power supply is not modular, but the number of cables to run is minimal, and cable management is not really a problem. It is possible to completely remove the motherboard and I/O shield from the bay, but we did not find it necessary during the assembly process.

In the next section, we’ll take a look at the BIOS options along with an analysis of the motherboard platform. Next, we have a number of sections that focus on different performance aspects before concluding with an analysis of the system’s value proposition.

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