Mini gaming PCs weren't as popular as Valve would have liked – their Steam Machines platform was launched and died faster than a North Korean rocket – but they're still a niche option for those who want something compact and pre-made. The Asus ROG GR8 II that I put through my paces last week is one such example.
The GR8 II is designed for those who want a compact gaming system for a desk or living room, but prefer something stronger than an Xbox One or PlayStation 4. This system is similar in size to the current generation of consoles, but uses high-end processors from Intel Kaby Lake and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics for a much faster experience.
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This added performance comes at a price: with a GR8 II plus controller, you get back at least $ 1,000 back, while you can currently purchase a PlayStation 4 Pro for just $ 400. Asus claims the GR8 II is "VR ready" for premium headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. However, this too is a much more expensive setup than Sony's PlayStation VR.
First, let's talk about the size. The GR8 II takes up 7.4 liters of space, with four liters of interior space. This makes it slightly larger than the PlayStation 4 Pro (5.3 liters) and again larger than the Xbox One S (4.3 liters). The angular design of the GR8 II means that its physical body is not quite 7.4 liters, but is still significantly larger than the current console range.
Make no mistake: the GR8 II has a pronounced gamer design that only appeals to a specific target group. Most other mini PCs and game consoles prefer a more understated design that fits better with other devices in the living room. However, Asus has decided that wacky angles and strange patterns are best suited for their offer. If you don't have a lot of sci-fi devices or like this gaming aesthetic, there's a good chance the GR8 II will look out of place wherever you position it.
For me, the GR8 II is remarkably ugly. It is no different from most other Asus ROG devices: confusing lines, aggressive angles, and crowded design elements. The gray color scheme with dark copper highlights is perhaps the best aspect of this design, although it doesn't redeem an otherwise unattractive chassis.
In addition, Asus could not resist lighting part of this case with RGB LEDs. There are some lines and grooves along the front panel that glow in any color you want. Of course, RGB lighting is all the rage these days, but I don't think it goes well with the design of the GR8 II. The lights look like a sticky addition to just add "RGB lighting!" on the functional side of the system and can often collide with the copper median strip. But of course you can turn off RGB lighting if you want.
The GR8 II has a decent I / O set, although understandably less than a traditional desktop with a full-size motherboard. There are two USB 3.0 A ports on the front and two 3.5 mm audio jacks. On the back there are two more USB 3.0 A ports, a USB 3.1 A port, a USB 3.1 C port (no Thunderbolt 3), an Ethernet port, an optical S / PDIF port and a 3 , 5 mm audio jack. For display connectivity, you get a DisplayPort and two HDMI ports on the graphics unit.
The GR8 II does not have an internal power supply, so Asus has included an external 230 W adapter. It's still a portable device if you want to take it with you to a 4kg LAN party. However, please note that you also have to bring the large and heavy Power Brick with you.
It is also worth noting that the GR8 II stands upright and has rubber stands on the bottom. Of course, you can put it aside if you want, but the angular design makes the device look pretty weird in this orientation.
The GR8 II is not particularly upgradeable. Neither the CPU nor the GPU can be replaced by the user, although much of the internal case is dedicated to a custom GPU module. To be able to access these two components at all, you'll have to remove pretty much everything from the case, as Asus has intentionally made it difficult to access the front of the motherboard.
On the motherboard side are some user-replaceable components that you can actually access. There is a single DIMM slot, with the other DIMM probably on the inaccessible side of the motherboard. It should therefore be easy to upgrade the system from 8 GB to 16 GB of RAM, although 32 GB require a full disassembly.
A single M.2 2280 slot is available for storage, which is equipped with a ready-to-use SSD. The GR8 II also supports a 2.5-inch storage drive. However, you will only get the required connector bracket if you purchase a model that is preconfigured with a hard drive inside. My test device did not come with a hard drive, so the bracket was missing.
To update: Asus tells me that the 2.5-inch connector bracket was missing from my test device, but is available in all retail stores