Thanks to LDLC for the loan of this model.
ASRock is well known for bringing out motherboards with attractive price/quality ratios. For some time now, the budget brand of the well-known manufacturer Asus, has also been producing a laptop range following the same recipe. An all-round model at the price of a netbook and delivered without a pre-installed OS. Something for those on a small budget then, as well as Linux fans.
Hardware, design and build: rustic but well equipped
It's unusual for a budget PC to have the finish of a model that comes in at twice the price. The plastics used here are clearly low-end, in particular for the buttons above the keyboard and under the touchpad. Around the screen and on the shell the coatings are matte, a good thing as they don't pick up finger marks. In contrast, the screen lid is 100% gloss and gets dirty very quickly. Altogether it gives an impression of being robust, especially as the hinges for the screen seem solid.
The keyboard is as standard as they come. It has the merit of having a number pad, which is rare on a 15.6-inch screen. Unfortunately, the "Fn" key is where the "Ctrl", is normally positioned, which is a problem. It could be ok if the right adjustments were made. However the top of the keyboard isn't properly attached and moves, making a very disagreeable clicking. Perhaps an assembly error on this particular model. Though our model was a new one, which makes you think that it may be a fault that originates in factory.
The multi-touch touchpad is a good size. The matte surface gives a nice glide and is also precise. The click buttons above it are rather ugly.
The webcam is fine. Overexposed areas burn and it needs quite bright light to function correctly. Fluidity is good. Unfortunately the microphone has been placed to the right of the keyboard, which means that typing noises interfere with it.
The fan is relatively discrete for the category. The fan gives out a permanent regular noise and gets louder during heavy processing (photo work, video encoding etc.).
The F14 has full connectivity in spite of its low end positioning. The DVD burner is situated under the left edge, near the fan. On the righthand side there's a USB port, a 10-in-1 memory card reader and the headphones and mic sockets. At the back of the machine there are 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 VGA and 1 HDMI, 1 RJ45 (Gigabit Ethernet) and 1 RJ11, the power socket and antitheft. You also get Wi-Fi N.
Under the machine, 3 panels give access to all the machine's components, which is very practical.
|Fan and DVD burner
||Headphones, mic, USB 2.0, memory card reader
|RJ45, RJ11, 3 USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, power supply
||Touchpad and left/right clicks
Processing: the dual-core ensures a minimum of power
Windows 7 index: 4,9. Details: CPU 4.9 - Memory 5.4 - Graphics 4.9 - Gaming graphics 5.9 - Main hard drive 5.6.
The Intel Celeron Dual Core T1400 processor that equips this ASRock M15, is an entry-level model. Its 2 cores ensure a certain level of use in spite of a rather low overall index of 34. Our reference machine (100 on the index), is the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400), while an Intel Atom netbook generally scores around 20.
This allows you to do work on office documents and the internet comfortably. Photo work and video editing are also possible, as long as you're patient. The 1 GB of RAM saturates rather quickly! We advise you to invest in a second memory module (or even 2x2GB modules).
The processor can handle HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) on its own. We do however advise you to use GPU hardware acceleration, as this relieves the CPU significantly.
3D gaming: good for a few not too demanding games
The built-in graphics solution is largely insufficient for recent 3D titles. You'll have to make do with 2D games or old school 3D with limited graphics settings.
Audio: headphones a must
The M15's speakers are poor. They produce a dry sound with very little bass. Only the headphones out is ok, with a modest hiss nevertheless.
Mobility, battery life: small battery = limited life
No miracles when it comes to battery life. With a battery of only 4400 mAh, we didn't expect anything great from the ASRock M15. This was confirmed during the test with the machine giving just 2 hours 26 when playing video (screen at 100 cd/m², Wi-Fi disactivated and headphones plugged in), in spite of the fact that its components don't use a lot of energy. Things could have been worse as it's just a little worse than the Dell Studio 15 for example. The Dell Studio 15 does however outperform the M15 by some distance.
When it comes to portability, obviously the M15 hasn't been designed as a laptop to carry around everywhere with you. 2.6 kg is a lot to for the shoulder and the charger isn't light either. It's also rather thick.