We review a lot of desktops here at Digital Trends, some of which are outrageously powerful. For example, the recently reviewed Origin Millennium was so beastly that we thought it might have been shipped to us from the future. However, with a starting price of around $1,500, and an as-tested price of $6,900, the Origin will never be more than a dream for most buyers.
That doesn’t mean consumers on a budget can’t get a fair amount of performance though, and the Asus M70AD-US003S is a great example of how far a tight budget can be stretched. Equipped with an Intel Core i7-4770 quad core CPU, 16GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 650 graphics card, this tower rings up at only $1,159. That’s still a fair amount of dough, but it’s at least obtainable for most consumers.
There are some impressive competitors in this space, however. Dell has its XPS line, HP has the Envy Phoenix, Acer’s Predator lurks, and Lenovo (a relative new-comer in this arena) has the Erazer. Can the ASUS M70AD fight off these alternatives and emerge as the king of this hill?
Big things come in small packages
We were immediately struck by the M70AD’s size. We measured it at 15 inches long, 16 inches tall and seven inches wide, dimensions that are quite compact given the hardware that it’s stuffed with. HP’s Phoenix line is similarly small, but Dell’s XPS 8500 is two inches taller, and Lenovo’s Erazer, which targets the gaming market with more vigor, is 24 inches tall by 20 inches long.
Such compact dimensions make this desktop easy to place on or below a desk, and the convenient nature of this system isn’t limited to its measurements. The power button is centrally located on the top panel, and the Blu-Ray drive is positioned on the front panel behind a slide-down door. The Asus M70AD’s front-mounted ports are located in the same area as the drive. We prefer this orientation, because connectivity is equally easy to access no matter where you place this PC relative to the positioning of your chair.
Speaking of connectivity, there’s plenty of it – up front, at least. We’re talking two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a microphone jack, headphone jack, and a battery of card readers. Around back, however, disappointment awaits. There are only four more USB ports, and none of them are 3.0. There’s also 5.1 audio, Ethernet, DVI, VGA and HDMI. At least the Asus M70AD supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.
On top of the case, there’s a plastic rim designed to hold a smartphone or small tablet while it charges via USB. There’s also an NFC radio beneath the top of the case which you can use to log into the desktop, launch applications or transfer photos from your mobile phone.
The M70AD also offers a couple of extras that you just won’t find in any other desktop. First, there’s the uninterruptible backup power supply which, should you lose power for any reason, allows the PC to stay on for an extra 15-20 minutes. This gives you more than enough time to save your work and shut down, ensuring that you don’t lose any data.
The Asus M70AD hits the sweet spot of price and performance.
All of this functionality will distract you from the fact that the Asus M70AD isn’t much of a looker. That’s not to say it doesn’t try though; the polished silver exterior and rising front attempt to create a luxurious, minimalist aesthetic, but silver plastics along the front of the case betray its cause. Still, the case aesthetically passable, if not appealing.
A little case with plenty of space
Opening the M70AD is a matter of removing two screws and pushing back the side panel. In other words, it opens like 90 percent of desktop PCs, and the interior is similarly conventional. The power supply is mounted up top, the hard drive is located up front, and the motherboard is in the middle.
There’s a remarkable amount of space in the enclosure’s simple innards, so users can upgrade it with a huge video card, (like the GTX 780 Ti) or add a larger CPU cooler.
Yet, in other ways, the M70AD’s upgrade potential is limited. There are no free RAM slots, and one PCIe x1 slot is partially unobstructed (only small cards will fit). One 3.5-inch hard drive bay is vacant, and there are only two 80mm fan mounts.
All of this means that, though the M70AD is easy to upgrade and repair, it isn’t a great platform for future expansion. This is to be expected given its price and target audience, but we would have at least liked an additional hard drive bay, and space to add both a sound card and a PCI card with additional USB ports.
Both the keyboard and mouse that are bundled with this desktop are wired, which means that two of the already scarce rear USB ports will be occupied by them.
The keyboard is basic, with a conventional layout and no extra features or buttons aside from the inclusion of a dedicated “mute” key. The typing experience is pleasant enough, thanks to long key travel and a spacious layout. Basic also describes the mouse, which uses an infrared sensor and has just three buttons, one of which is the scroll wheel.
Many users will find the bundled peripherals to be adequate. They don’t look or feel excessively cheap, and they perform their duties well enough.
A greased ASUS
The M70AD got off to a strong start with our test suite by posting a score of 125.39 GOPS in SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark, and a score of 21,757 MIPS in 7-Zip’s compression test. These scores tango with systems like the Acer Predator G3 and the Alienware X51. The G3 and X51 earned Sandra/7-Zip scores of 125 GOPS/21,633 and 124.6 GOPS/22,572, respectively. Plus, both of these PCs were more expensive than the Asus M70AD as-tested.
Our review unit came with a 1TB mechanical hard drive that provides plenty of space for games and HD movies. PCMark 8’s storage benchmark scored it at 3,513, which is a strong result for a drive that lacks a solid state component. The older ASUS M Series desktop only scored 2,498, and the Gateway ZX4970-UR22 scored 2,447. A system with a solid state drive, like the CyberPower Zeus Mini, will typically score a hair below 5,000.
Graphics grunt comes courtesy of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650, which is a card that we recently compared to the AMD Radeon R7 250X. The 650 pushed the M70AD to a 3DMark Cloud Gate score of 12,484, and a Fire Strike score of 2,063.
The system is capable of handling games at 1080p with graphics set to anywhere between Medium and High detail.
League of Legends benchmark
We also tested the M70AD’s gaming chops by loading League of Legends on a 2560×1440 monitor. At Medium detail, the game produced an average frame rate of 152 fps, with a maximum of 183 fps and a minimum of 89 fps. Kicking the visual quality up to Very High reduced the average to 95 fps, with a maximum of 110 fps and a minimum of 53 fps. These frame rates are more than enough to provide smooth gameplay in LoL.
While they’re powerful, both the processor and graphics card in the Asus M70AD are known for being efficient, so the system runs pretty quietly. The M70AD is nearly silent at idle, and barely emits any additional noise at load. Even stress testing the video card with Furmark failed to create enough sound to register on our decibel meter.
The wattmeter had plenty to say, however. The M70AD drew 52 watts at idle. That’s 10 watts above the Acer Predator G3, which drew 42 watts, but below the Dell XPS 8700 SE, which drew 57 watts. Power consumption at full load spiked as high as 145 watts, which is the lowest load power draw we’ve ever seen from a desktop equipped with a discrete graphics card.
The Asus M70AD is a small and powerful desktop that’s affordably priced relative to competitors. While it doesn’t blow away the alternatives in any category, it excels by carefully avoiding any serious pitfalls, while offering some intriguing extras. Our only real complaint is the inclusion of just two USB 3.0 ports.
Surprisingly, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 video card is one of the M70AD’s greatest strengths. Similarly priced towers from Acer, Dell and HP use a GT 640 or GT 645. Both cards are substantially slower than the GTX 650. The Dell XPS 8700, Acer Predator and Lenovo Erazer all offer variants with a more powerful video card, like a GTX 760, but pricing on such configurations starts around $200 more. The Asus M70AD hits the sweet spot of price and performance.
The M70AD does exactly what a multimedia desktop should do; a decent amount of everything. The system handles web browsing, gaming and productivity with equal vigor, and while it’s not the absolute best option for any particular task, it’s always competent. Families looking for a single computer that everyone can enjoy should put the ASUS M70AD at the top of your list.
- Compact and conveniently-placed front ports
- Strong processor and graphics performance
- Includes backup power supply, wireless charging
- Supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Cool, quiet and efficient
- Good value
- Could use more USB 3.0 ports
- Limited upgradability