Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) have remained a niche market, catering mainly to enthusiasts who love the challenge of setting up and maintaining them. The demand for dumb devices with HTPC capabilities has seen tremendous increase over the past few years, with the success of devices such as the WDTV and other media streamers. Blu-Ray players also end up integrating features such as media streaming and wireless networking. Often, though, users end up demanding things which are difficult for these units to implement. A case in point is Netflix streaming on the WDTV Live, which ended up being implemented in WDTV Live Plus. Torrenting (and other similar PC capabilities) end up making an appearance in the homebrew firmware versions of these products. One of the easiest ways to avoid such disappointments is to invest in a HTPC. These are more future proof than the small media streaming boxes and Blu Ray players for which one has to depend on core firmware updates from the manufacturer.

Over the last 2 or 3 years, with the advent of small form factor (SFF) PCs, and promising chipsets such as Nvidia ION, one sensed the looming convergence of the media streamer and HTPC market. While being much more flexible compared to media streaming boxes, they suffered on the power envelop front. Also, the DRM requirements of Blu-Ray ensured that such PCs could never hope to achieve as much ease of usage and bitstreaming support as the Blu-Ray players unless one invested in costly soundcards. In the last 6 - 8 months, ATI introduced the 5xxx series and Intel introduced the Clarkdale and Arrandale platforms with an IGP (Integrated Graphics Processor), both of which were capable of HD audio bitstreaming. Enthusiasts could easily purchase such products and build HTPCs which could surpass the capabilities of any Blu-Ray player or media streamer.

The HTPC market, unfortunately, can never take off unless pre-built units make an appearance. We have seen the big players such as Dell and Acer create products such as the ZinoHD and Aspire Revo respectively. However, the platforms utilized processors such as the Neo and the Atom, which were mainly geared towards the ultraportable and netbook market. Consumers expecting desktop performance from such PCs were left disappointed. The market needed a fresh approach, and AsRock has come out with the first pre-built SFF PC based on the Arrandale platform for this.

ASRock has gained a reputation amongst us of being innovative in a crowded market, and having come out with pioneering products. Their first play in the SFF HTPC market was the ASRock ION 300-HT. Though it was found to be technically good, it ended up competing against products such as the Aspire Revo from Acer (with a substantially higher marketing impetus). Now, they have stolen a march over the competition by introducing the Core 100 HT-BD. Realizing that the Atom in the nettop was the major cause of concern amongst HTPC customers, they seem to have done their homework by introducing their next play in the market with the Arrandale platform.

The Arrandale platform's performance has been analyzed ad nauseam on various sites, and we will not go that route in this review. In the last few months, we have seen the introduction of many H55 / H57 based mini-ITX motherboards supporting these platforms. Last month, we reviewed the Gigabyte H55 mini-ITX board. We found it almost perfect for a HTPC. It is quite likely that there is a large number of customers in the market interested in a pre-built HTPC based on this platform.

ASRock is the first company to come out with a ready to order PC in the mini-ITX form factor based on the Arrandale platform and they have put together a nice video of the purported capabilities of their product. Let us first get the marketing talk [ YouTube video ] out of the way (in case you are interested), before proceeding to analyze ASRock's claims.

The comments for the Gigabyte H55 mini-ITX review requested HTPC specific testing. Starting with this review, we are taking those comments into consideration and this unit will be analyzed completely from a HTPC perspective. If you are interested in a specific aspect, use the index below to navigate to the section you want. Otherwise, read on to find out what Anandtech discovered while trying to use the Core 100 HT-BD as a HTPC.

Unboxing Impressions
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  • GreeneEyez - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Have fun bitstreaming HD audio from the Mac Mini or playing back Blu ray disks/ISOs... Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    GeorgeH,

    It is not possible for any home built mini-ITX box to be within the power envelop of this unit.

    This uses an Arrandale processor which isn't available for purchase by the general public.

    Further, as you rightly observe, the MacMini has worse specs, but looks better. Companies like ASRock provide the best bang for the buck, and in this pursuit, industrial design takes a back seat. However, things are going in the right direction, and I am sure the execution next time around will be much better from all perspectives.
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    i need a tv tuner in or connected to my htpc.

    you say that the 100HT-BD's chipset cannot support an internal TV tuner, but that it has a smaller power envelope than a chipset which can.

    in that case, you would also have to factor in the extra power used by your external TV tuner box.

    you would also have to compare the cost of that box versus the cost of a tuner card.

    if all things are equal (you break even), then the all-in-one solution (a beefier htpc) would be the obvious choice.
    Reply
  • tmservo - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    As others mention, since the MacMini doesn't do Bluray, and doesn't bitstream DTS-MA or DD-HD, it's not really a great HTPC. It's LPCM support also troubled, and it doesn't matter since it doesn't do Bluray. The MacMini simply isn't a very good HTPC at all. It might compete against something like an ION.. except you can get an ION with BD at 1/2 the price. Apple has to give up rejecting the "bag of hurt" that is bluray, because as long as they keep their phobia of it, they aren't in the HTPC market at all Reply
  • Computer Bottleneck - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    It will be interesting to see your future evaluation of the AMD IGP in the HQV 2.0 benchmark.

    As far as this product goes I really liked reading your technical explanation of how Asrock integrated what is basically a laptop mainboard into the Mini-ITX form factor.
    Reply
  • alaricljs - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Can I suggest in that HTPC centric features chart that under SPDIF you specify optical/copper instead of just yes/no? Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Thanks for your suggestion, alaricjls.

    The SPDIF is optical, and I will update the article shortly.
    Reply
  • dbone1026 - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Hey Ganesh,

    Excellent job with the review. Honestly I am surprised by some of the comments regarding an expansion slot, which to me defeats the whole purpose of ASRock making this HTPC in such a small form factor. Aside from USB tuners I know many people who use network tuners (i.e HDHomeRun) so in many cases there is no need for any sort of internal tuner. If want to strap on multiple tuners then why not just a MicroATX or ATX case as that is not the intention of this ASRock..

    I honestly think the biggest challenge with the ASRock 100HT is the price. Newegg has it listed at $649 (without BR drive) and no O/S. The mini-ITX HTPC I built which was only slightly larger and was easily $100 less with better specs (using core i5). Hopefully we start seeing prices drop soon.
    Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I've been rolling out the dual core Atom ones for small office/home PCs. The customers love them over the old big black/grey boxes.

    Low power and small desk presence are a big win.

    Very nicely made too.

    Built about sixteen of them and not one issue so far.
    Reply
  • erictorch - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    The core i3-330m processor is available for ordering from www.superbiiz.com
    If the reviewer reads this comment, can they comment on whether AHCI support is available in the BIOS menus? This is necessary to get the full performance out of a SSD. A lot of laptop bioses don't have AHCI selectable.
    Reply

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