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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  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    erictorch,

    Thanks for informing me about eWiz carrying the mobile processor. We searched on the usual haunts (Amazon and Newegg), and neither of them carried the processor

    I perused further, and it looks like the i3-330M is the only i series processor they have (The i7 mobile they carry has no GPU die in the package and its TDP is 45W).

    In any case, I couldn't find a mobo based on the HM55. Are you aware of any with the PGA 988 socket?

    By the way, I did see AHCI is selectable in the BIOS, but didn't personally verify whether it works. I will get back to you here in a couple of days if it doesn't :)
    Reply
  • erictorch - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I stumbled upon this list of mini-itx motherboards
    http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php...
    with froogle.com I was able to find the
    IEI KINO-QM57A $320
    IBASE MI953F $440
    DFI CP100-NRM $400

    I was also able to find the i5 mobile CPU through pricewatch.com
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the links, erictorch.

    At $320 for the board, a build similar to the Core 100 is going to be pretty costly.. We had budgeted $140 for the board.

    I wonder how many end users actually end up doing builds based on these mobos.

    But you are right! It is possible to do such a build on one's own if the necessary efforts are taken. However, most people will go in for the Clarkdale builds because they are much more cost efficient.
    Reply
  • spddemon - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    That is very true, ganeshts; however, I would love to see what the end result would be with one of those boards instead of a clarkdale...

    I am more than willing to spend a couple hundred more for a true low powered system providing my performance and functionality were not hindered.

    I was targeting a Core i3 530 but if the performance per watt of the 330 is close to the 530 then it could be a great trade off.

    I will have to add this info to my build sheet and see where it goes.. I have sifted the hardware down quite a bit, but I still have a lot of products to research before i start..
    Reply
  • Riccardo - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Hi Ganesh,

    Good work on this review - I really appreciate the HTPC focus on this one. I look forward to seeing it used again in relevant reviews. Thanks!
    Reply
  • Pessimism - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I'd pay an extra $5 for a remote that doesn't look so cheesy and cheap. They aren't the only company at fault though. I see a LOT of slick looking devices with cheap, tacky, flimsy looking remotes that don't match up with the look of the device whatsoever. Reply
  • OblivionLord - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I'm thinking that people would be more inclined to believe your point of using a USB capture card if they knew the real benefit of it compared to a typical PCI Capture card. The only real physical drawback with the USB card is that you need a second one if you want a dual tuner setup.

    The other problem is that the quality of the captured video produced by a USB card is inferior to a PCI capture card. This is what I've come to believe since I've never owned a USB card for this purpose.

    Perhaps you should do a comparison of a few USB capture devices vs PCI capture cards. This will show the truth.
    Reply
  • pcfxer - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I'm surprised that you chose A-weighting for the measurement of the machine. I'm also surprised that you used the Radioshack and took the 53dB as a "solid" measurement. I have the same SPL meter and its accuracy does not live in the 50dB range. It is far more accurate and stable (if you've used this to get any meaningful information you'll know what I mean) 65+dB.

    That said, I am fully aware of the noise required to gain measurement on that darn thing. That "HTPC" is effing LOUD! Even inside my case I get the good old Lo A-weighted/C-weighted.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    pcfxer,

    Thanks for your feedback. I will keep this in mind for future reviews.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Mainstream Market? For $700? I got news for you... there may be millions of mindless drones rushing out to buy iCrap, but this is way above and beyond mainstream for a HTPC. It only costs $100 to build a HTPC. Anything more than that and you may as well go on ebay and buy a notebook with a damaged LCD and use that as a HTPC (assuming it has hdmi out of course). Reply

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