We reviewed the performance of the Core 100 HT-BD from the standpoint of a HTPC, and it has come out pretty well in almost all perspectives. It does have some shortcomings, particularly for the dedicated enthusiasts who are concerned about the support for 23.976 fps, and those who clamour for complete open source software support. However, these are not really ASRock's faults, but more of Intel's.

Since the introduction of the Clarkdale / Arrandale platforms, HTPCs based on them have been solely built by enthusiasts.  Their requests to Intel to fix issues have usually fallen on deaf ears. If their customers like ASRock are able to build up a good market share and bring HTPCs into the mainstream market, it is quite possible that the frequency of Intel's driver updates would go up and issues would get fixed faster.

Let us wrap up this review with the pros and cons of the Core 100 HT-BD:

Pros

1. Quantum leap in performance and lowered power consumption (maximum of 48W) over similar form factor nettops from last year (Atom / ION)
2. USB 3.0 ports in front get maximum performance out of external hard disks
3. Perfect Blu-Ray playback with bitstreaming and GPU decode acceleration using PowerDVD / ArcSoft TMT / Corel WinDVD
4. Customers without fancy A/V receivers still get the advantage of the THX Studio Pro certification in the VIA VT2020 codec, supposedly better on specifications compared to the Realtek ALC892 (higher SNR ratio)
5. Powerful and stable 300 Mbps Wireless-N networking capable of streaming high bitrate videos.
6. Fancy AiWi gaming feature enables usage of external devices with accelerometers as motion controllers
7. Bundled MCE remote can control almost all media playback programs
8. Easy overclocking from within Windows
9. Ability to install two 2.5" HDDs / SSDs in addition to the optical disk drive.
10. Perfect wake-up from sleep / shutdown using the MCE remote (No different from using a dedicated media streamer like the WDTV Live)

Cons

1. HM55 chipset limitations doesn't allow for full performance from USB 3.0 ports when using external SSDs
2. Needs some overclocking / disabling of C-States and SpeedStep in the BIOS to handle DPC latency issues and some complicated video encodes
3. Noise levels go up from the 25dB at idle to 55dB when the system is under full load.
4. No PCI-E expansion slots inside, ruling out the possibility of an internal TV tuner
5. Monitor resolutions higher than 1920x1080 aren't supported
6. Intel's drivers aren't up to the mark (Absence of 23.976fps support, absence of support for good deinterlacing and noise reduction, no ability to perform skin tone correction)
7. Absence of a unified interface to handle all types of media because of limited support for open source software developers (MPC-HC / VLC) from Intel

ASRock continues to make rapid strides in the HTPC arena with their second generation product, and we really like the fact that they seem to be learning from the shortcomings of their previous generation products based on the ION platform. Despite the cons of the Core 100 HT-BD (the ones which really matter are Intel's and not ASRock's), we have no qualms in recommending this HTPC to anyone planning to invest in a Clarkdale or Arrandale for their home theater. Kudos to ASRock for taking the lead in bringing the first pre-built HTPC based on this platform into the market. We also commend them for putting in a nice balance of features and providing a decent value for the money. This is a sign of good things to come for the company as well as the pre-built HTPC market.

HTPC Performance : Noise, Power Consumption & Miscellaneous Concerns
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  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Shadowmaster625,

    This unit is slightly on the leading edge (The Arrandales were introduced around 6 months back).

    With $100, it is difficult to get a notebook with HD audio bitstreaming and Blu-Ray drive, even second hand.

    For the set of features it offers, we think it is a decent value for money. As for this being mainstream, I am sure there are many who spend $700 or so on a PC once every 4 - 5 years, and this is a perfect system for such people.
    Reply
  • tmservo - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Pray tell.. if you've got a way to get a case/motherboard/ram/hdd/bluray drive and get 1080P for under $100, I'm interested. Somehow, I don't see that as at all feasible. Hell, even the cheapest AMD CPU + board and a cheap case alone is $100. So, however you shoe horn in all those other components, or then get the software to run them (supplied here) ..

    But, if you'd like.. give me a part list of what you can get that anyone could go buy, NEW, for $100.

    Or, find me a used laptop on Ebay with HDMI output that does 1080P and has a bluray drive for $100. Even if it has no screen. Needs to have a HDD, Memory, BD drive though.. and function.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    53 db!! That is just plain daft.

    I suspect the design of the case does not help.

    I have just built a mini-server using a Atom 510 and I am sure the M/B was ASrock, mini-itx format and a PCI-E slot. Easiest build I have done even though the case was not perfect. As a server it is effectively silent

    I do not want an HTPC that creates any more noise other than maybe a slow running 140mm+ fan
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    cjs150,

    Note that the 53dB is under full load, when all threads are pegged at 100%, and it is just inches away from the unit. The farther you are, the lesser it is, and at 8ft, it was barely discernible.

    Under idle, the unit is advertised as having 25dB noise, measured in an anechoic chamber (Refer YouTube video from their marketing department).

    I would say, for HTPC purposes, the noise from the unit is definitely within limits.
    Reply
  • tech6 - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Nice work Ganesh - I look forward to further HTPC reviews to see how the AMD platforms compete. Reply
  • shamans33 - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Ganesh,

    I'm curious as to how the IR receiver is connected to the motherboard...USB and/or motherboard headers? Is it possible to do a force power off (if let's say the system is frozen) or to do a cold boot up?

    Thanks for reviewing more SFF items.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    shamans33,

    I believe the IR receiver is connected to a dedicated NuvoTon chip on the motherboard.

    The power off button on the remote puts the system in sleep mode when the unit is in operation. In my usage scenario, I had the AC adapter connected to the back of the unit, and the system was completely shutdown. The Power button on the remote was able to boot up the unit without issues (even with Instant Boot disabled).
    Reply
  • johnspierce - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Hi Ganesh,

    Very nice review, extremely thorough, thank you!

    I have a question about how the HDMI handshaking works with the ASRock.

    I have built several HTPC's with both NVidia and ATI HDMI-out video cards and it seems they all have a problem when I have it plugged into my HDMI-switching Onkyo receiver.

    When I switch from HTPC to DVR and don't change back for awhile, it always has a problem with the display coming "alive" on the switch back. Turning the monitor off and on re-establishes the handshake, but this is an annoying trait of the current crop of video cards. Does the ASRock have this problem?

    Also, I wanted to "weigh in" on the lack of a TV tuner -- I really think this is quickly becoming a non-issue since I now use an OTA receiver for local HD and everything else gets streamed. TV Tuners will soon be an anachronism in my opinion.

    Thanks,
    John
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    johnspierce,

    I have the same handshaking issue with my ATI based HTPC.

    As far as I could see, I didn't have the handshaking issue with the ASRock setup, but the whole testing was done with 2 displays connected to it. I will do a 'standalone' test and get back to you on this.
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    A very interesting product indeed, but I've got my own three cents to provide!

    1) The price. Ouch... when I first opened this review, I checked the Egg to see if they had them in. Of course as the review mentions, I ended up finding the DVD-equipped model for $650. Tack on another $130 for Windows 7 Professional (note, I use Pro since it enables remoting in, which I find indispensible for a HTPC) and you've got nearly $800. If the Blu-Ray-equipped model retails for $700, you get $830 with the OS and then you have to consider that the blu-ray playback software will set you back another $100 (unless you can find them on sale... TMT3 has been on sale for $75 before).

    I've spec'd out a few HTPCs in my quest to find the Holy Grail of HTPC devices, and if price were my main concern, I'd still probably go with my own build. I never put my HTPCs to sleep, so I'm honestly not even worried about that aspect and I don't mind a slightly higher power consumption.

    2) The VIA VT2020. Have you noticed a strange amount of memory use from having this? I have an ASUS P7P55D-E Premium motherboard, which also features the same VIA audio chip, and I have god awful levels of memory use from audiodg.exe (Window 7's audio "controller"). At one point before upgrading my BIOS, I would literally see 800MB of memory being used by it. Last night I checked and I had 130MB of memory being used and I only had a single mp3 open. The worst part is that the last time I checked, VIA does not provide audio drivers for that chip. On their website they said that it was manufactured specifically for ASUS and to check their website for drivers.

    But who knows... the strange things I see are possibly just issues with the P7P55D-E Premium... it's a god awful motherboard that was released with buggy BIOS revisions and it's no wonder you can't even buy it from NewEgg anymore.

    3) The Front. Why do people want to see things like USB ports, bright blue LEDs and 3.5mm ports on the front of entertainment center components? The worst offender of the "sleak front" has to be that ghastly Intel i3 Inside sticker. I'd rather the connections be hidden under some sort of flap or door if they absolutely have to be on the front.

    4) The remote. As something to mention, when I was discussing HTPC stuff on the Anandtech forums, a user clued me in on a nice Gyration MPC-capable remote that you could buy off eBay (from Lenovo it looks like) for only $50 that provided some mouse support if you ever needed it. I have to say that I quite like it so far and it might be something to look into if you don't like IR remotes. The only negative aspect is the ugly and obtuse dongle.

    5) The comparison. It'd be nice to see how this item really compares to it's cousin, the ATOM-based version. Given the blu-ray version is available for $500 on NewEgg, does it handle all the necessary playback? A $200 savings for slightly longer application loads might be somewhat advantageous. Right now, I literally just leave my HTPC turned on 24/7 with WMC loaded up, so other than any necessary start-ups/shut-downs, I may see very little difference with the ATOM version.
    Reply

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