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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  • spddemon - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    That is great news ganeshts.

    34.5db at 2ft is very quiet to me... with my theater setup you can not even hear my xbox so this would be no problem.

    i still want to see the core i3 330 vs 530 tests. I wonder how much faster the 530 is since it is a faster CPU and GPU, but I also wonder how much more power it will consume in typical home theater use.
    Reply
  • omems - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    This is a really great article, Ganesh. My HTPC is getting a bit old at about 6 years, so I'm definitely ready to upgrade and take advantage of some of the newer technologies which are finally being combined usefully. I have a few questions about how this assembly sleeps:

    1. When you put it to sleep, which components remain on? Just RAM? Any fans?

    2. I believe the Atheros AR9287 supports what they call wake-on-wireless. Does that work in this implementation, from sleep? How about from hibernation?

    3. Did you try coming out of Hibernation and seeing if the handshakes were maintained?

    4. I am confused by what's going on when you say in the Ease of Use section:
    "...ASRock supplies an Instant Boot utility. Using this, whenver [sic] the Core 100 HT-BD is shut down, it boots up once again and shuts down before the power can be safely removed."

    Does the instant boot utility bring the machine into the main OS (say Windows) or is it a stripped-down linux environment for simple access to things like music and DVD playback?
    If it's the former, what's the point--what does it do that just waking up doesn't? Or is it some kind of middleware to keep maybe the IR and WiFi active?
    If it's the latter, what sorts of playback support is there?

    I'm mostly concerned with limiting hard drive and power usage, but also being able to quickly resume from a wireless connection. With my current setup (almost 7 years old at its core), I like to send it to Hibernate, and then wake it up via WOL with my iPod or another computer to send new files to over. I avoid sleep because the something (CPU fan and hard drives, if I recall correctly) is still active and it's kind of loud and I worry the drives will wear out faster. I probably could sort it out but why bother when such cool new toys are coming out?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    omems,

    I will try to handle your queries in a series of replies. In this one, I will let you know things which I know off the top of my head without accessing the unit:

    1. Sleep : The fans are completely off. I heard nary a sound from the unit when in sleep mode. I think cross ventilation slots on either side of the RAM modules help. The blue front LED keeps blinking slowly on and off in sleep mode, but you can turn that OFF in the BIOS by Enabling the 'Goodnight LED' option (see BIOS pictures set).

    2. Wake on wireless using AR9287 hasn't been tested. I will get back to you on this ASAP.

    3. Handshakes are maintained much better than in my ATI based HTPC. My power on sequence when unit is in sleep or hibernate or complete shutdown mode (as long as AC adapater is connected to unit) is as follows: Power on TV and put it it in AV receiver input mode -> Power on Receiver -> Press Power button on MCE remote. Display comes out perfectly on TV every time I followed this sequence.

    4. InstantBoot : Look at the coverage on ZDNet here: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/asrock-4-second... ; I think their explanation and analysis would be much better than what I can do in this space :)

    Will provide more info within a day or so.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    omems,

    ASRock reports that only the AR9280 and AR9281 support Wake-On-Wireless. Unfortunately, the add on card in Core 100 is the AR9287.

    I am not sure how you wanted to use the 'wake on wireless' feature, but I would say that using the MCE remote to wake up the unit is the easiest and most simple.
    Reply
  • omems - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    Thanks, Ganesh, for all the additional info.

    I plan to use the wake on wireless when the HTPC is asleep and I'm at another computer in the house and want to move newly-acquired media to the HTPC without having to go to that room and wake it up.
    I suppose it's not a deal breaker though if the included card doesn't support it. I could use encouragement to get off my butt now and again.

    The insantBoot sounds like an interesting hybrid concept. Thanks for the link.

    Cheers
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    omems, I did see an option in the BIOS to enable / disable 'Wake-On-LAN'. So, if this unit is going to be connected to a wired network, you might still find it hard to get off your couch / chair / bed :D Reply
  • vlado08 - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    Ganesh on page 5 you say:

    "We did observe red spikes, but disabling the C-states, as well as SpeedStep in the BIOS Advanced CPU configuration helped in alleviating the issue."

    On page 11 you say:

    "At idle, the system consumed around 18 W."

    1) Is this DC power or is this AC power measured at wall outlet?
    2) Is 18W idle power with enabled C-states and SpeedStep?
    3) And if yes then what is the idle power when disabling the C-states, as well as SpeedStep?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    vlad08,

    The quoted power numbers are measured AC power using Kill-a-Watt over a 6 hour usage period.

    18W idle power is with C-state and SpeedStep enabled. I will quote idle power numbers with them disabled after testing out tonight.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 23, 2010 - link

    vlado08,

    The idle power consumption with both C-states and SpeedStep disabled is 21.6W.

    The CPU wasn't overclocked (it idled at 2.14 GHz).

    Regards
    Ganesh
    Reply
  • vlado08 - Friday, July 23, 2010 - link

    Thanks Ganesh.

    So it is still less than the ion 330 idle power - 28,6W according to:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/2828/8

    If only Intel team resolve the 23,976hz issue .....

    I am still waiting because for me this is more important than bitsreaming
    Reply

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