The small form factor (SFF) HTPC market has been steadily growing over the last few years. As mobile processors become more and more powerful, it is becoming easier for users to be satisfied with their performance even in desktop configurations.

The DIY HTPC crowd has a marked preference for mini-ITX motherboards and cases. However, the excessive TDP of desktop CPUs resulted in complicated thermal designs and noisy results. Thermal designs for systems with mobile CPUs with 35W TDPs are fairly straightforward and not very noisy. In fact, it is even possible to create systems which are fully passively cooled.

ASRock has three HTPC families catering to the entry level, mid-range and high-end markets. While the ION based HTPCs form the entry level, the Core series serves the mid-range and the Vision series caters to the high-end. Today, we will be looking in detail at the CoreHT 252B, the second generation Core series HTPC from ASRock. First off, let us take a look at the configuration of the review unit sent to us by ASRock

ASRock CoreHT 252B HTPC Specifications
Processor Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5-2520M
(2 x 2.50 GHz (3.20 GHz Turbo), 32nm, 3MB L2, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 2 x 2GB DDR3-1333
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 3000
650 MHz / 1.3 GHz (Turbo)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM 2.5" HDD
(Western Digital Scorpio Black WD5000BEKT)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (2T2R Atheros AR5B97 in AzureWave AW-NE121H mini-PCIE card)
Audio Microphone and headphone/speaker jacks
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (optical SPDIF/HDMI)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (Retail unit is barebones)
Extras THX TruStudio Pro Audio Certification
IR receiver and MCE remote
Pricing TBD

ASRock has three configurations of the CoreHT series available. Two of them have the Core i3-2310M processor (one with a Blu-ray drive - CoreHT 231B, and the other with a DVD drive - CoreHT 231D). The review unit is the CoreHT 252B with the Core i5-2520M processor. This comes with a Blu-ray drive.

 

Unboxing Impressions
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  • uncola - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    intel really needs to get their shit together re: dxva and hardware decoding for video Reply
  • vlado08 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    First I want to tank you Ganesh for the article. Keep the good work!

    Would you give us some more information please.

    Can it play 1080 60p?
    There are a lot of camcorders that can record in AVCHD v2.0 (1080 60p 28Mb/s).

    What are the temperatures (CPU HDD) inside during idle and 100% load?
    Why ASRock don't make CPU fan to blow outside the case as in notebooks?

    Can you select RGB or YUV output in new intel drivers?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Yes, it does play 1080p60 without issues (even the Clarkdales and Arrandales can do it).

    The 1080p60 streams are part of our test suite. But, yet, you are right .. I should have mentioned it.

    The HTPC outputs RGB, and there is no obvious way to change it to YUV in the graphics control panel. However, the levels (0-255 / 16-235) can be modified with the Quantization Range option.

    I will get back to you on the temperatures in a day.
    Reply
  • vlado08 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Thanks Ganesh, is 1080 60p hardware accelerated? Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Yes, it is.

    Both 1080p60 and 16 reference frame H.264 videos were able to get DXVA2 hardware acceleration using the Microsoft DTV-DVD decoder.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Here is the temperature info you requested (measured using the AXTU tool for the mobo and the CPU / HD Tune Pro for the hard disk in Celsiuis scale):

    Idle:

    Motherboard : 42
    CPU : 44
    Hard Disk : 37

    Prime95 + Furmark (after 15 minutes of activity):

    Motherboard : 48
    CPU : 83
    Hard Disk : 39
    Reply
  • tech6 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    I bought a previous generation HT100-BD and it was a fine HTPC but the ASRock service was appaling. The unit had two failed HDMI ports in the first 12 months and the second time ASRock demanded payment to fix it (even tough it was under warranty).

    As convenient as it may seem, I would go down the DIY route just for the flexibility of being able to fix it yourself.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    As paying the Windows Tax for a single purpose/ non-gaming machine is a bit pointless, I wonder how well the hardware in this box cooperates with Linux?
    I tried to build a HTPC on an older AMD platform and was continually being thwarted by driver issues (WLAN, sound, graphics), but here there actually may be an advantage, as Intel has a developer that manages libva, so their acceleration might work better on linux than DXVA..

    Also XBMC has a native linux version which is quite nice and should even boot faster in an optimized system than a Windows system.
    Reply
  • Vagn Henning - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    As you might have noticed, the box ships without Windows. You see, that's the difference between your "Windows tax" and other taxes: You don't have to pay it. You are free to install any other OS. If you stopped pretending otherwise, someone might actually answer your question... Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Well, the reviewer only used Windows, hence assuming that one pays for it.
    A Windows-only review is of little help for someone attempting to deploy linux on this box.
    If the reviewer implies the windows tax, by not mentioning alternatives, he is the one accepting it, I am merely referring to his point of view.

    Also, the alternative to the Windows tax is the Linux tax. The latter can often end up being higher....
    Reply

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