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 results 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 (and have since been discontinued), 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 Vision 3D 252B, the second generation Vision 3D 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 3.00 GHz (3.20 GHz Turbo), 32nm, 3MB L2, 35W)
Chipset Intel Cougar Point HM65
Memory 2 x 4 GB DDR3-1333
Graphics NVIDIA GT 540M (1 GB VRAM)
650 MHz / 1300 MHz / 900 MHz
Intel HD Graphics 3000
650 MHz / 1.3 GHz (Turbo)
Hard Drive(s) 750 GB 7200RPM 2.5" HDD
(Western Digital Scorpio Black WD7500BPKT)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (2T2R Atheros AR9287 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)
Front Side Power button
IR Receiver
MMC/SD/MS/MS Pro Card Reader
Slot loading Blu-ray/DVDRW optical drive
2 x USB 3.0 Ports
Headphone and mic jacks
Right and Left Sides -
Rear Side AC Adaptor input
Optical SPDIF and analog audio jacks
RJ-45 connector (1 x GbE LAN)
2 x USB 3.0 Ports
Kensington Lock
Vent for airflow
1 x DL-DVI-I
1 x eSATA
1 x HDMI 1.4a
4 x USB 2.0
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (Retail unit is barebones)
Extras THX TruStudio Audio Certification
IR receiver and MCE remote
Dimensions 20 cm x 20 cm x 7 cm
Pricing Approx. £ 830 / $1190

ASRock has three configurations of the Vision 3D 2nd Gen series available. While the 252B comes with a 750 GB hard drive and 8 GB of RAM, the 245B and 241B come with a 500 GB hard drive and 4 GB of RAM. The 245B uses a Core i5-2450M procesor while the 241B uses a Core i5-2410M. Other specifications remain the same.
 

Unboxing Impressions
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  • BPB - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    I am planing on doing the same thing. Been trying it out with my notebook and like the way it's working with my HDHomerun Prime, so it looks like I'm losing a notebook but gaining an HTPC that's going to use little power and can be unplugged and still used as a laptop when needed. Now I have to get an good size external HDD and I am set. The nice thing is when the notebook is in use as a notebook I can use my desktop PC and Xbox combination to record/watch TV. Reply
  • IntoxicatedPuma - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Yeah you could easily by an Asus U36 series for around $600-$650 with similar performance. I don't know that I agree with the article about desktop CPU's being noisy and hot. For half the price of that machine, you could build an H61 machine with a 2100T, same hard drive, and equivalent video card that was about the same size and used about the same amount of power, and wouldn't run any hotter or be any noticeably louder. Reply
  • yottabit - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Regarding the line:
    "We are a little worried about the full loading power consumption being more than what the power supply is rated for"

    I'm not sure this is true since you are comparing apples to oranges. Power supplies are typically rated for DC OUTPUT but you are comparing the rated DC output to the draw at the wall. Assuming the PSU is 80% efficient, then a 90W rating should equal approximately 90W/0.8= 112.5 W at the wall. Just a food for thought, I see this error commonly.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the pointer. The power consumption of > 109 W is still more than that of the first generation Vision 3D which was 82 W. This still makes us worried. I am trying to determine the power efficiency of the PSU (Delta Electronics ADP-90CD DB). Reply
  • Angengkiat - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Hi Ganesh,
    Any idea what software to use if we want to play 3D nicely on the machine, cos I am using TMT5 but it does not seem to be able to display the same 3D effects compared to a dedicated bluray player?

    Thanks!
    EK
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    That is a bit surprising. TMT 5 has full 3D Blu-ray support. Maybe the 3D Blu-ray player is assuming some settings which have to be configured in TMT 5 (like the depth of view). Also, did you run the NVIDIA 3D display setup? Reply
  • MichaelD - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    $1.2K. REALLY? That's just nuts. Nice piece of hardware, but not worth what they're asking for it. Plus at this pricepoint there had better be an SSD in there. At least a 64GB for the OS and programs. There's enough room in the chassis for a second 2.5" drive. They should've done a 2-drive, SSD/HD combo at this price. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Agreed :) I have recommended the same to ASRock. Reply
  • tctc - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Hi - couple of questions about the twin GPU configuration

    1. What determines which GPU is used by a particular application?
    2. Can the iGPU be disabled so that only the NVIDIA 540 is used?

    Regards,
    tctc
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Yes, this is handled by Virtu. If you don't install Virtu, the 540M is the only one that is used. You need Virtu to choose applications for which the iGPU gets used (commonly MediaConverter / any app for which you want to use QuickSync) Reply

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