HTPC enthusiasts are rightly concerned about the noise factor, heat and power consumption, ease of usage and many other criteria. We will tackle each of these concerns one by one in this section.

Noise

ASRock claims that the Core 100 HT-BD produces less than 25dB of noise. Under lab testing conditions, such performance is indeed possible. We decided to get hold of one of the sound meters used in setting up home theater speakers to verify whether the claims were true. Being a hobbyist sound meter, it wasn't very sensitive. The measurable sound range was only 50 - 130 dB, and there was a concern that the Core 100 would be too silent for the sound meter to pick up. As it turned out, while running Prime95 at full throttle (100% CPU utilization), the fans kicked in at full speed. The sound meter registered between 53 and 55 dB very close to the unit. [ See UPDATE below for a more practical measurement ]
 

Approximate measure of noise from the ASRock Core 100HT-BD at full throttle

The fan noise is quite audible if one sits very close to the unit. From 8 ft away, even with the unit in the open, we could barely hear it. Noise, however, is a very subjective issue. We hope the quoted number will help give readers an idea of how noisy the system gets when fully loaded. If the unit is going to be installed inside a cabinet of some sort, the noise factor becomes a non-issue.

UPDATE: One of the reasons we kept our sound detector very close to the unit was because it refused to register any measurement at the usual practical distances. While waiting to get hold of a more sensitive sound meter, we asked ASRock for lab results of sound measurement at full throttle. They were happy to oblige us with the following photographs and video from their anechoic chamber. It appears that the sound level is less than 35dB at a distance of 2 ft. even with all fans in action.

Sound Level Detector 2 ft away from the Core 100
 

ASRock at 100% Load, Fans in Action (Temperature of 73 C) (L), Sound Level Measurement (R)

 

Power Consumption

In order to get an idea of the power consumption numbers, the Prime95 benchmark was let run overnight to keep the system completely loaded for an extended duration. All the four 'cores' of the CPU were pegged at 100% throughout, and we found an average power consumption of less than 48 W. At idle, the system consumed around 18 W.

These type of power consumption numbers have been enabled by ASRock's choice of going in for an Arrandale instead of a Clarkdale platform. This has resulted in a smaller form factor case design for the mini-ITX motherboard. Since there is not much heat to be dissipated, the cooling system is also appropriately small and silent.

Ease of Use

HTPC enthusiasts are concerned about how easy it is for their system to come out of standby. Existence of HDMI handshake issues upon return from standby is also a deal breaker for many. Fortunately, the Core 100 HT-BD has no issues in these two aspects. As long as the AC power adapter is connected to the system, the bundled MCE remote can be used to boot the system (even if the PC had been shut down previously). In order to shorten the boot times, ASRock supplies an Instant Boot utility. Using this, whenver the Core 100 HT-BD is shut down, it boots up once again and shuts down before the power can be safely removed. Upon power up, the boot up is instantaneous. If the user wants to put the PC in sleep mode, ASRock also supplies a Goodnight LED feature in the BIOS, which turns off the bright blue blinking LED in front. The MCE remote can also be used to bring the PC out of sleep mode.

Within Windows, the MCE remote can be made to work with a variety of applications such as XBMC, MediaPortal, MPC-HC and of course, Windows 7 Media Center. Blu Ray players such as PowerDVD and ArcSoft TMT can also be controlled with the help of the MCE remote. For the ideal I/O scenario, one probably needs to purchase a wireless keyboard / mouse combo.

It was seen in an earlier section that the Core 100 HT-BD happened to score quite well in the Anandtech Media Streamer Test Suite. The unit could playback all files using one program or the other, and people expect nothing else from a HTPC. Unfortunately, there is no single unified interface (from XBMC or MediaPortal or any other similar program) which could successfully play back all the files from within. There is definitely an ease of use issue existing here. However, this is not ASRock's fault, and will probably continue to exist on all Clarkdale / Arrandale platforms. Hopefully, projects such as XBMC's DSPlayer mature rapidly to alleviate this problem.

HTPC Performance : Gaming with a Twist Final Words
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  • Goty - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Unfortunately, the lack of even the ability to include a TV tuner in this system kills it for me. If all I am going to do is use it as a Blu-Ray player and DLNA client, I've already got a PS3 that handles both admirably. Reply
  • Allio - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I agree. I don't understand the niche this system fills - if your needs aren't met by the existing set-top devices, you probably want to do serious gaming on it or use it as a DVR. What exactly does this do better than an ION system, other than be more expensive? Is anyone really encoding video on their HTPCs? That's what my power hungry quad core is for. Reply
  • RamarC - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    ditto. as soon as i saw the external power supply, i immediately started the laptop comparison. it's bigger than a laptop but still has the same limited expansion capability. considering i just got similar a i3 based laptop for a niece going to college for only $550, i can't see why i wouldn't go with the lappy over this mini box. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    RamarC,

    After having used this unit for 2 weeks in the process of writing the review, I do have to say that the same thought crossed my mind.

    However, ASRock does have some compelling points:

    1. HTPC centric features such as Instant Boot
    2. MCE Remote + I/R Receiver
    3. AiWi gaming feature
    4. Expansion slot for 2nd hard disk
    5. Better audio codec
    6. Blu-Ray drive (may also be on the laptop)

    Basically, the laptop's monitor & keyboard / trackpad get exchanged for the above features and the unit ends up at the same cost as the notebook.
    Reply
  • quiksilvr - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    That's not worth it. I suggest you return it and get a notebook. There are laptops out there with quick launch, an IR receiver, discrete graphics for actual gaming, usb ports for that 2nd hard disk, and expresscard slots for better audio codecs.

    And on top of all that, you get a screen, a keyboard and a trackpad and mobilitiy.

    If this HTPC had discrete graphics and a $500 price tag instead of a $600-$700, then it would be pretty cool. But given that it doesn't, it's not worth it.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    quiksilvr,

    This HTPC is supposed to be a companion box for a TV, and as such its 'non-mobile' nature is supposed to lend itself to tasks such as running downloads overnight, and recording TV programs with external tuners and so on and so forth.

    For a laptop with the specs you mention, the cost is probably going to be in the $900 - $1000 range. We have done the cost analysis, and it looks like ASRock is just charging a $90 premium (probably lesser if you go with the DVD drive). I believe this will be a compelling investment for people thinking about streamers such as the C-200 from PopCornHour or the Dune and other similar products. They can get an exponential rise in performance and available utilities for a couple of $100s more.

    Yes, I agree that notebooks could be a great choice.. provided they fit your usage scenario.
    Reply
  • Milleman - Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - link

    I use the Zotac MAG Ion w. Intel 330, together with XBMC. Works just great as a streaming device for all my movies on the media server.

    ganeshts...
    You should consider to include XBMC Live (dedicated SBMC Linux installation) in your reviews as well.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - link

    Milleman,

    Thanks for your suggestion. XBMC Live doesn't support HD audio bitstreaming, which is fast becoming one of the most important aspects for HTPCs.

    I will definitely keep in mind your suggestion for future reviews.
    Reply
  • doxxius - Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - link

    Well, I use the separate optical audio output jack on the rear which I connect to the audio receiver. Works great for me. But maybe some prefer to have it inside the HDMI cable. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    For HTPC enthusiasts:

    1. This box can bitstream HD audio to the A/V receiver, while the ION can't.

    2. The CPU is much more powerful than the Atom, and the user has the option to let the box run overnight to do tasks (such as downloads and encodes) without running their quad cores. This is a greener alternative.

    The opinion that people don't run encodes on their HTPCs is because of the fact that such form factor machines (usually based on Atom) aren't capable enough. With this Arrandale offering, that possibility is getting opened up.

    Usage as a DVR is possible using an external USB TV tuner.
    Reply

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