The Vision 3D is primarily built out of notebook components, and it is not possible for the average enthusiast to build such a system with off-the-shelf components. Of course, one might go in for a Clarkdale based HTPC with a GF104 discrete GPU solution for similar features right now. The rumoured GF108 based GT430 might even be a good GPU for a mini-ITX build. However, plug and play units like the Vision 3D (or the Dell Zino HD, for that matter) expand the appeal of HTPCs beyond the usual DIY consumers. In the rest of this section, we will analyze the components of the Vision 3D system in detail.

Motherboard & Chipset : mini-ITX Mobile Intel H55 Express - MXM

The motherboard used in the Vision 3D is very similar to the Core 100, except for the following points:

  • An additional USB 3.0 port is enabled by the FL1000 chip from Fresco Logic.
  • The VIA 2020 audio codec has been replaced by the ALC890 from Realtek, while retaining THX certification for the unit
  • The GT425M MXM module is connected directly to the PCI-E x16 ports of the CPU

We had estimated the price of the motherboard and chipset to be around $140 for the Core 100. For the Vision 3D, the thermal design is substantially different (more on this in the next section), and the Fresco Logic chip is extra too. For the purpose of cost analysis, let us assume that a similar motherboard can be purchased for around $160.


CPU : Intel Core i3-370M @ 2.40 GHz

For the form factor and thermal design of the Core 100 HT-BD, only processors with a maximum TDP of 35W are supported. Also, most HTPCs do not require features like Turbo Boost, particularly when their performance exceeds what people have come to expect out of a particular form factor (talking about the Atom nettops) by a magnitude. Keeping in mind the cost of the processors and the nett cost of the system, ASRock has decided to go with the latest processor in the lowest end of the Arrandale spectrum, namely, the Core i3-370M. We feel that this is a very good choice, as the processor is powerful enought for most of today's demanding tasks, particularly from a HTPC perspective.

The Core i3-370M was released in Q3 2010, as an intermediate part between the introduction of the original Arrandale processors and the Sandy Bridge lineup next year. The only difference between the original Arrandale i3s and the new version is an unlocked multiplier. The i3-330M and i3-350M introduced in Q1 had maximum bus to core frequency ratios of 16 and 17 only. The i3-370M increases this to 18. The DMI link in the former chips are capable of 2.5 GTps, while the i3-370M's DMI link is capable of 4.8 GTps. The cache sizes are the same across the board, but the i3-370M has the highest default clock frequency of 2.4 GHz among the i3 mobile processors.

The (un)fortunate aspect of the Arrandale processor in the Vision 3D is the fact that the integrated GPU is completely disabled. There is no 'Optimus' support in this system. ASRock's official stance is that this was done because the HDMI outputs of the Intel IGP and the GT425M are unable to support seamless transition. Further, the Arrandale IGP is yet to support 3D, and it would go against the very essence of introducing the Vision 3D, if it were to be supported.

For the purpose of cost analysis, let us assume that the processor can be purchased for around $120. The exact price is unknown since it is available only to OEMs.

GPU : nVidia GeForce GT425M

The unique capabilities of the Vision 3D are due to the nVidia GeForce GT425M MXM card attached to the processor. Based on the GF108 Fermi architecture, this mobile GPU enables a host of features in the Vision 3D such as DirectX 11, 3D Blu-Ray (MVC decode) playback acceleration, 3D Vision, HDMI 1.4a, HD audio bitstreaming and PhysX support. In the default configuration, the 96 CUDA cores are clocked with a graphics clock of 560 MHz and processor clock of 1120 MHz. The 128-bit DDR3 interface is clocked at 800 MHz, giving an effective memory bandwidth of 25.6 GBps. The MXM card in the Vision 3D comes with 1 GB of Hynix DDR3 SDRAM exclusively for use by the 425M.


 

One of the most difficult things to estimate is the true cost of these MXM modules. While common sense indicates that the cost of this must not be more than $100 or so (a discrete GPU of much higher performance can be obtained for that cost), online searches revealed only one direct-to-consumer seller for these type of cards. MXM-Upgrade charges 250 Euros for a GTS 250M with 1 GB DDR3. We have no option but to estimate the price of the 425M MXM card at around $300, though we are fairly confident that the actual cost to ASRock is much much lower.

DRAM : Kingston's 2 x 2 GB DDR3 SO-DIMM @ 1066 MHz

The DRAM configuration is similar to that of the Core 100. There is support for upto 8 GB of DRAM, but the Vision 3D ships with 4 GB, which is more than enough for HTPC purposes.

The memory can be purchased for around $100 online.

Hard Disk : Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB 7200 rpm 2.5"

Unlike the Core 100 which shipped with a 5400 rpm drive, ASRock has decided to ship a faster 7200 rpm drive with their high end Vision 3D. This is bound to give the Vision 3D better OS boot times and also improved general performance. The Western Digital Scorpio Black 2.5" hard drive series is one of the well reviewed lineups in the industry, with desktop class performance and power requirements similar to the 5400 rpm drives. Unfortunately, this lineup doesn't have a 640 GB version yet. ASRock has decided to go with the maximum available capacity in this series, 500 GB. We can't fault ASRock for trying to strike the best possible balance between performance and hard drive capacity.


 

The Core 100 could accommodate a second 2.5" SSD or hard drive. Unfortunately, the space constraints seem to nullify that possibility in the Vision 3D. ASRock does supply SATA data and power cables, but it is unlikely that anyone would attempt to sandwich a drive between the ODD and the supplied HDD.

The 500 GB Scorpio Black is currently available for around $70.

Optical Disk Drive : Philips / Lite-On Blu-Ray / DVD RW Slot Loading Drive

The Vision 3D model ships with the Lite-On DL-4ETS Blu-Ray / DVD RW slot loading drive. Not much information can be found about this model online. However, similar new slot loading Blu-Ray drives meant for notebooks can be found on eBay for around $150. The tray loading drive in the Core 100 was one with which we weren't completely happy, and thankfully, ASRock has fixed this for us in the Vision 3D.

 

Miscellaneous Components

The chassis is obviously custom made for this motherboard. ASRock also throws in the SATA, power cables and screws for the optional 2nd hard drive (which users would find difficult to install), as well as a DVI-VGA adapter. Mini-ITX cases with PSUs of much higher rating (the unit comes with an external 90W adapter) can be had for around US $50. So, we estimate the cost of the chassis, power adapter and other similar accessories to be around the same. Note that the unit also ships with an IR based MCE remote. The build quality of the MCE remote bundled with the Vision 3D is much higher than the one which shipped with the Core 100. The batteries are also of the CR232 model, which should give them a much longer lifespan. The remote is also much nicer to look at.


 

We estimate that the MCE remote and the IR receiver add around $40 to the cost of the Vision 3D.

Cost Analysis

Vision 3D Pricing Analysis
Component Average Price Online
Motherboard (with mini-PCIe wireless) $160
CPU $120
GPU MXM Module $300
DRAM $100
HDD $70
Optical Drive $150
MCE Remote & IR Receiver $40
Misc Components (Chassis, Power Adapter, Cables, etc...) $50
Total Cost to Build $990
ASRock Vision 3D Estimated Cost $999

This HTPC is supposed to go on sale soon around the $999. The DVD drive version is supposed to cost around $899. As soon as we prepared the above cost analysis, we realized that ASRock makes its margin fully on the MXM module. Since this is a component whose cost can't be estimated without being a business insider, we have to conclude that the Vision 3D is not a bad investment from the value viewpoint. Do note that the cost of the OS and keyboard / mouse have to be added on to this to get a sense of the true cost of the system.

The competition for the Vision 3D would come in the form of high end notebooks such as the Asus N73JQ. They cost a good $400 or so more, but come with the OS, screen and keyboard. While $999 appears quite high for this HTPC, cost analysis reveals that it is not such a bad deal. Of course, we were shocked at the price tag when we got to know about it. We would still like the price to be lower, but the fact is that it is not entirely unreasonable.

Update: ASRock pointed out that we haven't included the cost of the OEM version of Cyberlink PowerDVD and the 3DTV Play software. It looks like the MXM card is much cheaper than we estimated, considering that our estimated cost with these new additions is much  more than the price suggested by ASRock.

Unboxing Impressions ASRock's Thermal Design Strategy
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  • ProDigit - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    Looks interesting at first, but I don't much like nvidia graphics cards, and the WD drive.
    WD drives are known to break right after their warranty expires when using them a lot.

    The only good about the nvidia card is that it could be set up to work with CUDA (CPU + GPU in parrallel); although cuda now also supports most ATI/AMD cards.

    The price of this setup is quite on the high end. If it wasn't for 3D vision, I'd say this computer would go for no more than $699. With 3D, I'd say $799 max.
    I personally don't care if it supports 3D or not, since I have no monitors that support this resolution. So for me it's only worth $599.
    Reply
  • ProDigit - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    They should have gone with a Toshiba drive instead. Yes, WD has faster continuous write and read speeds, but Toshiba is much better in IO performance.
    An OS like Windows 7 would boot faster with Toshiba, than with WD, and would run significantly cooler too!
    WD is absolutely NOT the best drive they could have chosen! The cheapest perhaps yes.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    Looks like the WD Scorpio Black is as good as the Momentus XT from Seagate (except for the Disk Capture benchmark):

    http://www.storagereview.com/western_digital_scorp...

    So, from a price-performance ratio, it makes sense to go with WD.

    I have also mentioned in my review that a mini-PCIE SSD for the boot drive would have been good :)
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    The best notebook drives were made by IBM, and now Hitachi. Whether that still is the case, who knows. Reply
  • Zok - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    CUDA is not supported on ATI/AMD cards. DirectCompute and OpenCL are, however, supported by both. Reply
  • LtGoonRush - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    Studies of both operating disk populations and drives sent in for data recovery show that no brand of drives is measurably more or less reliable than others, with the notable exception of the Seagate model ranges affected by their firmware bugs. It's also been conclusively proven that drive usage doesn't affect failure rates; lightly loaded and heavily loaded drives fail at the same rate. It's true that a failing drive will have its death hastened by heavy load, but you shouldn't be using a drive that's failing anyway, it should be replaced with the first SMART error it logs. The WD Scorpio Black drives in particular are the fastest notebook HDDs available, balancing high throughput with excellent seek times (Seagate drives have always had abysmal seek performance). It's also a little silly to complain about heat when we're talking about drives with sub-4W PEAK power draw. Reply
  • chrnochime - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    great job for correcting him without making it more obvious how wrong he is. I would've not sugarcoat it as much as you did though heh. Reply
  • lexluthermiester - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    Seriously? Not liking Nvidia, well that is just personal preference. You not having a TV/Monitor that supports what this system can put out is not the fault of the maker or the system itself, it your problem. But bashing WD? They make the finest hard drives in the world and there are certainly worse hard drive makers. Now I'm not going to be low class and name names, but really? And if you don't like this little system, then don't buy it, but don't bash something that certainly has usefulness to a certain audience of users and at a very fair price. Reply
  • Parhel - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    False. WD drives are not "known" for high failure rates. All drive manufacturers compare about evenly in most areas. WD is one of, if not the, best choice out there. Reply
  • Samus - Sunday, October 03, 2010 - link

    I was a WD fan in the 90's and after the 7200.7's came out and they ditch the wetsuits I became a die-hard Seagate fan because of the 7200.7's legendary reliability, low cost, 5-year warranty and 'decent' performance. These were all big selling points during an era where the Deathstar 75GXP rocked the storage industry with what some circles were calling a "definitive" failure rate within the warranty period.

    The Seagate drives just worked. However, recently I've had a lot of Seagate 7200.10 and 7200.11 drives giving me SMART errors, specifically reallocated sector counts. They also run hot compared to my new WD Blue 1TB drive and they're all mounted in the same cage. A few years ago I had a 1.5TB Seagate I had to flash to CC1G because of the firmware 'recall' which was definitely a quality control concern. I didn't loose data, but I know somebody who did, one day their drive was just blank. We flashed the firmware and his data was back, but the drive failed after a few months without warning, just spun up and clicked. Tried freezing it. No dice.

    Seems like WD is taking the quality/reliability crown, where as they've always had the performance crown...but performance wasn't as important to me as making sure the drive would work for 3-5 years without any issues.

    I'd consider a Hitachi in the future, but will probably continue to stick with Seagate and WD drives. Considering how many dead Samsung and Fujitsu drives I've pulled and replaced from friends' desktop and laptop's over the years, it's a no-brainier to stay the hell away from those. Toshiba I have mixed feelings about because over the past 20-years, I just didn't care much for their laptops. Hypocritically, I love Thinkpad's but when IBM had those 75GXP failures, I didn't change my mind about their laptops, and still think they make the best laptop's out there. Ironically things are different now, because Hitachi makes the hard drives and Lenovo makes the Thinkpad's. IBM has little to do with either now.
    Reply

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