Introducing the ASRock ION 3D

We originally reviewed ASRock's initial ION offering, the ASROCK ION 330 back in august of 2009. To summarize the review of this device: the ASROCK ION 330 was like most devices that use ION as a platform, it was good at performing standard HTPC duty, and it featured good build quality. Although the fan proved to be somewhat noisy and it had no front ports, it was a pretty capable little machine.

Fast forward a year and a half, and we have the new Next Generation ION on the scene; now ASRock has a whole series of mini PCs. This series primarily utilizes Atom processors, but they also have offerings capabile of utilizing processors as powerful as the Core i7. We have reviewed several of these HTPCs including the 100HT-BD and the high-end Vision 3D HTPC. The Vision 3D HTPC earned a place as the best SFF HTPC that we have reviewed at AnandTech; we applauded the small form factor and low power consumption, and we were impressed with the industrial design and attention to detail.

Today we are looking at yet another ASRock MiniPC, this time the ASRock ION 3D Series. Outwardly, this device looks very similar to the 100HT-BD—in fact our ION 3D 152B model includes the same Blu-ray combo drive and front USB 3.0 ports—but instead of a powerful Core i5 processor we have the Atom D525 dual-core processor paired with only 2GB of DDR2 RAM on the mobile Intel ICH8M chipset.

While the processing components of this board may look meager compared to the 100HT-BD, it features a more powerful graphics processor in the form of an NVIDIA GT218 NG-ION. One of the complaints we had with the 100HT-BD was the poor driver support for Intel HD Graphics for certain features (i.e. the absence of 23.976 fps support and certain deinterlacing and noise reduction features). In this review we will attempt to see if the ION 3D is capable of keeping up with its bigger brothers the Vision 3D and the 100HT-BD in the role of an HTPC.

Unboxing Impressions and Connectivity
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  • kpresler - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    "The included hard disk is a Hitachi 2.5" drive this time, slightly smaller than the seagate 500GB HDD used in the Core 100HT-BD, but the ION 3D's lower cost comes at the expense performance and a few different component choices" should probably be "The included hard disk is a Hitachi 2.5" drive this time, slightly smaller than the seagate 500GB HDD used in the Core 100HT-BD, but the ION 3D's lower cost comes at the expense of performance and a few different component choices"

    Also, on page 2, "65 AC Adapter" should probably be "65w AC Adapter"
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I will be waiting for the AMD version: simple reason the HTPC needs to be connected to high end AV receiver and I would prefer a single HDMI cable to do that.

    Other key issue for me is noise. I have a high end Sony Blu-ray player and at time I can here it when playing a movie. I am not seeing this issue being address correctly yet by manufacturers. DVD/Blu-ray drives should be soft mounted (or at least better mounted than current). There should be no need for a fan (maybe a very slow running one at worst for whole case) if the case is properly ventilated. One of the problems is that so many case builders persist with mounting HD and optical players above the motherboard. From a heat point of view this is daft, far better would be to mount below the motherboard and then have a sides and top mesh covered to allow better convection (Morena 3500 I think does it this way but is a much less pretty case and still has mounting issues)
    Reply
  • tech6 - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    Agreed

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/asrock-e350m1-...
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I pushed out around 20+ of the previous version for small office upgrades.

    Nothing but 100% positive feedback. They love them.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I, myself, don't have an HTPC yet. I'm looking to build one with the Ceton InitiTV4, which I've been hounding AT to do a review on (doesn't look like it's going to happen).

    That being said, if I don't use a tuner card, this looks like something I'd be interested in too - your office must have a nice setup :)
    Reply
  • inaphasia - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I've got the Asus 1215n netbook (same proc & GPU with the ASRock) but Windows experience is showing 3.2 for Graphics. It's probably just ignoring the ION, question is: should I care? ( I mean I "get" the whole Optimus business of the ION kickin' in when needed...)

    But more importantly, should I manually update the ION drivers? Keep in mind that Asus don't have newer one's ATM, and nVidia won't recognize the netbook (just keeps scanning).

    Thanx!
    Reply
  • Calin - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    Ion is not such a powerful graphic engine, I think Windows Experience is showing correctly a 3.2 (the max I've heard about was something around 6.8).
    I remember that ION is not using integrated graphics at all, it's not an Optimus platform (but I might be wrong, so take this with a grain of salt)
    Reply
  • inaphasia - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    No and no... sorry:)

    It IS an Optimus platform and the ASRock's ION Graphics here are showing 5.2!
    Reply
  • kilkennycat - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I have a 1215N-PU17 and have manually updated the nV driver (from the nV website, ION-Notebook-Win7 32bit) to 260.99, the latest available for ION notebooks. No obvious adverse effects, roughly 2 months since I updated. Like you, the nV scanner did not work and Asus Update remains firmly silent. Iirc, I forced the update because the original Asus shipped driver was unable to play Blurays on the notebook screen; did fine via HDMI. The 260.99 driver has no such problem with notebook screen and Blurays. ( Cyberlink 9 with External usb2.0 portable Bluray reader/DVD-burner).

    Also the Win7-32 ION laptop driver version of 260.99 comes with an embedded tool that graphically indicates whether Optimus is enabled or not. You can enable it by selecting "Display GPU Activity Icon in the Notification Area" from the "View" drop-down on the nVidia Control Panel screen. This generates an new icon in the Notification Area. If you click on this icon, it will tell you whether ION is running on an app.... The 260.99 View drop-down also has the selection: "Add 'Run with Graphics Processor' to Context Menu". If that is enabled, it adds a new line to the (Right-click)context menu for any of your on-screen icons that says "Run with graphics processor:- " and you can either choose which graphics processor (integrated or ION) to temporarily to run with that app, or permanently set the default graphics processor for that app (brings up the nVidia Control Panel, pointing to that app). fyi: There is a bug here. If the nVidia Control Panel is already open, it may stop working after the Context Menu selection and Win7 complains appropriately. Just close the nV Control Panel app. and repeat the selection from the Context Menu; the nV Control Panel should now open normally.

    Disclaimer... "your mileage may vary", update at your own risk!!. As I recall, the Asus version 1217N shipped driver is not listed at all (nether beta nor WHQL) on the nV website. Probably because Asus had to pack something in the machine and their on-disk system backup image as early as possible to comply with manufacturing release. Certainly 260.99 was not available at that time. Very strange that Asus Update still does not offer a 260.99 update. However, if you need to back down for any reason, the shipped driver is in the Asus 1215N downloads on the Asus website. Would recommend a "Create System Restore" before attempting to install the 260.99 driver; With the 260 variety drivers, the nV install mechanism has changed... I suggest selecting ticking the "clean Install" box on the driver Install screen to be sure the old driver is completely purged..
    Reply
  • inaphasia - Saturday, January 15, 2011 - link

    That's exactly the kind of answer I was hoping for. Can't thank you enough! Deeply appreciated! Reply

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