ASRock Core 100HT-BD : Bringing HTPCs to the Mainstream Market [UPDATED : Noise Issue]by Ganesh T S on July 19, 2010 9:34 PM EST
We reviewed the performance of the Core 100 HT-BD from the standpoint of a HTPC, and it has come out pretty well in almost all perspectives. It does have some shortcomings, particularly for the dedicated enthusiasts who are concerned about the support for 23.976 fps, and those who clamour for complete open source software support. However, these are not really ASRock's faults, but more of Intel's.
Since the introduction of the Clarkdale / Arrandale platforms, HTPCs based on them have been solely built by enthusiasts. Their requests to Intel to fix issues have usually fallen on deaf ears. If their customers like ASRock are able to build up a good market share and bring HTPCs into the mainstream market, it is quite possible that the frequency of Intel's driver updates would go up and issues would get fixed faster.
Let us wrap up this review with the pros and cons of the Core 100 HT-BD:
1. Quantum leap in performance and lowered power consumption (maximum of 48W) over similar form factor nettops from last year (Atom / ION)
2. USB 3.0 ports in front get maximum performance out of external hard disks
3. Perfect Blu-Ray playback with bitstreaming and GPU decode acceleration using PowerDVD / ArcSoft TMT / Corel WinDVD
4. Customers without fancy A/V receivers still get the advantage of the THX Studio Pro certification in the VIA VT2020 codec, supposedly better on specifications compared to the Realtek ALC892 (higher SNR ratio)
5. Powerful and stable 300 Mbps Wireless-N networking capable of streaming high bitrate videos.
6. Fancy AiWi gaming feature enables usage of external devices with accelerometers as motion controllers
7. Bundled MCE remote can control almost all media playback programs
8. Easy overclocking from within Windows
9. Ability to install two 2.5" HDDs / SSDs in addition to the optical disk drive.
10. Perfect wake-up from sleep / shutdown using the MCE remote (No different from using a dedicated media streamer like the WDTV Live)
1. HM55 chipset limitations doesn't allow for full performance from USB 3.0 ports when using external SSDs
2. Needs some overclocking / disabling of C-States and SpeedStep in the BIOS to handle DPC latency issues and some complicated video encodes
3. Noise levels go up from the 25dB at idle to 55dB when the system is under full load.
4. No PCI-E expansion slots inside, ruling out the possibility of an internal TV tuner
5. Monitor resolutions higher than 1920x1080 aren't supported
6. Intel's drivers aren't up to the mark (Absence of 23.976fps support, absence of support for good deinterlacing and noise reduction, no ability to perform skin tone correction)
7. Absence of a unified interface to handle all types of media because of limited support for open source software developers (MPC-HC / VLC) from Intel
ASRock continues to make rapid strides in the HTPC arena with their second generation product, and we really like the fact that they seem to be learning from the shortcomings of their previous generation products based on the ION platform. Despite the cons of the Core 100 HT-BD (the ones which really matter are Intel's and not ASRock's), we have no qualms in recommending this HTPC to anyone planning to invest in a Clarkdale or Arrandale for their home theater. Kudos to ASRock for taking the lead in bringing the first pre-built HTPC based on this platform into the market. We also commend them for putting in a nice balance of features and providing a decent value for the money. This is a sign of good things to come for the company as well as the pre-built HTPC market.