The Core 100 HT-BD comes in a small package, and at first you wonder how such a powerful unit could come in such a small size.
 


Apart from the main unit, the package also bundles the following:

1. 90W AC / DC Adapter
2. SATA and power cables, as well as mounting screws for an optional second 2.5" hard disk
3. HDMI to DVI adapter
4. MCE remote and batteries.
5. Manual with instructions for disassembling and mounting the optional disk drive
6. Anti-slip pad for the base of the unit
7. CD with drivers and ASRock utilities
 


The appearance and dimensions of the unit are very similar to that of the ION 330-HT that was reviewed last August. The build quality of the chassis is top notch, and the unit will have no problem in blending with the A/V equipment of most consumers. However, the abrupt edges of the unit will not sit well with those interested more in the aesthetics and appearance rather than the internal capabilities of the unit. In the next iteration of the product, ASRock will probably work on the industrial design a bit more. Replacing the slimline Blu-Ray drive with a slot-loading type drive would also improve the appearance. These types of changes would enable them to cater to the segment of consumers who go more by the looks also.

We had mentioned in the ION 330 review about the absence of ports on the front panel being a bit strange, and ASRock has duly taken note, putting two USB 3.0 ports on the front panel. In addition, we also have headphone and microphone jacks in front. A set of vents on the left of the front panel helps in cooling the unit by maintaining air circulation. The slimline Blu-Ray drive is the same as those which make an appearance in various notebooks. The cost of such drives has come down drastically in the last 1 year, and we don't expect this component to add on too much cost over the DVD drive only version. Notably absent in the ION 330, but making an appearance in this unit is the THX logo above the power button to the right of the front panel.


ASRock uses the two sides of the unit as antennae for the Atheros WiFi module. Moving on to the rear of the unit, we find the adapter power input, followed by the audio ports. Analog audio output can be connected directly to the speakers, or the optical SPDIF output can be used to connect to older A/V receivers. Following this is the Gigabit Ethernet port, and 6 USB 2.0 slots. Further to the right, we have the VGA output (we really needed a DVI here), beneath which one gets the eSATA slot and HDMI output port. Wrapping up this panel is the ventilation fan. Our only gripe with the back panel is the placement of the eSATA port, which makes it difficult to connect external hard disks, particularly when the VGA port is being used.

Just like a notebook, this unit also supports simultaneous display on two monitors. Testing was done mostly with the HDMI output connected to a Toshiba REGZA 37" 1080p TV through an Onkyo TX-SR 606, and the VGA port connected to a old Dell monitor running at 1280x1024. It must be noted that the HDMI port on the unit is only 1.3a. This makes it impossible for the unit to drive monitors with resolutions higher than 1920x1080. Even extremely affordable 2048x1152 monitors such as this one from Dell are left unsupported at their maximum resolutions. However, we expect that this will not be a concern to buyers, since the unit will probably end up getting connected to a 1080p TV in most scenarios.

The Core 100 HT-BD ships with no OS installed. For the purpose of this review, we loaded up a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate x64. It is also possible to install Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution and still be able to take advantage of most of the HTPC functions of the system. Our analysis in the rest of the article, however, is completely from the Windows 7 standpoint.

Starting with this piece, all our media streamer and HTPC reviews will carry a table summarizing the data and A/V connectivity options for the unit from a home theater perspective. We will conclude this section with the same.

 
A/V Connectivity Options for the Core 100HT-BD
Option Status
   
HDMI Yes [v1.3a]
Component No
Composite No
VGA Yes
SPDIF Yes [Optical]
Stereo Yes

 

 
Data Connectivity Options for Core 100HT-BD
Option Status
   
Optical Disk Drive Yes [Blu-Ray]
USB Yes [6 x v2.0, 2 x v3.0]
eSATA Yes
LAN Yes [ 1000 Mbps GbE ]
Internal HDD Yes [ 500 GB ]
WiFi Yes [ 300 Mbps 802.11n ]
Card Reader No
Introduction System Specifications, Teardown & Analysis
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  • GreeneEyez - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Have fun bitstreaming HD audio from the Mac Mini or playing back Blu ray disks/ISOs... Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    GeorgeH,

    It is not possible for any home built mini-ITX box to be within the power envelop of this unit.

    This uses an Arrandale processor which isn't available for purchase by the general public.

    Further, as you rightly observe, the MacMini has worse specs, but looks better. Companies like ASRock provide the best bang for the buck, and in this pursuit, industrial design takes a back seat. However, things are going in the right direction, and I am sure the execution next time around will be much better from all perspectives.
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    i need a tv tuner in or connected to my htpc.

    you say that the 100HT-BD's chipset cannot support an internal TV tuner, but that it has a smaller power envelope than a chipset which can.

    in that case, you would also have to factor in the extra power used by your external TV tuner box.

    you would also have to compare the cost of that box versus the cost of a tuner card.

    if all things are equal (you break even), then the all-in-one solution (a beefier htpc) would be the obvious choice.
    Reply
  • tmservo - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    As others mention, since the MacMini doesn't do Bluray, and doesn't bitstream DTS-MA or DD-HD, it's not really a great HTPC. It's LPCM support also troubled, and it doesn't matter since it doesn't do Bluray. The MacMini simply isn't a very good HTPC at all. It might compete against something like an ION.. except you can get an ION with BD at 1/2 the price. Apple has to give up rejecting the "bag of hurt" that is bluray, because as long as they keep their phobia of it, they aren't in the HTPC market at all Reply
  • Computer Bottleneck - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    It will be interesting to see your future evaluation of the AMD IGP in the HQV 2.0 benchmark.

    As far as this product goes I really liked reading your technical explanation of how Asrock integrated what is basically a laptop mainboard into the Mini-ITX form factor.
    Reply
  • alaricljs - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Can I suggest in that HTPC centric features chart that under SPDIF you specify optical/copper instead of just yes/no? Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Thanks for your suggestion, alaricjls.

    The SPDIF is optical, and I will update the article shortly.
    Reply
  • dbone1026 - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Hey Ganesh,

    Excellent job with the review. Honestly I am surprised by some of the comments regarding an expansion slot, which to me defeats the whole purpose of ASRock making this HTPC in such a small form factor. Aside from USB tuners I know many people who use network tuners (i.e HDHomeRun) so in many cases there is no need for any sort of internal tuner. If want to strap on multiple tuners then why not just a MicroATX or ATX case as that is not the intention of this ASRock..

    I honestly think the biggest challenge with the ASRock 100HT is the price. Newegg has it listed at $649 (without BR drive) and no O/S. The mini-ITX HTPC I built which was only slightly larger and was easily $100 less with better specs (using core i5). Hopefully we start seeing prices drop soon.
    Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I've been rolling out the dual core Atom ones for small office/home PCs. The customers love them over the old big black/grey boxes.

    Low power and small desk presence are a big win.

    Very nicely made too.

    Built about sixteen of them and not one issue so far.
    Reply
  • erictorch - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    The core i3-330m processor is available for ordering from www.superbiiz.com
    If the reviewer reads this comment, can they comment on whether AHCI support is available in the BIOS menus? This is necessary to get the full performance out of a SSD. A lot of laptop bioses don't have AHCI selectable.
    Reply

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