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
- Posted in
- Home Theater
- Media Streamer
- Core i3
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.
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Goty - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkUnfortunately, 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.
Allio - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - linkI 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.
RamarC - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - linkditto. 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.
ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - linkRamarC,
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.
quiksilvr - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - linkThat'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.
ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - linkquiksilvr,
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.
Milleman - Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - linkI 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.
You should consider to include XBMC Live (dedicated SBMC Linux installation) in your reviews as well.
ganeshts - Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - linkMilleman,
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.
doxxius - Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - linkWell, 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.
ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - linkFor 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.