ASRock Core 100HT-BD Home Theater PC

Conclusion: The Little HTPC That Could

The Core 100HT-BD is a fully-functional HTPC with ample power to accomplish what it needs to do, including media playback, productivity tasks, or even light gaming. When equipped with the Core i3-330M mobile CPU, the benchmarks show it to be about a third slower than its Core i3-530 desktop counterpart, but a real-world user would never realize that difference unless they’re spending a lot of time performing CPU-intensive tasks like media encoding. And if you’re buying a PC for media-encoding tasks, why would you consider an HTPC like the Core 100HT-BD in the first place?

That’s not to say that the Core 100HT-BD isn’t a viable multi-purpose PC. Frankly, it has more power than it needs for strict HTPC media-playback duty, as the CPU-utilization benchmarks show. I see the Core 100HT-BD as an ideal solution for people with very limited space who are looking for a multipurpose computing/entertainment platform. A student in a dorm who wants a multi-purpose PC and entertainment center could probably make good use of this box. It’s the tiny little machine that can do almost anything.

When it comes to core functionality, the ASRock Core 100 HT-BD can play back Blu-ray content and bitstream full HD audio via HDMI. Perhaps the only limitation that will bother true videophiles is the lack of native 23.976 FPS video support, which is an Intel HD Graphics flaw--Intel HD Graphic chipsets support 24 FPS but not 23.976 FPS, so playing back 23.967 FPS Blu-ray disks will result in an occasional frame stutter. We continue to wait for Intel to properly address this issue, but that’s not the Core 100HT-BD’s fault. In any case, the problem can be minimized by setting the display’s refresh rate to 60 Hz.

As a full-service HTPC, the Core 100HT-BD is only missing one obvious component: TV and PVR functionality. Happily, this can be remedied with a $50 to $100 USB TV Tuner/PVR dongle, but USB is the only option because the system cannot accommodate an add-in card.

This brings us to the one thing that irritates me the most about the Core 100HT-BD, yet it’s one of the reasons that the system is so attractive: its size. The Core 100HT-BD is so tiny that you can’t help but admire it, yet at the same time is it really necessary to make an HTPC this small? From what I can understand, this isn’t designed for portability, so why couldn’t it be twice as high to accommodate full-sized Blu-ray and hard drives, and some extra breathing room for expansion? The system doesn’t even offer the limited scalability options that laptop users expect, such as ExpressCard or PCMCIA slots. At twice the size, the Core 100HT-BD would still be tiny and would not look out of place with other components in a home entertainment system, but it would have a much more flexible form factor.

On a final note, let’s consider the price. Newegg has the ASRock Core 100HT-BD available for $750, and if you’re happy with the standard DVD drive, you can save some money and opt for the Core 100HT for $600. You’ll have to add an operating system on top of that, so with Windows 7 Home Premium OEM, you’re realistically looking at $700-$850 for a sleek little system. While you could probably put together something small for less money than the Core 100HT, it probably would be a lot larger and wouldn’t be pre-assembled.

If small size is your priority and you need a pre-built HTPC that can deliver more than bare minimum performance, it’s hard not to recommend ASRock’s Core 100HT-BD. With a true Core i3 CPU capable of handling four simultaneous threads, this machine has a lot more potential than a single-core single-threaded Atom CPU. The Core 100HT-BD is the little HTPC that could.

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  • ivan_chess
    Interesting but I wonder if an AMD system would provide more value on your dollar.
    18
  • zooted
    This would be great, if it were priced around $300-400
    10
  • Other Comments
  • ivan_chess
    Interesting but I wonder if an AMD system would provide more value on your dollar.
    18
  • Stardude82
    Certainly beats a Zino, but the price puts it in the class of a Mac Mini. An M600 + HD4200 system would be interesting for a HTPC like this.
    1
  • zooted
    This would be great, if it were priced around $300-400
    10
  • DeZenT
    Asrock also puts alot of focus on the possibility of streaming true Bluray sound. One thing, that all other pre-buildt htpc lack
    1
  • liquidsnake718
    Well this is great and can do alot more than a regulr media player, but id prefer the ASUS OPLAY! and have a standalone media player while I also have a supercomputer or a monster PC and a console gaming system......
    -1
  • amgsoft
    I'am testing one at home. Excellent piece of hardware for multimedia and TV center. This HTPC is much faster to boot and shutdown (S3 sleep mode) then the traditional DVB-T boxes i had previously at home (2-3 sec startup, 9-11 sec shutdown). All I needed to do was to buy a DVB-T USB dongle (terratec). In S3 it uses very low power (less then 1W according to the reviews on the internet). I'am using for watching the DVB-T, dvd's, playing music, showing photo. Its performance is more then adequate, so I cannot see any reason for overclocking the unit. The heat comming out of the unit is very acceptable, the noise is hardly, if at all, noticeable.

    The only limitation is the angle of the IR remote. The angle for remotelly controlling the unit from your living room is a bit narrow for home use and I hope that they will consider to provide an external IR receiver later.

    Regarding the price, I was trying to find a cheaper unit with same specs and same look and size, but I was not able to find any. Dell has a PC which is a bit smaller (a bit bigger then wii) however it is not a htpc unit. You can build a sligthly cheaper one. It will be larger, will need a larger power supply, the case will like a traditional pc which you don't want in your living room, and at the end of the day you will end up with something which has cost you more money. In my mind its a very good hardware piece and worth to consider if you want a home media center in you living room.
    1
  • jestersage
    Where I am, it's mighty expensive. But what I like about this article and the Core100HT-BD is that it inspires me to put together a similarly small and 'cute' system.

    I'm thinking along the lines of an e3300 and G31 chipset with a 200w or 300w mATX PSU (how I'd love to get my hands on a Silverstone 300w mATX unit from the SG05!).

    Without the powersupply, the unit will cost about USD250 here. With a decent 80plus mATX PSU, the cost goes beyond the USD320 mark.

    It won't play blu-ray but everything else would run better than, say, an Atom (even the ION variants). It would be twice as tall, almost twice large and a tad deeper, true, but it would have room for a half-height PCIE video card (ahem, HD5570) upgrade.

    One bit of constructive feedback for Don: why use a 650W PSU on the comparison unit? Wouldn't a 380w or even 300w PSU be sufficient - not to mention place the power draw closer to the center of the efficiency curve?
    0
  • rwpritchett
    A step in the right direction. I'd like to see more pre-built HTPC's like this but with better styling and more expansion options. A slot load drive would also be great.

    I wish they would make the parts available so us DIY'ers can build our own like this.
    2
  • bunz_of_steel
    good review and attention to the real needs of an htpc. size, heat, noise and video performance. The price tag is just yuk! I would like to see how this would compare to a geek dude building their own and see how it fares... :)
    0
  • fozzie76
    $700 is the MSI gaming notebook range. Why not just buy the MSI notebook, and keep it folded up in the entertainment center. Then if you need to travel just unplug the HDMI cable and off you go!
    0
  • Nossy
    Why cant they just throw in a LAPTOP sans the LCD and call it an HTPC? Geez. Seriously just cram in a i7 with a powerful graphics card into a notebook package.

    If you're lookin for just something to play videos files, youtubes, etc, just get a Popcorn hour, Asus Oplay, etc. There's almost no good reason for a HTPC anymore.
    -1
  • Humans think
    It has everything I need from a HTPC, including analog audio output, but price is too high to justify a purchase. Since I have a PS3 I would probably buy the DVD version.

    If it was a little bigger and used underclocked desktop components to lower the price around $450 (without OS, all I need is UBUNTU/XBMC), I would buy it for sure
    2
  • digitalgriffin
    $750?!?!? w/o OS?

    You could buy a prebuilt laptop with the OS for less money and it will occupy roughly the same amount of space. And it will be more powerful to boot!
    1
  • zaixionito
    The problem is, HTPCs are just too expensive for their specs. Maybe a $300 one is just dreaming, but I would never purchase one, even if I were in the market. :|
    2
  • Onus
    jestersage...(how I'd love to get my hands on a Silverstone 300w mATX unit from the SG05!)...

    You can (although it's out of stock right now): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817104075
    Apparently the SG-05 uses a slightly custom variant with different cables, but this is the one. HardwareSecrets reviewed it favorably: http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/FSP300-60GHS-Power-Supply-Review/757
    Seasonic also has a 300W TFX PSU that is 80+ bronze, which has also been favorably reviewed: http://www.jonnyguru.com/modules.php?name=NDReviews&op=Story5&reid=190 and http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Seasonic-SS-300TFX-Power-Supply-Review/1021
    0
  • kilthas_th
    $750 seems incredibly steep for basically adding Bluray support to a media box like the Oplay. If it were a more capable gaming setup, it would be more acceptable, but it's grossly overpriced for what it can realistically deliver.

    I think the real take-off for these will be the second or third generation of intel/AMD's CPU/GPU consolidation. Sandy Bridge looks like a huge step forward for integrated graphics, and I'm hoping AMD's Fusion efforts will prove similar. Must not forget nVidia's SB/GPU integration project, as well. All of these projects should bring reduced cost, increased functionality, and more manageable power usage to the HTPC arena.
    0
  • elbert
    I can build my own HTPC for under $500 based on the 785G. With a wireless KB/MS you really have no need for the remote. Newegg has plenty of combo deals with the 785G motherboards so you can at times get $20 off a CPU or $10 off the OS.
    Currently tho best BD player for the price on Newegg is LG's burner and under combo get upto $25 of a CPU.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductCombos.aspx?Item=N82E16827136181&SubCategory=600&SortField=0&PageSize=10&Page=2
    2
  • terr281
    For roughly $750 during the fall of last year, I built a:

    1. AMD Phenom 2 720 BE CPU (undervolted at base running speed)
    2. Gigabyte AMD 770 chipset MB (not crossfire capable)
    3. 8 GB DDR3 1066 7-7-7-20-1T (4 x 2 GB) (only did 8 GB instead of 4 GB due to the fact this pc will hopefully never be upgraded)
    4. WD Black 750 GB HD (enough storage for movies and music)
    5. ATI 4670 1 GB (light gaming capable
    6. Cooler Master Elite 360 case (entertainment component sized, with plenty of room to work with inside it)
    7. Corsair 400w PSU (plenty of power for the system)
    8. Logitech Wireless Keyboard and Mouse (functional 15 foot range)
    9. DVD Writer
    10. Blu-Ray Reader (with software included)
    11. Win Vista Home Premium 64 bit OEM with Win 7 upgrade included (already completed)
    12. Cooler Master Gemini 2 CPU cooler
    13. Quiet fans throughout the case. (Inaudible under idle, HT use, and light living room gaming by my ears at the keyboard/mouse range)

    Missing from my year old system, when compared to the reviewed unit:

    1. Remote control (Not needed for my family, wireless keyboard and mouse)
    2. Wireless capability (Not needed, house wired with GB wiring)

    The only benefit I see to the ASRock unit, and other units like it, for tech enthusiasts is the unified warranty and lack of labor and support required to put it together.

    As the article states, for "the mom, father, grandparents, etc...," especially those without large entertainment centers with multiple components, units such as this work perfectly. (The only issue, of course, being that the "standard universal remote" will not work with these units... and they must use 2+ remotes.

    The computer will eventually move away from the "computer room" and into the "living room." For we computer gamers, we can only hope that this happens, and is accepted by the general population, before computer gaming has further deteriorated and console gaming has completely taken hold.
    1
  • elbert
    On some CPU's tho note that a few newer designed like the 6 cores and 445 rana require motherboard bios upgrades flashed. IE you don't have a CPU the motherboard supports with is current bios your stuck.
    0