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.

  • ivan_chess
    Interesting but I wonder if an AMD system would provide more value on your dollar.
  • 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.
  • zooted
    This would be great, if it were priced around $300-400
  • DeZenT
    Asrock also puts alot of focus on the possibility of streaming true Bluray sound. One thing, that all other pre-buildt htpc lack
  • 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......
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • domenic
  • 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... :)