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.