ASRock CoreHT 252B
Priced at $800 on Newegg, ASRock’s CoreHT 252B is the most expensive contender in our round-up. That doesn’t suggest a lack of value, though. This unit boasts the most powerful CPU, the fastest hard disk, and the ability to play Blu-ray 3D movies over HDMI. The only thing you don't get for $800 is an operating system.
Despite its diminutive size, the CoreHT 252B compromises very little when it comes to performance. The Core i5-2520M CPU is based on Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture, and unlike the rest of the competition in this round-up, it runs at a desktop-like clock rate (2.5 GHz stock, with a maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 3.1 GHz).
Although it's clearly powerful, this system is also quite small at 7.5” x 7.5” x 2.75”. Its classic glossy black finish is attractive, yet unassuming.
The rear output panel hosts HDMI and VGA video outputs, an eSATA port that can also be used as a USB port, six USB ports (two of which support USB 3.0 transfer rates), a gigabit Ethernet jack, the power supply input, optical audio output, and five 1/8" audio jacks.
Up front, you get a power button, speaker and microphone jacks, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. That gives the CoreHT 252B a total of 11 USB connectors, which we consider to be very impressive expansion on a nettop. The only thing missing is a memory card reader, but surely there's enough scalability here to accommodate a USB-based card reader.
Bundled you'll find a no-slip pad, an external DC power supply, a driver CD, a manual, a remote with two batteries, an HDMI-to-DVI dongle, and extra cables for connecting a second hard disk (though storage expansion is rare in a chassis this small).
We’re quite fond of the media center remote that ASRock previously included with its Core100 family. The new, smaller model works just as well, despite the awkwardly tiny buttons and labels.
Disassembling the CoreHT 252B is a very simple affair, with two screws holding the case cover and two more screws securing the drive bay insert. With these removed, access to all of the components is easy.