Nettop Round-Up: Four Tiny PCs, Benchmarked And Reviewed

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.

  • jdwii

    But at $504 with no operating system (and $399 for a version without an operating system, hard drive, or memory),
  • Pyree
    IDK, $800 for the ASRock CoreHT 252B. A laptop cost less, has better performance for that price range, better mobility and space saving plus you have everything (screen, speaker etc). I rather get a laptop for a small office.
  • chumly
    These all seem expensive to me, considering you could probably build a better mini itx slim form factor system from scratch for about half the price.
  • AMD X6850
    As mentioned, no remove comes bundled with the Zbox.

  • cleeve
    AMD X6850Remote?
    Thx, fixed!
  • molo9000
    Nettops? These things are far too expensive to be nettops.
    They are small form factor PCs or home theatre PCs, but they are not nettops.

    btw: Mac mini should be in this lineup.
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Very nice article. I was about to request something like it :)

    Mac Mini should be in this lineup? Actually, a good idea. I'd love to see how it compares to similar Wintel boxes.

    I'm through with these small boxes because they're a pain in the a$$ to service and the hardware isn't good for the price ($800?! gimme a break!), but I see value in them for people who are ready to pay more for the small size.

    If I would build a small form-factor box myself, I'd use something like this new Lian Li case which was in Tom's news recently - it can fit proper PCI/PCI-E cards.

    Again, lovely article. Keep it up.

    P.S. The ASRock box is great.
  • compton
    I second the sentiment that these aren't really nettops. Luckily, the next iteration of Llano should rectify that, creating the golden triangle of CPU , GPU, and low cost. At least that's what I expect anyway. These reviewed units are more HTPC solutions than low cost nettop. Intel has a new half height miniITX initiative with a rare and relatively expensive 1155 mini ITX to match. However, once Intel's iGPU gets a serving of HTPC friendly features, you could build your own full featured, passively cooled system to take these units on performance and price as well. The move to 22nm should make low powered passively cooled CPUs easy to get right. As it stands, each of the solutions tested are pretty good, but I'm not sure that any of them are worth the asking price. In particular, I've always avoided Atom like the plague, and I don't think they're appropriate in small form factor systems that cost more than about $200.
  • ruban71
    Can we now have a comparison against a couple of ITX builds? Choose an nice looking case and show us what can be put together for similar money.
  • I've owned an E350 - struggles with HD playback in a linux system, there doesn't appear to be any support for the amd hardware decoding. So if you were thinking of making a linux htpc out of it, go for something more powerful... It will perform better though as in the article above if using Windows (Using I think - Media Player classic which allows hardware h.264 decode.)