ASRock Vision HT 321B
ASRock set a high bar for home theater-oriented PCs with its Sandy Bridge-equipped Core HT, a very small machine sporting impressive internals. Its replacement, the Vision HT, improves on that system using an Ivy Bridge-based Core i5-2120M CPU and Intel HD Graphics 4000. Intel's dual-core, Hyper-Threaded processor runs at 2.5 GHz and can accelerate to 3.1 GHz by virtue of Turbo Boost, making it the fastest chip in our round-up.
With a $680 price tag on Newegg, this is also the most expensive model in our story. That's the price you pay for capable hardware, though.
The Vision HT scraps its predecessor's glossy black enclosure in favor of the design used on ASRock's Vision 3D, a previous flagship with Nvidia 3D Vision support. Although it shares the Core HT's 7.5” x 7.5” x 2.75” dimensions, it's a lot classier-looking now, sporting a brushed metal finish all around.
The system's rear output panel offers HDMI and DVI video outputs, an eSATA connector that can also be used as a USB port, six USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0), gigabit Ethernet, the power supply connector, optical audio output, and five 1/8" analog audio jacks.
When you add in the two USB 3.0 ports up front, ASRock's Vision HT 321B comes with a total of eight connectors, which is actually three less than the Core HT 252B. We're OK with that; 11 ports were overkill anyway.
The front panel also features headphone output and microphone input jacks, a memory card reader, an infrared receiver for the remote, and a requisite power button.
The system comes with an external power supply, a driver CD, a manual, a remote with two batteries, a DVI-to-VGA dongle, and extra cables for a second hard disk. The only necessity missing is an operating system, which is going to add the final price if you end up adding Windows. We would have preferred to see Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit bundled.
The included media center remote is clean and classy, but we’re not fans of the tiny rubber buttons. It does its job well enough, though, with a wide 170-degree arc of responsiveness. We were able to issue commands from up to about 14 feet away from the receiver.
Disassembly begins by removing the plastic top. A metal shield and a few more screws are all that remain, standing between you and the machine's internals. For the most part, then, making repairs and performing upgrades is a snap. ASRock populates the two memory slots with 4 GB (2 x 2) of 800 MHz DDR3 (1600 MT/s), and the board can handle a total of 16 GB if you want to upgrade later. Seagate's Momentus Spinpoint drive delivers a respectable 750 GB of capacity, though it spins at a relatively slow 5400 RPM. If you're looking for more storage performance, it might be worth dropping an mSATA-based boot drive into the vacant slot. Alternatively, you could install a second 2.5" SATA-based drive as well. Although it isn't visible in the shot above, the metal shield holds LG's DL-4ETS Slimline Blu-ray drive, the only Blu-ray offering in our round-up.
Some of the Vision HT's other noteworthy capabilities include Bluetooth 4.0 support and dual-band 2.4/5 GHz Wi-Fi radios. Both features are unique to ASRock in today's story.
The Vision HT also includes ASRock's suite of value-added software, including the Extreme Tuning Utility (for performance tuning and overclocking), App Charger (for fast device charging over USB), Instant Boot, XFast USB (for improved USB transfer rates), and XFast LAN (to prioritize network traffic). THX TruStudio audio processing software is also provided.
The GUI-driven UEFI, which we're already used to seeing from ASRock's desktop motherboards, is robust for a small form-factor PC, including RAM timing and voltage tweaks. You wouldn’t want to push settings too far on a cooling-constrained box like this one, but it's nice to have manual control if desired.