The small form factor (SFF) HTPC market has been steadily growing over the last few years. As mobile processors become more and more powerful, it is becoming easier for users to be satisfied with their performance even in desktop configurations.

The DIY HTPC crowd has a marked preference for mini-ITX motherboards and cases. However, the excessive TDP of desktop CPUs resulted in complicated thermal designs and noisy results. Thermal designs for systems with mobile CPUs with 35W TDPs are fairly straightforward and not very noisy. In fact, it is even possible to create systems which are fully passively cooled.

ASRock has three HTPC families catering to the entry level, mid-range and high-end markets. While the ION based HTPCs form the entry level, the Core series serves the mid-range and the Vision series caters to the high-end. Today, we will be looking in detail at the CoreHT 252B, the second generation Core series HTPC from ASRock. First off, let us take a look at the configuration of the review unit sent to us by ASRock

ASRock CoreHT 252B HTPC Specifications
Processor Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5-2520M
(2 x 2.50 GHz (3.20 GHz Turbo), 32nm, 3MB L2, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 2 x 2GB DDR3-1333
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 3000
650 MHz / 1.3 GHz (Turbo)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM 2.5" HDD
(Western Digital Scorpio Black WD5000BEKT)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (2T2R Atheros AR5B97 in AzureWave AW-NE121H mini-PCIE card)
Audio Microphone and headphone/speaker jacks
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (optical SPDIF/HDMI)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (Retail unit is barebones)
Extras THX TruStudio Pro Audio Certification
IR receiver and MCE remote
Pricing TBD

ASRock has three configurations of the CoreHT series available. Two of them have the Core i3-2310M processor (one with a Blu-ray drive - CoreHT 231B, and the other with a DVD drive - CoreHT 231D). The review unit is the CoreHT 252B with the Core i5-2520M processor. This comes with a Blu-ray drive.

 

Unboxing Impressions
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  • Death666Angel - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    <<Well, the reviewer only used Windows, hence assuming that one pays for it.>>
    That would be true, except for the part where in the table on the first page, he writes:
    "Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (Retail unit is barebones)"
    I agree, however, that he could have stated it clearer in the text when he mentioned the software being shipped with the system ("Our review unit shipped with Windows 7 x64 Ultimate and a OEM version of Cyberlink PowerDVD for Blu-Ray playback.").
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Guys, I am keeping track of the developments in the Linux HTPC space.

    As soon as we can get to a point where it is possible to play Blu-rays with menus (we can already playback encrypted Blu-rays with MakeMKV installed, just not with menus -- this was the state when I last looked at it), we will carry out a detailed Linux HTPC article.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Thanks, looking forward to that! Reply
  • bobbozzo - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Hi Ganesh,

    I don't care about BD so I'd like to see a review even if BD menus don't work.

    Thanks for all the HTPC articles!
    Reply
  • Miles Prower - Saturday, September 03, 2011 - link

    I'm considering buying this machine too, as both a lightweight desktop PC (hey, why not) and a HTPC. Both solutions running Linux.

    I'd llove to see a review considering XBMC performance and hardware support!
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    "The unit has a noise level of less than 36 dB at full load "

    Not good enough. The system needs to be much better 30dB or less. Then there is the issue of how noisy is the Blu-ray drive. In my AV rack the one aspect which really annoys me is the Sony Blu ray player which is clearly audible at quiet points in movies. So would really like to know how loud the optical drive is (why do case manufacturers no include some dampening?)

    Having said that it is clearly a very good system . Problem is that Zotac have just announced their AD10 nano system. Whilst it is over priced and lacks an optical drive (not a problem for me as store movies to NAS), in a main room it just looks a far better piece of kit, and a lot smaller (and allegedly quieter)
    Reply
  • pvdw - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    "27 dB during Disc Playback" Reply
  • cjs150 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Oops missed that in the charts.

    Much better, but I do wonder how much of that noise is due to the Blu ray drive - 22.4 dB on idle and 27 dB on Blu ray playback does not really help me - was this playback from HD or from the optical drive. I can believe the number if from HD, I do not believe the number if from optical drive, but if it is correct then I am impressed. Maybe it is just me, but case manufacturers have spent some time putting vibration dampening grommets for hard disks but never for the optical drives - why? A bit of care might reduce the noise considerably.

    The problem is that we keep getting quoted dB and how something is so quiet it is effectively silent when clearly it is not. The standard I work to is very simple. If I can hear a computer during a quiet section of a movie or a song, than it is too loud.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Disc = optical drive. The extra noise is due to the operation of the ODD. Yes, I agree with your metric that if people hear it, it is noisy. However, different people have different tolerance / hearing levels. So, you do need to have some sort of base metric to compare against. For example, at 2 ft, I find 36 dB quite audible. But, only during quiet scenes in the video. Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    note that the measurements were done at 2 feet and not the more or less standardized meter. I'm not going to make the transformation now, as I'm not to keen to get into exponential scaling at this time of day, but it's always important to keep the context of db(A) measures in mind when comparing values. Reply

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