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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  • DocJones - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    I've been wanting to put together a media server with an i5 CPU just about down this line. I currently run Mezzmo as the server software since it does a pretty good job at transcribing video on the fly based on what device is requesting it.

    I wonder if this has enough juice to transcribe 1080p and send it over the wire to our media players, and if so... can it do more than one?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    For a server type situation, I would recommend a desktop chipset.

    However, the i5-2520M is very very capable.. Maybe you should ask Mezzmo whether they can take advantage of QuickSync?
    Reply
  • DocJones - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    i5 2405S better?

    http://ark.intel.com/products/55446/...he-2_50-GHz...

    Something this form factor would be nice if it worked. Mezzmo folks pretty much say I need a true 4 core 8 thread CPU to perform transcoding on the fly. I find that hard to believe. Others have noted that a Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400 LGA775 'Yorkfield' 2.66GHz 4MB-cache while hot handles the job just fine.

    They use ffmpeg so I don't think they support QuickSync right now.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Being paid software, I think Mezzmo needs to pull up its socks and adopt QuickSync for its transcoding operations. I think they can afford to sign whatever NDAs are required for this purpose (Actually, I don't think they need any because Andrew Van Til (www.babgvant.com) has actually implemented QuickSync support in his DVRMSToolBox program).

    Please hound them about this. I am also personally interested in finding out whether QuickSync is flexible enough for media server software to take advantage of.
    Reply
  • blckgrffn - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    I would hope that this guy starts under $500, but seeing the prices on the Core HT100 at greater than $700, my enthusiasm is tempered a bit. Reply
  • icrf - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Agreed, for $500, I'd buy one.

    Since this is mostly laptop parts, what does a similarly spec'd laptop cost? No keyboard, touchpad, or screen saves some costs. What does this add that a laptop doesn't? A token remote control?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Remote control + IR receiver and form factor combined with scale of manufacturing mean that the cost almost works out to be the same as that of a laptop.

    For many, a laptop can double up as a HTPC (even I used my notebook as a HTPC between 2005 and 2007), but PCs like these cater to those who need a quiet unobtrusive unit as part of the living room cabinet. Plus, this is a desktop replacement, i.e, you can schedule recordings with an external TV tuner when you are away from the home (or any other such usage scenario).

    In the end, it is about horses for courses :)
    Reply
  • cknobman - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    ZBOX nano AD10 Reply
  • cjs150 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Initial reviews look very promising although probably best to get the bare bones version and kit out with own memory and an SSD.

    When available I am going to get one and play with it to see how well it works
    Reply
  • icrf - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Agreed. It's likely less than half the price, and I can do without an optical drive. I plan to run Windows, so the Linux driver situation around AMD's video decoding hardware don't apply, either (assuming that hasn't been straightened out since I last read about it).

    Still, it is nice to have all that extra CPU power available for whatever the future brings. I'm just not sure it's going to be worth the several hundred dollars more they're likely going to be asking for it.

    In any case, I'd still love to see a review here on the unit, comparing it to this one as a budget alternative. I am a big XBMC proponent (and Hulu Desktop), so I really liked seeing the detailed focus on it, something I'd like to see carried forward in future HTPC reviews.
    Reply

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