Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) have remained a niche market, catering mainly to enthusiasts who love the challenge of setting up and maintaining them. The demand for dumb devices with HTPC capabilities has seen tremendous increase over the past few years, with the success of devices such as the WDTV and other media streamers. Blu-Ray players also end up integrating features such as media streaming and wireless networking. Often, though, users end up demanding things which are difficult for these units to implement. A case in point is Netflix streaming on the WDTV Live, which ended up being implemented in WDTV Live Plus. Torrenting (and other similar PC capabilities) end up making an appearance in the homebrew firmware versions of these products. One of the easiest ways to avoid such disappointments is to invest in a HTPC. These are more future proof than the small media streaming boxes and Blu Ray players for which one has to depend on core firmware updates from the manufacturer.

Over the last 2 or 3 years, with the advent of small form factor (SFF) PCs, and promising chipsets such as Nvidia ION, one sensed the looming convergence of the media streamer and HTPC market. While being much more flexible compared to media streaming boxes, they suffered on the power envelop front. Also, the DRM requirements of Blu-Ray ensured that such PCs could never hope to achieve as much ease of usage and bitstreaming support as the Blu-Ray players unless one invested in costly soundcards. In the last 6 - 8 months, ATI introduced the 5xxx series and Intel introduced the Clarkdale and Arrandale platforms with an IGP (Integrated Graphics Processor), both of which were capable of HD audio bitstreaming. Enthusiasts could easily purchase such products and build HTPCs which could surpass the capabilities of any Blu-Ray player or media streamer.

The HTPC market, unfortunately, can never take off unless pre-built units make an appearance. We have seen the big players such as Dell and Acer create products such as the ZinoHD and Aspire Revo respectively. However, the platforms utilized processors such as the Neo and the Atom, which were mainly geared towards the ultraportable and netbook market. Consumers expecting desktop performance from such PCs were left disappointed. The market needed a fresh approach, and AsRock has come out with the first pre-built SFF PC based on the Arrandale platform for this.

ASRock has gained a reputation amongst us of being innovative in a crowded market, and having come out with pioneering products. Their first play in the SFF HTPC market was the ASRock ION 300-HT. Though it was found to be technically good, it ended up competing against products such as the Aspire Revo from Acer (with a substantially higher marketing impetus). Now, they have stolen a march over the competition by introducing the Core 100 HT-BD. Realizing that the Atom in the nettop was the major cause of concern amongst HTPC customers, they seem to have done their homework by introducing their next play in the market with the Arrandale platform.

The Arrandale platform's performance has been analyzed ad nauseam on various sites, and we will not go that route in this review. In the last few months, we have seen the introduction of many H55 / H57 based mini-ITX motherboards supporting these platforms. Last month, we reviewed the Gigabyte H55 mini-ITX board. We found it almost perfect for a HTPC. It is quite likely that there is a large number of customers in the market interested in a pre-built HTPC based on this platform.

ASRock is the first company to come out with a ready to order PC in the mini-ITX form factor based on the Arrandale platform and they have put together a nice video of the purported capabilities of their product. Let us first get the marketing talk [ YouTube video ] out of the way (in case you are interested), before proceeding to analyze ASRock's claims.

The comments for the Gigabyte H55 mini-ITX review requested HTPC specific testing. Starting with this review, we are taking those comments into consideration and this unit will be analyzed completely from a HTPC perspective. If you are interested in a specific aspect, use the index below to navigate to the section you want. Otherwise, read on to find out what Anandtech discovered while trying to use the Core 100 HT-BD as a HTPC.

Unboxing Impressions
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  • ck_mb - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Does the video card pass WMC cablecard test? I have a AMD 780G that doesn't, since this motherboard doesn't have any expanision slot it would be worthless as a dvr using cablecards. Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Yes, the system passes the Digital Cable Advisor test without any issues. Reply
  • schoenbe - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    An HTPC without a TV tuner is not an HTPC. It is a media player.

    In the case of the Core-100HT-BD reviewed here, a powerful media player. But you still can't watch TV with it. You cannot record TV with it. Not even a single channel, let alone several channels simultaneously. Anandtech should not recommend this unit as an HTPC. Besides, $700 for a media player? For playing back BD discs and media files? Not sure who wants to pay this much for an incomplete feature set.
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    If you don't like it, don't buy it. Is someone standing there with a gun to your head? Reply
  • EnzoFX - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    In my experience, USB tuners are the easiest for people to work with. This unit is targeted at people who probably wouldn't be willing to open up a computer case and install an internal tuner IMO. Personally, I think the best tuner is the HDHomeRun, which is a network based tuner, so this ASRock unit definitely delivers in every regard. Reply
  • schoenbe - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    "... this ASRock unit definitely delivers in every regard." Really? Even if you have to go out and buy a TV Tuner and make it work? This product definitely doesn't deliver the complete package. Reply
  • Ipatinga - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    In the article, there is a part where it says "... One must also take into consideration the cost of the Atheros AR9287, which can be bought for around US $15 online..."

    Where can I find Mini PCI Express 1x Wireless Adapters (Half Height or not) like this Atheros AR9287 this cheap ($15)?

    Thanks :)
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    This is the listing I was referring to:

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Atheros-Dual-Band-AR9287-Wirel...
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    Ganeshts: I think you and I have different definitions of noisy. Lets take a simple and real life example.

    I am listening to classical music - obviously a quiet section, the 1812 overture can be heard over a jet engine!

    At same time I have firefox up and running (couple of tabs one of which is of course Anandtech but the other is a chess site I use)

    I am also running a chess analysis program, fritz, which will take whatever CPU capacity you through at it

    Pretty obviously under this scenario the IGP is not fully loaded but the CPU could be running close to capacity.

    My Sofa is 6ft away.

    If I can hear the ASRock then it is too loud. By comparison my main work rig (admittedly water cooled), I cannot hear other than possible a very slight noise of air movement.

    We all know that manufacturer claims of noise levels are typically overstated (expecially by fan manufacturers) but to be suitable for me the noise (close to the machine) has to be sub 30db or even sub 25db. It is not difficult but does limit the cooling to a slow running 140+mm fan.

    Mind you the loudest thing in the living room (apart from my daughter) has to be the cable set up box - but only when it starts up from sleep, some really bad design I think there
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    cjs150,

    Noise is a very subjective issue. What might be noisy to me might be OK to you, or vice versa. It is really hard to say what the "ideal" dB would be (aside from silent of course). Some people seem to have the hearing of a bat, while others are more tolerant.

    For the correct judgement, you will have to experience it yourself, unfortunately.

    The hobbyist sound meter we used could barely register anything unless it was very close to the unit (as you can see from the photo). At 2 ft away, manufacturer shows proof of 34.5 dB (Please check UPDATE section on Page 11).

    I am not even sure there are professional sound meters to measure sub 30 and sub 25 dB unless you have an anechoic room.

    The figures are presented, and in our opinion, at this cost and for this form factor, ASRock appears to have done the best it could do. Whether the figures are acceptable to you or not, I can't judge from here :)

    Our review of this product was from the perspective of the average HTPC user ( not people with 7 TV tuners, for instance ;) )
    Reply

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