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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  • tmservo - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    This is a good point regarding tuners. I also wish there was an internal. But I can deal without. Right now, I have 4 tuners: a SiliconDust dual tuner QAM (connects over ethernet) a 2250 and a ATI650. But I almost never watch that many programs at once, and with the cable companies limiting, they are on my elimination list. This fall SiliconDust is supposed to have their 3 tuner CableCard solution out. At the moment they have that, my need of any cards in my PC completely go away. Completely goes away. I'll have better TV input.

    Now, I wish there was a single PCI-E x1 slot so I could consider the Ceton, but I could deal.
  • jnmfox - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Surprised Silicon Dust's HDHomeRun hasn't been mentioned:

    One of the best tuners around and will work on any networked PC. Plus you don't have to add bulk to your HTPC by making it bigger to fit a tuner inside. One of the best HTPC purchases I've made.
  • Braumin - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Everyone needs a different tuner. Including any tuner would just be a waste of money since it would not be guaranteed to work on the owner's system. USB and Network tuners are available and make this a complete DVR.
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    I already use an HD HomeRun as my tuner, so no internal tuner isn't a deal killer at all for me. (And I may get a second HD HomeRun.)
  • jrwalte - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Did you ever consider using a USB tuner?
  • EnzoFX - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    There are probably more USB based tuners these days than internal tuners being made. Secondly, I strongly recommend the network based HDHomeRun tuner. Lastly, this is probably targeted at people who wouldn't want to install an internal tuner.
  • RamIt - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Give me an expansion slot and I'll buy one. until then no thx.
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link


    Most of what can be achieved through an expansion slot is possible using external USB devices. The Core 100 unit is quite liberal in that respect, providing 6 USB 2.0 ports and 2 USB 3.0 ports.

    Also, note that the chipset used is the HM55. Compare this with a similarly spec-ed notebook computer. It is difficult for manufacturers to provide expansion slots, and even if they do, the costs of the devices fitting those slots are much higher than their external USB counterparts.
  • Stokestack - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Unfortunately, the only USB 3 ports are on the front. This is a mistake. People setting up a nice home-theater system don't want ugly wires hanging out of their components full-time.

    Receiver makers are making the same baffling mistake with USB ports for iPods. Why on earth would I want this wire dangling off the front of the unit all the time? A port on the back allows you to plug a dock, an external drive, or tuner in and keep it out of sight.
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    At $700 this will be competing with the Mac Mini. It has superior hardware specs, but if I were looking for something small, quiet, and attractive to put in my living room the Mini would win easily. This box is just to close to a basic mini-ITX box that any troglodyte could throw together - ASRock really needs to leverage their ability to make completely custom parts before they have a truly compelling product.

    It's cool to see more high-powered boxes in this form factor, I just wish it had been executed better.

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