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 results in complicated thermal designs and noisy results. Thermal designs for systems with mobile CPUs (35W TDPs) are fairly straightforward and not very noisy. In fact, it is even possible to create systems which are fully passively cooled.

Before 2010, ION-based units with anaemic Atom CPUs were the only option for pre-built SFF HTPCs. ASRock was one of the first to buck the trend by introducing the Core 100 using an Arrandale CPU as a mid-range complementary offering to go with their low-end ION-based unit. Currently, 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 used to serve the mid-range and the Vision series caters to the high-end. This year, ASRock revamped their SFF HTPC lineup by renaming the Core lineup as Vision HT and the Vision 3D lineup as VisionX. Today, we will be looking in detail at the Vision HT 321B, the third generation mid-range HTPC from ASRock.

First off, let us take a look at the configuration of the review unit sent to us by ASRock:

ASRock Vision HT 321B HTPC Specifications
Processor Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5-3210M
(2 x 2.50 GHz (3.10 GHz Turbo), 22nm, 3MB L2, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 2 x 2GB DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000
650 MHz / 1.1 GHz (Turbo)
Hard Drive(s) 750GB 5400RPM 2.5" HDD
(Seagate Momentus ST750LM022)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (5GHz/2.4GHz Dual-Band access) / Bluetooth 4.0 (2T2R Atheros AR5BWB222)
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 Ultimate 64-bit (Retail unit is barebones)
Extras THX TruStudio Pro Audio Certification
IR receiver and MCE remote
Pricing $680

ASRock has two configurations of the Vision HT series available. The lower end model has the Core i3-3110M processor and has a DVD drive instead of the Blu-ray combo drive (Vision HT 311D).

Unboxing Impression
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  • duploxxx - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    very easy just use a low end Liano based or trinity based platform.

    enough performance , power consumption controllable and low cost
  • GotThumbs - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    If you haven't already, Take a look at Zotecs (Zotac ZBOX ZBOXNANO-AD12-U AMD A68M ) using the AMD E2-1800 APU 1.7GHz Dual-Core. $229.00 Bare-bone or 299. with 2 Gigs and 320 HD (5400).

    Zotac has had these form factors out for around 2 years, so Intels NUC is nothing new and yet is still over priced IMO.

    Knowledge is power.

    It would be nice if Anandtech did an in-depth review/comparison of the NUC and Zotacs offerings.
  • ssj3gohan - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    It's very simple: Intel forbids them to use anything but mobile platforms. And mobile=really expensive (even though it's the same silicon). There are perfectly fine desktop processors that will fit inside those enclosures, well within the thermal limits. Intel's newest i3-3225 only uses about 30W full blast in actual use, scratching 45W under the most demanding synthetic load. The rest of the desktop platform is already super-efficient and doesn't contribute particularly much. And even though it outperforms any mobile processor, it costs only $130 vs $370ish for the cheapest hd 4000-outfitted mobile processor.

    So it's perfectly easy to make a much cheaper, better performing SFF PC, but Intel forbids it. Because that's good for the world.
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Just buy an Ivy Bridge notebook on Black Friday for $300. Plenty of power for HTPC --> 1080p everything. HD4000 can play some games. Close the lid, connect and HDMI cable and you're done.
  • Aikouka - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    I considered purchasing this unit before, but I'm very picky about noise. It's not only noise when the unit is being used, but also how noisy is it when the room is quiet? I poked through this article, and unless I missed it, I don't see anything on noise characteristics for this unit.

    I ended up building a HTPC using the Streacom fan-less chassis instead of buying one of these. Let me tell you, if you want a build that's a bit of a PITA, go with that case. =P
  • ganeshts - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    The thermal design / noise factor is covered in the final section. The solution is very similar to what we had in the previous generation HTPCs, and ASRock had tests with video proof to show less than 35 dB noise under full loading conditions.

    I have been keeping my eyes open for information / samples of Streacom's recently introduced FC10 chassis. We might see a piece on that if Streacom is able to get it into production anytime soon :)
  • capeconsultant - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    A machine such as this should always include noise info. Not a reference to another machine's noise. It is a CRITICAL issue for a machine of this size whether used for HTPC or not. I will still be getting the mac mini. Keep trying.
  • mikael.skytter - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I bought the unit this August and I am also picky about noise.
    As far as I am concerned this unit is really good. I have disabled the Blue Ray player and installed an SSD instead of the HDD.

    The unit is completely silent unless you put your ear less then 10cm from it in a quiet room. My tv accually sounds more (Samsung Series 8 with fans).

    When playing standard MKV 1080p files over the network, the unit does not increase the fanspeed but instead stays quitet.

    I hope this help and I know it´s not numbers. But I am really picky about my units. It needs to be quiet and the Asrock does just that
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Ganeshts: for an HTPC review you must cover noise. You have to cover the noise in 3 situations, idle, full workload and (critically) playing a movie from the included Bluray player - if the machine is quiet but the bluray player noisy (vibration usually) then as an HTPC this would be an epic fail. This is one of my complaints about HTPC cases, they never include any vibration dampening for the optical drive

    I do not regard 35db as quiet, what it means is that in quiet sections of the movie I am hearing the computer which is not good enough.

    There are some odd design choices here, although some may be forced on ASRock due to motherboard limitations. MSata or an SSD would be better than mechanical disk. Personally I would prefer better quality memory and more of it.

    Then there is the issue of frame rates. This is not ASRock's fault but Intel's and is completely unforgiveable. I would really like you to get an interview with Intel and ask them to explain why, given that the frame rate standards has remained fixed for years, can they still not get it right.

    Finally I would really like to see a review by you using Windows 8 as the OS for an HTPC. I am trying it on my HTPC and hate it (when Linux gets blu ray playback I am switching) but would love a second opinion to confirm whether I am just old fashioned or not!
  • Kevin G - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    I see a little bit of comparison at the end to the Mac Mini but it'd be nice to have it represented in the performance charts for full comparison. Then again with just updating the line up, there could have been a bit of a time crunch.

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