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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  • Guspaz - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    The lack of DisplayPort video output is kind of a big deal... DisplayPort is the only output that the Intel HD 4000 supports high resolution (like 2560x1440 or 2560x1600) over. It will not output these resolutions over HDMI or DVI, as the Intel HD 4000 does not support dual-link DVI.

    As this is a rather severe shortcoming to a user with a 27" or larger monitor, and users may expect support for this resolution since the chip itself does support it, it should be mentioned in the review. Otherwise, a user might buy this computer only to find out that it doesn't support any 27" monitors...

    A better approach would have been for Asrock to include a DisplayPort instead of DVI, and then include a cheap passive DP->DVI adapter in the box. Such adapters are very cheap (under $7 from monoprice), so this would have been an enormously more flexible option.

    As the system stands, with no option for a videocard slot, this system can never support large displays.
  • hughlle - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    The vast majority of users will be using an HTPC with their HDTV, not a "small" high end moniter, so for the majority of users wanting an HTPC, 1920x1080, as in HD resolutions, is what they will be looking for.
  • methudman6 - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    It could've been marketed as a "PC-Mini" too if it had display port. I find it strange that they market it so strongly as an HTPC when it looks like it'd make a very nice small computer for casual use.
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    There is nothing about this system that makes it an "HTPC" except the cheap remote they include with it, and that's something you can add to any computer for a few dollars. It's just as well suited as a general SFF computer except for this issue. Previous Asrock systems in this identical form factor (and I've used a few of the ION ones for media playback at a large convention) didn't even have a remote.
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    But it also seems like an oversight for Intel to not have DVI 2560 output. What did they gain by that omission?
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Pin count, perhaps? Take a look at the respective pin counts, and I'll exclude hotplug, power, shield, ground, reserved, analog (except on VGA), or optional pins, since none of those would have to be routed to the CPU AFAIK.:

    DVI: 10 pins
    DisplayPort: 10 pins
    HDMI: 11 pins
    VGA: 12 pins
    DVI Dual-Link: 16 pins

    I may be excluding some pins that do in fact have to be routed to the CPU, but my basic point is that adding dual-link DVI support would have required adding more pins/traces to the processor, socket, motherboard, etc. That's a non-trivial thing, and from Intel's perspective you can use an adapter to get dual-link DVI anyhow (although at $69 from monoprice, the adapter isn't cheap like the $8 single-link DVI adapter is)
  • deadlockedworld - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    Apple should sue!! (seriously though, the shape is almost exactly the same as the previous generation mini)
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    The Asrock machines are waaay bigger than the Mini, and the Mini wasn't the first to use that form factor (mini ITX boxes predate it). It was the thinnest of them, to be sure, but not the first.
  • IlllI - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    wonder what ever happened to those. looks like they dont sell them anymore
  • Grok42 - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    I cut the cord/dish 6 years ago. My kids have all grown up not having access to normal television programming. I have a WD-Live x2, Roku x3, iPodses, iPads and iPhones all which can basically access the same media including a 6TB NAS drive. I rip all the kids movies to the NAS drive as soon as we buy them which is 90% of what is on the NAS drive other than home movies and photos. I watch movies from NetFlix, Hulu or rent them on Amazon. I love browsing YouTube from the WD-Live for most of the misc stuff.

    What else does a HTPC bring to the table that the ~$99 WD-Live doesn't do better and for less? The WD-Live is tiny, has no fans and is Velcroed to the back of my entertainment system. It is plugged into a Wireless N router and can stream 1080P movies with ease. The only thing I can think of is that I can't play PC games or Surf; is there something else?

    Not a troll, I sort of feel like I'm making this huge mistake not having an HTPC given my setup but I can never figure out why I would want one.

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