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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  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I had a WD TV (the first one I think) and it always annoyed me that it could not decode DTS, which meant that I did not have dual audio for most of my library. It also lacked menu support and Blu Ray support. The menu was terribly slow and browsing a somewhat larger HDD was just awful.
    I'm sure those boxes have come a long way, but that was the point where I decided I would much rather go all in and have something that I know handles everything I throw at it in one way or another, than to have something that is cheaper and smaller, but worry about whether or not it will play everything I have the way I want it and be burdened by somewhat lacking software/firmware support.
    Easy browsing of the web and games are the added bonus and I always have a good back up PC in case one of them breaks and someone needs a quick replacement.
    If your set up has never failed you with a film you had, awesome. I have been disappointed by it too much to go back. :)
  • Jaybus - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I have two WD-Live boxes and they do have their use. A PC brings several things to the table.

    To begin with, it brings adaptability. My biggest complaint with set top boxes in general is that it puts you at the mercy of the manufacturer for software fixes / features. When any of the online services change something, it may be months before an update is available. A HTPC is far more adaptable in terms of software.

    Another area is remotes. The WD remote is sluggish and is an oddball format that hardly any third party remotes can emulate.

    I can see why someone wouldn't care if they don't wish to play games. But it is damn handy to have real surfing capability along with a keyboard and mouse. Is there anything else it beats the set top box in besides surfing and games? Of course! It can do almost anything that a laptop can do! It essentially is a laptop.
  • prdola0 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Atom+ION might be quite slow, but for SFF HTPC usage, it served me quite well. I've been using it for the past two years and it still does the job. Of course it's not a gaming machine - it can't handle anything more demanding than TESIV: Oblivion with low details, but for casual Steam games like Machinarium, Worms Reloaded etc. it's completely sufficient. You shouldn't bash the Atom+ION combo so much. After all, it was the one thing that made this from factor popular, in my opinion.
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Kinda sad that AsRock does not provide a unit that has an AMD APU inside it. I don't think many HTPC uses are limited by single threaded performance and the better iGPU can make a difference when playing games on the big TV (I use my A6 Llano HTPC as a console sometimes). The only thing I could think of to stop the use of an AMD APU is power consumtion. Pity AMD chooses way too high voltages (I dropped mine from 1.4xxV to 1.15V at max turbo).
  • ericore - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    If you do the math, it costs them about 450$-475$ to build, but you only get a dual core CPU (TRAY: $225.00). Since Intel is charging so much for a mobile dual core, you might as well get the quad core for just under 300$. The whole system retails for 700$. Even at 600$, it would still be a crappy deal. A good deal would include 8 GB of RAM, and quad core CPU for 670$. To top off this shitty deal of theirs, they give you a piece of crap power supply adapter, and cheap plastic enclosure. Apple gives you a solid enclosure and a solid adapter, and ships with the same stuff for 599$.
  • ericore - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    This AMD system is much better value; complete build 250$. I would just wait for Jaguar since current E-350 isn't quite HTPC prime yet.
  • joetekubi - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Form factor is great, performance would fit my needs, but just a little too procey.
    I may go for this 6-8 months from now when they version the platform and the old ones
    are available for (much) less.
  • valnar - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - link

    How quiet is it? Does the fan speed up on load? Turn off on idle? What?
  • johnny_boy - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    The product isn't bad but compared to a premium machine like a mac mini, the price of the ASRock makes no sense.
  • jeffkibuule - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    Mac Mini only has integrated graphics. This system does not.

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