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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  • shurik_1 - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    Could you test the silent data corruption issue I have described in Vision 3D comments? With Vision 3D it is still an issue when 16GB RAM are installed (with 8GB RAM they fixed it via BIOS update that they did not make publicly available) and ASRock although acknowledges its existence refuses to fix it.
  • ganeshts - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    I will follow up on this with ASRock. That said, I have been using the Vision HT / Vision 3D 252B to unpack a number of split archives (around 400 MB each unpacking to ~4.37 GB / ~10 GB) and not found any issues so far.

    But, definitely an interesting case (if there is some data corruption with a different DRAM, that may point to some issue in the DRAM module itself). Are you aware of any other users with the same issue? I am trying to see if there is something common between all the systems exhibiting this problem...
  • shurik_1 - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    It will not complain at unpack because my thinking is that corruption occur at writing (at some point in my lengthy mail exchange with ASRock support Intel ME was mentioned as the culprit). I discovered the issue because par repair invariably fails on large file sets. That is why I call it silent. Did you try to create checksum of archive content and test after unpack? I have only one set of laptop 16GB modules. But when my 2nd gen Vision 3D had BIOS prior to 1.10c ("c" suffix is important here) it was present with 16GB and two different sets of 8GB modules.
  • klmccaughey - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    I don't understand why manufacturers can't release a cheap HTPC. It is still much more cost effective to build your own.

    Every time I see one of these reviews I get excited, and every time I get disappointed as I see the outrageous price tag.
  • EnzoFX - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    I too wish there were cheaper alternatives. I myself have no need for optical (Ew), and am usually eyeing those tiny foxconn's that use E-350's. Though I'd more likely go with something with more performance.

    Perhaps this segment is too much of a niche (Probably). Intel's NUC looks promising, hope it becomes standardized so that the race to the bottom can start on those chips =P.
  • lurker22 - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    Avoid the 350. Yes it will work, but a lot of use end up being slow on it especially when the GPU acceleration isn't available.
  • StealthX32 - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    From what I've read on a few Newegg reviews, you can get a Broadcom BCM9700xx hardware decoder card to put into the miniPCI-e slot and achieve <20% CPU utilization on even high bitrate 1080p material.

    I bought this from them when they had the buy an HTPC get a free SSD combo, but haven't gotten around to buying the Broadcom card yet.
  • lurker22 - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    As I said, it's doing everything outside of the GPU accelerated videos that ends up being very slow. Web browsing, Netflix, etc is all CPU limited.
  • BuddyRich - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    Netflix via website and silverlight is bad.

    Youtube HD is GPU accelerated and Netflix Win8 also works nicely.

    One of the few pluses of Win8!
  • Pipperox - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I have an E-350 based Zotac Nano.
    It's absolutely silent, can play most media content without a hitch (haven't tried 1080p60 content though, but 24 and 30Hz are not a problem) and with Windows 8 internet browsing and general PC usage is butter smooth.

    Sure, i wouldn't do media transcoding or rendering or content creation on such a PC, but for the value and intended use I couldn't be happier.

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