ASRock CoreHT-252B HTPC ReviewnVidia_Freak -
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Petite and stylish are two things that pre-built system manufacturers are attempting to capture with system builds today. Not only are more people interested in computers every day, but many of the people interested in computers don't need them for gaming and don't need the best performance no matter the cost. It may seem strange to those like us PC enthusiasts that there can be any other way to buy parts or a computer with any other goal in mind beyond the best value for your money and the most performance for that value, but it is true.
Many of us own multiple systems, each being suited to a particular application. I and many others often sport a desktop and netbook/laptop combination so that we remain connected and able to compute no matter where we are. There are also a sizable number of enthusiasts that require a small form factor (SFF) system due to space constraints related to available physical room or because the application does not require a full tower. One such application of these SFF systems, indeed one of the more popular applications, is as a multimedia or home theatre computer (HTPC).
Certainly an HTPC does not need to be top of the line or power hungry to handle the tasks it is suffered to handle, and as such they can be quite small. Most can fit inside a very small box and some aren't so far off from netbook geometry. Benefits of these SFF HTPCs are obvious: small physical footprint, low power usage during all types of use, and low noise output. These characteristics make SFF builds ideal as HTPCs as they can be tucked away nearly anywhere without looking out of place.
Don't let HTPCs' small sizes misguide you, even using the miniITX board format many HTPCs are just as feature packed as an equivalent desktop board and can support current high-end processors. This is ideal for the playback of Blu-ray and other high bit-rate media, but, do not let that dissuade you. Thanks to the use of modern processors and their related technology, HTPCs can in fact even be used as replacements of a desktop altogether. It's quite simply a matter of whether or not what is offered fulfills the required needs. ASRock has recently launched a line of HTPCs called the CoreHT series that utilize Intel's latest Sandy Bridge microprocessor architecture, which should prove this new line of HTPCs to be highly capable. ASRock has submitted the CoreHT-252B, one of the high-end models, to be reviewed, and so I shall. First, however, let's have a little look not only at its aesthetics, but at its innards, too.
The CoreHT comes in a tidy little box about the same size as those that are used for netbooks. ASRock provides a clear and stylish view of the system along with some of its features. Notable features include wireless 802.11n capability and THX certification. Even before opening the box a glimpse is had of what makes this work. The 252B model of the CoreHT line features a second generation Sandy Bridge processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB HDD, and a Blu-ray optical drive, all of which together make for an excellent HTPC.
ASRock includes a few things with the CoreHT to make the most of your purchase and the experiences you have with it. A power brick and driver disc are no surprise, but, a few extra goodies are included, too. One remote control with two included batteries for use with HT and MC related applications, an HDMI to DVI adapter, a 1/8" stereo TRS interconnect, a non-slip pad, an installation foldout, and what I found most interesting, a set of bits for the installation of another 2.5" storage drive. A small power cable, data cable, four screws, and four vibration dampeners are included should 500GB not be quite enough. Additionally, the foldout includes instructions not only on how to open the case, but also how to replace and install some of the components. Despite being a pre-built unit, there is, initially at the very least, support for user modification.
The unit itself looks very classy and sports a very high gloss black finish that attracts fingerprints, dirt, oils, and dust. Being an HTPC, though, once it's tucked away in a little corner that ought not to be much of a problem. The 252B model of the CoreHT has multiple things that make it particularly suited to use as an HTPC including a slim-line Blu-ray/DVD+/-RW combo drive and 7.1 surround sound support plus S/PDIF output. Of course, playback from a physical disc isn't the only thing an HTPC should be able to handle, and so there are also four USB 3.0 ports, two both in front and rear, an eSATA port, and wireless 802.11n capability so that no matter whether your movies and shows are on disc, thumb drive, external hard drive, or even streaming from the Internet, ASRock's got you covered.