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 with 35W TDPs are fairly straightforward and not very noisy. In fact, it is even possible to create systems which are fully passively cooled.

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 (and have since been discontinued), the Core series serves the mid-range and the Vision series caters to the high-end. Today, we will be looking in detail at the Vision 3D 252B, the second generation Vision 3D series HTPC from ASRock. First off, let us take a look at the configuration of the review unit sent to us by ASRock

ASRock CoreHT 252B HTPC Specifications
Processor Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5-2520M
(2 x 3.00 GHz (3.20 GHz Turbo), 32nm, 3MB L2, 35W)
Chipset Intel Cougar Point HM65
Memory 2 x 4 GB DDR3-1333
Graphics NVIDIA GT 540M (1 GB VRAM)
650 MHz / 1300 MHz / 900 MHz
Intel HD Graphics 3000
650 MHz / 1.3 GHz (Turbo)
Hard Drive(s) 750 GB 7200RPM 2.5" HDD
(Western Digital Scorpio Black WD7500BPKT)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (2T2R Atheros AR9287 in AzureWave AW-NE121H mini-PCIE card)
Audio Microphone and headphone/speaker jacks
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (optical SPDIF/HDMI)
Front Side Power button
IR Receiver
MMC/SD/MS/MS Pro Card Reader
Slot loading Blu-ray/DVDRW optical drive
2 x USB 3.0 Ports
Headphone and mic jacks
Right and Left Sides -
Rear Side AC Adaptor input
Optical SPDIF and analog audio jacks
RJ-45 connector (1 x GbE LAN)
2 x USB 3.0 Ports
Kensington Lock
Vent for airflow
1 x DL-DVI-I
1 x eSATA
1 x HDMI 1.4a
4 x USB 2.0
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (Retail unit is barebones)
Extras THX TruStudio Audio Certification
IR receiver and MCE remote
Dimensions 20 cm x 20 cm x 7 cm
Pricing Approx. £ 830 / $1190

ASRock has three configurations of the Vision 3D 2nd Gen series available. While the 252B comes with a 750 GB hard drive and 8 GB of RAM, the 245B and 241B come with a 500 GB hard drive and 4 GB of RAM. The 245B uses a Core i5-2450M procesor while the 241B uses a Core i5-2410M. Other specifications remain the same.

Unboxing Impressions
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  • Southernsharky - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    As other people have noted, you could just buy a laptop with almost all of these specs, except for the 750 gb HD for 1/2 this price. You could buy a quad core laptop and an external hard drive for less than $800. This product screams rip off.
  • blackbrrd - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    You can get 1tb laptop hdds for around 100$, so that's not really a problem
  • BPB - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    My issue would then be speed. You can get 1TB notebook drives cheaper these days, but the speed is 5200rpm and 5400rpm. I wonder how they would handle recording 3 HD shows?
  • blackbrrd - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    A typical HD movie of 2 hours takes maybe 4gb which comes down to about 0.5mbyte/s. Writing three hd streams at a time (1.5mbyte/s) shouldn't be a problem. I haven't tried it though.
  • seanleeforever - Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - link

    A typical HD movie of 2 hours takes maybe 4gb which comes down to about 0.5mbyte/s.

    how about 3 times as much? at 4GB you are talking about DVD quality, which is no where near HD level.
  • lenkiatleong - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    I am puzzle how you can bitstream HD audio via optical as quoted "..when playing back a 1080p24 Blu-ray movie from the optical drive with HD audio bistreaming.". Do you mean Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master?

    Another question is, can the HDMI bitsream Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD master using PowerDVD 12 to your AV?
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Yes, the HDMI can bitstream HD audio using PDVD 12. Of course, through optical SPDIF, only Dolby DIgital and DTS can be bistreamed. Note that when I mentioned optical drive, I meant the Blu-ray drive as opposed to something from the hard disk or an externally attached hard drive / over the network.
  • lenkiatleong - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    Thank you for the clarification. There is another thing which i have in doubt from day one. It would be good if you could enlighten us.

    The question: Is there any difference if one uses HTPC like this AsRock (bluray ISO source or optical drive, PDVD12 and HDMI) to feed HD audio (Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master) and HD video to mid/high end AV as compare to using average bluray player in the market?
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - link

    In most cases, no. The reason is that you are at the mercy of NVIDIA drivers for certain functionality, and if they get broken in a certain driver release, you might not get perfect output (scaling from 4:2:0 Blu-ray video to 4:2:2 / 4:4:4 needed by HDMI for transportation may be achieved by different algorithms in the case of hardware Blu-ray players / even the NVIDIA driver algorithm might not be perfect). Note that a hardware player itself is not guaranteed to do this properly either.
  • DerPuppy - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Not sure if I'm a little behind somewhere, but is there a simple/straightforward guide to configuring a media player like MPC-HC somewhere for one to peruse in the interest of properly configuring a media center? or would anandtech be interested in creating or maintaining one?

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