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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  • ganeshts - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    I agree that the necessary information is spread out over multiple sites / reviews. We will work towards maintaining a database for easy access to all the information from a central point.
  • ggathagan - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    There's already an extensive guide:

    An alternative to MPC-HC is a Korean product called Pot player:

    I've used both players with a GTS 450, an AMD 6950 and an AMD 5670 without issue after following the guides.
  • aliasfox - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    First off, I skimmed the article, so forgive me if this is really obvious. Second, I have an admitted Mac bias, so that's where this is coming from. So here goes:

    With the exception of the Blu-Ray drive and USB3, is there really much that makes this worth so much more than a Mac Mini? I'm thinking the $799, i7, Radeon 6670m equipped model.

    $100 to load Windows onto it (if that's your flavor), and $200 should get you a blu-ray player - that leaves that set up $100 cheaper than the ASRock...

    The Mac mini does dual display, has HDMI out, and has an optical audio output as well. Admittedly, the SD Card reader on the back is less easy to get to than a reader on the front, and the base HDD is smaller (500 GB).

    Different strokes for different folks?
  • lenkiatleong - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    But Mac mini does not bitstream HD audio to AV as far as i know. And this is the most critical point in my opinion for HTPC.
  • philipma1957 - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    1.2k for 1.2 k I can have a 2500k cpu a crucial 256gb ssd a 2tb hdd a blu ray from asus 8gb ram a mobo from asus the catch is I need a 14 by 14 by 7 inch case.

    Any real hi end ht has amps, larger speakers ,large tv. Some subs not one sub.

    A gear rack and hiding a case the size of 14 by 14 by 7 on a gear rack is easy.

    This is for a design freak with tiny little bose speakers and a wall mount led flat screen.

    while that ht is costly ie hi end it makes poor quality sound.
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    This is a HTPC for the high end home theater. Nothing prevents you from routing the HDMI output from the Vision 3D 252B to an amp / pre-amps and use that to drive the large speakers.
  • aliasfox - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Or potentially it's for people who are limited on storage rack space. My five level rack currently houses my blu-ray player, receiver, and dedicated stereo amp, as well as my cable modem and router which live on one shelf.

    If I were to replace my receiver (currently acting as my pre/pro) with a dedicated pre/pro and another amp to do surround duties, I wouldn't have another entire shelf for a big box htpc - I'd only have the space next to the modem and router to share.
  • zerorift - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Maybe I'm just not seeing this in the review, but what software did you use to record the graphs of power usage?
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    The graphs are from HWInfo. The software is capable of much more than just simple graphing. Here is another screenshot (and the link to the software):
  • nsparadox - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    I used to build HTPCs back in the day to record shows as a glorified DVR. There's no bundled tuner. What's the point of HTPCs nowadays, assuming you're not using them as a DVR?

    I can do pretty much all of these things this machine can do with a Blu-Ray player, Google TV, integrated TV software, a Roku box, or just an HDMI out to an existing tablet or laptop PC. And the prices for these approaches ranges from free to $200 depending on what equipment you already have?

    Even for massive movie hoarders who want to stream their collection, you can do that with most of these devices.

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