Now that we've fully put the ASRock ION 330-BD through its paces, we get an idea of just how good it is and what it can do.
The good points? It's tiny! Being not much bigger than a Nintendo Wii, it can be placed next to your TV and not look out of place like a big old beige computer case of the 90's. And on that note, it also looks great. Its black glossy finish is stunning and suits it very well. It's quiet too, barely audible from a distance and silent whilst playing movies or games. It never gets that hot either, with only luke warm air being exhausted from the back of the unit. That's not enough? As far as power consumption goes, we were super impressed - no more than 40 watts of power used! Hey, don't forget the ASRock Instant Boot feature for booting up the system in 10 seconds and also the EZ Overclocking BIOS feature that allowed us to take the CPU from 1.6GHz to 2.1GHz with ease - stable, too.
The bad points? There are no USB 2.0 ports at the front of the system. This could be an issue for users with cordless keyboards and mice with a poor USB receiver with little range. The issue could be resolved by using a USB extension cable, but you shouldn't really have to do that. In upcoming models, ASRock please add a couple USB ports to the front. Another small issue is that no operating system is bundled with the system, which means you'll need to pay extra to get one. You could just download and use Windows 7 RC1 like we did for the time being or use an alternative free Linux OS, too.
We were super impressed with the Blu-ray 1080p HD playback - it was silky and smooth and didn't miss a beat at all. Audio quality is also impressive. One thing that should be noted is that the ION 330-BD doesn't support HD audio pass-through for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, only regular DVD audio such as Dolby Digital 5.1 and others that use 640kbit rate audio. It will still playback these audio tracks on your Blu-ray discs, but compressed down. If you are an audiophile this will likely end up annoying you, but if you aren't, you probably won't even notice.
As far as gaming goes on the ASRock ION 330-BD, don't expect too much, but you can get some basic gaming in on the system. Remembering that the ION uses an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M GPU, you can play the latest games such as Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty 4 at 1024 x 768 with low quality graphics settings. For serious gaming stick to your fully powered desktop PC.
The ASRock ION 330-BD nettop model will set you back around $650 USD when it is ready to buy, which should be soon. The addition of the Sony Blu-ray drive does add on to the price - you can pick up the ION 330 with standard DVD drive for $399 USD RRP - but we still think it's worth it. You could go out and pickup a standalone Blu-ray player set top box for movie playback and it will do the same as this system or more. However, it still cannot replace a PC which can play games, fully surf the Internet, check e-mail and so on.
We really enjoyed the ASRock ION 330-BD nettop - it has plenty going for it and easily gets our recommendation for consumers wanting an affordable, but capable home theater PC or simply a small PC that doesn't use a lot of power, but still has some decent hardware under the hood to do more than a standard low-end nettop, which is only for basic office computing.
Nice job ASRock for your first attempt at a nettop! Next time how about we see a premium ION model with an SSD installed? That should help give the Intel Atom processor the kick it needs to get its speed up for overall responsiveness.