Package and the System
Starting off with the package, below you get a look at what is included inside.
ASRock included a rather healthy bundle to go along with the nettop. You get an MCE remote control and batteries to go with it, a 90-watt power bring and power cable, a spare SATA cable, HDMI to DVI adapter and a screwdriver with multi-sized screw points (which we mistook for a pen in the video below; Oops).
You also get a Core i3 sticker to display proudly if you wish and some spare screws if you want to tinker around a bit.
Let's kick things off here with an unboxing and undressing of the ASRock Core 100HD-BD system. Hit the play button below to check it out.
Yep, we are already pretty impressed, but the show must go on.
Can we start off by saying just how impressed we were with the overclocking side of the unit? ASRock were the first to introduce overclocking in its previous generation (we never usually see ANY sort of overclocking options in the BIOS of other nettops). You were able to enable an OC boost in the BIOS and increase the CPU speed by 500MHz on the Intel Atom from 1.6GHz to 2.1GHz. They have taken things to a whole new level with the Core 100HT-BD, though.
Using the OC Tweaker feature in the BIOS, you can adjust a whole range of settings to improve performance. It's not like the amount of options you would get in a desktop motherboard, but the range is still very impressive nonetheless considering we are working with a basic nettop system!
If you want quick and dirty extra performance you can run the Turbo 30 setting, which automatically increases system performance by either 25% or 30%, very quickly. If you spend a little extra time, you can select the EZ OC Setting and choose one of the pre-tested and stable overclocks by ASRock ranging from a CPU clock speed of 2.5GHz, 2.6GHz, 2.7GHz or 2.8GHz. We of course opted straight for 2.8GHz and it worked perfectly. You have to love the simplicity of this - ASRock has already done the hard work for you in working out which settings work and what is stable.
You can also easily adjust the memory speed from DDR3-1066 to DDR3-1333 and the GPU clock speed from 600MHz to 800MHz or 900MHz. Do keep in mind here that when using the EZ OC settings, you can only do and have one operation active at the same time. You can, however, just select the CPU clock speed to 2.8GHz and then because of ratios, set the memory speed to DDR3-1400. At this memory speed we had to increase the memory voltage to 1.6 volts. We had an issue with keeping the GPU clock speed at 900MHz with the CPU and RAM overclocked, so that had to stay at the default of 600MHz for Windows 7 to boot. It's not a big issue as this is a HTPC with mere Intel HD graphics, so you probably won't be doing too much gaming on this system anyway.
At the front of the unit is where things change a little from previous generation nettops from ASRock. In the past only the power button was present, but with the Core 100HT-BD we also see the inclusion of two USB 3.0 ports for fast external data transfers and one mic and headphone jack. The power button lights up blue when the system is turned on and there is a small orange LED to the left of it that flashes showing system activity. Of course, there is also a Blu-ray optical drive that comes pre-installed on the BD version of the model, too. On the far left of the unit there is a small area where air is taken into the system and then later extracted out of the rear extraction point.
Moving around to the back of the system, there are connectivity options galore. From left to right we have the AC power in, 5.1 analog audio, S/PDIF audio output, a gigabit ethernet port and an impressive total of six USB 2.0 ports (eight USB ports total for a system this size!), an eSATA II port, VGA output as well as HDMI output. The HDMI port is HDMI 1.3 and is able to provide HDMI audio pass through or bitstreaming support which is fantastic and something sorely missed from systems of this kind in the past. ASRock also throw in an HDMI to DVI connector for good measure. As I said, connection options aplenty.
On the back right of the system you can see a fan that effectively extracts air from the system. It is placed in a good spot as the CPU fan pushes hot air in its direction and moves it outside of the system and that's very important for such a small computer. We didn't show the top, bottom or sides of the unit as they are plain with nothing notable to mention.
Getting inside the system is very easy and doesn't require fifty million screws to be removed or the patience of someone that has a lot of it. All you need to do is remove two screws at the back of the system that hold on the top case part of the system. Once removed, it just slides off with ease. Revealed is the inside of the system as you can see above. We need to remove the Blu-ray optical drive and hard drive compartment area by undoing a further two screws that hold that part in place.
Once the optical drive and HDD is removed, we are presented with something like you see above. Exposed is a fantastically designed little system with the ASRock HM55-HT motherboard at its core. Cooling seems to be handled rather well - we didn't experience any heat related issues - and the unit is rather quiet producing only up to 25dB which is basically inaudible unless you really put your ear up to the system. Do keep in mind that when we had the system overclocked (2.8GHz CPU and DDR3-1400 or 700MHz on the RAM), things did heat up quite a lot and at times the fan was working overtime to keep things under control. The fan while loud was not over the top loud, but definitely audible over the idle fan speed level - and it was pushing out fairly warm air from the rear extraction point.
The Intel HM55 Express chipset is cooled by a small silver heatsink and the Core i3 mobile processor is cooled by a larger actively cooled heatsink. You cannot see it too well in the image above, but the extraction point for the CPU cooler pushes air directly toward the case fan that effectively extracts hot air out of the system.
Overall we are pleased to say we have a very good design from ASRock. The system works well in terms of size, cooling and noise and it also has a whole bunch of different connectors for your home theater PC requirements. That is all good and well, but how does this thing perform? Read on!