ASRock CoreHT 252B £589
22nd Jul 2011 | 09:15
A compact HTPC with built-in Blu-ray, but does it justify the price?
ASRock CoreHT 252B: Overview
Is ASRock's all-in-one Home Theatre PC (HTPC), the CoreHT 252B-4G50/B, the perfect living room companion to sit by your TV?
Depending on how you measure it, it's smaller than an Apple Mac Mini (the Mini is about half the height, but the CoreHT wins from the overhead dimensions) and has the advantage of coming with a Blu-ray drive built in and front-facing USB 3.0 ports for other media.
It looks good too, in its tiny tin enclosure that's been lacquered in a glossy black.
Attach a USB TV card and it's realistically a replacement for most of your set-top boxes in a chassis that's smaller than most Freeview tuners.
The ASRock CoreHT 252B then really is a media box par excellence.
The Core i5 2520M Mobile Sandy Bridge processor also features Intel's higher-end HD Graphics 3000 tech, and Creative's THX HD TruStudio Pro audio is built in to the integrated audio.
It seems flawless - the ultimate NAS box, entertainment device and workstation all in one. Have we finally found the one-box converged future of the digital home?
ASRock CoreHT 252B: Benchmarks
Thanks to the Intel Core i5 processor, the ASRock CoreHT 252B behaves like a real PC. It's fast, ideally suited to video encoding and playback, plus it has a fair stab at games too.
ASRock CoreHT 252B: Verdict
The more you prod and push the ASRock CoreHT 252B-4G50/B, the more there is to like about it.
For the most part, it's near silent. The only noisy component is the Blu-ray drive – which is obviously annoying, but not the end of the world. It's also very power-efficient.
The whole system idles at just over 26W. At no point did it consume less than 80W. That's a lot of power-hungry technology you can recycle, to make you feel good about your carbon footprint.
The problem is that the CoreHT's strengths are also its weaknesses.
The no-compromise components are right on the edge of what it's possible to put in a box this size, and they run hot. The CPU never dropped below 60C (140F) in our tests, and once the Blu-ray fires up or a CPU-intensive task starts, it's a furnace in there and the fans kick in.
There's room for an extra hard drive, but you'd think twice before fitting one.
It's noticeably loud, even if it is Red October compared to an older Xbox 360.
More critical, however, is the price. You'd struggle to build a system like this, but only because getting hold of a Socket 1155 mini-ITX motherboard and case this small would take a lot of hunting down.
Diligently hunting them down probably wouldn't save you much – all things considered – but for this much money there are certain things we expect to see included.
These include an IR receiver, without which the included remote is wasted plastic, or Blu-ray playback software so you can actually watch films on your new drive. Critical, you might argue, but missing from the CoreHT.
More importantly, you need to supply your own copy of Windows, which takes the total price of an ASRock CoreHT 252B-4G50/B to almost £700.
That's a lot of money, considering the alternatives. There are many good streaming devices for less than £100, an Atom-based media centre is £250, a Mac Mini is £610 and Core i5 laptops start at £500. Plus internet-enabled Blu-ray players, TVs and PVR boxes make media centres slightly irrelevant anyway.
From a living room point of view, it's a media centre with few faults.
The ASRock CoreHT 252B-4G50/B has a top-notch processor with good video and audio add-ons that's tiny and almost silent, plus there's room to expand it internally or via USB 3.0.
It's not exactly overpriced, but it is still expensive.
Especially when there's so little polish. An IR remote without a receiver in the box? A Blu-ray drive but no player software? BYO Windows? A CPU that idles at 60C? Thanks, but no thanks.
The CoreHT appeals to almost every one of our senses because it's a good-looking, do-everything box, so having one in our lounge would be awesome.
But it's just not essential enough to justify the price.
So five stars from the heart, but our head can think of many alternative set-ups for the same amount of money.