Those of you after a small, quiet and good-looking home theatre PC (HTPC) but unable to afford the lust-worthy, passively cooled Tranquil PC ixL, might want to check out this candidate from ASRock. A compact and attractive little box that's absolutely stuffed with connections, features and powerful specifications for a price that doesn't break the bank, the Core 100HT-BD may well be the ideal machine to go with your home cinema setup.
Highlights include a Core i3 CPU, slimline Blu-ray drive, USB 3.0 and built-in Wi-Fi in a tiny all-metal chassis, with AIWI allowing you to use your iPhone or iPod touch as a remote control, keyboard and motion-sensing game controller all in one.
While ASRock may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of PCs, the company has a well-deserved reputation in the motherboard sector, with award-winning examples like the 890FX Deluxe showing off its design talent. Indeed, despite sporting a dual-core Intel 2.13GHz Core i3 CPU, the Core 100HT-BD resides in a nearly identical chassis to the company's previous 195 x 186 x 70mm Atom-based ION 330 Pro. That's an impressive achievement, especially if the Core 100HT lives up to its sub-25dB noise claims.
Its small dimensions and light 1.8kg weight (not including the external power brick) make it not only one of the most portable HTPCs around, but also one of the cutest. ASRock has constructed its machine nearly entirely from black metal with a shiny lacquer finish, which helps it to stand out visually and lends it excellent build quality - if not quite up to the brick-like ixL. If black's not your thing, the Core 100HT is also available in white with matching white remote.
Fingerprints aren't as much of a potential problem as on a portable device, as you'll rarely need to touch the chassis. Since it's glossy all around and doesn't have rubber feet the PC's base is quite slippery, but ASRock provides a neat little anti-slip mat that does a great job of keeping the machine perched (as)rock-solid on your surface of choice.
Unfortunately the Core 100HT-BD's potential good looks are slightly spoiled by a busy front panel, which includes the original fascia of its Blu-ray drive, THX and ASRock logos, twin USB 3.0 ports with their signature blue connectors, and silver headphone and microphone jacks. It doesn't exactly help matters that the attractively blue-backlit, square power button is accompanied by an orange hard drive activity indicator and green optical drive light either. Still, as far as looks go it beats machines like the DinoPC Mini Carnivore in its sleep.
Around the back you'll find an excellent port selection for a machine this small. There are six USB 2.0 ports, a dedicated eSATA2 port, digital optical and analogue 3.5mm audio outputs for eight-channel surround sound, and both VGA and HDMI for video. ASRock has thoughtfully included an HDMI to DVI adapter in case your monitor doesn't have the TV-centric digital connector. The HDMI output supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD pass-through, and ASRock has also licensed THX TruStudio PRO technology to enhance the 100HT-BD's audio with specialised processing.
Our only real complaint is that both USB 3.0 ports are around the front. Considering these are quite likely to host semi-permanent external storage, having the cables sticking out in plain sight is hardly the most elegant solution. On the other hand this is handy for USB 3.0 memory sticks, but we wish Asrock had managed a USB 3.0 port at the front and one around the back.