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ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC Review
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Date: Aug 01, 2012
Section:Systems
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

When we first took a look at the ASRock Vision 3D 137B with NVIDIA 3DTV Play last year, we were quite impressed with the machine. It offered excellent all-around performance for a system in its class and had an extensive feature set that included Blu-Ray and 3D video playback capabilities, all wrapped up in what we considered to be an attractive enclosure. So, when ASRock came to us with an updated model outfitted with a newer CPU, GPU, and other components, we were eager to check it out.

Once it arrived we were pleased to see ASRock hadn’t messed around with the system’s aesthetics and after prepping it with an OS and various other apps, the system took residence in our home theater setup for some real-world testing. Since its arrival, the ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC we’ll be showing you here today has been our primary playback device for Blu-Ray discs—including 3D titles—, DVDs, a host of videos and movies stored on a multi-terabyte NAS array, and for streaming content from the web. And in all the time we’ve had it running, the ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC has done nothing but deliver. The component choices, connectivity options, and form factor all hit the “sweet spot” and the system hasn’t left us wanting for anything else in an HTPC. We’re going to show you the system up close and personal on the pages ahead, and will of course offer up a host of benchmark results, but we hope that last sentence resonates with you. As far as HTPC systems go, ASRock’s got the goods. The Vision 3D 252B does what most all tech devices should do—get out of the way and just work. Of course, we're geeks around here, so using a PC for all-things digital media comes second nature, but we digress.

Check out the full list of features and specifications below and then take a look at the rest of the rig on the pages ahead. We think you’ll like what you see...

ASRock Vision 3D 252B Mini-PC
Specifications & Features

CPU - Intel Core i5 2520M Mobile Sandy Bridge Processor
- Supports 2nd Generation Intel Core i7 / i5 / i3 Dual-Core Mobile Sandy Bridge Processor Family
OS - Microsoft Windows 7 / 7 64-bit / Vista / Vista 64-bit / XP / XP 64-bit compliant

*Due to VGA driver limitation, 3D function only supports Windows 7 / 7 64-bit / Vista / Vista 64-bit.
Chipset - Mobile Intel HM65 Express chipset
Memory - 8GB DDR3-1333MHz (2x4GB)
- Supports DDR3 1600*/1333/1066 MHz, 2 x SO-DIMM slots, Max. up to 16GB**

*DDR3 1600 is only supported with Intel Core i5 and above CPU.

**Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows 32-bit OS. For Windows 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation.
VGA - NVIDIA GeForce GT540M Graphics (with 1GB GDDR3 VRAM), Supports Blu-ray 3D playback, NVIDIA 3D Vision, 3DTV Play Capable
- Intel HD Graphics 3000, Supports Lucid Virtu Switchable Graphics

*Lucid Virtu only supports Windows 7 / Windows 7 64bit.
HDD - 750GB, 7200rpm, 2.5" SATA HDD
ODD - BD Combo
Front I/O - 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x MIC, 1 x Headphone, 4-in-1 Card reader (MMC/SD/MS/MS PRO)
Rear I/O - 1 x HDMI 1.4a, 1 x DVI-I (Dual-Link), 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x eSATA3, 2 x USB 3.0

*For eSATA function, Hot Plug function is supported in AHCI mode only. IDE mode does not support Hot Plug function.
LAN - Gigabit LAN
Sound - 7.1 CH HD Audio with THX TruStudio
WiFi - 2T2R 802.11b/g/n

*300Mbps, 2T/2R
Remote Controller - MCE Remote Controller
Power Unit - 90W/19V Adapter
Dimension - 200mm(W) x 70mm(H) x 200mm(L)
Volume (liters) - 2.8L


ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC Bundle

Before we dive in and check out the system itself, here’s a look at what ASRock includes with the Vision 3D 252B HTPC's bundle. There are a number of accessories that come with the machine, including an IR MCE Remote Control, a VGA to DVI adapter, a 19v power brick, user’s and quick installation guides, and a couple of CDs. One CD contains all of the drivers and utilities necessary to properly set up the machine and the other is a copy of Cyberlink PowerDVD 10. The utilities and other software on the first CD include NVIDIA’s 3DTV Play, LucidLogix Virtu, trial versions of Cyberlink MediaEspresso 6.5 and DVD Suite and the MAGIX Multimedia Suite. Note, however, that an OS does not come installed on the system. While many free OSes work very well on the ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC, some of the features, like 3DTV Play for example, only work under Windows.

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ASRock Vision 3D 252B Exterior

ASRocks’ Vision 3D SFF / HTPC machines are available in either black or silver finishes. But all of the Vision 3D-branded systems use the enclosure and have the same complement of ports and connectors. ASRock does, however, also offer the Vision HT and Core HT series mini-PCs, which have different configurations and enclosures.



ASRock Vision 3D 252B: Front and Back

The machine you see here is a black (obviously) ASRock Vision 3D 252B. As you can see, the machine has an understated appearance and ASRock makes no effort to stealth or otherwise hide any connectors. The fact that all of the system’s various connectors are in plain sight at all times may turn off some potential users, but we think the system looks great. The front is home to nothing but a slot for the optical drive and a single row of ports in a clean, uncluttered arrangement.

There’s lots of stuff going on around the back of the machine, but it many situations there will only be three cables connected, power, network, and HDMI, and perhaps a transceiver or two for input devices and a game controller.

The ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC offers a host of connectivity options on its front and rear. The front of the machine houses headphone and microphone jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, an optical drive, flash card reader, a drive activity indicator and a lighted (blue) power button. On the back of the machine, users will find an HDMI output, a DVI output, an eSATA port, six more USB ports (4 x 2.0, 2 x 3.0), various audio inputs and outputs, an RJ45 LAN jack, a Kensington lock port, and a power port. About the only thing “missing” here is a Firewire port, but with USB 3.0 and eSATA available, that’s not much of a concern in our opinion.

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ASRock Vision 3D 252B Interior

Although the ASRock Vision 3D 252B appears to be a compact, sealed fortress of a mini-PC, it is actually very easy to disassemble. There is a single button on the back of the machine, that when pressed, ejects the glossy lid off the top. Once the top is removed, it’s just a matter of unscrewing a few screws and removing an EMI shield.


ASRock Vision 3D EMI Shield / Drive Tray

We should point out that the EMI shield in the system also asks as a drive tray. The system’s slot-loading Blu-Ray drive and 2.5” Western Digital 750GB hard drive are mounted to the tray and can be removed right along with it, after unplugging their cables, of course.

ASRock’s Vision 3D HTPC systems are built up using mobile components. Various Intel Core i3 / i5 / and i7 processor options are available, but the form factor and most other features remain unchanged, save for the optical drive, which can be either a DVD or Blu-Ray drive.

There is an MXM module underneath a copper heatplate in the 252B that houses the machine’s NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M GPU; the CPU and chipset reside under another heatplate adjacent to the GPU, which is also outfitted with the system’s only cooling fan. We should point out that while the fan is not completely silent, it is very quiet. Under no circumstances did the slight noise generated by the fan detract from the experience while playing movies, music, etc. in a home theater environment.


GeForce GT 540M MXM Module, System Cooling Fan

There are multiple different models of the ASRock Vision 3D and Core HT series mini systems. The "B" or "D" in the model number designates the optical drive configuration (B for Blue-Ray, D for DVD), and the higher model number machines are equipped with progressively faster processors. The Core i5-2520M in the model we tested, however, proved to be more than capable for every multimedia task we threw at the machine, though.


Another Look Inside the Vision 3D 252B

Other specification of the system we tested include 8GB or DDR3-1333 RAM, an Intel HM65 Express chipset, Gigabit LAN, 7.1 channel HD Audio with THX TruStudio support, and built in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.
 

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Performance: PCMark Vantage

Test System Configuration Notes: We compared the ASRock Vision 3D HTPC's performance to an array of other HTPC systems we've used in the past. We compared the Vision 3D to a number of AMD Zacate E-350 Processor-based platforms and a handful of other mobile platforms based upon Intel's Atom or NVIDIA's ION as well. The comparisons will show relative performance versus other low-power power platforms, but as you'll see, the Vision 3D HTPC is markedly more powerful than any of the other systems. In the absence of similarly configured mobile machines to be used for reference testing, we used performance data on hand from other HTPCs, which unfortunately do nt offer nearly as much performance.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel and AMD - Head To Head

System 1:
ASRock Vision 3D 252B
Core i5-2520M CPU
(2.5GHz Dual-Core)
NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M
2x4GB DDR3-1333
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
2.5" WD Caviar Black HD
Windows 7 x64

System 2:
ASRock Vision 3D 137B
Core i3-370M CPU
(2.4GHz Dual-Core)
NVIDIA GeForce GT 425M
2x2GB DDR3-1066
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
2.5" WD Caviar Black HD
Windows 7 x64

System 3:
Zotac Zbox HD AD03
Gigabyte E350N-USB3
AMD E-350 Zacate Processor
(1.6GHz - Dual-Core)
AMD Hudson IO Hub
2x2GB DDR3-1066
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
2.5" Samsung HD
Windows 7 x64

System 4:
Intel Atom D525
(1.8GHz - Dual-Core)
Asus Eee PC1215N
2x2GB DDR3-1066
NVIDIA Ion 2
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
2.5" Seagate HD
Windows 7 x64

Preliminary Testing with PCMark Vantage
Synthetic Benchmarks

First up, we ran our test systems through Futuremark’s latest system performance evaluation tool, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a multi-core CPU.

The ASRock Vision 3D 252B's Sandy Bridge CPU with Hyper-Threading (it a dual-core CPU capabile of processing 4 threads), 8GB of RAM, and relatively fast HD give it the ability to easily outpace the other, lower-powered systems in our DB of performance results.
 

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Performance: Cinebench and 3DMark

Cinebench R11.5 is an tile-based rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.

Cinebench R11.5
3D Rendering

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

Like the PCMark Vantage tests on the previous page, the ASRock Vision 3D 252B blows all of the other systems out of the water in our Cinebench R11.5 tests.

3DMark Vantage CPU Score
DirectX Gaming

3DMark Vantages built-in CPU tests are multi-threaded DirectX gaming metrics that are useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems. This tests consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance. Calculations that are normally reserved for the 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering. The system's performance in each test is used to determine the final score.

The Core i5-2520M's higher clocks (2.5GHz base / 3.2GHz Turbo), in addition to its support for Hyper Threading give it a big edge in 3DMark's CPU test, where it outpaces all other systems by a wide margin.
 

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Performance: Gaming

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Left 4 Dead 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing low-power platforms with L4D2 or ET:QW, we dialed the image quality settings down to medium quality settings and tested at various resolutions. Since these are more entry-level game tests on highly mobile platforms or platforms equipped with mobile parts, we left anti-aliasing turned off and image quality settings set from moderate to high levels where possible.

3D Gaming: ET: Quake Wars and Left 4 Dead 2
Testing Zacate's GPU


We've got a couple of different things going on in these game tests. Fist, keep in mind the GeForce GT 540M in the Vision 3D 252B and the GT 425M in the older Vision 3D PC we looked at are both 96 CUDA core GPUs. The GeForce GT 540M and 425M only differ in their clock speeds, with the 540M being the faster of the two (1120MHz vs. 1344MHz.) We also think the newer drivers and higher-clocked system memory on the newer 252B HTPC help it out here, particularly in the ET:QW test. Regardless of the deltas, the Vision 3D 252B is the fastest of the bunch.

Although not listed in the graphs, we'd also like to mention that we did some in-game testing at full 1080P resolution as well. In L4D2 the system put up 44.16 FPS at 1080P and in ET:QW it put up 61 FPS.

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Total System Power Consumption

Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power the base platform configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet


Despite offering much better performance than its predecessor, the Vision 3D 252B consumed less power under both idle and load conditions. We were only loading up the CPU with Cinebench in this test, however. In situations where both the CPU and GPU are loaded up (like in a game like L4D2, for example), power consumption will be higher. We saw peak power consumption of 89 watts in L4D2 to be specific.
 
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Quality and User Experience
To test video decode and playback capabilities of ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC, we played back a 1080p H.264-encoded QuickTime clip, along with 1080p Blu-ray movie content, a 1080P MKV file, and HD Flash video (along with just about every other file type). We then fired up Windows Task Manager take a look at CPU utilization in all instances.

HD Video Playback and CPU Utilization
HD Video Decode Performance


 

Playback of every file type we threw at the ASRock Vision 3D was virtually flawless. We have been using the machine both in the lab and in a home theater environment for literally months and there hasn't been a single file or type of media the machine couldn’t handle. CPU utilization was low with every file we tested, including 3D Blu-Ray discs and Flash video, and the quality of the video output to both a desktop monitor or Samsung 3D HDTV was nothing short of excellent.

The ASRock Vision 3D HTPC also handled all of the 3D content we had available perfectly. 3D Photos, video clips, live streaming from the web, Blu-Ray discs, and games all worked as they should. This is a testament to the work NVIDIA has put in to ensure a good 3D experience for end users with their 3D Vision and 3DTV Play technologies.
 
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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The ASRock Vision 3D 252B performed very well throughout our entire battery of tests. Its performance in comparison to the other HTPC and low-power systems we tested was excellent and power consumption was somewhat lower than the previous-gen Vision 3D PC we tested. Within the confines of a system designed to be an HTPC though, the user experience is also a big factor in determining performance, and in this regard the ASRock Vision 3D 252B excelled. The system’s combination of high-performance components and a GeForce GPU allowed it to flawlessly playback all of the media we tested.


The ASRock Vision 3D HTPC with NVIDIA 3DTV Play

We think home theater PCs should conform to certain criteria. They need to be quiet and low power. An HTPC also needs to be easy to connect and use and capable and playing back a wide range of media types. It should also be unobtrusive, able to blend in with other AV equipment, and hopefully be aesthetically pleasing. In our opinion, ASRock has hit the mark on all points.

The ASRock Vision 3D’s use of mobile components results in relatively low power consumption and its active cooling solution is never loud or annoying. The components used in the system also offer strong performance and allowed ASRock to design a small chassis that we think looks great. The system also offers a host of connectivity options and since there's an Intel CPU and NVIDIA GPU on board, it’s compatible with a wide range of operating systems, HTPC front-ends, and can playback virtually any file type with the correct software.

The only caveats are price and availability. ASRock’s HTPC systems are somewhat tough to come by in the US and they are priced at a premium. The Vision 3D 252B model we tested sells for about $900+, which is no small chunk of change. Please keep in mind, however, that if you were to try and build a system like this yourself, similarly performing parts alone would cost upwards of $700, which includes a mini-ITX case. Factor in the time it would take to assemble the system and the cost of software like Cyberlink’s PowerDVD which is included with ASRock’s Vision 3D machine and the price disparity gets even smaller. Even then, you wouldn’t be able to build a system as compact and it likely wouldn’t have as many ports either.

We’re big fans of ASRock’s mini-PC and HTPC systems. If you’ve got the means and are in the market for a system like the ASRock Vision 3D, it is absolutely worthy of consideration.

  • Great Performance
  • Small Form Factor
  • Quiet Operation
  • Flexible Connectivity Option
  • Good Looking

 

  • Pricey
  • Higher Power Consumption Than Fusion or Atom based HTPCs



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