Introducing the ASRock ION 3D

We originally reviewed ASRock's initial ION offering, the ASROCK ION 330 back in august of 2009. To summarize the review of this device: the ASROCK ION 330 was like most devices that use ION as a platform, it was good at performing standard HTPC duty, and it featured good build quality. Although the fan proved to be somewhat noisy and it had no front ports, it was a pretty capable little machine.

Fast forward a year and a half, and we have the new Next Generation ION on the scene; now ASRock has a whole series of mini PCs. This series primarily utilizes Atom processors, but they also have offerings capabile of utilizing processors as powerful as the Core i7. We have reviewed several of these HTPCs including the 100HT-BD and the high-end Vision 3D HTPC. The Vision 3D HTPC earned a place as the best SFF HTPC that we have reviewed at AnandTech; we applauded the small form factor and low power consumption, and we were impressed with the industrial design and attention to detail.

Today we are looking at yet another ASRock MiniPC, this time the ASRock ION 3D Series. Outwardly, this device looks very similar to the 100HT-BD—in fact our ION 3D 152B model includes the same Blu-ray combo drive and front USB 3.0 ports—but instead of a powerful Core i5 processor we have the Atom D525 dual-core processor paired with only 2GB of DDR2 RAM on the mobile Intel ICH8M chipset.

While the processing components of this board may look meager compared to the 100HT-BD, it features a more powerful graphics processor in the form of an NVIDIA GT218 NG-ION. One of the complaints we had with the 100HT-BD was the poor driver support for Intel HD Graphics for certain features (i.e. the absence of 23.976 fps support and certain deinterlacing and noise reduction features). In this review we will attempt to see if the ION 3D is capable of keeping up with its bigger brothers the Vision 3D and the 100HT-BD in the role of an HTPC.

Unboxing Impressions and Connectivity
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  • laytoncy - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I think I'm going to wait until they start using Sandy Bridge in these. I'd love to see the Core 100HT-BD with the Sandy Bridge. I'm not holding my breath but I've been reading all these reviews and have a friend with the ION version and he loves his. I'm just not sure how much longer I can wait or if I'm going to build my own htpc. I figure I've waited this long I'll see if they can push some out this quarter.
  • silverblue - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    The Brazos platform will be faster, certainly, however its GPU doesn't have the ability to decode BluRay 3D. You don't seem to have looked at this platform's ability to decode 3D, though (unless I've missed something).

    On the other hand, TomsHardware have reviewed the ASRock E350M1 and noted that Ion's CUDA cores throw out questionable quality when encoding, so it's all swings and roundabouts really.
  • erwos - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I don't want to be "that guy", but it bugs the hell out of me to see HTPC reviews where they don't even see how many cablecard or ATSC streams this thing can record/display at a time. The modern HTPC is of debatable utility if all you're doing is streaming video; there are any number of embedded devices that will do that cheaper and better.
  • stlbearboy - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    Exactly how many tuners do you expect to get in that case? My recording is done on an ATX motherboard with 13 total tuners. The reviewed system is a playback system, not a recording system.
  • vol7ron - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    At least one for that case.

    Why in the world would you have 13 tuners? What kind of bootlegging business are you running?

    Let me guess, you also have Starz, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and sports packages too.
  • erwos - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    You can connect tuners via USB (ATI) or over the network (HDHR). Shoving them straight into your computer is actually slightly odd to me.
  • stlbearboy - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    3 Directv
    4 OTA
    4 Cable
    3 Clear QAM

    This allows viewing to all every TV in the house via extenders. The most active at one time has been 9. I looked at the HDHR and have 3 HD-PVRs for Directv. Only Sports package is Sunday Ticket but with kids and diverse tastes I like the flexibility. You could use a NAS for storage and HDHR for tuners, although I could not imagine trying to comskip on an ION! But my point still remains, you buy that system for playback not recording. As to the question of how many streams you can record, that is a function of your HDD as ATSC does not take any encoding.
  • CSMR - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    24W is high power. Regular (non-atom) desktop computers can have similar idle power.
    Atom makes it unsuitable for anything except media use.
    But now there are dedicated devices that are generally more convenient, and lower power. (Popcorn hour, Dune, etc.).
    A full OS is not suitable for pure media use.
  • therealnickdanger - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I'm still not sure how ANY device can be recommended for a home theater that doesn't support the full range of bitstreaming options. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA have been in application for nearly five years. It is simply inexcusable to offer anything less than PERFECT support for these. Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD should be ashamed. Please don't take this question in a hostile way, but what kind of "home theater" are you trying to build?

    Next time a device claims to be a "home theater" device and doesn't support bitstreaming, send it back to the manufacturer. It's high time these folks learned that ANY modern HT device must support the following:

    1. Full lossless and legacy bitstreaming compliance
    2. 23.976 compliance
    3. Simultaneous multi-video and multi-audio streams

    Sheesh, it's bloody 2011.
  • Guspaz - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    So, in other words, this thing is pretty much the same as the old ION 330, except with a bluray drive and some front USB ports? I mean, the difference in both the CPU and GPU is very minor, Atom hasn't seen any major developments since it first launched a few years ago.

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