Few companies have remained as competitive as Asrock in the HTPC segment in recent years. In late 2009, the Taiwanese manufacturer impressed us with its Intel Atom and Nvidia Ion-packing 330HT-BD, an ultra-compact powerhouse capable of driving 1080p videos and some casual games. The system earned our scarcely-bestowed "Outstanding!" badge. A year later, we found the company's Vision 3D to be the most powerful HTPC we'd tested at the time, courtesy of the machine's Core i3-370M and GeForce GT 425M.
Unfortunately, that streak came to a screeching halt in July when we reviewed the company's CoreHT 252B. Although the device's Core i5-2520M decimated the competition in CPU benchmarks, Asrock failed to accompany the processor with discrete graphics. As you well know, Intel's integrated solution leaves a lot to be desired in a media-focused machine -- at least when casual gaming is considered. The CoreHT 252B failed to deliver desirable framerates in virtually every title we tested with reasonable quality settings.
Overall, the machine is (was?) in an awkward position for a home theater rig. Its CPU is too powerful, its GPU is too weak and because it's packing some mainstream mobile Sandy Bridge silicon, it's somewhat undesirably priced at $800. It seems Asrock agrees with that notion. Not only is the CoreHT 252B in short supply online (at least in the US, anyway), but the company is preparing to launch a new system that should retain Sandy Bridge's general processing prowess while complementing the chip with a proper GPU.
The unannounced second-gen Vision 3D has surfaced on the company's site and will come with Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, an Nvidia GeForce GT 540M, 4GB of DDR3 RAM (support for up to 16GB), a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, and a DVD or Blu-ray drive. Connectivity includes four USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports (two on the front panel), one eSATA3 port, HDMI 1.4a and DVI-I outputs, S/PDIF, 7.1-chanel sound, a multi-card reader, as well as wired and wireless network connectivity. There's no word on pricing or availability yet.