KitGuru has reviewed many pre built systems in recent months and we have made sure to cover all market sectors from extreme high end gaming to more modest HTPC creations. What if you want a media and gaming system capable of handling everything you throw at it while still maintaining the smallest possible footprint?
Today we might have the answer to that – the ASRock Vision 3D system which looks very attractive, both on paper and in the flesh. It comprises a fast 2.4ghz Intel Core i3 processor, Bluray Drive, 4GB of DDR3 memory and nVidia GT 425M graphics with full support for HDMI 1.4a output. The end user gets system wide hardware acceleration and 3D support for both Blu Ray and Nvidia 3d Vision gaming.
This certainly appears to be a system that could easily replace a full ATX sized desktop and by the end of this review you will be better equipped to tell if this system is exactly what you need.
The Asrock Vision 3D arrives in a dramatic black accented box, which immediately reminded me of Apple packaging. Meant as a compliment, I might add.
Inside, the Vision 3D system is shipped, protected between two pieces of foam, and encased in a soft felt cover.
The bundle comprises a media center remote, a power adapter, video adapter and DVD software disc. We received an early version of the product so the disc is not professionally printed. It is worth pointing out that the Vision 3D system does not come with an operating system installed. ASRock keep the cost down by letting the end user install their own copy.
The remote sends the signals direct to the Infrared receiver on the HM55-MXM motherboard and it worked well throughout our testing. It is a full function design and supports all the MCE extensions.
The product measures 7.87″ x 2.76″ x 7.87″ (WxHxL) and the aluminum mini ITX chassis is available to order in either silver or black. On the top there is a plastic cover which is coated to a gloss finish. The finish is not that receptive to finger print marks, due to the grain like texture applied, which is a pleasant surprise.
Our silver version is the 137B model which is supplied with a Blu Ray drive and 802.11 b/g/n adapter. If you need to count the pennies, they also sell the 137D version which omits the BluRay functionality. There are a total of six different versions on offer, with various processor configurations. The Intel Core i3-370M CPU (Vision 3D 137B/137D), Core i5-460M (Vision 3D 146B/146D), or Core i5-560M (Vision 3D 156B/156D). We have the Core i3-370M which offers high levels of power while still delivering good value for money. After testing this particular specification we feel very few people would need more power, however more on this later in the review.
The front panel offers a slim line Bluray player (or DVD optical drive) with ‘slot-in’ disc opening. There are also two lightning fast USB 3.0 ports here, audio input/output jacks, and a 4 in 1 card reader which supports MMC, SD, MS and MS Pro.
The rear has support for Dual Link DVi (VGA with the supplied converter) and native HDMI 1.4A audio/video out. There is also an eSATA port which never goes amiss and five USB 2.0 ports and another single USB 3.0 port for good measure. There is a single optical audio Toslink output which pairs up with the 5.1 channel analog audio outputs. Connectivity is offered by the onboard Wireless and a Gigabit Ethernet port beside the audio ports. At the very top is a button to open the top flap for access to the internals.
The optical drive and hard drive are attached to the top part of the chassis and it ‘folds out’ to reveal the motherboard and other components.
This ASRock HM55-MXM motherboard is created for high end multimedia demands. The layout of the PCB offers a spare Sata 3.0GB/s port with a mini PCI Express port which is populated with an Atheros AR9287 wireless network adapter. The hard drive is a Seagate Momentus 5400.6 SATA which is supplied unformatted.
The Gigabit Ethernet adapter is a Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI E model. Next to this is an NEC uPD720200 USB 3.0 controller to offer fast connectivity for backups and streaming. This board only supports 1.5 volt DDR3 SoDIMM memory and can take a total of 8GB of ram. Asrock install two Kingston branded SSZ3128M8-EDJ1D dual-channel 2GB DDR3-1333 (667MHz) SoDIMM modules.
The Intel Core i3 370M is equipped with 3MB of Intel Smart Cache memory via a 32nm process which includes Intel’s 64 bit instruction set. The i3 370M is a 35 Watt TDP processor. The ASRock system utilises a low profile heatpipe design which cools both CPU and GPU.
The nVidia Geforce GT 425M has 96 unified shaders and 1GB of GDDR3 connected to a 128bit bus. This discrete solution delivers 25.6 GB/s of bandwidth and offers 16 ROPS and 96 unified shaders. It is no powerhouse but it should be more than capable of gaming with the eye candy lowered.
We have reviewed many ASRock motherboards recently and have been very impressed with their user interface and overclocking options. The bios with this HM55-MXM motherboard is surprisingly detailed and they have included pre configured overclocking options, up to 3ghz.
We aren’t sure that a sizable portion of this potential audience will want to run this system with such a high overclock, but we found that all of the CPU settings were stable, even to 3ghz.
Dont take my word for it however, validation is available for 3ghz over here. CPU temperature did rise a little and the fan system was working harder, so I would feel that many would be running this at reference speeds. In such a confined chassis design it does make more sense to run at reference speeds for long term peace of mind. We did notice some CPU throttling at 3ghz.
Below are a selection of screens showing some of the many options within the bios.
It would be remiss of us to omit some of the applications that ASRock are bundling and while we have no interest in the ASRock AiWi (which allows you to turn your iPhone into a Gamejoystick), we were extremely curious when reading about the ‘ASRock App Charger’.
This is a driver based software package that apparently ‘makes your iPhone charge up to 40% faster than before’. ASRock App Charger supports continuous charging when the PC enters Standby mode (S1), Suspend to RAM (S3), hibernation mode (S4) or power off (S5). The App Charger technology has been fully applied on ASRock Full series motherboards.
Those of you who have an Apple iPad will know that very few, if any, computer based USB ports send enough current to charge the iPad at the same rate as the plug adapter. The iPad will often say ‘not charging’ and it is a technical issue that Apple themselves have even addressed. Even expensive motherboards I have used do not deliver the full current and it can often mean that the iPad will charge at half the speed, or not at all if you are using it at the same time.
We charged the iPad three times from a 20% reading, until it registered as fully charged.
The results were not surprisingly identical to the AsRock ION3D that we reviewed a while ago. These ASRock systems are fantastic systems for charging media devices, giving the same recharge times as a power socket.
Obviously as you have to install your own operating system, it can be configured to your personal tastes. ASRock do supply a media disc that has an automated ‘install’ option, with al required drivers, software and utilities on the disc. The system restarts about 10 times during this process and when it is finished you are left with this software installed (image below).
All the necessary drivers and utilities are installed, yet it is still relatively clean. We would personally deinstall the Norton software and opt for something with a lower overhead, such as AVG free or AVAST, but this is down to personal taste.
The Windows Experience Index is a good starting point to get an overall ‘view’ of the hardware installed and the ASRock Vision 3D system appears to be well balanced. Obviously this is only used as a guide, our testing on the next pages will give more detailed analysis of performance across a wide variety of uses.
Synthetic testing is not a massively important aspect of a system review, but we feel it rounds out the overall analysis to give a specific overview of key strengths and weaknesses. Before we get into the real world testing we gave the system a run through in SiSoft Sandra. We will compare against several other systems we reviewed in the past, the AMD based Dell Zino HD and the Intel Atom based ASrock ION3D.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software.
Sandra is a (girl) name of Greek origin that means “defender”, “helper of mankind”. We think that’s quite fitting.
It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what’s really going on. Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCI-X, PCIe (PCI Express), database, USB, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc.
Native ports for all major operating systems are available:
- Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x86)
- Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x64)
- Windows 2003/R2, 2008/R2* (IA64)
- Windows Mobile 5.x (ARM CE 5.01)
- Windows Mobile 6.x (ARM CE 5.02)
All major technologies are supported and taken advantage of:
- SMP – Multi-Processor
- MC – Multi-Core
- SMT/HT – Hyper-Threading
- MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE 4.1, SSE 4.2, AVX, FMA – Multi-Media instructions
- GPGPU, DirectX, OpenGL – Graphics
- NUMA – Non-Uniform Memory Access
- AMD64/EM64T/x64 – 64-bit extensions to x86
- IA64 – Intel* Itanium 64-bit
Performance of this system is excellent, especially for a small form factor PC. The Intel Core i3 processor we have already looked at in our Dell Inspiron All In One 23 review last week, but it really does offer a substantial level of performance for the price.
PCMark Vantage is a PC benchmark suite designed for Windows Vista offering one-click simplicity for casual users and detailed, professional grade testing for industry, press and enthusiasts.
A PCMark score is a measure of your computer’s performance across a variety of common tasks such as viewing and editing photos, video, music and other media, gaming, communications, productivity and security.
From desktops and laptops to workstations and gaming rigs, by comparing your PCMark Vantage score with other similar systems you can find the hardware and software bottlenecks that stop you getting more from your PC.
The Core i3 processor really helps lift the performance levels much higher than the AMD powered Zino HD 410 which we reviewed on Kitguru last month. The differences are easily noticeable, highlighting the power of the budget Core i3 platform.
3DMark Vantage is a PC benchmark suite designed to test the DirectX10 performance of your graphics card. We’ve been making 3DMark for over 10 years, with each new edition using the latest 3D technology to determine real-world performance.
A 3DMark score is an overall measure of your system’s 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests. By comparing your score with those submitted by millions of other gamers you can see how your gaming rig performs, making it easier to choose the most effective upgrades or finding other ways to optimize your system.
3DMark is widely used by the PC industry, press and media as well as individual users and gamers, for comparing performance levels between whole systems or even specific components.
Another very strong set of results from the Intel and nVidia combo in the ASRock Vision 3D system. We will investigate this shortly as synthetic testing only shows a part of the overall picture.
A very important part of overall system responsiveness is down to hard drive performance so we used two of our favourite benchmark utilities Crystalmark X64 Edition and HD Tach to rate the Seagate Momentus 5400.6 SATA drive.
Performance is quite impressive considering the drive is a mechanical unit. The Seagate Momentus averages between 100 and 110 MB/s in both read and write sequential testing. HDtach shows a 90MB/s average read with peaks of over 200 MB/s.
CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
CINEBENCH is the perfect tool to compare CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms (Windows and Mac OS X). And best of all: It’s completely free.
We wanted to include some overclocking results on this particular page to show scaling when we moved from 2.4 ghz to 2.7 ghz and finally to 3.0ghz.
These are great results for such a modest processor with an impressive jump from 2.4ghz to 2.7ghz. Scaling from 2.7ghz to 3ghz is lower, due to some thermal throttling which takes place under full load.
Our good friends at Cyberlink kindly supplied the software for our Bluray and conversion tests. This software fully supports GPU acceleration.
Cyberlink PowerDVD 10 is one of the finest solutions for the Blu-Ray experience on Windows and we found this software to work perfectly with this chipset. We tested with the Bluray Disc of Avatar, one of our favourite sci-fi films in recent years.
Average load is 10 percent which means that the processor is free to handle an array of multitasking requirements even when watching HD content.
We recorded CPU time across a section of playback time, the processor is supported by the graphics card which helps raise overall system responsiveness while lowering the CPU demand.
Many people using this system will be enjoying Flash related content so we feel it is important to test with some of the more demanding material available freely online.
With acceleration on the system reports a 17 percent CPU demand which is a fantastic result for the ASRock 3D Vision, even lower than the Dell Inspiron AIO 23. The Core i3 is obviously the most powerful processor in this line up which helps reduce the percentage utilisation.
CyberLink MediaEspresso 6 is the successor to CyberLink MediaShow Espresso 5.5. With its further optimized CPU/GPU-acceleration, MediaEspresso is an even faster way to convert not only your video but also your music and image files between a wide range of popular formats.
Now you can easily playback and display your favorite movies, songs and photos not just on your on your mobile phone, iPad, PSP, Xbox, or Youtube and Facebook channels but also on the newly launched iPhone 4. Compile, convert and enjoy images and songs on any of your computing devices and enhance your videos with CyberLink’s built-in TrueTheater Technology.
New and Improved Features
- Ultra Fast Media Conversion – With support from the Intel Core i-Series processor family, ATI Stream & NVIDIA CUDA, MediaEspresso’s Batch-Conversion function enables multiple files to be transcoded simultaneously.
- Smart Detect Technology – MediaEspresso 6 automatically detects the type of portable device connected to the PC and selects the best multimedia profile to begin the conversion without the need for user’s intervention.
- Direct Sync to Portable Devices – Video, audio and image files can be transferred in a few easy steps to mobile phones including those from Acer, BlackBerry, HTC, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Palm, as well as Sony Walkman and PSP devices.
- Enhanced Video Quality – CyberLink TrueTheater Denoise and Lighting enables the enhancement of video quality through optical noise filters and automatic brightness adjustment.
- Video, Music and Image File Conversion – Convert not only videos to popular formats such as AVI, MPEG, MKV, H.264/AVC, and FLV at the click of a button, but also images such as JPEG and PNG and music files like WMA, MP3 and M4A.
- Online Sharing – Conversion to video formats used by popular social networking websites and a direct upload feature means posting videos to Facebook and YouTube has never been easier.
For our testing today we are converting a 1.1GB 720p MKV file to Apple Mp4 format for playback on a portable device. This is a common procedure for many people and will give a good indication of system power. We will toggle the nVidia acceleration on and off to record any possible time savings.
With the nVidia card helping to handle the encoding process the time is reduced from 10 minutes and 53 seconds to 5 minutes and 38 seconds, a clear indication of how much of a difference nVidia hardware acceleration can make to the overall process. Almost twice as fast, as we have just proved.
We are now going to test the USB 3.0 and 2.0 speed, so we used the fastest drive we have, the Kingston HyperX Max 3.0 128GB, which is an Toshiba based SSD product within a USB 3.0 capable enclosure.
Today for testing we first copied a 3.9GB MKV file to and from the Kingston HyperX USB 3.0 drive.
USB 3.0 performance is excellent, if a little slower than our fastest desktop boards. USB 2.0 seems almost painful in comparison, especially after testing USB 3.0 beforehand !
Next we created a 3GB folder of mixed sized files, this is to reproduce a real world scenario – many users have folders of word documents, picture files and even database documents.
The time to copy our mixed file folder was reduced by between 400-550%, when we switched from USB 2.0 to the USB 3.0 interface.
Left 4 Dead 2 is a cooperative first-person shooter game. It is the sequel to Valve Corporation’s award-winning Left 4 Dead. The game launched on November 17, 2009, for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360 in the United States; it launched November 20 in Europe. It builds upon the cooperatively-focused gameplay of the original and uses Valve’s proprietary Source engine, the same game engine used in Left 4 Dead. The game made its world premiere at E3 2009 with a trailer during the Microsoft press event.
In a similar fashion to the original, Left 4 Dead 2 is set during the aftermath of an apocalyptic pandemic, and focuses on four survivors fighting against hordes of the infected. The survivors must fight their way through levels, interspersed with safe houses that act as checkpoints, with the goal of reaching a rescue vehicle at the campaign’s finale.
We settled on 1080p resolution with 4AA and all settings on maximum.
Left4Dead ran great at 1080p with no performance issues, and all settings maxed out.
Resident Evil 5, known in Japan as Biohazard 5, is a survival horror third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on March 5, 2009 in Japan and on March 13, 2009 in North America and Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A Windows version of the game was released on September 15, 2009 in North America, September 17 in Japan and September 18 in Europe. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.
Within its first three weeks of release, the game sold over 2 million units worldwide and became the best-selling game of the franchise in the United Kingdom. As of December, 2009, Resident Evil 5 has sold 5.3 million copies worldwide since launch, becoming the best selling Resident Evil game ever made.
We tested at 1080p in DX10 with all settings on maximum and AA set to 4 times.
Getting this playable at 1080p with anti aliasing in DX10 is rather impressive and we were pleased to see that the game remained playable at all times.
Tom Clancy H.A.W.X. 2 is the followup to the successful and popular H.A.W.X.
Use all your skills to command an astonishing array of cutting-edge technology and overwhelming firepower, delivered by tomorrow’s finest combat aircraft.
From the F-35′s vectored thrust capability to the ultra-secret Enhanced Reality System, you’ll light up the skies with a suite of experimental technology available only to a chosen few.
We tested HAWX2 at 1080p with Terrain Tessellation enabled and disabled.
The nVidia GT 425M is able to power through this game with tessellation off at 1080p. When terrain tessellation is enabled then the frame rates drop dramatically. Although generally perfectly playable, there are a few sections when the frame rate takes a nose dive.
Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates.
After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. Lost Planet 2 runs on the MT-Framework 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in several Capcom-developed games.
We are testing in DX11 mode but we have turned down all the settings to the lowest possible to try and get the frame rates acceptable.
It was maybe too much to ask that this system take on Lost Planet 2 in DX11 mode. To be fair, most of the time it maintained pretty good frame rates, but the eye candy was noticeably reduced.
Today we are measuring the power drain at the wall. We measured the system in idle state, when watching an HD movie and when fully loaded, gaming.
At idle, the system is very efficient, taking only 42 watts of power. This rises to a maximum of 94 watts under full load when gaming.
Recently we have changed our method of measuring noise levels. Ambient noise in the room is around 20-25dBa. We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the chassis and 4 foot from the ground with our Extech digital sound level meter to mirror a real world situation.
KitGuru noise guide
10dBA – Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA – High Quality Computer fan
40dBA – A Bubbling Brook, or a Refridgerator
50dBA – Normal Conversation
60dBA – Laughter
70dBA – Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA – City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA – Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA – MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA – Orchestra
120dBA – Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA – Threshold of Pain
140dBA – Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA – Instant Perforation of eardrum
Normally the system doesn’t generate much noise, but if you push it hard, the fans do speed up significantly to keep the components from getting dangerously hot. Under full load the system produced over 42 dBa of noise, which is clearly noticeable.
The tests were performed in a controlled air conditioned room with temperatures maintained at a constant 24c – a comfortable environment for the majority of people reading this.
Idle temperatures were measured after sitting at the desktop for 30 minutes. Load measurements were acquired by running Furmark and Cinebench together.
Under Furmark load the nVidia solution peaked at 96 degrees C which is higher than we would have liked. To be fair, when gaming this figure was normally hovering around the 85c zone, but potentially this card could break the 90c barrier, especially if the environmental conditions were warm.
The ASRock Vision 3D has proven to be a well balanced small form factor PC which will make an ideal partner for enthusiast users requiring an extremely powerful system. Many people are happy with an Atom powered HTPC, and others find them painfully slow – everyone has a different outlook on what they need (or want).
The Intel Core i3 370M is an exceptional processor with low power demands meaning it doesn’t run too hot, even with limited airflow. The ASRock heatpipe based cooling system is capable, even if it can get a little loud when pushed hard. We certainly weren’t expecting this processor to achieve 3ghz in such a confined space, but it ran happily 24/7 with a 600mhz overclock. Whether you would want to keep this level of overclock is going to be a very personal choice, as the fans tended to intrude more on the overall experience. If you have this system enclosed inside a cabinet in your living room, make sure there is plenty of airflow at the rear or things could get nasty.
If you often use a portable media player, then the Vision 3D is a fantastic source unit, as the USB ports are capable of charging devices with the same proficiency as a dedicated mains power socket. USB 3.0 connectivity offers a high level of future proofing for new media devices coming to market in 2011. With nVidia hardware acceleration, video conversion times were tested to improve by almost 100 percent, meaning you dont need to waste much time getting your films and tv shows ported across to the player.
The nVidia Geforce GT 425M proved to be a capable partner for the Intel Core i3, helping it to power through conversions and it handled many of the newest games, abeit sometimes with reduced IQ settings. Under load it did seem to get a little hot, but we wouldn’t forsee any long term issues. HDMI 1.4a support is also a strong selling point for discerning media users.
The Asrock HM55-MXM motherboard is a great design, with an all solid capacitor implementation evident for long term stability and a well researched layout covering all the possible bases: with eSATA, Wireless, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 all on offer.
We really do feel that ASRock have this market covered, and every time we review one of their products we are left with a very positive feeling. They certainly appear to put a lot of time and effort into their designs and we are quite sure that this system will be a viable, future proofed media center for many years to come.
Pricing in the UK right now is £689.99 inc vat, but do remember you need to purchase an OS, monitor, mouse and keyboard to get the full system up and running.
KitGuru says: Extreme jaw dropping design from ASrock. Well worth checking out if you are in the market for a new, wickedly fast media system.