Design and Features
First, let us get this off our back: why did ASRock make the top cover of the Vision 3D out of glossy plastic instead of the matte black metal that encloses the sides of this PC? The plastic cover quickly gathered our fingerprints and its hollow sound when tapped just lowers the overall class of this machine. The rest of the Vision 3D is attractive enough and consumers have a choice between black or silver.
Compared to Apple's sleek Mac Mini, the Vision 3D is not as compact. Even when discounting its external power adapter, it weighs slightly more than 2kg. It's also taller and its front ports are completely exposed unlike the Mac Mini's minimalistic feel. But comparisons aside, the Vision 3D is distinctive enough to deserve praise and if one has seen ASRock's older attempts, it's a significant visual upgrade.
Overall, it's polished and the plentiful ports, especially USB will appeal to users who value functionality over aesthetics. No doubt, some of you will prefer a cover of some sort to hide these unsightly ports and connectors but we find it more than acceptable.
Exploring the Internals
Getting inside the ASRock Vision 3D isn't too difficult but you'll need a screwdriver. Pop open the plastic cover and unscrew the metal shield. This allows you to get to the optical drive and hard disk compartment. While ASRock includes spare cables and an internal SATA port for an additional hard drive, we really don't see how you can fit another 2.5-inch drive comfortably.
ASRock has gone with components of the mobile variety, so the processor is a mobile Intel Core processor while the graphics is in the MXM form. ASRock has included useful upgrade instructions complete with images with our review unit on how to change the components, like the processor and graphics. But unless you have access to such mobile components in your area, it's unlikely that you will be upgrading anytime soon.
It's a good thing then that our review unit is pretty souped up in HTPC terms. Besides a competent, Arrandale based 2.4GHz Intel processor, the GeForce GT 425M comes with 96 shader cores with 1GB of DDR3 memory, boasts the latest VP4 engine for full hardware acceleration HD video decoding and lossless bitstreaming audio through HDMI (comes equipped with the 1.4a version). As mentioned earlier, it's 3D Vision ready and NVIDIA's other technologies like PhysX and CUDA are naturally supported.
The DDR3 memory is sufficiently fast at DDR3-1066, and it's probably the easiest to upgrade for consumers since SODIMM is common enough. 8GB however is the maximum supported by the motherboard. There are also two USB 3.0 controllers are onboard the ASRock, the more familiar NEC controller and another from Fresco Logic for a total of three USB 3.0 ports. eSATA is included since the adoption of USB 3.0 is still in infancy. Both Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet are available so connectivity is never an issue.
An important thing to note is that our unit came without an operating system installed and it will be so in the retail edition too. While it allows power users to have their choice of operating systems (Linux has its niche for HTPCs), less savvy consumers may be lost here. It certainly pushes home the message that this performance HTPC is targeted at enthusiasts rather than the general user.