A while ago ASRock Europe kindly lent me an ION 330 to try out as my new HTPC equipment. Got it delivered and started unpacking. It was packed in a neat box along with a hdmi to dvi adapter, a support cd and an anti-slip pad. The case looks just as good as it does on the pictures. Installed it with hdmi to my 37″ LCD TV and optical toslink to my surroundsystem. Booted it up and because it was a sample it came with Windows Vista preinstalled.
Installed XBMC quickly to it and took it for a testspin using AEON as a skin, since it’s pretty demanding on the hardware. Navigation inside the skin seemed fine, noticed that it was a lot smoother than the NVIDIA ION box I had tested before. So surely there is a benefit from having a dual core Atom 330 instead of a single core Atom 230. Did not see any real sluggishness in the skin. Music playback and picture browsing was fine and the little I tested plugins it worked fine as well.
Tried playing some dvds and Xvids and it played without a struggle. HD video playback in Windows is currently not hardware accelerated in XBMC, so I had to use an external player (Media Player Classic). Not much to say about it, since it played smooth and flawless using GPU accelerated decoding.
During all this testing, I was surprised that the sound level of the system was quite silent, my xbox makes more noise as does my surround amplifier, surely it is noticeable in a quite enviroment, but with the amplifier turned on, it couldn’t hardly hear the ASRock and I could definatly not hear it during playback.
During playing with windows, I noticed that the bios wasn’t up to date in this one, so of course I went along with it. It was simple, just put the bios file on a USB stick and boot into flashing mode. Simple, clean and effective.
With that part out of the way, it was time to install XBMC for Linux. Following the guide for minimal Ubuntu it was a walk in the park. Did some additional tweaks (which will be added to the guide) and I had myself a dedicated HTPC running. Sound worked out of the box, both hdmi and optical.
Boot is not really fast, but from I hit the power button until I can use XBMC is ~45 seconds, so with a kernel compiled without all the extra stuff needed to run other hardware, boot time is down to around 25 seconds. Guessing more time can be cut with removal of unnecessary modules and software.
Playback and navigation is just as good as it was in Windows, 1080p movies is accelerated and fully smooth. Only things I haven’t gotten to work is 1080p @ 24Hz, but it is not the ION’s fault, that is my TV not handling it. It didn’t work on my old HTPC either.
For a remote I have soldiered an old XBOX DVD dongle to use USB. It works without any hassle and I do think it is one of the best remotes to handle XBMC.
To sum up the experience I’ve been blessed with, the ION 330 is a great piece of equipment and I would love to have one in my media furniture (thinking about buying one since I currently have no HTPC). One minor thing I find annoying (which I do with all my equipment) is the fact that it has a blue power led. If I buy one, that will be the first thing to replace whilst making the XBOX DVD dongle mounted internally.
*Edit: As of bios version 1.60 there is an option to turn LED’s off (called “Good Night LED”)