Anyone who read the recent budget HDTV roundup might be after a little more information on what we used for our testing.
While Riyad was vigorously testing these displays with his Xbox 360 and a copy of Dead or Alive 4, I could be found bent over my lab desk with a screw driver in hand, doing things the hard way.
This rather tasty looking PC is virtually silent, powerful, has HDMI output and is coupled with a copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition, making this the perfect HDTV partner.
The PC consists of a Silverstone SG01 chassis, CoolerMaster 600W iGreen power supply, T2600 Core Duo processor, Samsung WriteMaster SH-W163 DVD burner, Asus N4L-VM motherboard, Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 DDR2 memory and a Sapphire X1600 PRO HDMI.
We’ve previously looked at the CoolerMaster power supply and found it to be very quiet, while giving out very little heat – perfect for this project. We’ve also looked at the memory and DVD burner before, but my reasons for using those aren’t quite as well thought out, just that they happened to be within arms reach at the time.
What we haven’t looked at is the chassis, graphics card and motherboard. So the emphasis of this article is on these and their application in a Media PC.
First and most importantly, is the chassis. Riyad isn’t a big fan of SilverStone chassis, but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for them. This case is no different, I think it looks great. Its rounded panel and brushed aluminium finish is complemented well by the blue LEDs that glow around the power and reset switch, as well as around the two 5.25in bays.
At the front there are four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, headphone out and microphone in. The power and reset buttons are also made from aluminium and have a positive feel about them. That and the aluminium feet give it the feel of an expensive piece of hi-fi equipment.
From the back, you see four expansion slots and support for a full-sized ATX power supply. You’ll also notice there is a considerable number of grills. Two 80mm fans are included. One is at the back of the case at 45 degrees to the motherboard, drawing air away from the expansion slots. This could be really useful if you are running high end hardware. The second is at the front side of the case, drawing cool air in and pushing it straight over the hard drives. Both of these are positioned right next to grills for optimum airflow.
The chassis is designed to take nothing but standard components – including the motherboard. It will take any MicroATX motherboard and it fits snugly with access to all the available expansion slots. There are two 3.5in bays and two 5.25in bays.
As you can see above, not the neatest of builds but in my defence I found it rather fiddly to build the PC is such a small space. In hind sight, a modular power supply would have been a better idea as very few of the extra cables were needed. Luckily airflow wasn’t much of an issue due to the huge number of grills and the supplied fans.
At the heart of any good PC, is a good motherboard. In this case, we used the Asus N4L-VM DH. This 945 chipset motherboard supports Core Duo/Solo processors, including the not yet released “Merom” processor. It is also fully Viiv compliant, which is perfect for a Media PC.
As you can see above, we have an x16 PCI-Express graphics slot, two PCI slots and a x1 PCI-Express slot. There are three internal SATA connections, as well as an external SATA connection. A single IDE channel is useful if you happen to be using any legacy IDE hardware.
As well as on the onboard graphics, which we chose not to use, there is 8-channel HD audio thanks to a Realtek chip.
The BIOS has some overclocking options which I had limited success with. On other boards we’ve had this same processor above 3GHz, but with this we were topping out at around 2.4GHz – so don’t expect much more than a mild overclock from it. It did recover well from our failed overclocking attempts though, without needing to reset the CMOS. You can adjust the DDR2 voltage and timings, so if you happen to have some slower DDR2 memory there is a fairly good chance you’ll be able to get it running at a better speed. There are only two DIMM slots though, so you want to get as much memory in as possible first time, as upgrading will be tricky.
Supplied with the board is a cooler for use with the Core Duo processor. This is very small and naturally thermally controlled. It’s barely audible and when used in conjunction with SpeedStep, is often not spinning at all.
Finally we have the graphics card. Based on the ATI Radeon X1600 core, we already proved here that in games even the XT variant can’t stand up to the might of the similarly priced nVidia GeForce 7600 GS. You can view our gaming results at the end of the review should you be interested (using comparible testing on our FX60 rig), but the main reason for buying this card would be for a system like this, due to its HDMI output – still rarely found on a graphics card. The card is also AVIVO ready for accelerated video playback and superb video quality. The fact you can play games on it is really just a bonus.
Included with the card is an HDMI cable and an HDMI to DVI adapter should you require DVI. It comes with a full-height blanking plate installed, but is small enough to fit in a half-height case. Because of this, Sapphire has supplied two half-height blanking plates should you wish to build a machine in a slim chassis.
HDMI not only carries video data, but also audio in digital form. On the back panel is a coaxial S/PDIF input, for doing a loopback from the sound card output. But also included is a cable for internally routing it. In this case we took the S/PDIF output from the motherboard and sent it directly to the graphics card. It worked a charm.
The cooler was quiet and complemented the Core Duo processor nicely in our quest for silence.
As a complete machine, this is wonderful to use and it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the quality of each component chosen. It’s silent and powerful – a deadly combination. If we didn’t need it for testing with, I’d be taking it straight home with me. As proven in my Core 2 Duo review, the older Core Duo processor is still very capable and the added bonus of an upgrade to Core 2 Duo (Merom) is appreciated.
The SilverStone SG-01 is £89.99 from Kustom PCs, which is not an unreasonable price. It’s also available in a rather fetching black too, should silver not fit in with your current arrangements. The Asus N4L-VM DH is available from Dabs for £94.21, once again not an unreasonable price. Finally, the Sapphire X1600 PRO HDMI. There isn’t a lot of competition in this area, so one could suggest it gets recommended for it’s HDMI feature alone, but Sapphire has done an excellent job of making this a great overall package, with everything you’ll need to get a PC connected to an HDTV. I struggled to find this 256MB card on the market, but the 128MB version is available for around the £95 mark, but has a larger cooler. I expect this to be similarly priced and well worth the money.
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