- Review Price: £999.00
When PCs based on Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) were first introduced many companies were, quite rightly, criticised for building systems that had nothing to really differentiate them as media PCs save for the interface and the presence of a TV Tuner card. So why is this conventianal looking Evesham MCE 2005 system actually quite a good idea?
As a tower case the Evesham isn’t the sort of system you’re likely to want to have sitting under the TV in your living room. But it is a compact box and for anyone who might want one box to act as an all purpose PC and a media system and is short on space, say students or those in a small home office, it should be just the ticket. After all it’s capable of recording TV, playing slide shows, and watching DVDs all of which is controllable from the comfort of a sofa or bed (not supplied). Of course if you do a lot of that you’ll probably want to attach it to something bigger than the supplied 17in TFT screen, but before I left home many moons ago I had a 17in CRT TV at the bottom of my bed and at the time it seemed like a home cinema.
So with the case for the existence of the Evesham established we can move on to the take a closer look at the system itself. Style wise the external appearance is arguably a tad dated – it’s two-tone black and silver isn’t particularly stylish but neither is it offensive and it is a good match with the supplied Viewsonic TFT. A flap at the bottom drops down to reveal two easily accessible USB 2.0 ports, a full-size Firewire port and headphone and microphone sockets.
Opening up the case I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the tidiest interiors I’ve seen for a long time, with all extraneous cables tied back out of the way or neatly strapped down. Having just built myself a new system, my respect for the ability to keep the inside of a PC tidy has been refreshed, so full marks to Evesham for this. The side panel has both a circular grille and a honeycomb area to improve ventilation inside the case. The reason for this is that, PSU aside, there’s actually only one fan in the whole system. This is on the CPU heatsink; an Akasa unit that barely makes a sound. As our labs are quite noisy I took the machine home to give it a proper test and placed it in my lounge. It proved to be exceptionally quite, so much so that I had to check if I’d actualy turned it on. One issue though was that Evesham had only installed the display driver and not the ATI control centre. When I plugged it in via S-Video to my CRT TV, the image was badly distorted. I installed the latest driver myself and found that once I’d told the driver to output PAL, the image problem was fully resolved.
Back to the interior of the case, a funnel attached to the inside directs air from the CPU right out the side of the system. But what about the graphics card? Well smartly, Evesham has plumped for an ATI X700 based board by PowerColor that employs an innovative heatpipe solution. With no GPU fan, the noise level is seriously reduced. The heatpipe is attached to both sides of the card and after a 3D gaming session gets quite hot to the touch. However, the way round this issue is simple – don’t touch it. The PSU fan does direct some air down over the card and the system didn’t overheat during our tests. However if it did become a problem there is space at the front and rear of the case for extra fans.
Connectivity on the X700 is good, with two DVI outputs, which is always nice to see, and an S-Video out. The good thing about the X700 is that it’s a decnt gaming performer and thanks to its inclusion you’ll be able to play any current game at the supplied screen’s native resolution. It you want to enable FSAA and AF you’ll most likely have to drop down to 1,024 x 768. To get a flavour of the performance we fired up Half-Life 2 and it handled this without any issues.
There’s actually an S-Video out integrated onto the motherboard as well as a composite output. This is one of the first systems we’ve seen based on the Radeon Xpress 200 chipset. This has integrated VGA output as well, so if you were so inclined you could attach three monitors to this system at once. The motherboard southbridge is the IXP 400, and offers support for up two eight USB 2.0 ports, though there are actually only a total of six – four at the rear, and two at the front. There is an integrated network port, but it’s only 10/100 and not Gigabit Ethernet, as the chipset doesn’t offer this, but it’s something of a non issue for most users.
There’s one PCI slot free with one taken up by a Black Gold DVB Tuner. This is a very welcome sight as it means that the system can pick up free-to-air digital TV for optimal picture quality (depending on the quality of the aerial) and widescreen recordings. This is a bonus over the analogue tuner supplied by the recently reviewed HP and Shuttle Media Center machines.
Audio is handled by a six-channel AC’97 chip for 5.1 analogue connections. Alternatively, there’s a coaxial output for sending a digital bit-stream to an external decoder.
There are four SATA ports with a single 200GB Western Digital drive hanging off one of them – just the sort of capacity you need for a Media Center PC. Also, you can always add another disk if you find you need to.
Removable storage is offered by a Sony DW-D23A DVD Writer, capable of burning Dual-Layer discs at up to 4x and 16x for single layer discs. It’s accompanied by a Sony DVD-ROM drive as well. However, it’s disappointing to see that Evesham hasn’t included an integrated memory card reader, especially as no floppy disk drive is provided either, though save from BIOS upgrades a floppy drive has no other use these days.
There are four memory slots in total, two free and two occupied by a pair of 512MB modules. The whole kit and caboodle is powered by an Athlon 64 3700+, offering bags of power for all media tasks, and is more than capable of playing high definition content smoothly.
The supplied display is a 17in VX715 from ViewSonic. Design wise it matches the system and is a smart looking affair with a very solid stand. Cable management round the back is impressive as you can feed the wires under a cover. Colours are pleasingly rich and solid via the DVI connection and there’s a VGA input as well.
As ever the MCE 2005 remote receiver is a large external USB device and the MCE remote supplied is the standard one. It’s well laid out and back-lit, though a tad plasticky. The keyboard and mouse are both solid Microsoft affairs but the mouse was a little on the small side for my liking.
In terms of extra software, there’s little to get excited about – Cyberlink PowerDVD is included though Media Center 2005 will provide the interface most of the time. Hitman Contracts is included and it’s a decent, if now dated, game.
The Evesham is literally a great little system. While the conventional case means that you may not want it in your lounge it’s ironically noticeably quieter in that environment than the recently reviewed Shuttle, which looks wise is more geared to lifestyle living. It lacks neat features of the HP such as a removable hard disk drive and a LightScribe DVD Writer, but then it’s significantly faster for games and is supplied with a monitor, essentially blowing the HP out of the water for value for money.
If this were just a regular PC, that was compact, quiet and capable of playing games it would have a lot going for it. Considering it’s a DVB equipped MCE 2005 system as well, it’s impossible not to recommend the Axis 64 X700.
Score in detail
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