As far as hooking up the TV tuners goes, Evesham has covered all the bases for you. If you have a very good external aeriel, you can simply use the aerial splitter supplied and pump the signal through to both tuners. However, if your TV signal is a little on the weak side, Evesham also supplies a two-way signal booster and some pretty nifty gold plated cables – this probably contributed to the great reception I received, and it’s good to see that Evesham is considering those poor souls in bad reception areas..
Next to the TV tuners you’ll find an ATI X300SE graphics card with 128MB of RAM on-board. Now, because the e-box is a low profile device, it needs low profile cards inside. The TV tuner cards were both proper low profile PCI cards and fit perfectly, but unfortunately the graphics card wasn’t a true low profile device. As a result Evesham has had to hack off part of the backing plate and then bend some of the remainder 90 degrees and try to secure it with a screw. The result is that the graphics card wasn’t sitting straight, making it impossible to plug an S-Video cable in – an issue made all the more severe by the fact that the S-Video port is the only video-out option on the e-box. Opening up the e-box, I was able to reposition the card and try to secure it, but whether it would stay in place is debatable. Evesham has however informed me that all production e-box machines will ship with proper low profile graphics cards.
The rest of the ports and connectors are integrated onto the motherboard – there’s a parallel port, a serial port, a D-SUB port for the integrated graphics which aren’t used, four USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin FireWire port, an Ethernet port, two PS/2 ports and a full complement of sound connectors catering for 7.1-channel audio. It’s a little disappointing that there are no component video or SCART connectors. I tend to use component video to connect my AV equipment to my TV, and your average consumer will probably be used to SCART cables. Of course, if you’re a high-end AV buff, then you might have a large screen LCD or Plasma display with a DVI input, but I think the e-box is more suited to the average consumer who wants an all encompassing home entertainment solution.
If you’re particularly sensitive to noise intrusion, you might be able to hear the e-box humming in the background. That’s not to say that it’s loud by PC standards, because it’s not. But it is audible, unlike your DVD player. Of course I wasn’t expecting it to be silent like a passively cooled Hush PC would be, after all, it has three fans in it. But I think that perhaps quieter fans should be employed to combat this issue. The mATX motherboard is of the PCI Express flavour and sports single x16 and x1 PCI Express slots, as well as two PCI slots. The CPU cooler uses heatpipes and a very large, low rpm fan, in order to keep the 3GHz Pentium 4 cool without causing too much noise. Backing up the CPU is 512MB of DDR2 memory and a 160GB Seagate SATA hard disk. With the lid off you’ll also notice that the optical drive is a notebook device, employed to keep space usage down to a minimum.
Also supplied is a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse bundle, but unfortunately the receiver isn’t integrated into the box, which means that you need to have it attached to a USB port. That said, at least it’s an RF receiver, so it doesn’t need line of site and can be hidden behind the system case. The final piece of the puzzle is the Media Center remote, which worked flawlessly during testing, although it did need to be pointed pretty accurately towards the receiver.
So, what was the e-box like in use? Well as far as media PCs go, this is a pretty good one, and the new version of Media Center adds the polish that’s sometimes missing from media PCs that use third party environments. That’s not to say that things were perfect. When I wanted to play an album from the My Music section, Media Center insisted on playing every track twice. Dropping down into the Windows desktop I examined the actual album folders and found that there was definitely only one of each track in there. I assume that this is a Media Center bug, rather than a problem with the Evesham though, so I’ll check on the next machine I get in running 2005.