There’s one PCI Express graphics slot filled with an ATI Radeon X1600 featuring an HDMI port and a VGA port. It does have a fan to cool the GPU, but the noise level was minimal. The lack of DVI on the card is down to lack of space but indicates that it is clearly designed to be attached to an LCD or plasma rather than a regular PC monitor. However, a HDMI to DVI cable can be used. There is a DVI port on the motherboard, so you should be able to use it as a third screen using ATI Tripple View – in theory at least.
The next slot is a x1 PCI Express and this is occupied with a Black Gold TV dual DVB-Tuner card. This is a very good choice. Not only do you get two tuners on one PCB but it also picked up a large range of Freeview stations quickly and delivered a good strong picture. In the TR office, the signal strength from the roof aerial isn’t great, so it really separates the TV Tuner men from the boys.
Next along are two PCI slots and one is filled with a D-Link AirPlus G Wi-Fi card complete with a small aerial at the back. On the Sony though, the Wi-Fi aerial is on an extended cable so you could position it for the strongest signal.
Hard disk storage is provided by two gargantuan SATA 500GB hard disk drives, one for Windows and applications and the other for media.
The star of the show though is undoubtedly the Sony BWU100A Blu-ray drive. This will both play and burn 25GB and 50GB Blu-ray discs. It’s only rated as a 2x burner, and 4x drives are available now. You can also burn dual-layer DVD discs at 4x and single layer DVD at 8x. CD recordables are created at 24-speed. This isn’t very quick but that’s hardly the focus of this multi talented drive.
To play Blu-ray movies Cyberlink’s BD Solution is provided – you can’t launch a Blu-ray from within Media Center – for that you’ll have to wait for Vista. Hooking up to a 1,920 x 1,200 resolution 24in screen the picture from Vin Diesal’s XXX movie was smooth and detailed, though it could have been better. It’s down to the disc though and I’m sure that movies will look better once the format matures – we’re waiting for Black Hawk Down on a dual layer Blu-ray disc to appear; it’s due in January.
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