- Review Price: £1438.00
Last month I took a look at a complete Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005 system from small form factor kings Shuttle and was generally impressed. Now system integrator Scan has created its own Media Center system called the CUBIT 5 using the guts of Shuttle’s SFF MCE system but employing a housing from Hoojum.
Scan is noted for its systems sporting cases designed to make the beige box a distant memory and its Hoojum range will certainly do that. The case is a very solid block of aluminium with an entirely mirrored surface, much like the reverse side of an iPod. The front panel is of particular note with a sliver at the top for the notebook sized Panasonic UJ-845-BPN, which can burn dual-layer DVDs at 2.4writing speeds. There are also multiple memory slots at the bottom. Above these are two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin Firewire connection and headphone and microphone sockets. The distinctive features though are the slots that run down either side, providing extra cooling. On the left is an infra-red panel, though this didn’t seem to serve any function as the media center remote is an external USB box, as it was with the Shuttle.
The unit it’s certainly something of a design statement, but to my eyes that statement is primarily ‘toaster’. It’s undoubtedly a stunning looking object, but I’d like to have a great looking piece of AV hardware in my lounge, rather than a fantastic looking kitchen appliance. Fortunately Scan offers the Hoojum in other colours, namely, black, white, blue, peach and red, so there’s really something for everyone. The other colours are also significantly cheaper than the chrome finish. If you go for black, then you’ll save a whopping £120. This drops to £115 less if you go for white and it will be £105 less expensive with any of the other shades.
As a media PC, the CUBIT 5 has many talents, even if one of them isn’t producing perfectly done cooked bread products. The CPU supplied is a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 with 1MB of cache on an 800MHz front-side bus. This ensures that the system will be very capable of handling high definition video material smoothly. The processor is ably assisted by 1GB of Corsair RAM on two 512MB modules, ensuing dual-channel operation on the 915G chipset. The graphics card will also help with video playback.
While most media centre systems take it easy on the graphics performance to try and keep system noise down, Scan has an option to fit either a GeForce 6600GT or a GeForce 6800GT into the case, and the former was fitted inside my review system. With one of these cards then you’ll clearly be trading off a near silent system for one with fairly conventional noise levels and there was simply no disguising the fact that the fan will make its presence felt in a lounge environment. Then again if you want to play games on the system you’ll have to make that sacrifice. Halo was preinstalled on this test system and I launched it to see how the system faired. I was very quickly drawn into the game and was reminded what a great title Halo is. The whole experience was certainly a whole lot smoother than my own PC gave me at the time the game was first released for PC.
(Update: Scan has informed me that it can fit fanless GeForce 6600 cards to the system if required. I’d recommened it.)
Scan bundles a NorthQ PC to DVD Link Cable Kit, which enables you to hook up the system to your CRT TV via composite or S-Video without having to go hunting for more bits. The best image quality though would be to use the DVI ports of the 6600GT card and hook up to an HD ready TFT or Plasma screen. Staying with graphics for a moment, Scan has not covered over the built-in VGA port, so users could get confused the first time they set up the system.
In terms of noise I was very concerned when I first booted up the system as the CPU fan noise from the Shuttle ICE cooling system was extremely loud. But a trip to the BIOS sorted this out as the fan setting had been put on maximum. Setting this to Auto saw the noise level drop significantly and even at its lowest setting it still does a good job of extracting warm air to the rear. This means though that it needs to be placed in a well ventilated location so that warm air doesn’t linger causing ambient temperatures to rise.
One genuine bonus the supplied system has over the Shuttle MCE machine is that it has Freeview Digital TV PCI TV Tuner card – a Hauppauge WinTV-Nova-T. This is a very welcome inclusion and is a far more welcome sight than a boring old analogue tuner. A big downer was that unlike the Shuttle there was no integrated wireless in the review system, which seemed like an odd omission. However, Scan assured me that it is available as an option. There is also an integrated wired network port. Also at the rear are two USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin Firewire port and coaxial and optical digital outputs. Ports for the 5.1 channel capable Realtek AC’97 sound chip are also integrated onto the board.
As far as upgrading goes the Hoojum case is quite different from the norm. As it’s a solid piece there’s no lid to lift off. Instead you have to slide the inside out by removing four screws at the rear. This makes it easy to work on the insides as you can get to the components but as soon as you try and slot the interior back into place your enthusiasm for the case might start to wane. Things have to be lined up just right which is tricky. Once you take out the insides the connections for the front panel come off too, so you have to take of the front panel too in order to reconnect it.
The Scan system was supplied with a Cherry wireless keyboard and mouse. This has a wireless USB dongle connector rather than a PS/2 connection, so you’ll have to give up one of your USB slots. The mouse is not that comfortable to hold and the keyboard is something of an acquired taste. It’s very thin which is good but the travel in the keys is almost non-existent. The layout is also odd with F-Keys down the sides. There are lots of hot keys at the top though for quick access and it’s very configurable thanks to the supplied software.
The Scan is a good Media Center system but you’re paying over the odds for the funky case design. The digital tuner is sensible but the lack of wireless is disappointing. The GeForce 6600GT graphics card also means it’s not really suited to quiet environments. Ultimately unless you have to have the Hoojum case, the conventional Shuttle MCE system, which Scan also sells, offers far better value.
Score in detail
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