It was a very close race this month, but once all the points had been totted up it was the successor to the A-Listed Maestro that deservedly took the laurels.It was a very close race this month, but once all the points had been totted up it was the successor to the A-Listed Maestro that deservedly took the laurels. It instantly fulfils the requirements of looking like a living room component. In fact the case, with its aluminium shell, looks more like a valve amplifier from the 70s, but for the (programmable) digital readout on the front.
Other than the digital display, there are power and reset buttons, a camouflaged optical drive and two USB 2 ports and FireWire. The FireWire port is actually activated by connecting a cable through PC, out through the back and back into the rear socket – a little inelegant. There’s no media card reader either.
But that’s all the downsides. The large interior means there’s plenty of room for components and air flow. The CPU is cooled by a Zalman HSF and the NVIDIA 6600 graphics card is passively cooled by a large Zalman heat sink. With only an 80mm exhaust fan and the PSU fans in addition to this, it was noticeably the quietest system. Only the hard disk was audible, and tended to resonate a little through the large case – but not distracting.
Altech is a firm proponent of having dual-core CPUs in media centres arguing that they increase performance when dealing with HDTV and the accompanying AC3 (DVD-quality) audio. Inside is an Intel Pentium D 820 which is flanked by 1GB of RAM and a 200GB hard disk. We’d like a bigger hard disk at this price, there’s space to add another but we recommend asking for more when you purchase. Another upgrade option was to a three-year on-site warranty. Altech wasn’t specific but for under $200 it’s a bargain.
It all worked very well, and the two Hauppauge digital tuners performed fine. We’re also fans of the bundled iMON remote. This supports all Media Center functions, but is also very programmable. Best of all it acts as a useable mouse too. The supporting application is left for you to configure which can be fiddly but it enhances MCE 2005 by providing quick access to the desktop and other applications. Also bundled is the good-but-flawed Microsoft MCE keyboard which works well with the remote.
It all adds up to a great package. $3000 is certainly a lot for a non-performance PC, but it’s about standard for quality home theatre equipment and cheap in this company.