Aside from the donut-inspired case of the Sony VAIO RA810G or the shoe-box-size case of the , innovative cases designs on Media Centers PC are few and far between. More often than not, Media Center PCs come packaged in a standard desktop tower, despite the fact that these PCs are meant to do atypical desktop jobs--recording TV, for example--in atypical desktop locations, such as living rooms. At first blush, the HP Media Center m1050y Photosmart PC's case looks like just another of these standard-design media centers. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll find a slot for a removable hard drive. The $220 Personal Media Drive gives you 160GB of ingenious portable storage--perfect for shuttling the latest episode of Amish in the City to a friend's PC or simply backing up data. Overall system performance was impressive in our tests, too, but graphics honchos will need more high-resolution 3D firepower. We'd suggest dialing back the processor a couple notches from our test system's 3.6GHz Pentium 4 560, which would bring our test system's $2,700 price closer to a reasonable $2,000. At such a price, we'd heartily recommend the HP Media Center m1050y Photosmart PC. We have lots of good news and very little bad news to report when it comes to the HP Media Center m1050y Photosmart PC's design. First, the bad news: the system is difficult to upgrade, should you ever feel the need to do so. Inside, the minitower case is littered with cables snaking to and fro, and most major components, especially the RAM, are nigh impossible to reach. The side panel, which slides off easily, is a bear to get back on, and all four drive bays and three PCI slots were filled in on our evaluation model.
That said, we recommend you leave the side panel in place and instead gaze lovingly at the attractive exterior of the case, which looks great and has lots to offer. We love the m1050y's clean lines and rounded curves, and we appreciate that the design detail and the black-and-silver cladding extends to all of the included accessories.
In terms of connectivity, this system shines. Up front, there are all sorts of ports, including FireWire, dual USB 2.0, and composite and S-Video inputs, all hidden by a sliding door. In back, the full complement of standard connectors greets you, including six audio ports provided by the Audigy 2 sound card, as well as S-Video, TV, and FM inputs provided by the TV tuner card.
Atop the case, there's the rather gimmicky HP DockSpot, a recessed plastic docking station designed to fit certain HP digital cameras. A pass-through channel provides a place for a camera cable to thread to the back USB ports. HP is guilty of trying too hard with this camera dock--the system's media-card reader obviates the need for such a setup. The highlight of the HP Media Center m1050y Photosmart PC's list of fun and useful features is the Personal Media Drive (PMD), a 160GB, 7,200rpm hard drive that works both externally (connecting via included USB cable) and as an internal drive that fits into a specially designed slot on the front of the system. In testing, it consistently lived up to its billing as a hot-swappable drive, letting us dock and remove it repeatedly without incident. The PMD gives you an easy way to back up data or take the drive with you to share files with other PCs; it also ships with a power supply for use when it's running externally.
The m1050y line is based on Pentium 4 CPUs ranging from the 2.8GHz model 520 up to the 3.6GHz 560 that we tested and the Intel 915G (Grantsdale) chipset. As a result, the line features PCI Express (PCIe) and Serial ATA technologies and accepts fast, 400MHz system memory, of which our system included 1GB. A huge, internal 250GB Maxtor hard drive rounds out its storage options.
In addition, our test system included an 8X CD/DVD writer and a 16X DVD drive, which is an expensive combination; for $50 more, HP offers an even pricier double-layer DVD burner. Above these drives sits a nine-in-one media-card reader, giving you an easy way to download photos and another method for sharing files.
A Radeon X600 graphics card with 256MB of video RAM came plugged in to our m1050y test system's single PCIe x16 slot, and it delivered plenty of power for most mainstream multimedia applications, DVD playback, and even a fair amount of gaming. But users in search of blistering 3D frame rates will need more firepower, and HP doesn't offer any card that's more powerful than this one. You can pair your system with any of five optional LCD panels or a 17-inch CRT. Or, you can choose to purchase the system without a display, should you plan to connect it to the living-room television.
Our system included Microsoft Office 2003, Norton AntiVirus, and Quicken 2004, as well as a passel of HP multimedia utilities for managing photos, burning discs, and cutting together simple videos. The m1050y's Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 OS makes it incredibly easy to create a TV recording schedule. We especially like the fact that HP includes an IR blaster that lets you control digital-cable and satellite set-top boxes with the included remote control. The OS features a simple setup wizard that gets you up and running in a matter of minutes. Application performance
With a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 560 processor and 1GB of 400MHz memory, the HP Media Center m1050y Photosmart PC is overqualified for its intended multimedia tasks. Its SysMark 2004 score of 210 is the highest score we've recorded for a Media Center PC. Unless you are looking for a Media Center PC that can double as a screaming gaming system, we'd recommend choosing the 3.2GHz Pentium 4 540, which will save you $440 and still give you ample power for running all of the intended multimedia tasks of a Media Center PC.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
With ATI's midrange Radeon X600 Pro graphics card, which uses the new PCI Express interface, the HP Media Center m1050y Photosmart PC has the graphics horsepower to handle the Media Center chores of watching and recording TV, editing photos and displaying slide shows, and even working on some light video editing. The X600 Pro provides mainstream gamers with acceptable frame rates at lower resolutions, but a high-end graphics card is a requisite if you're looking for a Media Center PC that can moonlight as a serious gaming machine. For example, the uses the high-end Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition card, and it turned in much higher scores on our Unreal Tournament 2003 test than the m1050y did.
|Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768||Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF|
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at resolutions of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X, respectively, during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal is an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows XP Home; 3.6GHz Intel P4 560; Intel 925X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X800XT PE (PCIe); two Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801FR SATA RAID controller
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.6GHz Intel P4 560; Intel 915G chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X600 Pro (PCIe); Maxtor 7Y250M0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-53; Via K8T800 Pro chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce FX 5900XT (AGP); two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated WinXP Promise FastTrak 579 controller
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.4GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon 9800XT (AGP); WDC WD2000JB-00FUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
Sony VAIO VGC-RA810G
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.4GHz Intel P4 550; Intel 915G chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X600XT (PCIe); Maxtor 7Y250M0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA Whether you choose to customize the HP Media Center m1050y Photosmart PC using HP's Web site or you prefer one of the three ready-to-ship models, you'll get a system backed by a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty that you can upgrade to two ($84.99) or three years ($99.99). You can also opt for additional accidental damage protection, which covers you in case of physical accident or damage due to a power surge. Or you can just go whole hog and buy the three-year Total One Solution, which gives you additional coverage on peripherals, automatic priority call routing, and direct-to-your-doorstep pickup and delivery.
HP offers 24/7, toll-free tech support in English and Spanish for the life of the system, or you can e-mail tech support. HP's online support is fairly robust, offering self-help tools, FAQs and manuals, how-to tutorials, and driver downloads organized by product. Simply type in Media Center m1050y, and you'll be directed to a support area tailored to your new system. There is, however, no live support chat like that provided by a few major direct vendors.