We've got to hand it to Scorptec's local system builders; they pay as much intricate attention to their cable work as a neurosurgeon does to a patient's skull cavity. Every single wire is tucked away and tied into place, and there's not a stray cable in sight. It's not just pleasing to see; this craftsmanship also ensures the very best in airflow, helping to keep this powerful system nearly silent, even during the most intensive applications. They've even wired the power switch up to the TV tuner, so that extremely lazy users can switch the PC on with the media remote control.
The Silverstone GD06 case used here is a stunner, and will look right at home in any audiophile's A/V cabinet. The front flips down to reveal twin removable hard drive bays, which are always handy when a friend drops by to share some (legally acquired) files. The covers on these bays are a little fragile, though, with the latching mechanism prone to breakage. Hidden inside is Intel's new Core i5 3550, a quad-cored creature that purrs at 3.3GHz at default speeds, ramping up to 3.7GHz under load. Thanks to the inclusion of Intel HD Graphics 2500, this is a transcoding beast. Unfortunately, gaming is this system's Achilles' heel, as the HD Graphics 2500 just isn't up to the task. Thankfully, there's plenty of room to install a dedicated graphics card if your gaming needs demand it. A very healthy 8GB of memory has been installed, which should help performance when several users simultaneously connect to the PC.
Scorptec hasn't scrimped on the network connectivity, either, with the dual-band Wi-Fi card ready to handle the latest high-speed wireless routers. As usual, we recommend sticking with the gigabit Ethernet to ensure a reliable HD video stream. A Compro VideoMate E750 TV tuner delivers twin tuners, which should be more than enough for most households. Like all of the HTPCs that we've seen, audio is provided by the integrated motherboard, which is perfectly fine for movie playback. S/PDIF out is complemented by the usual stereo mini jacks found on normal PCs. Most users will probably stick with HDMI out, running both audio and video over a single cable.
A single 3TB WD Caviar Green supplies ample storage space, with the second external drive bay offering an easy storage upgrade. Unlike Scorptec's Mantis AMD relative, which uses a Corsair drive, the SSD within this system is made by Intel. We're not sure why Scorptec decided to go for a different brand, but our experience suggests that the Intel drives are definitely more reliable.