Creature Scylla S301
Aptly named for the sea creature of Greek mythology, the Scylla S301 from Creature HTPC is a monster of a media center system with an equally monstrous $5,400 price tag. But for your money, you get more gear than that in many high-end systems, with bonuses that include avideo card and 1TB of hard drive space. If you're looking to boost your home theater with a high-priced media center that can also handle advanced gaming and other strenuous PC tasks, the Scylla S301 outperforms other systems in its class.
The Scylla is housed in a black SilverStone LC10 component-style case that blends easily with any home-entertainment rack. But with no fewer than six fans working to keep internal parts cool, it's a bit noisy for a media center, especially compared to a fanless system such as the. The power and reset switches on the stylish, uncluttered front of the system share space with four USB 2.0 ports on the left side and a double-layer DVD burner on the right. Audio jacks and a FireWire port hide on the left-side bezel. Unfortunately, the Scylla lacks an LCD readout panel like the one on the for displaying useful information such as CD tracks, titles, and DVD chapters.
The rear of the system offers a plethora of audio and video connections, including TV and FM radio connections, courtesy of a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 tuner card. The PVR-500 has dual TV tuners, allowing you to watch one TV show while recording another; alternately, using either S-Video or coaxial inputs, you can record two TV programs at the same time from your cable or satellite box. PCI tuner cards still provide lesser image quality than direct set-top-box connections, but the Hauppauge card is one of the better ones out there; it does an admirable job of signal processing with minimal loss of quality. Unlike the other systems we looked at, the Scylla doesn't include an HDTV tuner card as standard equipment. HD DVR recording is generally possible only from over-the-air signals, which would require setting up an external antenna.
Despite having an onboard audio controller with S/PDIF outputs, the Scylla also comes with a BlueGears HAD Digital X-Mystique 7.1 sound card with connections for an 8-channel speaker system and coaxial and optical outputs for integration into an existing A/V system. Other rear-accessible integrated connections include four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and dual Ethernet jacks. A PCI card provides data and power connections for an external Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive--an unusual but potentially useful feature.
The Scylla is built around AMD's Athlon 64 3800+ processor on an ASUS A8N-SLI Premium motherboard, which features a heat-pipe cooling mechanism to keep the chipset from overheating. Video comes by way of a single Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX with dual DVI outputs. There's not a whole lot of room for expansion inside the crowded case, but gamers will appreciate the availability of a secondary x16 PCI Express (PCIe) slot, which allows for an upgrade to a dual SLI-enabled graphics solution. Two additional PCIe slots (x1 and x4) and a traditional PCI slot are also available, although the 7800 GTX's heat sink and fan block the virtually useless x1.
The Scylla S301 is unique in offering users a massive amount of hard drive storage for archiving TV shows, music, video, and other digital content. In addition to an 80GB Hitachi Deskstar drive, which is designated as a program drive, the Scylla comes with four Western Digital 250GB SATA drives in a RAID 0 configuration, providing a whopping 1TB of storage and enabling the system to function as a true media server for networked PCs and appliances throughout the home.
In CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application performance tests, the Scylla S301, the S1Digital, and the Niveus Denali turned in nearly identical scores across the board but couldn't keep pace with a similarly priced high-end desktop system, the Dell Dimension XPS 600, which was 21 percent faster. In 3D performance tests, the Scylla crushed the other media center systems, including HP's z555, all of which use a less powerful GeForce 6600 graphics card. Still, the Dimension XPS 600 took top honors, thanks to its dual GeForce 7800 GTX SLI configuration, besting the single-7800 Scylla by a 68 percent margin in our Doom 3 tests; in turn, the Scylla beat the Denali by 103 percent.