Good things come in small packages, according to popular lore, and PC Club's pint-size Enpower Media Center Xpress Special Edition certainly tries to live up to that axiom, cramming lots of hardware into a small-form-factor (SFF) case. Putting the special in Special Edition are the twin SLI graphics cards, something you don't see very often in an SFF computer. The system's steep $2,600 sticker price is somewhat less special, particularly given its older processor. Between its 3D lifting power and its TV tuner hardware, however, the Media Center Xpress provides about as much bang per square inch as we've seen in an SFF PC. It's a good choice for if you need a small-footprint gaming rig that can also handle DVR duties.
The Enpower Media Center Xpress Special Edition's chassis might look familiar. It's housed in an off-the-shelf Aspire X-Qpack case--a common (and inexpensive) choice for SFF system builders. It's not the most exciting-looking SFF case, but it uses standard micro-ATX motherboards and ATX power supplies (many SFF cases use a custom board and power supply), so you can build a PC with it in almost limitless ways. Our review unit came with a garishly yellow front panel, but a variety of colors and basic black are available. The Shuttle XPC 2600g is a good example of an SLI small-form-factor system that looks great but is saddled with a proprietary motherboard and power supply.
Inside the tightly packed interior, there's a vertically mounted 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive. The drive is mounted next to the system's side-panel window and has a clear panel that exposes its spinning platters, so you can watch the drive head in action, jumping back and forth across the platters--if that's your kind of thing. There's also space for one additional hard drive and another optical drive, in addition to the included DVD burner. TV tuning is provided by a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150 tuner card, which is a decent choice, but it doesn't use the latest in TV tuner technology.
The system uses a dual-core AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ CPU, which is more than adequate for AM2 socket version of this CPU, rather than the Enpower's older Socket 939 part. On CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark tests, the Enpower Media Center Xpress performed as expected, slightly edging out the performance of its fraternal twin, the Maingear X-Cube (also a yellow SFF PC with an Athlon 64 X2 4400+).and most gaming needs, although some system builders are offering the new
Although it's marketed as a media center, Enpower Media Center Xpress can also serve as a capable gaming rig. It crams two GeForce 7900 GT video cards into its micro-ATX SLI motherboard. That kind of pixel-pushing hardware can generate a lot of heat, so it's best to keep this unit in a well-ventilated area, especially since many SFF PCs end up stuffed into bookcases or home-theater racks. The case's internal fans should keep temperatures under control but will do so at the cost of some slight additional fan noise. On CNET Labs' Half-Life 2 benchmark, we got an excellent frame rate of 97.4 frames per second at 1,024x768 resolution. Since SLI systems in SFF cases are so rare, it's worth noting that the Maingear X-Cube, which has a single GeForce 7950 card, scored slightly better in the same test, kicking out 109.2 frames per second.
If you opt out of bundling peripherals, you can check out with a price less than $2,000, but included in our Enpower Media Center Xpress test system's $2,600 price is a generic 19-inch LCD monitor, a set of Logitech's excellent 2.1 Z4 speakers, and the Logitech S 510 cordless mouse-and-keyboard combo (nice, but a step down from the similar-looking Logitech DiNovo).
The warranty covers a standard one-year term. Enpower is the house brand for the California-based PC Club chain of computer stores, and the warranty requires you to call your local store branch or the company's central toll-free number (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT). The Enpower Web site features a basic user forum, a handful of driver downloads, and a short FAQ page, but no online chat or detailed warranty information.