WinBook PowerSpec MCE 410
If you're looking for a living room-friendly Media Center PC to anchor your home theater, fix your gaze upon the WinBook PowerSpec MCE 410. It's a top-to-bottom home-theater system, complete with a rack-mount PC case, a 30-inch LCD HDTV, and . The PC itself costs $999 (after a $200 mail-in rebate), and the LCD will run you another $999 (after a $100 mail-in rebate). The configuration and total system cost ($1,998) closely resemble that of the similarly priced , with one big exception: the Alienware doesn't come with a 30-inch LCD. Indeed, the PowerSpec MCE 410 represents an incredible bargain, one with more pleasant surprises than unfortunate compromises.
For starters, there's the sexy rack-mount case, which looks right at home among stereo components. It's mostly black, with a large silver volume dial and a digital status display. The latter is a nifty perk: it tells you what mode you're in and what channel you're on, and it gives the elapsed time of the movie you're playing and other context-sensitive information--all in big blue letters and numbers. It looks cool, too.
Other front-accessible goodies include a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, line-out and microphone jacks, playback control buttons (in case the remote goes missing), and a 7-in-1 media-card reader. All of these items hide behind a pair of fold-down doors. Around back, the MCE 410 provides all the usual expansion ports, including four USB 2.0 and one six-pin FireWire, plus RCA stereo line-in and line-out jacks and optical and coaxial S/PDIF-out jacks. Inside the low-rise, densely packed case, there's more room for expansion than you'd expect: a full-height PCI slot (mounted sideways via a riser card), two half-height PCI slots, and a pair of open RAM sockets.
Stocked with a 3.0GHz Pentium 4 530 processor, 512MB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, and Intel's 915P chipset, the MCE 410 has sufficient power to run Microsoft's MCE 2005 operating system smoothly. It also includes a 160GB hard drive--smaller than we'd like, but fair given the price--and a multiformat, double-layer DVD burner. Hard-core gamers may take issue with the 64MB ATI Radeon X300LS graphics card, which lacks the muscle for visually demanding titles like Half-Life 2, but the MCE 410 really isn't intended for hard-core gaming. You could theoretically swap in a faster card, but it has to be small enough (that is, half-height) to fit the case.
Similarly, the integrated 8-channel audio chip may displease audiophiles who insist on Audigy 2-caliber hardware, but we found it more than sufficient for cranking out loud, living room-worthy sound. Same goes for the bundled Altec Lansing VS 4121 three-piece speaker system, though this is where the size of the living room comes into play. The trio can easily fill smaller spaces, but if you're outfitting a large room, you'll want a more powerful speaker system--and probably a surround sound system at that.
Missing from the equation is Wi-Fi, which would help users who don't have a wired Ethernet connection easily accessible behind their entertainment centers. That's one area where the Alienware DHS-2 has the advantage. Also to our considerable dismay, WinBook supplied a wired mouse and keyboard--just not logical for a system clearly designed for couch-based computing. Thankfully, the company plans to switch to wireless components in the near future, though it wouldn't say when or whether the system's price would increase as a result.