ZT Media Center X3113
Microsoft's most recent version of its (MCE 2005) introduced support for set-top boxes, which it calls Media Center Extenders. These devices let you stream content from your Media Center PC to the TVs throughout your home, which means that the PC itself needn't be taking up space in your living room. That's good for ZT Group's budget Media Center PC, the X3113, which is better suited for a back office than a front room, thanks to its standard desktop form factor. With a price that starts at $749 (as of November 2004)--our test system included a few upgrades that brought the price to a still-reasonable $830--the ZT Media Center X3113 is proof that you can get an MCE 2005 PC for less than $1,000.
ZT Group obviously needed to cut some corners to hit such a low price, and it started with the processor. Although you can upgrade the X3113 to an Intel Pentium 4, our test system used a 2.8GHz Intel Celeron processor. Thankfully, the company didn't skimp on memory as well. Too often we see budget PCs with 256MB--barely enough to run Windows XP. But with 512MB, the X3113 has enough memory for basic Media Center tasks, such as photo editing, listening to and burning music, and watching and recording TV. Our test system used an outdated Nvidia MX4000 graphics card, however, which ZT Group has since updated on its site to a. Both cards provide VGA, DVI, and S-Video inputs, which means you can connect any type of computer monitor to the PC as well as to your TV (provided it has an S-Video port). We don't recommend attempting any serious media editing or gaming with either card, however, and even general office multitasking will drag down performance, as evidenced by the X3113's poor showing on CNET's SysMark 2004 performance test.
Our X3113 test system's 80GB hard drive has the capacity for about 20 hours of video, and a seven-in-one media-card reader gives you easy access to any photos or music you have stored on a flash memory card. If you watch a lot of TV, however, we recommend upgrading to a 120GB drive or adding a second drive (which you can do prior to purchase on ZT Group's Web site).
Another upgrade must: the CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive found on our test system. Even the most basic Media Center should have a DVD burner--otherwise, all your recorded TV shows will remain trapped on your hard drive. We'd spend the extra $36 to exchange our test system's optical drive for the multiformat DVD burner.
You'll input TV to the X3113 via its Hauppauge WinTV tuner card, which also includes an input for FM radio. It provided a crisp picture on the bundled 17-inch CRT. Unfortunately, ZT Group doesn't give you the option to build the X3113 with a second TV tuner, even though MCE 2005 allows you to do so. With only one TV tuner, you'll need to spend some money to add a second tuner card should you want the ability to record one channel while watching another. Luckily, there's an empty PCI slot for such an upgrade. The MSI 661FM-L motherboard supports 5.1 sound, so you can upgrade our test system's puny two-piece speaker set without the aid of a sound card. We suggest upgrading to a wireless mouse and keyboard; our test system came equipped with standard, wired units.
ZT Group backs the system with an onsite-service warranty that includes three-year coverage for parts and lifetime coverage for labor. Toll-free telephone tech support is available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays (ET).
|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).