At first glance, the Biohazard Media Center Xpress looks more like a high-end power amplifier than a desktop computer. Its rack-style case is not what we're used to seeing from Biohazard, a company better known for its expensive, full-tower gaming rigs. The Xpress is its attempt at a more modest living-room PC. While our review unit's $2,400 price (includes neither monitor nor speakers) led us to expect better-quality components, you can configure your own version of the system through Biohazard's Web site. Upgrades will add significantly to the cost, but you'll get a PC more in line with other pricey Media Centers.
Housed in a massive, black SilverStone LC14 HTPC case with a matching brushed-aluminum front bezel, the front panel of the Media Center Xpress features a set of DVD and CD player controls on the left side and two optical drive bays and blue backlit power and reset buttons on the right. At the center of the case is a VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) panel, which displays items such as system status information, weather, and an equalizer bar. Users looking at the system for its aesthetically pleasing case should note that a large Biohazard logo is etched into the front panel. This may clash with your living-room decor, unless your decorating style is early Sci-Fi Channel.
Four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and two audio jacks are molded into the left side bezel, and four additional USB 2.0 ports and another FireWire port are located on the rear panel. The Biohazard Media Center Xpress uses a Gigabyte motherboard based on Nvidia's Nforce 430 chipset and relies on the integrated audio controller to provide 8-channel sound, which should be more than adequate for most users.
Under the hood sits an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ processor running at 1.8GHz, 1GB of OCZ PC3200 DDR memory, and an integrated Nvidia GeForce 6150 graphics controller. An empty x16 PCI Express slot offers the opportunity to add a 3D card later, but that would more than likely add fan noise. As it stands now, a single 120mm fan and a huge processor fan work together to keep the system running cool and quiet.
Considering the system's price, we expected a more powerful, more modern processor instead of one that's more than two years old. Biohazard recently updated the system, and the default CPU is a more respectable Athlon 64 3500+. Still, priced north of $2,000, we'd like to see AMD's entry-level dual-core CPU, the Athlon X2 3800+, or better. (The dual-core 3800+ is available as a $150 upgrade.)
Dual Maxtor 250GB SATA hard drives provide plenty of storage for recorded programs and other multimedia files, and there's a double-layer DVD burner for archiving your projects. While 500GB isn't a meager allotment, we've seen even more drive space in the Creature Scylla S301, which features four 250GB drives for a cool 1TB of storage space. A second optical drive bay sits empty. A media card reader would have been welcome, but it's not offered as an option.
You can watch and record two TV programs at the same time, thanks to an eVGA Nvidia NVTV dual-tuner PCI card. The tuner card did an adequate job of processing our cable signal, but as is the case with all TV tuners, picture quality was somewhat softened. The system also comes with an AverMedia AverTVHD card for receiving over-the-air high-definition broadcasts, although you'll need to supply your own antenna.
On CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark, the Biohazard Media Center Xpress's Athlon64 3000+ showed its age, scoring 13 percent lower than the Sony VAIO XL1, which uses a 2.8GHz dual-core Pentium D 820 processor. Another expensive Media Center with a less-than-cutting-edge CPU, the Niveus Denali, uses a Pentium 4 540 to perform 26 percent faster. The Biohazard was technically able to run our Half-Life 2 gaming test in 1,024x768 resolution, but its score of 10.3 frames per second means the game is unplayable with the onboard graphics.
Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition is the system's OS, and in addition to the standard Microsoft Media Center IR and remote combo, the Biohazard ships with the Microsoft Remote Keyboard, a couch-friendly wireless keyboard with hot keys for navigating the Media Center menus.
An OEM version of Nero's CD/DVD burning suite comes with the system, but that's all you get in terms of software. Instead of a complete set of manuals for the system and its components, we were disappointed to find very limited printed documentation--little more than a configuration sheet and tech-support contact numbers. At least the information provided was packed in a snazzy black binder, along with the original operating system disc and a system restore disc.
Biohazard covers the Media Center Xpress with a one-year warranty, including onsite service and round-the-clock toll-free telephone support. Web site support is limited to a simple FAQ page and links to some third-party drivers. For an additional $86, you can extend the warranty plan to two years, and $172 gets you three years of coverage.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||BAPCo SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||BAPCo SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF|
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Biohazard Media Center Xpress
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 1.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 3000+; Nvidia 6150 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB integrated Nvidia GeForce 6150; (2) Maxtor 6L250S0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Creature Scylla S301
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe); four WDC WD2500JD-00HBB0, 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; Hitachi HDS728080PLA380 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Silicon SiI 3114 SoftRAID 5 controller (RAID 0)
HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 830; Intel 945P chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X300 (PCIe); Seagate ST3300831AS 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Niveus Denali Media Center
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.2GHz Intel P4 540; Intel 945G chipset; 4,096MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600GT (PCIe); two Seagate ST3400832AS 400GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 820; Intel 945G chipset; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6200 Turbocache (PCIe); Maxtor 6L200M0 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA