iBuyPower Media-XP review: iBuyPower Media-XP

The Good Looks nice with A/V components; large hard drive; 3-year warranty.

The Bad Noisy fan; no wireless keyboard or mouse; so-so 3D performance; poor-quality speakers.

The Bottom Line On paper, the iBuyPower Media-XP looks like a solid buy, but there's no excuse for such poor audio in a Media Center PC. We recommend holding off.

7.0 Overall

iBuyPower Media-XP

Inside the component-style (in other words, it looks just like a piece of stereo equipment) iBuyPower Media-XP, there's a strong configuration that will let you tackle almost any digital media-related task. But while the sleek black exterior looks attractive, the Media-XP's surface-level beauty can't make up for the fan noise that plagues many a Media Center PC. A handful of other bizarre design decisions don't help either, so we suggest you pass on this Media Center and keep an eye out for our forthcoming review of HP's z545 Digital Entertainment Center. Early results for that system look positive.

With the iBuyPower Media-XP, you'll find a speedy Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 550 processor and 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 memory plugged into the Gigabyte motherboard running Intel's 915G chipset. You get plenty of storage space for recorded TV shows, photos, music, and the like, thanks to the 250GB Maxtor SATA hard drive, and the dual-layer/dual-format DVD burner and the six-in-one media-card reader give you plenty of storage options. The midrange PCI Express (PCIe) 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 video card is adequate for most graphics applications, but hard-core gamers and digital-media editors will want to upgrade to a more powerful card, such as the BFG GeForce 6800GT or something similar for higher-end 3D graphics performance.

The external design of the Media-XP's 16.2-by-16.6-by-6.5-inch (HWD) case makes sense--mostly. We like the two sturdy front-panel metal doors that hide the frontside expansion ports (two USB 2.0 and one FireWire), the media-card reader, and the DVD drive. We found it odd, however, that iBuyPower outfitted this Windows Media Center PC with a digital readout panel that does nothing more than monitor the system's temperature. A panel that displays DVD title, TV channel, or audio track information would be more useful.

We found a few surprises on the rear of the Media-XP, as well. The four USB 2.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet adapter are straightforward enough. The Nvidia NVTV TV tuner card presents a basic array of video ports to receive the TV signal and connect other video sources via a coaxial video in-jack and two S-Video inputs. But the Media-XP's audio options are hairy. Not only does the TV tuner card itself have two audio ports, you'll find two additional sets of speaker jacks, one on the revamped Creative Sound Blaster Live card (now with 24-bit encoding and 7.1-channel output), the other on a set of motherboard jacks that includes digital-audio coaxial S/PDIF in and out ports. Unfortunately, you can't use the S/PDIF ports without changing the driver software, because iBuyPower disables the motherboard audio to prevent conflicts with the analog-only Sound Blaster Live card.

We tested audio output in our office, with the Creative Labs P7800 7.1 speakers plugged into the Sound Blaster Live card. The quality sounded decent enough with the speakers around a desk, but we heard some distortion when we cranked up the volume. In a larger living-room area, with the speakers more spaced out, the output quality came out dull and lifeless, about what you'd expect from a sub-$100 set of speakers. We can live with less than pristine audio, but our biggest gripe is that the Media-XP's fan is way too loud for a system designed to merge into a living-room/entertainment-center environment. We had to turn up the volume to compensate for the fan noise, and with cheap speakers, the audio quality loss only gets worse at higher volumes. We expect this level of audio clutter from an older tower system, not from a brand-new Media Center PC.

Internal expansion space in the iBuyPower Media-XP offers upgrade flexibility, although some of it is of questionable value. You can add two memory sticks to the two that are currently in place, as well as another hard drive and a secondary optical drive, if you remove the useless temperature gauge. Two PCIe x1 slots allow for future upgrades with compatible parts, but we were mystified by the presence of an AGP graphics card slot when the Media-XP already comes with a more up-to-date PCI Express (PCIe) x16 card slot. Because this configuration came with the adequate Nvidia GeForce 6600 PCIe card, we can think of only one or two AGP cards without PCIe equivalents that might outperform the card that's already here.

The Media-XP also shipped with a 19-inch ViewSonic LCD monitor that appeared bright and clear from any angle and did a fine job doubling as a TV monitor. You also get a standard Windows Media Center remote control and receiver and a ViewSonic USB keyboard and optical mouse. The input devices work well enough, but wireless is a far superior choice for Media Center systems--no one wants to walk up to their home-entertainment rack to type. Included software consists of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, the Nero 6.0 OEM Suite for burning CDs and DVDs, InterVideo WinDVD 4.0 for watching DVD movies, and a 90-day trial subscription to Norton AntiVirus 2004.

The iBuyPower Media-XP turned in solid scores on our application benchmarks, nearly matching the Cyberpower Media Center Ultra Edition's overall SysMark 2004. Its 3D results were a different story, however. Because of its midrange graphics card, the Media-XP lost out to the more powerful Cyberpower system on our Unreal Tournament 2003 3D gaming tests. Nonetheless, if you were to use the Media-XP for gaming, we doubt that you'd be disappointed.

iBuyPower backs the Media-XP with a generous three-year-parts and one-year-labor warranty, including one year of onsite service (limited to two visits). Two- and three-year onsite service plans are available for an additional $49 and $79, respectively, each a fair price for the amount of extra service.

Application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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).

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