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PC Club Enpower Digital Home review: PC Club Enpower Digital Home

PC Club Enpower Digital Home

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
7 min read
Review summary
Following in the footsteps of small-form-factor (SFF) systems such as the Shuttle XPC G2 7500M, PC Club's Enpower Digital Home system can easily slide into your entertainment center alongside your TV and stereo. Unfortunately, the $1,399 Enpower misfires in several key areas, not the least of which is documenting how you're supposed to integrate the system with your home theater. It also has the wrong OS for the job, insufficient cabling, and a potentially troublesome overclocking feature. The bundled DVR software is excellent, but it's not a good match when the Enpower's connected to a TV. Finally, PC Club's support leaves much to be desired.
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Don't touch that dial. Seriously, don't touch the overclocking dial on the front of the Enpower unless you want to bring its operation to a screeching halt.
The PC Club Enpower Digital Home looks right at home among home-theater components. We like the look of the compact silver case and the fact that all the ports and drives sit neatly hidden behind hinged plastic doors. We particularly like the tower's futuristic-looking LED, with its multicolored icons and gauges that indicate drive access, fan operation, and clock speed. A silver dial lets you overclock the CPU with dangerous ease; a digital gauge shows changes to the clock speed as you turn the dial. Proceed with caution: We dialed the system up to its maximum of 3.4GHz, and it promptly locked up.
The tower has just one fan--relying on heat sinks and a convection system to keep the CPU and other innards cool. The fan isn't distractingly noisy, but you can still hear it from across a room. Like most small-form-factor systems, the Enpower has zero space for internal expansion, instead relying on its five USB 2.0 and two FireWire ports for external devices. You'll find one of each port in front of the tower, behind one of the plastic doors and alongside microphone and headphone jacks. Another door hides a six-in-one media reader with conveniently labeled slots.
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As you can see, the Enpower's compact case doesn't leave any room to grow.
We've rarely had so much trouble setting up a system. Our test system arrived without a monitor, but when we connected it to our TV, we didn't get a picture. We had to connect the Enpower to a monitor, change some Nvidia settings so that the GeForce graphics card could output a signal to our TV. The TV itself must be connected to the video card's S-Video-out port (a composite converter is included) and not the more logical A/V port on the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-350 tuner card because the bundled PVR software, SnapStream Beyond TV 3.0, doesn't support it. To get audio, then, you need an RCA-to-stereo cable running between your stereo and the PC--and PC Club doesn't provide one. What's more, the remote was really designed for use with Hauppauge's Win TV software, not Beyond TV 3.0, so some of the buttons don't function as labeled. Though certainly not stocked with state-of-the-art components, the PC Club Enpower Digital Home is adequately equipped for you to watch movies and TV and burn CDs and DVDs. The only performance leader in the system, however, is the LiteOn 8X DVD±RW drive; the rest of the core hardware is merely mainstream: a 2.8GHz Pentium 4, 512MB of memory, a 120GB IDE hard drive, and an MSI GeForce FX 5200 graphics card. The latter is a decidedly entry-level card, and PC Club offers only midrange cards as upgrade options, so gamers will need to look elsewhere. For TV and video input, PC Club supplies Hauppauge's widely respected WinTV-PVR-350 TV-tuner card. In our tests, cable channels looked admirably sharp when piped through the Enpower to our TV.
Speaking of TVs, the Enpower fares poorly when connected to one. The Windows XP Home interface is unreadable, so forget about doing much of anything unless you connect a monitor rather than your TV, and some of Beyond TV 3.0's onscreen menus are actually too big for TV--the outer edges get cut off. PC Club would have done better to outfit the system with Windows XP Media Center Edition, which does a better job catering to low-resolution TV screens. If you plan to use the system as a PC in addition to a DVR, PC Club offers a selection of CRT and LCD monitors.
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Logitech's wireless mouse and keyboard are a must for a PC bound for the living room.
As for audio, the onboard Realtek AC97 processor is a weak solution for a system of this type. It lacks surround-sound outputs, so regardless of whether you connect the Enpower to your home stereo or PC Club's optional Logitech Z-640 or Z-680 speakers, you won't get true surround sound.
Couch potatoes will appreciate the inclusion of Logitech's Cordless MX Duo mouse and keyboard combo, which includes a charging station for the mouse. Both devices have excellent feel, response, and range.
PC Club supplies little software. In addition to the full version of SnapStream's Beyond TV 3.0, an outstanding TiVo-like front end for watching, recording, and pausing TV shows, you get CyberLink PowerDVD 4.0 for watching DVDs and Sonic MyDVD 4.0 for burning them.
Application performance
The PC Club Enpower Digital Home performs adequately for its processor class. It has more than enough power to run Windows apps and display and record fine television programming. Its performance on our SysMark 2004 benchmark was virtually identical to that of the similarly configured, small-form-factor Falcon FragBox Pro. To the Enpower's credit, however, the FragBox Pro uses a more powerful graphics card, which aids in overall application performance. For its intended us as an entertainment-center PC, the Enpower has sufficient power.
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).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Where the PC Club Enpower Digital Home meets its match is with 3D graphics. Using a low-end Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 graphics card, it doesn't have the graphics horsepower needed for today's games. Its 42 frames per second on our low-end 1,024x768 Unreal Tournament 2003 test certainly won't impress gamers. The Enpower isn't targeted at gamers, however, and it serves up the graphics muscle needed for its intended role of digital video recorder (DVR).

3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4X AA 8X AF  
PC Club Enpower Digital Home (Nvidia GeForce FX 5200)
Note: * Denotes system was not tested at this resolution

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X, respectively, during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal is an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
System configurations:
Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; WDC WD1200JB-00CRA1 120GB 7,200rpm
Hypersonic Fury GX
Windows XP Professional; 3.0GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB; Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
PC Club Enpower Digital Home
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 128MB; WDC WD1200JB-00FUA0 1200GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated GeForce 4 MX 64MB; WDC WD800JB-00ETA0 80GB 7,200rpm
Shuttle XPC G2 7500M
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.4GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB; WDC WD2000JB-00FUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
PC Club's support for the Enpower Digital Home could best be described as lacking. The company provides manuals for just about every component but no instructions for setting up the system or integrating it into your home theater. In other words, it provides no guidance for the very hardest setup tasks.
The standard warranty covers parts and labor for one year but doesn't include onsite service, and the only way we could find phone numbers for the company was by looking up individual store locations online (PC Club also has a multistate retail presence). As it turns out, the company does offer toll-free phone support from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday. You can also get help from the stores during weekend hours. Online support is limited to a list of potentially useful downloads, sparse FAQ pages, and manufacturer links.

PC Club Enpower Digital Home

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 6Performance 7Support 5