Puget Echo II review: Puget Echo II

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MSRP: $999.00

The Good The Echo II has all of the connectivity options you expect to find in a living-room PC.

The Bad It is $450 more expensive than a near-identical system from its mainstream competition.

The Bottom Line We like smaller vendors because they often take risks that larger vendors won't, and we can even justify paying a bit extra for the privilege. Unfortunately, Puget makes a bad bet with the Echo II by offering no benefits over similar mainstream PCs that cost almost half as much. Keep shopping.

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4.8 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 4
  • Performance 5
  • Support 7

We don't particularly enjoy giving bad reviews to products from smaller vendors, but Puget's living-room-minded Echo II is so overpriced that we're compelled to warn you away. Puget wants roughly $999 for the Echo II configuration it sent us. The same build from a competing mainstream vendor will cost $400 less. No amount of appreciation for the little guy can make up for such a vast price gap.

The Echo II comes in a compact case from Antec. The design is clean enough, and at 3.75 inches high by 8.5 inches wide and 12 inches deep, the case and its matte-black exterior will practically disappear if you connect it to a decently sized HDTV. The Zotac H55ITX motherboard includes DVI and HDMI ports, along with S/PDIF outs for audio and wireless networking, giving you all the ports you'd expect to find in a living-room-oriented PC.

Even though the case looks appropriately small, we were disappointed by its quality--specifically that of the latch securing the small door that conceals the DVD burner. With no indication of how to open the door, we pulled it down with a not unreasonable amount of force. The latch promptly broke, leaving the door hanging free. However irritating that design, it's only a minor issue compared with the large gap between the pricing of this system and that of its competition.

  Puget Echo II Gateway SX2840-01
Price $999 $559
CPU 2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530 2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530
Memory 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 160GB Western 7,200 rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n/ wireless Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

We picked the Gateway SX2840-01 as the primary comparison for the Puget, since it has almost exactly the same features, although in a slightly larger chassis. The Puget adds wireless networking, but you can add Wi-Fi to the Gateway with a $25 USB stick, so that's not a real advantage for the Echo II. Even accounting for adding Wi-Fi to the Gateway, the Puget still has a $425 price disadvantage.

It's almost not worth belaboring the Puget's underwhelming storage capacity given its pricing problem, but it's such an obvious issue we'd be remiss if we didn't mention it. The Echo II can only accommodate 2.5-inch drive storage, which suggests Puget focused on keeping the size of the Echo II small. We appreciate that thought, but when you consider that you might want a lot of storage space for media files on a living-room PC, the Puget's 160GB laptop hard drive seems ill-considered, especially compared with the 1TB drive in the Gateway. Puget offers a 500GB drive upgrade for an extra $45, but the last thing this system needs is a higher price tag.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Puget Echo II

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Puget Echo II

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Gateway SX2840-01
Puget Echo II
Apple Mac Mini (2.53GHz)
Dell Inspiron Zino HD

We're not surprised to find that the Puget matched the Gateway on our performance tests, since both PCs have the same Intel Core i3-530 processor. They both compare favorably with the $799 Mac Mini as well, and, as expected, they leave the Dell Inspiron Zino HD and its lower-end AMD Athlon II chip far behind. We found the Puget, as expected, also capable of playing standard definition and HD content smoothly from YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix. The problem, of course, is that though it has roughly the same performance as the Gateway, the Puget costs $450 more for few appreciable benefits, if any.

We mentioned that the Echo II has all of the ports you'd look for in a living-room system, but overall it also comes short of the Gateway in its connectivity options. You get no FireWire or media card reader on the Puget system. The Puget at least matches the Gateway's eSATA jack, and it offers a few more USB 2.0 ports, but that's not enough to make up for its other missing features, or its high price.

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