The Zeus Thunder DV looks more like a small home-stereo unit than a desktop PC. In truth, it's both. Packed into MSI's slick-looking, small-form-factor Mega case is a radio, a CD player, a DVD player, and a PC that can handle gaming or DV editing. It'd be a great home-theater add-on--if only MSI's Media Center functions were better.
Unlike the other Media Center PCs we've seen this year, the Thunder DV doesn't use . Instead, it runs XP Home and includes an app from MSI called Media Center Deluxe II (MCD). MCD performs the same functions as Microsoft's version, but it uses an interface that only a mother could love. More troubling is the fact that the included remote control doesn't work within the MCD interface, and using the mouse instead is awkward. The large buttons within the MCD were meant to be navigated with a remote control from 10 feet away, not with a mouse at a distance of just 2 feet away. (Zeus says that a remote-friendly, Plus version of the software is due out the first week of October.)
Ignore MCD's failings, and the Thunder DV is actually a very good PC. With a 2.8GHz Pentium 4, 1,024MB of DDR333 memory, a 120GB hard drive (with an 8MB cache), and Nvidia's GeForce FX 5600 Ultra graphics card, our $1,717 test system played every game we threw at it--even with its advanced settings maxed out. Zeus includes a handful of games, along with InterVideo WinDVD 4.0 for burning DVDs with the system's Sony DRU-510A multiformat DVD burner.
Zeus's graphics alternatives include Nvidia's low-end GeForce FX 5200 and high-end GeForce FX 5900. If you want to use the Thunder DV as a digital video recorder, Zeus offers three ATI Radeon All-in-Wonder graphics cards (all have TV input), or you can add your own TV-tuner card via the system's lone PCI slot.
Hidden behind a flip-down panel on the front, the Thunder DV's plentiful ports include USB 2.0, FireWire, headphone, microphone, and S/PDIF. Just above resides an always-welcome, six-in-one media-card reader.
The Thunder DV's stereo controls include a large equalizer on the front panel's top half, next to a volume knob and stop/eject, play, fast-forward, and rewind buttons. A second power button lets you turn on the radio or the CD player separately from the PC, a most convenient feature. The remote does work for the radio or the CD player when the PC is powered down.
The Thunder DV's one-year parts-and-labor warranty excludes onsite service. A handy plastic binder organizes the assorted A/V cables and the documentation, including a quick-start guide for the PC and radio and a user manual for installing components in a bare-bones MSI Mega case. Unfortunately, there is no manual for the Media Center Deluxe II app. If you need assistance, you can call Zeus's toll-free number from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. You can use Zeus's Web site to e-mail tech support or visit the user forums.