A wireless keyboard and mouse make more sense for a Media Center PC than these wired Mitsuko peripherals.
You won't find much room for upgrades inside.
The Cyberpower Media Center PC comes in a glossy, jet-black case that strongly resembles a stereo component and as such, would seem to merit a home alongside your receiver, CD player, and big-screen TV. Problem is, Cyberpower neglected to include a wireless mouse and keyboard. Instead, you get wired varieties of each from Mitsuko, so you'll have to park a chair at your entertainment center or find room for the system on your desk. Thankfully, you can upgrade to a Microsoft or ViewSonic wireless mouse/keyboard combo--absolutely essential if you plan to integrate this system into your home theater.
|Although it looks like a stereo component, the case provides you with standard PC ports, including USB 2.0 and FireWire ports up front.|
As it should, the case features one FireWire and two USB ports right up front. Four more USB and three more FireWire ports stand ready at the rear. A flip-down door on the front panel hides the DVD-RW and CD-ROM drives when they're not in use, which helps maintain the stereo-component appearance. Unfortunately, getting inside the case requires a Herculean effort: you need to turn over the entire case to remove the bottom screws and flip it again to slide the tight cover off. The reward for your trouble is just one open PCI slot, one free memory socket, and one open hard drive bay.
In case you're not familiar with the Media Center PC concept, this type of PC is essentially a high-end system outfitted with a TV tuner card--in this case, the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR--and Windows XP Media Center Edition. You also get a nicely designed remote control for accessing Media Center features, which reside in a separate interface and include live TV, an interactive TV guide, and a TV-friendly front end for multimedia Windows apps, including My Videos, My Music, My Pictures, and so on. It's like TiVo on steroids, except that the TV-recording capabilities, while functional, don't come anywhere near TiVo's versatility.
|Split personality: the case belongs in your living room, but the monitor belongs on your desk.|
Cyberpower pairs its Media Center PC with a ViewSonic VG700b, an exquisite, 17-inch flat-panel monitor that's ideal for desktop computing but not necessarily for entertaining in the living room. In our tests, running the TV signal through the PC resulted in a slightly grainy picture, especially when viewed at full screen. In addition, the case looks like it's meant for your entertainment center, but the monitor and corded mouse/keyboard say "desk." Thus, this machine clearly belongs in a dorm room, a small apartment, or a home office. Further evidence comes from the Creative Inspire 4.1 4400, one of the smallest five-piece speaker systems we've ever seen, with satellites about the size of single-serving milk cartons. These entry-level speakers sound surprisingly crisp and resonant, but we expected something a bit more robust in an otherwise high-end machine.
Indeed, the Cyberpower Media Center PC has nothing but strong stuff on the inside: a 2.8GHz Pentium 4, 512MB of 333MHz SDRAM, and a 120GB hard drive--the latter is more than sufficient for recording lots of TV shows. Speaking of recording, you can burn just about anything with the included 2X/1X/6X Pioneer DVR-104 drive. Just remember that even though you can archive TV shows to DVD, the resulting files are in a proprietary Microsoft format that prevents them from being viewed elsewhere. (Our system also shipped with a CD-ROM drive as the second drive, but Cyberpower now provides a DVD-ROM instead.)
Creative's speakers are small, but they deliver a big sound.
The DVD burner would be more useful if the discs you created could be played on consumer DVD players.
Gamers will appreciate the Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200, which, though no longer a state-of-the-art graphics card, delivers more than enough video vim for today's games. We fired up the game Command & Conquer: Generals, with all the effects cranked up, and enjoyed silky-smooth frame rates. Alas, you won't find any games bundled with the Media Center PC, only a big batch of shovelware and a few B-list applications and utilities: Corel WordPerfect Office 2002, Norton AntiVirus 2003, and CyberLink PowerDirector, which is a robust video-editing and -authoring tool.
Just because it doesn't look like a PC on the outside doesn't mean that the Cyberpower Media Center PC acts any less like a PC on the inside. In fact, with its 2.8GHz P4 processor and 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM memory, the Cyberpower Media Center PC is one of the fastest Media Center PCs we've seen to date. The Cyberpower Media Center's application performance is right on target for DDR SDRAM-based 2.8GHz P4 systems, which translates into a desktop that can run circles around just about any app you're likely to use. For even faster performance, you could configure the system with a 3.06GHz P4 processor from among the plethora of system configuration choices.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, 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
The configuration that we tested came with an Nvidia GeForce 4 Ti 4200-based graphics card. An Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 might not be the speediest graphics card available today, but unless you are a hard-core gaming enthusiast, a Ti 4200 should have no problem driving your 3D games and family titles, even at high screen resolutions.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
3D gaming performance (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
ABS Media Center PC 8400
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.53GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Western Digital WD1200JB-00CRA1, 120GB, ATA/100, 7,200 rpm
Alienware Navigator Pro
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB; Western Digital WD1200JB-00CRA1, 120GB, ATA/100, 7,200 rpm
Cyberpower Media Center PC
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; Western Digital WD1200JB-75CRA0, 120GB, ATA/100, 7,200 rpm
Gateway Media Center
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.53GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 128MB; Western Digital WD1200BB-53CAA1, 120GB, 7,200 rpm
HP Media Center PC
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 420 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
A role model when it comes to service and support, Cyberpower backs the Media Center PC with a three-year warranty on parts and labor and provides a year of onsite service. Live tech support is available 24/7, and it's both toll-free and free of charge for life. Plus, Cyberpower offers a 30-day money-back guarantee that's free of restocking fees--a rarity these days. These generous policies just about make up for the complete lack of documentation provided with the system; there's no setup guide, no system manual, and no component manuals. Novices are sure to get their money's worth from the toll-free phone support.