In contrast to the company's standard toaster-size PCs, the Shuttle M2000 takes on the shape and dimensions of a DVD player as it bids for inclusion in home theaters. The sleek M2000 carries Intel's Viiv sticker and is packed with audio and video connections. We expected more powerful components for the $2,000-plus price, but the well-designed case and thoughtful extras such as a 2.5-inch hard drive slot and a lapboard complete with trackball make the Shuttle M2000 a worthy option if you're looking for a true living-room PC.
What does the M2000's Viiv sticker mean? At the most basic level, the Viiv designation certifies that a Media Center PC fulfills a list of basic specs. Instead of wireless networking with Intel Centrino, Viiv is about media playback, or as Intel describes it, "a new platform designed for the enjoyment of digital entertainment." Viiv systems must have a dual-core Intel Pentium processor, in this case, a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo T2500 CPU. Viiv also requires Windows XP Media Center Edition and must support 5.1 or 7.1 audio and Intel's Quick Resume instant on/off technology. Full details on required chipsets and network components are available on Intel's Web site.
The custom case of the Shuttle M2000 is virtually identical to last year's M1000 system. It measures 17.5 inches wide by 14 inches deep by 3.5 inches high and uses a shell that is mostly plastic but still feels substantial. The front panel is dominated by a large LED readout that can display the time and date or contextual information such as track titles for music. On the left side of the front panel is a small door housing a media card reader plus USB and FireWire jacks. The main difference from the M100 is the addition of the Core Duo processors, which replace a slower Intel Pentium M 740.
A small door on the right side of the front panel pops open to reveal a slot for an optional 2.5-inch external hard drive. Similar to HP's Personal Media Drive (featured on the Pavilion m7340n), it can plug into a slot in your system but also connects to other PCs via a UBS connection. We didn't have a functional drive to test out, but the prototype we did have stuck out halfway from the front of the system when inserted, disrupting the M2000's otherwise smooth lines.
Removing the top panel to access the interior is a major hassle, requiring an Allen wrench, but it's also largely unnecessary; there's zero room inside the case for expansion. Even the double-layer DVD burner is a slim laptop-style one. The lack of room in the case further emphasizes the potential problems of being straddled with only 512MB of RAM and a midsize 250GB hard drive, which any DVR user will tell you, can fill up rather quickly. The system's video card is a midrange 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 LE, which provides more than enough muscle for Media Center-related tasks but less so for the latest 3D games.
Where the Shuttle M2000 shines is with its A/V connections. Besides the standard VGA and DVI outputs, you'll also find component video jacks--something we're starting to see more often in high-end Media Center PCs. You also get optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs for hard-core digital audio buffs.
Dual TV tuners are included. Both are analog NTSC tuners that accept coaxial, S-Video, and composite signals. Of course, you'll need two video sources--two cable boxes, for instance--to unscramble both signals so that you can record two shows simultaneously or watch one channel while recording another.
The Shuttle M2000 uses an Intel Core Duo processor, which you'll also find on the Apple Mac Mini. The Shuttle M2000 beat out many of the standard Intel dual-core processors we saw in other Viiv systems on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark. It was 9 percent faster than the Alienware Area-51 3500, which uses a 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 920 desktop processor.
In our multimedia tests, which are designed for dual-core systems, the Shuttle M2000 had mixed results. Likely hampered by its skimpy 512MB of RAM, it took 120 percent longer than the HP Media Center m7360n (which has 2GB of RAM) to run our Photoshop CS test script. It did, however, tie the Dell XPS 400 for the fastest time encoding MP3 files in Apple iTunes. Frame rates in Doom 3 were too choppy to play at 1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing (AA), but the GeForce 6600 LE should be able to handle that and similar games at 800x600 with the AA turned off.