It'll look more at home in your A/V rack than it will atop a desk.
Housed in an Ahanix D-Vine case specifically designed for a home-theater PC, the A5071 will look right at home in your A/V rack. The box is fairly large at 16.9 by 17 by 5.3 inches (W, D, H), but its metal frame gives it a sleek look that's a true departure from the now-boring towers we're accustomed to reviewing. The system even has A/V-friendly inputs, such as S-Video and composite video, and a TV tuner. A bright LED panel on the front can be programmed to display a variety of system information, although the associated software is needlessly complicated to use.
The case is difficult to open--the top of the box slides off after you remove four screws from the bottom--but you may have little reason to do so, considering the utter lack of expandability. The system makes up for a cramped interior with a whopping six FireWire ports (one in front), six USB ports (two in front), and a Creative Audigy sound card for hooking up a surround-sound speaker set. A small reset button next to the power button makes manually restarting the PC a cinch.
|The interior doesn't leave a lot of room to grow, but you do get an abundance of expansion ports.|
Compared with its predecessor, Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2004 has a slicker interface and runs more smoothly. Of course, much of the ZT Home Theatre PC A5071's fine performance can be attributed to the Athlon 64 FX-51 processor it uses. Its 32-bit performance was outstanding and easily handled Media Center tasks such as recording TV, setting up slide shows of your digital photos, and creating music playlists. MCE 2004 makes it easier to search for, filter, and schedule recordings of your favorite TV shows. Microsoft has also made refinements to improve the quality of the TV picture, and MCE 2004 includes wizards to help you fine-tune your display.
|AG Neovo's 17-inch LCD is gorgeous, but it's better suited for a small bedroom or a dorm room than for larger living spaces.|
|Wires? We don't need no stinkin' wires.|
Our system shipped with Sonic's MyDVD, which will let you burn DVDs, but if you buy a copy of Sonic's PrimeTime DVD-burning software (it's not bundled with the A5071), an option is added to Media Center's main menu that lets you choose the content you want and burn it to disc--all from within the Media Center environment using the remote control (if ZT Group remembers to bundle the remote; our test system showed up without one).
Media Center's main menu has expanded, giving you greater control over the digital media stored on your PC.
Even with the bundled MyDVD app, burning recorded TV was fairly quick and painless. Simply connect the system to your cable box using the included Hauppauge DVR card, capture the shows to the system's 160GB Serial ATA hard drive using the Media Center's programming guide, and copy them to DVD using the system's Sony DVD+RW/-RW burner (the second drive is a DVD-ROM). Select a new button in MyDVD, labeled "Get recorded TV shows," and the program will hunt for your archived TV content, saving you the hassle. We had to download a patch from Sonic before it worked, however.
Media Center lists your recently recorded shows, letting you know that it captured every enthralling moment of Donny Osmond hosting the Pyramid game show.
You can connect the system directly to a TV for playback, but you'll happily stick with the incredibly clear and bright, 17-inch S-17 AG Neovo monitor and the bombastic Logitech Z-680 speakers. One caveat: a 17-inch LCD might be a bit small for living-room TV viewing or true couch-side computing. ZT Group included Logitech's wireless keyboard and MX700 mouse, but you'll still need to sit relatively close to the screen to be able to read text and recognize small desktop icons. A bigger display of equal quality would add significantly to the cost of the system, however.
When you're not watching TV, you can get some work done with the bundled Microsoft Works 2004. Also included in the software bundle are InterVideo's WinDVD 4.0 (a DVD playback app), CD-burning software RecordNow Max, and Ulead VideoStudio 6.0, a slightly outdated video-editing app.
The ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 uses AMD's new Athlon 64 FX-51 processor to power Microsoft's new Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 OS. Until 64-bit apps and a 64-bit OS arrive, no system will be able to make full use of the FX-51. Meanwhile, it helps systems like the A5071 deliver excellent 32-bit performance. In our SysMark2002 test, the A5071 closely trailed another Athlon 64-based system we tested recently, the Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1. It's possible that the additional overhead of the Media Center OS dragged down the A5071's performance slightly, but it's still an extremely fast system that can handle anything you send its way.
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
You'd be hard-pressed to find a card that performs better than the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro. Using the 256MB version, the ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 was one of the best-performing systems on our 3D tests. Its 3DMark2001 and Quake III scores were both extremely high at more than 19,000 and 330 frames per second, respectively. This card will run any of today's games and those of tomorrow.
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 8.0 (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 with that 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).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
Dell Dimension 4600C with Media Center
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI All-in-Wonder 9000 Pro 64MB; Seagate ST3120026A 120GB 7,200rpm
HP Media Center PC m300y
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 128MB; Maxtor 6Y200P0 200GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; WinXP Promise FastTrak 376/378 RAID controller
ViewSonic NextVision M2100 Digital Media Center
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 845GV chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 128MB; Maxtor 4R160L0 160GB 5,400rpm
ZT Home Theatre PC A5071
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB; Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Service and support are the least-impressive aspect of ZT's Home Theatre PC A5071. Although ZT Group covers the system with a lengthy three-year-parts and lifetime-labor warranty that includes onsite service, tech support is available only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays (ET), and online support is minimal. Printed documentation is limited to a motherboard guide.
A large oversight on ZT Group's part has us questioning ZT Group's service: in addition to forgetting to include the remote, the company originally sent our system with the first version of the Media Center OS instead of the intended 2004 edition. To its credit, ZT Group fixed the problem quickly, but the company still should have gotten it right the first time.