Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Slim, Quiet
- Not quite powerful enough
A cheap, small media centre that has a few problems with under-the-hood grunt, but mostly operates quite well.
Price$ 1,749.00 (AUD)
The Enspire is another model in the increasing sea of pre-built media centre PCs. As a totally convergent home entertainment device, media centres offer a DVD player, PVR, set top box and media server in a single, relatively compact unit.
The word compact is particularly applicable to this device. It is one of the smallest media centres we've seen. It sacrifices a mass of powerful components for a sleek and slim chassis that is barely larger than a VCR. The body is entirely brushed silver, with a number of ventilation grates scattered around. There is a single blue LED encircling the power button, but the rest of the face is fairly plain. That is, until you flick down the front panel to reveal several USB ports, headphone and microphone inputs and your DVD writer.
The DVD player is cleverly hidden behind this panel, disguising its out-of-place black exterior so as not to ruin the silver motif of the unit. We did encounter a slight problem with this door however; it occasionally pressed the DVD tray button when closing, causing the tray to open and slam into the door with a horrible grinding sound. This was a rare occurrence, only happening a couple of times, but over the course of a few months or years, you may damage the system, so keep this in mind.
Our test unit also exhibited some problems with the basic media centre interface. Whilst it is equipped with a fairly robust Athlon 64 3000+ processor, it only has 512MB of RAM and an ATI Radeon Xpress 200 onboard graphics chip. We experienced some lagging in certain areas when doing basic things like navigating the menu. It wasn't deal-breaking, and only lasted a split second, but it showed the system wasn't quite up to the task. The RAM is really the culprit here, as 512MB is the absolute minimum to run Windows XP effectively and some of that is commandeered by the onboard graphics card, leaving you with a mere 448 megabytes - not adequate at all in this regard.
Still, for the price it is quite a reasonable choice. As one of the cheapest media centres available on the market today it will command a position as an entry level product, and for the money you're not getting a bad deal. With a 3DMark score of 638 it won't be playing much in the way of games, but aside from the occasional aforementioned slow down it handles most of the media centre functions you're going to need well enough. Just don't try any heavy encoding or it will come up lacking.
It is also important to note that the slim case is vented on the sides, which may cause problems when placing it in a confined entertainment unit (no space for hot air to be expelled). We did find everything to be exceptionally quiet however, which is vital for seamless integration into a home entertainment setup. Low noise fans combined with effective cooling mean the Enspire won't interrupt even the quietest of movie sections.
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