Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
NEC Powermate X8500
- Storage capacity, quiet, plenty of connectivity
- Sluggish World Bench performance for the CPU, lacks a dual digital TV tuner.
NEC has built a quiet and well-featured media centre with plenty of storage space. It's easy to use and also comes with a good software bundle.
Price$ 3,000.00 (AUD)
The Powermate X8500 is a media centre PC that features plenty of useful connectivity options and storage space. Indeed, NEC has equipped this bad boy with video-in ports, so that you can easily plug in an old VCR, or even a gaming console. An 802.11g wireless adapter is also installed, which makes it easy to connect the machine up to the Internet if you've already got a wireless network up and running, a feature that not all media centre PCs come with. For storing recorded TV shows, music files and photos, NEC has installed one terrabyte of hard drive space in a RAID 0 (striped) array. This array consists of four 250GB hard drives, but because they are in a striped configuration, they show up as a single drive in Windows XP Media Centre Edition. Physically, the Powermate X8500 is built using a mid-tower BTX form factor case. It looks good and has covers for all the ports, drives and memory card slots that are located on the front panel.
The machine is equipped with a total of four system fans (including the power supply fan and the small fan on the graphics card). A slow-moving 8cm fan sucks air into the case from the front, while another slow-moving 8cm fan sits at the rear of the case to extract the air. Both the CPU heat sink and the graphics card are in the direct path of this air flow. Because these fans, in addition to the one on the graphics card, move slowly, the machine runs fairly quietly.
Its configuration is comprised of an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 CPU, which runs at 2.13GHz and it has 2GB of DDR2 RAM, which runs at 533MHz. These components will allow you to multitask easily and they run in an Intel motherboard that has a G965 chipset. In our World Bench 5 benchmark the machine achieved an overall score of 104, which is a good score, but isn't as fast as other machines we have seen that use this CPU (the Value 1500 PC and the Inspire 6400 Duo), for example). In our MP3 encoding test, however, the machine was up to speed. It took one minute and 51 seconds to encode 53 minutes worth of wave files to 192Kbps MP3 files, which is exactly what we expected. Its hard drive performance was very good: the machine's RAID 0 configuration was able to copy data from one location to another at a rate of 25.9MBps. Machines with a single drive tend to provide a maximum rate of around 20MBps.
For rendering 3-D graphics, the machine comes with a PCI Express graphics card that uses an ATI Radeon X1300 Pro graphics processing unit (GPU) with 256MB of dedicated memory. This GPU is not a fast one and won't perform very well in most games unless you play at a low resolution and with low detail settings. If you don't play games, however, then this card is fine, as it has enough power to display high resolution photographs and high-definition TV.
The machine comes with a hybrid TV tuner, which can display analogue or digital TV channels, and it also has a dedicated FM radio tuner. We do wish that the machine came with a dual digital TV tuner card instead of a hybrid one, so that it would have the ability to let you view one digital channel while recording another, or let you record two digital channels at once. The overall layout is user-friendly, with plenty of accessible ports on the front panel, including USB 2.0 and FireWire ports, memory card slots (including secure digital and compact flash) and video-in ports (including composite and S-Video). We like the wireless keyboard that ships with this machine. It doesn't need to be within the line of sight of the machine in order to work and it has an easy to use analogue thumb-stick built in to its right-hand side. NEC also provides plenty of software that enhances the 'out-of-box' experience. As soon as you set it up you can use Microsoft Word, Works or Encarta and anti-virus software is also provided. Our test machine came with Windows XP Media Centre Edition, but NEC does provide a free upgrade to Windows Vista Home Premium Edition.
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