HP Media Center PC M1050y
At a Glance
The HP Pavilion Media Center PC M1050y handles nearly every multimedia task except for popping your popcorn. It is the most expensive PC we have tested recently, but justifies its $5100 price tag with a huge, high-definition LCD and extensive features. The monitor alone accounts for about $2000 of the price.
The M1050y covers almost all the bases: It has a coaxial TV connection, as well as S-Video and composite video ports, and an FM radio antenna that connects to the TV tuner card. In addition, there's a removable hard drive for toting your video files around town. The expansive 23-inch HP F2304 LCD monitor, which recently earned 4.5 stars in our review, rendered text that looked remarkably sharp even from a distance. Colors and details in photos, and especially in DVD movies, looked terrific on the wide screen. The LCD displays at up to 1920-by-1200 resolution and supports HDTV, though the PC doesn't come with an HDTV tuner card. Of course, should you want to do actual work with this PC, you could use all that screen real estate to view multiple or large application windows.
The M1050y we tested sports a 3.6-GHz Pentium 4 560 processor accompanied by 1GB of DDR400 SDRAM and a ATI Radeon X600 Pro graphics card with 256MB of RAM and a TV tuner, as well as a DVI-out port. Unfortunately, the unit didn't include a DVI cable to connect the graphics card to the LCD; we used the supplied VGA cable, instead.
On our WorldBench 5 tests, the M1050y scored a 96-below average for recently tested power systems. On gaming and video tests, the M1050y's frame rates lagged behind those of all other systems with 256MB of graphics RAM that made the chart.
The M1050y ships with Microsoft's XP Media Center Edition operating system. All Media Center PCs come with a remote control that makes it easy to navigate the menus for watching or recording TV, playing DVDs, and listening to FM radio. Loading digital photos or music is made easy by the memory-card reader on the front panel. Transporting large chunks of data or video is also simple: The system we tested had an HP Personal Media Drive--a hot-swappable, 160GB hard drive that slides easily out of the front panel and can connect to other PCs via its USB 2.0 port.
The shiny black case looks smart, and a number of ports are conveniently located on its front panel, including two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, two graphics ports, and standard audio jacks. Though this PC is loaded with multimedia features, you'll want to make sure it has everything you need--the tower is small enough that it won't dominate the d??cor of your living room, but that means its interior is crowded, with little room for expansion. It's probably not a good idea to tinker with a Media Center PC anyway, and because there are no open bays or slots, you're pretty much prevented from doing so; there are, however, two open RAM sockets, but they're tough to access.
The huge LCD and multimedia extras make this Media Center PC a gem--but its below-average speeds and low frame rates on video games are troubling.