capsule review

CyberPower Media Center Ultra Edition

At a Glance
  • CyberPower Media Center Ultra Edition

    PCWorld Rating

    Strong performance and expandability make this console Media Center PC a good choice for living room or office.

CyberPower Media Center Ultra Edition
Photograph: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

The CyberPower Media Center Ultra Edition does a good job of straddling the divide between the living room and the office. The clean design of the aluminum desktop case looks right at home on a living-room shelf or cabinet, but the system's quick performance and easy expandability make it just as welcome on any office desktop. Priced at $1299 without a monitor--$1698 with the ViewSonic VX924 19-inch display that accompanied our review system--the Ultra Edition is substantially less expensive than many other Media Center PCs.

Like any well-equipped Media Center PC, the Ultra Edition has dual TV tuners (but neither is an ATSC tuner for bringing in over-the-air HDTV signals). It also comes with a remote control and an assortment of audio and video connectors including DVI, VGA, S-Video input and output, coaxial, and optical digital audio, as well as support for 7.1-channel surround sound. If your camcorder, TV, or display supports only analog composite or component connectors, you will have to use an adapter.

We found a few other notable pluses: A control knob on the back of the case lets you adjust the power supply's fan speed to suit your needs (but you'll be adjusting fan noise accordingly, too). The system comes with built-in Wi-Fi capability. The wireless Logitech keyboard feels solid, has great key action, and is loaded with easy-to-reach shortcut buttons and optical-drive controls.

A postcard-size touch-screen LCD on the front of the case serves more as a novelty than a useful input device, though it's intended to let you position the system without a full-size monitor nearby--on your components shelf, for example. The screen works only at 800 by 600 resolution and is too small for you to comfortably control the standard Windows interface, but it could work better with Windows Media Center's larger fonts. From the LCD, a VGA cable runs inside the case through a hole in the back of the case, and connects externally to the graphics card's VGA port.

The documentation with our test system consisted of motherboard and other component manuals and Microsoft's very short guide to setting up Windows Media Center, but offered little else to help with setup and use.

The system has the speed to handle any Media Center or office task: Its WorldBench 5 score of 89 is slightly above average for systems we've tested running a dual-core, 3-GHz Pentium D 830 CPU with 1GB of RAM. Likewise, the Ultra Edition's graphics test scores matched those of other systems equipped with graphics cards using the nVidia GeForce 6600 chip set and 256MB of RAM. The frame-rate scores on our Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Unreal Tournament tests placed well below the marks of high-powered gaming systems, but we found the experience during informal game play in Return to Castle Wolfenstein very smooth and satisfying. The DVD movie playback also looked good.

Unlike some cases designed for the living room, the Ultra Edition's case offers good expandability. Pop off the top, and you have easy access to the two open RAM slots, one of the two open x1 PCI Express slots (the other is blocked by the graphics card's heat sink), and a hard-drive chassis that can hold up to four more drives--a good thing, because the system's single 250GB hard drive could fill quickly if you plan to store lots of music, videos, or recorded television programs.

Very good performance, sufficient expandability, and a component-style case make the inexpensive Media Center Ultra Edition a workable choice for the living room or the office.

Kirk Steers

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Strong performance and expandability make this console Media Center PC a good choice for living room or office.

    Pros

    • Strong performance; easy upgrades

    Cons

    • Limited documentation
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