It's kind of hard to evaluate a Media Center system, since there are only really a limited number of things it does. It's not like you need to play Half Life 2 on it, or that you need a multitude of ports on the back of the thing, since chances are all you'll be using is the infra-red remote.
We're currently evaluating a HTPC testing tool that Intel has provided us with, and we'll let you know how we get on with that. In the meantime, you'll have to accept our subjective conclusions about the system.
It's clear that this version of the system is a heck of a lot faster than the EPIA version. Where before we found stuttering audio and slow hard disk access, now we have found silky-smooth operation. The box is easily able to play back a recorded TV show or a video whilst recording another off the tuner, and multi-tasking - what MCE was meant for - is a breeze.
Unlike the previous version, there is no lag and no feeling of waiting for the system to get its act together. It starts up quickly and feels responsive throughout. All in all, a great move. Assuming you don't want to game on your MCE box - let's face it, the integrated Intel graphics aren't about to win any awards - you'll do fine here.
Speaking of which, we found the graphics to be a more robust solution than the S3 graphics on the previous version. There were a greater range of resolutions supported here, with the native resolution of my LCD - 1280x768 - being picked up with no hassles. The only thing we could ask for would be a DVI port on the back, rather than a VGA.
Sound quality was fine, especially when using the digital audio port into a dedicated amplifier. As we've mentioned, we'd still rather Intel Azalia HD audio, but perhaps that will have to wait for the next revision.
The WiFi is a much-needed and welcome addition. We found it had no problems picking up our network.
We still have a bit of an issue with noise in the system. The external power supply has a 40mm fan, the internal case fan is 40mm and the fan on the Pentium M chip is 40mm. Frankly, it's a little too whiney for our tastes, even though beblu are adamant that they're using the quietest 40mm fans on the planet. I wonder if, with a cunning bit of modding, you could rip those babies out and replace them with something bigger and quieter, with reduced voltage. I think with some hacking, it could be done, and you'd end up with a system that's much quieter.
There's no doubting that, in this iteration, the beblu is an expensive system. Coming in at £1100, you can buy an awful lot of standard ATX machine for that kind of money these days. What you are paying for is the awesome casing and the low-power, teeny-tiny mobile components, including the Pentium M. You could build an ATX living room PC for far cheaper, but you wouldn't have the form factor. The system is very well integrated, that's for sure - we're still huge fans of the integrated IR port and the front LCD which works with MCE so well. It's touches like this that attract people to beblu, I suspect.
This is really the first beblu system that we can recommend heartily, because we did find the previous version lacking. This makes up in the performance and functionality stakes, and you can happily consider this a competent MCE system.
There are two major drawbacks. The first is the lack of dual digital tuning, and the second is the price. You will have to make a decision about whether these are factors you can live with. Frankly, if you want the system, you'll pay the money for it - it's slickly done, and style costs money. What we would really
like to see is a new component box which uses dual digital USB tuners to achieve the dual tuner functionality - we really hope to see that in the next iteration of the system.
For now, why not head over to beblu
and check out your options?
beblu Pentium M Media Center system