Date Joined: 11/17/02
Pros: The Electronic Program Guide EPG) is simple to set up, and is free. It is 32-bit Windows XP Professional under the hood, albeit minus a couple of features, so it can run any application/game that Windows XP can. The Windows Media Center software can be disabled if you want to use different "media center" software. The "My Movies" plugin that you can download for free is superb for folks wanting to watch movies on their PC, especially movies that you have stored on your hard drive. About as easy to use as (and has many more features than) TiVo, probably easier to use than any other PVR software, regardless of price. Can potentially store many hundreds of hours of television, as networked computers have nearly unlimited potential for hard drive space. A HTPC or a media extender controlled by a HTPC can potentially replace *every* component that is connected to your TV!
Cons: Records TV in ms-dvr format, which is basically MPEG2, but can implement DRM (Digital Rights Management). Support for the ms-dvr format in other applications isn't very good. Archiving your favorite shows to DVD might be more of a pain that you are willing to deal with. Media Extenders that integrate with the built-in Media Center software are more expensive (but are probably easier to use) than extenders that work with competing media center software, so if you want one HTPC to output to multiple televisions, 3rd party solutions will likely be more affordable.
Overall Review: Since the cost isn't much more than XP Home anyway, it's worth paying the little extra if you are going to use it to play digital media. If you get a MCE-compatible remote, it's very usable as an HTPC. Get a remote if you are going to connect your HTPC to a television. If you are familiar with Windows, and not-so familiar with Linux or Mac OS X, and want a PC to record shows, timeshift, be able to play music, and display pictures, that is very easy to use, and doesn't need to share the TV shows with other computers/TVs, this is about as no-brainer as it gets. Plus, if you decide that the ms-pvr format limitations are more than you want to deal with, you can always disable the Windows Media Center software and use other PVR software that can be extended to other devices more easily and affordably, and would be easier to burn to DVD. The price difference between MCE and XP Home is small enough that it's hard to consider it a waste, and you might find the limitations don't matter to you.
Pros: Comes with a remote control. Cheap. Integrates with TitanTV to make scheduling pretty easy (for people who live in the U.S., anyway). Can timeshift. No moving parts, so no noise (true for practically every tuner card except perhaps ones that are part of a video card).
Cons: Remote control contains a bunch of buttons you'll never use (I can't seem to find a use for several), and isn't very easy to use. Remote controls ONLY the tuner card, unlike other remotes that can run Media Center Edition, or other applications. No hardware decoder (nothing in this price range has hardware decoding). Limited support in other PVR software besides the bundled software. Sound quality is poor. Video quality isn't much better. Sound output is through the same type of connection as a CD-ROM, which can pose a problem as most systems have only one sound input like this. Timeshifting isn't "on" by default.
Overall Review: If you're on a really tight budget, this isn't a bad choice. If you want to set up an HTPC that will be extended via the network to other TVs, this card is NOT a good option for you. If you want to set up an HTPC that is easy to use (for the spouse, kids, etc.), this is not a good option. If you have a PC, and you want to watch TV on it sometimes, and perhaps to archive your favorite episodes to DVD, this might rock your world for the price.
Pros: Great for those times when 3 feet is enough cable. You're not likely going to have a lot of "slack" to get in the way.
Cons: Not so great for those times when 3 feet is not enough cable. Cat 6 is much thicker and less flexible, and offers no real-world advantage over Cat 5e. (Well, unless your Cat 6 cable is rated for 500 MHz or more, but even that won't help you until 10GBASE-T becomes a standard and can be implemented within your budget. Plus your 10GBASE-T network card will need a PCI Express x4 slot to achieve 10 Gbps speeds, and how many of us have one of those? Your computer might claim to have one, but if you have a 16x slot, which you likely do, your "4x slot" likely runs at 2x, to allow some bandwidth for the 1x slots. Remember, there is only 20x to spread around!) 2x is capable of 8 Gbps, which is much better than 1 Gbps, but isn't 10 Gbps. :-)
Overall Review: Having spare patch cables of different sizes on hand makes sense for us folks with a home network. You'll typically get reduced shipping prices when getting multiple cables at NewEgg, making NewEgg an even better value. Don't waste your money at the big-box stores paying 5-10x as much for their "designer" cables. Pick up a couple of each desired size here all at once, looking specifically for ones that don't charge you 2x the shipping when you buy two. Don't know if you'll get a discount? Just tweak the quantities in your shopping cart until you find the best deal!
Pros: Works as advertised - approved for USB 2.0. Nice discount on shipping if you buy more than one.
Cons: none that I've seen
Overall Review: It's six feet long. It's a USB AM/AF extension cable. It supports USB 2.0. It's generic. It's gray. Some people spell that "grey". NewEgg's price on this type of item is much better than the big box retailers.
Pros: 10 feet long, USB 2.0, and it works. Great price.
Cons: Shipping price is a bit high, but when you order it with other (especially similar) stuff, it's often reduced.
Overall Review: Outstanding value for the price.
Pros: Fanless, and thus, silent. It has only a heatsink over the southbridge and onboard graphics, but still keeps plenty cool (typically around 40 Celcius in my system). Has practically all of the bells and whistles you'd want in an HTPC motherboard - SPDIF, S-Video, DVI and VGA, gigabit ethernet, firewire, USB 2.0 and audio on board, with additional pins for front firewire, USB 2.0 and audio. 4 RAM slots. Room to upgrade graphics and sound in the future, if desired. Has been rock-solid-stable so far. (Will your spouse/kids put up with the TV "crashing"? Mine sure wouldn't!) Good instructions - follow them!
Cons: No HDMI output - but that's true on about any motherboard. Onboard sound isn't High Definition sound. ATI's onboard video isn't going to knock your socks off, and probably won't work well enough for newer 3D games. The ATI XPRESS 200 is not a single-chip design like certain other chipsets, and better onboard graphics are available (though they often are fan-cooled, adding noise). SATA-150 instead of SATA II (but many Micro ATX cases will limit you to two hard drives, so you won't get much, if any, better performance out of SATA II).
Overall Review: This is an excellent, perhaps even the BEST choice for a low-to-mid priced Home Theater PC (HTPC). For any other purpose, it's simply good. This is a "Micro ATX" sized motherboard. If you have a case capable of housing a standard ATX-sized board, you should look at ATX boards first. Micro ATX doesn't leave much room for expansion. This is the 2nd computer that I built from scratch, and is my HTPC (obviously). My first home-built computer is my desktop. It has a different motherboard, which includes a fan over the chipset. That makes a considerable difference in sound. I've had no issues with stability. I don't have a HD tuner card yet, so I have no experience with trying to display HD from it, but it is supposed to be capable. I also haven't tried a PCI-E 16x graphics card in it, but I have no reason to suspect I'd have issues with one. Nice, affordable socket 939 solution.
Pros: Great value vs. OEM, considering it is bundled with DVD burning and decoding software, the sound cable and a interchangable beige faceplace, in case you choose to install it in a beige case. Burn speeds are very good.
Cons: It's very noisy when it's spinning. Rated seek times are pretty slow. Rip speeds seem a bit slower than my other drives.
Overall Review: Why buy an OEM burner when you can get this package at such a great price?
Pros: Slide out tray for installing motherboard. Not deep at all - most desktop cases are too deep to use for an HTPC in my component shelves. The front LCD for temperature are nice. Carrying handle seems sturdy enough for me. Can fit full-height PCI cards (many HTPC solutions cannot). Comes with PSU and case fan. Front USB, audio and firewire were a cinch to hookup to the motherboard. Very easy to install components in - the first time at least. Power supply has lots of connectors, even SATA ones with no adaptor needed.
Cons: Power supply voltage is a bit scary. My BIOS and software both report the 12V rail at between 12.77-12.9 volts. The fan on the PSU is a bit too loud for an HTPC. The 120mm case fan is way too loud for an HTPC. It only has a 4-pin power connector, so the fan is always full-speed. The temperature sensors that feed the front LCD appear to display much cooler (5-7 Celcius) than actual temps (yes, I have the probes in the right places), but do increment/decrement appropriately as the temperature varies. Only one external 3.5" drive bay, so you can either use a floppy or an internal card reader, not both. Fits two hard drives, but very close together. I am worried about vibration issues that may occur when I add a 2nd hard drive. Upgrading/inserting new parts into the case can be quite time consuming, since things are packed in there pretty tightly. It's best to get everything you want the first time. Power supply has too many connectors - the case is pretty small for all of the wires.
Overall Review: I replaced the 120mm case fan with a quieter fan. I have a new PSU on order that should provide more stable voltage and be quieter. Having to replace parts that come standard drives up the cost, making this no bargain. However, my needs for a "shallow" HTPC case limited my choices, so I don't regret choosing this.
Pros: Stable. The Venice core has ultra-low power usage, especially with AMD's Cool n' Quiet driver installed and the OS power options configured correctly. Very quiet, even with stock heatsink and fan. Very low heat dissipation. Great choice for HTPCs.
Cons: There are faster processors out there. The Venice core is cool and quiet at any speed offered by AMD, so if you can afford more, go for a faster Venice.
Overall Review: The Venice is a much improved chip over the older AMD 64 3000+ chips. They have done a tremendous job with lowering heat dissipation and power consumption. Very affordable CPU that can run 64-bit operating systems and apps in the future.
Pros: 1T timing, stable, 2.5 CAS latency was recognized immediately by my system.
Cons: 2.5-4-4-8 isn't spectacular latency, but what do you expect at this price range?
Overall Review: Great value.
Pros: Keyboard range is great. Both keyboard and mouse will take up only one USB port. Uses RF as opposed to IR, so line-of-sight to the base isn't needed.
Cons: The mouse needs to be incredibly close to the base to function. I used a USB extension cable to make it within 2 feet of the base, and I still have issues with clicks not working, and dragging the mouse sometimes doesn't register at first. This is even with fresh Energizer batteries. I'm probably going to throw away the mouse. Keyboard and mouse drivers install seperately, and each wants you to reboot afterwards. You'll need an existing keyboard and mouse present to be able to install these.
Overall Review: The cost/quality of the keyboard helps keep this product a decent value. There's no way you should even try gaming with the mouse, at *any* range from the base. Even scrolling Web pages can be somewhat painful.