Hi-Grade DMS Xtreme C1800 review

£1190
Price when reviewed

Mobile processors aren’t just for notebooks. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to use one in a desktop system, particularly if you’re running a media centre. With fewer cooling requirements, your TV, movie and music enjoyment is less likely to be disturbed by fan noise.

That’s the theory behind Hi-Grade’s DMS Xtreme C1800. The same case has until now been offered with Pentium 4 processors, but this new incarnation uses AOpen’s i855GMEm-LFS motherboard for Pentium M.

At first sight, there seems to be an anomaly: the board’s AGP 4x slot is fitted with a hot-running MSI 256MB GeForce 6800 GT graphics card, complete with whirring fan. It’s a matter of personal choice whether you want a system to act as a video, DVD player and music system, or whether you want it to replace your games console as well, but the choice makes sense in a chassis of this size. Those after a more basic appliance should consider Hi-Grade’s own DMS II 3400 or Tranquil’s T2e.SP13000, but if you’re after the full works, especially as a main PC, the Xtreme C1800 is a more obvious choice.

The good news is that the graphics card doesn’t add much to the noise level, although it does up the power consumption of the unit somewhat. Hi-Grade turns the 6800 GT’s fan right down using a slider switch on the card itself, adding only a fraction to the whisper of the CPU and PSU fans. Not surprisingly, the card gets extremely hot after a session of heavy gaming – not helped by the D-Link wireless LAN PCI card sitting hard up against the 6800 GT’s fan. Opening this case invalidates the warranty, but having looped our Far Cry benchmarks for three days with no problems it’s unlikely you’ll need to revert to a noisier setting.

There’s no compromise on the performance either, since the system managed a decent 51fps in our Far Cry benchmark at 1,280 x 1,024, 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering. At 1,600 x 1,200, it still managed 46fps. It played Half-Life 2 at 34fps at the lower resolution, and only at 1,600 x 1,200 did it start to grumble, reaching 28fps. Doom 3 racked up 46fps and 33fps at the same settings.

Although it’s ostensibly a mobile processor, the 1.8GHz Pentium M 745 CPU is no pushover, pumping out plenty of power for MCE (Media Center Edition) functions and gaming alike. It’s helped along by 1GB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM (two sticks of 512MB), and reached a more-than-adequate real-world benchmark score of 1.83. It’s worth noting that SpeedStep isn’t supported in the current BIOS revision, so the CPU runs constantly at 1.8GHz. While that would give heat and battery concerns in a notebook, it isn’t an issue here.

The rest of the components continue the full-on PC theme. Two parallel ATA 200GB Western Digital 7,200rpm hard disks (configured as JBOD) provide abundant storage for applications and recorded programs, and you can move data onto DVD with the dual-format, dual-layer Sony optical drive. Filling out the final two PCI slots of this three-slot system are twin Black Gold Signature DVB digital tuners, enabling you to watch one channel while recording another. We put this to the test with our external aerial and it all worked smoothly.

The high-quality SilverStone case (Silver stone tek) looks fabulous in black, with an anodised aluminium faceplate and a painted steel body shell. It’s a touch large for a media centre, towering 170mm above the tabletop, but it’s not as deep as many cases, so should fit in AV racks more easily. Drop-down doors hide a 6-in-1 card reader with a USB port and the tray-loading DVD drive. It’s not as elegant as a slot-loading DVD drive, although it looks tidy enough when closed. There’s also a fluorescent display that shows track information when Media Center is running. It all feels incredibly rugged, although we found the power switch sticking occasionally. We’re also disappointed to see no integrated infrared, although it does at least allow you to move the external receiver to somewhere more convenient.

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