SavRow DLCS-100 review
If there’s one type of PC that can cause particular headaches for the unwary system builder, it’s a media centre PC. The potential pitfalls of getting all the various drivers and devices working happily together are great enough that Microsoft won’t even sell the MCE (Media Center Edition) version of Windows XP direct to customers. Then there’s the problem of finding a case that’s up to the job.
SavRow’s first foray into the world of MCE makes some good basic decisions. The chassis itself is SilverStone’s excellent LC11M (www.silverstonetek.com). It’s well engineered and looks great. The motherboard is actually suspended from the chassis roof, with the ventilation grille on the bottom of the unit; the hi-fi-style feet provide airflow underneath, allowing you stack it without problems.
That’s helped by the cool-running 1.6GHz Pentium M 725 processor, fitted into the A-Listed AOpen i915Ga-HFS motherboard (see p48). Paired with 512MB of PC3200 DDR RAM split over two sticks, it scored an impressive 1.87 in our application benchmarks, yet it’s cooled by a tiny heatsink and barely audible fan.
Unfortunately, the case also adds its own contingent of fans. The power supply isn’t a problem, but you can certainly hear the side and front extractors in a quiet room. The former is powered from a motherboard header, so can be dynamically regulated through the SilentCool feature in the BIOS. However, the latter is connected to the power supply directly, although its low rumble is certainly tolerable. Noise is far more distracting when it’s intermittent, so we’re pleased to see a 250GB Hitachi hard disk installed, one of the quieter models available. It causes only a slight whirr if you put your ear to the case, although the incredibly bright blue disk-activity LED may prove a distraction in a dark room.
There’s more activity on the front panel from the two-line VFD (vacuum fluorescent display). It’s configurable via a supplied utility, but while it offers such novelties as a scrolling newsfeed and real-time weather information, there’s little control of its illogical presentation. You can’t display the date in standard British format, and there’s no way of stopping the clock from interminably displaying the seconds ticking by. There’s also no way of navigating around your music collection without switching on your main screen – something a media centre PC screams out for.
Round the back, the motherboard provides a superb array of options, including DVI-D and VGA outputs (which can work concurrently), component- and S-Video, and 7.1 audio and coaxial S/PDIF digital outputs. However, compared to a superbly integrated MCE design, such as Hi-Grade’s DMS (see issue 114, p100), there are some noticeable design quirks on the DLCS-100. The four USB ports on the front panel take up both of the motherboard’s USB headers, so the VFD is connected via a cable that snakes out of a hole in the back of the chassis and into one of the rear ports. And, because both PCI slots are taken up by the twin digital TV tuners, there’s no space left for a WLAN card (SavRow will supply a wireless USB dongle for an extra £47). There’s also a coaxial cable running from one of the tuner outputs into the other. It isn’t the worst thing in the world when it’s all hidden away, but one of the joys of buying such a system pre-built – especially one from a company that prides itself on ‘bespoke, luxury computers’ – is that the messy compromises should be designed out.
However, it doesn’t affect the system’s usefulness: dual digital tuners feel palpably luxurious and we like the compact wireless RF keyboard, complete with mini-joystick for controlling the mouse pointer. It’s a little tricky to get to grips with, but fine for a spot of sofa surfing, and the range is excellent. The supplied remote control is courtesy of SoundGraph rather than the standard Microsoft MCE offering. It isn’t as attractively styled, but it’s still comprehensively featured, including an integrated mouse joypad.