Asus Pundit P1-AH1 review

Price when reviewed

It’s taken a while for anyone to take advantage of the media centre leanings of the Nforce4 chipset with integrated GeForce 6150 graphics; we last saw the chipset in a Foxconn board in December. With the PureVideo decoding hardware incorporated into this GPU, it’s good news for video playback, while H.264 (high-definition) content can be partially hardware accelerated too. And there are more treats for the media centre builder for that £99 asking price.

First there’s the CPU socket: there’s no budget Socket 754 under that heatsink, but a Socket 939 instead. This gives loads of flexibility in your choice of CPU, from the £72 Athlon 64 3000+ (www.sava to the £389 Athlon 64 X2 4800+ ( Asus says that the top-end 4800+ isn’t officially supported due to the 250W PSU, but we had no trouble using one in testing. The better-value Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (£173) makes more sense though, since it will run cooler. Even our 4800+ barely had the CPU fan working hard or noisily. Next to the heatsink are two memory sockets, taking any sort of DDR RAM up to a maximum of 2GB.

When building the system, it’s best to remove the drive caddy first so there’s plenty of space to work. The drive caddy houses one 3.5in hard disk and one 5.25in optical drive. Be careful when choosing an optical drive, as any that have front flaps rather than trays will catch on the drive door.

Asus has routed the power cable for the two drives to exactly the right place, so once everything’s plugged in you’re left with a neat layout and good airflow. There are two SATA headers and one IDE connector, so you can use any combination of interfaces for your two drives. If you choose a SATA hard disk and IDE optical drive, use the right-angled end of the supplied SATA data cable at the disk end, as the IDE connection will otherwise push against the cable and potentially break.

The triangular metal section under the power supply hides a PCI riser card for the custom Asus motherboard. This riser has two PCI slots, allowing for two full-height TV tuners arranged horizontally (to be precise, cards that measure up to 90mm in height without the PCI connector, and 97mm with it, will fit). And while the lack of a PCI Express slot of any kind is a slight shame, there’s no pressing need for a powerful graphics card if all you’re going to build is a media centre.

Both video and audio are catered for adequately by the motherboard, with the eight-channel high-definition audio from a Realtek codec enough to satisfy all but ardent audiophiles. Graphics are handled perfectly well by the integrated GeForce 6150. With two pixel pipes and two vertex pipes running at 475MHz it isn’t for gaming, but it’s fine for displaying a Desktop or video at high resolutions. And then there’s PureVideo hardware assistance to add some detail and reduce CPU load. The hardware isn’t as advanced as the GeForce 7-series we test in this month’s Labs, but if you’re watching high-definition video it can slightly enhance the picture while taking some processing load from the CPU. And as well as the standard D-SUB and DVI outputs, there’s S-Video and composite-video output too.

There are all manner of ports and slots behind the fascia panel door. There’s a reader for CompactFlash, plus SD, MMC and Memory Stick cards, as well as a mini FireWire connector, S/PDIF output, two USB 2 ports and two 3.5mm audio jacks. And much to our pleasure, the power button can be pressed through this door so you’ll never have to suffer the ugly sight of them if you don’t want to. It’s reasonably sturdy too, though by no means indestructible.

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