Mesh Matrix ViVa 940 Pro review
Mesh has supplied us with some fantastic-value desktop PCs over the years. However, it’s been quieter on the media centre front, preferring to leave small form factor, hi-fi-style PCs to other manufacturers. But the ViVa is exactly what you’d expect a media centre PC to be: small enough to fit on a shelf in the living room, with looks to match most high-end stereo equipment.
Besides Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and a remote control, the ViVa’s Viiv compliance gives you Quick Resume, high-definition audio as well as the promise of exciting new media software and hardware in the second half of this year. But the ViVa is by no means out of its element right now. Two Black Gold DVB-T tuners are installed and, although having to daisy-chain your aerial cable is a slight annoyance, the ability to record one channel while watching another is exactly as it should be.
The 7.1 audio chip has all of the usual 3.5mm outputs on the back of the machine, as well as coaxial S/PDIF on the back and optical S/PDIF on the front. Video options are slightly more limited, with scart being the only non-PC video output. You do at least get DVI from the Intel GMA 950 graphics adapter, courtesy of a riser in the PCI Express 16x port on the AOpen 945G motherboard.
The motherboard offers only 10/100 Ethernet. While this is unlikely to be a major bottleneck for media streaming, the lack of built-in wireless networking is slightly frustrating. Adding the capability later will prove equally so; although you can buy half-height 802.11g cards, the only spare port is a PCI Express 1x slot, which means the only avenue currently open will be externally via USB.
Storage is provided by a 300GB Maxtor hard disk. If you’re the only user of the ViVa, this will probably be enough, particularly given the dual-layer DVD writer. But if the ViVa is intended to be the focal point for a family, you could well end up wishing for more storage space. There’s room to install another hard disk and, given the low price of storage, this or an external drive is likely to be the first upgrade you’ll want to make.
Elsewhere, however, the ViVa proves to be a flexible living-room inhabitant. The memory card reader on the front will read SD/MMC, SmartMedia, Memory Stick and CompactFlash cards, while folding down the flap at the front port reveals a pair of USB ports, FireWire and mini-FireWire ports. The LCD front panel is well integrated and displays the name of the channel currently displayed, “PC” if Media Center’s front end isn’t running, and the time if the system is off.
The keyboard and mouse is Logitech’s Cordless Rechargeable Desktop combo. This isn’t a set that lends itself particularly well to sofa use, though: the keyboard is too wide and the optical mouse requires a flat surface to operate effectively.
The rest of the PC is ideally specified for high-end media work. The Intel Pentium D 940 with a core speed of 3.2GHz is a real powerhouse, and Mesh has included a full 2GB of RAM to make sure intensive operations run quickly – our overall benchmark score of 0.95 underlines the point.
The drawback to such high-end components is that they require a lot of cooling, and it’s normally at this point in a review that we compliment a manufacturer on its efforts to provide quiet, efficient cooling. Instead, Mesh gets a slap on the wrist – the only active cooling in the entire chassis is the heatsink and fan on the CPU. Approaching the ViVa while it was running our intensive benchmarks revealed a waft of heat, while the chassis itself became almost too hot to touch. The system didn’t get hot enough in our Labs to affect stability, but it may affect the kind of living-room cabinet the ViVa can inhabit. Noise will be another issue for quiet living rooms – once it’s working hard, the ViVa will be clearly audible.