Mesh Xtreme AM2 5000 LIVE review

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With both Intel and AMD trying to prove that their vision of the digital media future is the right one, competition is hotting up.

Mesh Xtreme AM2 5000 LIVE review

In terms of hardware, the Mesh Xtreme is about as far from the hi-fi-style PC as you can get. The tower chassis may have a little more verve than Mesh’s normal PC cases, but it isn’t designed with the living room in mind. The idea behind the 5000 LIVE is to set it up elsewhere in your home, streaming media around the house – and around the world – using local networking and an internet connection.

Network hardware suddenly becomes important when you move media around, and the 5000 LIVE’s configuration is better than most. The motherboard provides twin Gigabit Ethernet, but there’s also a Realtek RTL8187 wireless adapter. It’s integrated with the Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard on a small riser, and provides both station and access point modes, which means that even if your home doesn’t already have an Ethernet router you can still create a network complete with internet sharing.

Of equal importance is the core hardware – if you take AMD LIVE to the extreme that AMD envisions, you’ll be encoding media on-the-fly to a set-top box while someone else connects to your PC over the internet, while you get on with some photo editing. AMD’s Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 5000+ is the CPU at the heart of the system. While Intel’s Core 2 Duo means it’s no longer top of the performance tree, its 2.6GHz still proved enough to produce a benchmark result of 1.21, with 2GB of RAM supporting performance.

The 3D gaming potential is also vast, with Nvidia’s highest-end single card, the GeForce 7950 GX2, comprising two GPUs. Two lots of 256MB graphics-dedicated RAM as well as twin 500MHz cores meant the 5000 LIVE flew through our benchmarks – 110fps and 51fps in Far Cry and Call of Duty 2 respectively, both at our toughest settings. Dropping the resolution to the monitor’s native 1,680 x 1,050 saw averages of 113fps in Far Cry and 58fps in Call of Duty 2.

ViewSonic’s VX2025wm is supplied, and it’s difficult to overstate how big a difference the 20.1in widescreen makes. While the resolution won’t allow you to natively view 1080i/p HD broadcasts, it’s a minor quibble, although the lack of HDCP-compliant hardware means that DRM-encrypted HD Video will be scaled down even further.

With Windows Media Center Edition 2005 and the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1300 tuner, you can pick up Freeview TV and digital radio channels. However, if you want to watch and/or record more than one channel at once, you’ll need to add another.

The 300GB hard disk accommodates several whole TV series, but it’s quickly going to feel cramped, particularly as HD becomes more widespread. Given the low cost of storage and the tool-less chassis, adding more capacity later should be easy, though; there’s space in the chassis, and enough SATA connectors on the motherboard for three more disks. We’d also have liked to see a memory card reader. Twin optical drives are fitted: one a dual-layer DVD writer, and the other a DVD-ROM.

AMD LIVE may be in its early stages, but that doesn’t mean Mesh’s first effort at fulfilling AMD’s vision is a bad one. It’s more than fast enough to withstand the next generation of games and apps and it’s quick enough to deal with HD media encoding and distribution. Even better, you’re getting a great basis for a media hub or a terrific standalone PC. It isn’t ultimate enough to win an A List award this month, but it’s a worthy alternate choice.

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