Asus A33 DAV review

£1015
Price when reviewed

It may resemble part of a stack from a hi-fi separates system, but the Asus A33 DAV is something of a dark horse. Behind its glossy black front fascia lurks a fully featured media-centre PC – and an innovative one at that.

Asus A33 DAV review

The stylish looks ensure the Asus won’t appear out of place in your living room, and the range of ports and sockets that litter the A33 back this up. There’s HDMI, for instance, which is a boon if you’ve invested in an HDTV – and will become more important as high-definition formats become more prominent. Disappointingly, though, there’s no HD DVD or Blu-ray drive, only a standard DVD writer. So although there’s plenty of scope for watching downloaded high-definition content, you won’t be able to watch off-the-shelf HD titles unless you fit your own drive.

There’s plenty of other media-related kit to keep you occupied, however, including a unique feature: a built-in multichannel amplifier. The speaker connections are spring-clips, which will restrict your choice of cable. Despite this, the 50W-per-channel 5.1 output produces respectable sound. It won’t satisfy audio buffs but, in a one-box media-centre solution such as this, it’s perfectly adequate.

We also like the small LCD screen on the front, which displays volume and track numbers, and allows access to the A33’s EQ settings. It’s a handy feature that means you don’t have to have to fire up the TV every time you play a music CD.

The rear of the Asus boasts a decent port selection. You get two USB, HDMI, eSATA, 5.1 channel spring-clips, stereo left and right outputs and an S/PDIF optical socket. Two S-Video and composite connections service video in and output, and there’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, too. The front of the machine provides another USB port, composite RCA and stereo inputs, plus microphone and headphone sockets, and a card reader that accepts CompactFlash, MS Pro, Duo and ProDuo, MMC and SD. A couple of remotes are included so you don’t have to keep the keyboard handy all the time, although having three controls for one machine – especially as many of their functions are shared – smacks of overkill.

You get plenty more in the box to play with, too, including a microphone that looks like it’s been rescued from the 1970s, an antenna for use with the dual-channel TV tuner, and a selection of cables including HDMI, scart and a pair of coaxial aerial leads.

In terms of pure PC performance, however, the A33 isn’t so strong. The Athlon 64 X2 processor may sound good on paper, but in practice the A33 fell behind its rivals. The overall application benchmark score of 0.79 can’t compete with the Sony VAIO VGC-LT1S, for example – our current A-List champion. This boasts an Intel Core 2 Duo chip and scored 0.95. More alarming, perhaps, is that audio encoding represents the least impressive component in the A33’s performance breakdown. The Radeon X1250 graphics are nothing special, either, so forget about playing games.

The weaker components do at least have one positive side effect: the A33 is an exceptionally quiet machine that won’t disturb you during more sedate moments in films. We also applaud the 500GB hard disk (there’s no room in the chassis for another, but you can add an eSATA drive via the external port), and Asus assures us the quota of RAM will increase from 2GB to 4GB when the A33 hits the shops.

There’s no doubt this is an innovative machine and one that would appeal to anyone trying to reduce the number of boxes living below their TV. The amp is surprisingly capable, too.

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