Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/22/review_scan_3xs/
Scan 3XS Hoojum CUBIT 5 media centre system
All roads lead to chrome
Review Last month I took a look at a complete Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005 system from small form-factor king Shuttle and was generally impressed. Now system integrator Scan has created its own Media Center system, the CUBIT 5, using the guts of Shuttle's SFF MCE system but employing a housing from Hoojum, writes Benny Har-Even.
Scan is noted for its systems sporting cases designed to make the beige box a distant memory and its Hoojum range will certainly do that. The case is a very solid block of aluminium with an entirely mirrored surface, much like the back of an iPod. The front panel is of particular note with a sliver at the top for the notebook-sized Panasonic UJ-845-BPN, which can burn dual-layer DVDs at 2.4x speeds. There are multiple memory card slots at the bottom. Above these are two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin Firewire port, and headphone and microphone sockets. The distinctive features, though, are the slots that run down either side, providing extra cooling. On the left is an infra-red panel, though this didn't seem to serve any function as the media center remote is an external USB box, as it was with the Shuttle.
The unit it's certainly something of a design statement, but to my eyes that statement is primarily 'toaster'. It's undoubtedly a stunning object, but I'd like to have a great looking piece of AV hardware in my lounge, not a fantastic-looking kitchen appliance. Fortunately, Scan offers the Hoojum in other colours, namely black, white, blue, peach and red, so there's really something for everyone. The other colours are also significantly cheaper than the chrome finish. If you go for black, then you'll save a whopping £120. This drops to £115 less if you go for white and it will be £105 less expensive with any of the other shades.
As a media PC, the CUBIT 5 has many talents, even if one of them isn't producing perfectly done cooked-bread products. The CPU supplied is a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 with 1MB of cache on an 800MHz frontside bus. This ensures that the system will be very capable of handling high definition video material smoothly. The processor is ably assisted by 1GB of Corsair RAM on two 512MB modules, ensuing dual-channel operation on the 915G chipset.
While most media centre systems take it easy on the graphics performance to try and keep system noise down, Scan has an option to fit either a GeForce 6600GT or a GeForce 6800GT into the case, and the former was fitted inside my review unit. With one of these cards the fan will make its presence felt in a lounge environment. Then again if you want to play games on the system you'll have to make that sacrifice. Halo was pre-installed on the test system and I launched it to see how the system fared. The whole experience was certainly a whole lot smoother than my own PC gave me at the time the game was first released for PC.
I was very concerned when I first booted up the system because the CPU fan noise from the Shuttle ICE cooling system was extremely loud. But a trip to the BIOS sorted this out - the fan setting had been put on maximum. Setting this to Auto saw the noise level drop significantly and even at its lowest setting it still does a good job of extracting warm air to the rear. This means though that it needs to be placed in a well ventilated location so that warm air doesn't linger causing ambient temperatures to rise. _
Scan bundles a NorthQ PC-to-DVD Link Cable Kit, which enables you to hook up the system to your CRT TV via composite or S-Video without having to go hunting for more bits. The best image quality though would be to use the DVI ports of the 6600GT card and hook up to an HD-ready TFT or plasma screen. Staying with graphics for a moment, Scan hasn't covered over the built-in VGA port, so users could get confused the first time they set up the system.
One genuine bonus the supplied system has over the Shuttle MCE machine is that it has Freeview Digital TV PCI TV Tuner card - a Hauppauge WinTV-Nova-T. This is a very welcome inclusion and is a far more welcome sight than an analog tuner. However, the big downer is that unlike the Shuttle there's no integrated Wi-Fi. This seems quite an odd omission considering that it's based on the same barebone chassis. There is at least an integrated wired network port. Also at the rear are two USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin Firewire port and coaxial and optical digital outputs. Ports for the 5.1 channel capable Realtek AC'97 sound chip are also integrated onto the board.
As far as upgrading goes the Hoojum case is quite different from the norm. As it's a solid piece there's no lid to lift off. Instead you have to slide the inside out by removing four screws at the rear. This makes it easy to work on the insides as you can get to all the components but as soon as you try and slot the interior back into place your enthusiasm for the case might start to wane. The parts have to be lined up exactly right which is tricky. Once you take out the insides the connections for the front panel come off too, so you have to take of the front panel too in order to reconnect it.
The Scan system was supplied with a Cherry wireless keyboard and mouse. This has a wireless USB dongle connector rather than a PS/2 connection, so you'll have to give up one of your USB slots. The mouse is not that comfortable to hold and the keyboard is something of an acquired taste. It's very thin, which is good, but the travel in the keys is almost non-existent. The layout is also odd with function keys down the sides. There are lots of hot keys at the top though for quick access and it's very configurable thanks to the supplied software.
The Scan is a good Media Center system but you're paying over the odds for the funky case design. The digital tuner is sensible but the lack of Wi-Fi is disappointing. The GeForce 6600GT graphics card also means it's not really suited to quiet environments. Ultimately unless you have to have the Hoojum case, the conventional Shuttle MCE system, which Scan also sells, offers far better value.
|Scan 3XS Hoojum CUBIT 5|
|More info||The Scan site|
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