February 15, 2010 by Stephen Hopkins
Media Center PCs usually grab the attention of two distinct crowds ... high-end theater users and DIYers. They don’t seem to show up on the radar of the middle-ground media-centric consumer nearly as often as they should. Common perception is they either require a high level of configuration for even passable daily use, either by an engaged DIYer or a high-priced system builder/integrator.
Along with that preconception also comes misconceptions of the cost of required hardware. While software options are nearly endless and whole-house video distribution servers and clients can add up in price very quickly, these can be a cheap and (relatively) easy middle ground for those interested in the Media Center PC concept.
Today’s deal (a President’s Day exclusive) shows that for under $400 you can cover the hardware aspect of a basic Media Center PC capable being either a stand-alone unit of the starting point of a whole-house distribution system. The Acer AX1301-U1302 PC is currently available from J&R for just $384 with free shipping after coupon code PRESDAY. This is a small form-factor PC that is right at home in any A/V setup.
Its AMD Athlon X2 215 processor, 4gb DDR2 memory, and Geforce 9200 HDMI graphics mean it can handle almost any HD video (including tough 1080p content) you can throw at it. Its 750gb hard drive offers better-than-average storage in this price range and will be a good start before needing to add external storage (likely in some networked form). All that’s needed to make this a full-fledged HTPC server is a Media Center remote, and those can be had for as little as $25 from NewEgg. And if Windows Media Center isn’t quite enough for you in terms GUI flash, check out XBMC and MediaPortal, two excellent open-source (and free) media center front-ends.
I’m currently deep in a long-term review of the very similar AX1301-U9052 along with the software mentioned above. I can say either offer a lot for the money and can easily be the basis of a whole-house media server/client setup. Check back in the coming weeks for that report.
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Stephen Hopkins is chief technology editor for EH Publishing. He writes product reviews, features, and focuses heavily on 3D TV, iPhone and iPad apps, and digital content.
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