There's something rather special about this HTPC that sets it apart from the pack — the AMD 3870K APU. This CPU/GPU hybrid offers respectable computing performance, but it's the casual gaming audience that will enjoy it most. Thanks to the Radeon graphics cores tucked away under the hood of this APU, it's easily the best of our HTPCs for gamers. Able to run today's DirectX11 games with decent levels of eye candy, it's the only HTPC we tested that is ready for gaming without needing a graphics card. If you're really serious about your games, we still recommend spending a little extra for a dedicated graphics card, and there's plenty of room inside for one.
That's because Scorptech has gone to amazing lengths to keep the interior of this HTPC nice and tidy. It's one of the best efforts we've ever seen at hiding the myriad wires and cables usually found inside a PC case. This can make things a little tricky when you need to swap something around, but it also delivers impeccable airflow. It's no surprise that the case is extremely quiet during operation, and the PC is further aided in its quest for silence with a quiet Western Digital hard drive.
While we love the AMD APU's gaming performance, it's not quite as adept at transcoding performance in many applications, as evidenced in our CPU-centric x264 HD benchmark and Cinebench benchmark. However, AMD is pushing for more applications to make the most of the entire APU, rather than just the CPU, and they're starting to see excellent results in software packages, such as Handbrake and CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5. As more developers start to harness the full power of the APU, expect transcoding performance to improve in leaps and bounds.
x264 HD benchmark
ODE AMD Home Media Center
Scorptec Mantis (AMD)
Enspire Digital AVR-500
Scorptech Mantis (Intel)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Its overall system performance is extremely snappy, thanks in part to the 60GB Corsair SSD. Backing this up for storage duties is the hefty three terabyte WD Caviar Green, with more than enough room for even ravenous media consumers. An LG Blu-ray drive serves your HD movie-viewing needs if you don't feel like eating into your bandwidth cap, while the Leadtek WinFast DTV tuner delivers twin tuners. With Windows Media Center installed, the gorgeous movie-viewing interface is hard to beat.
Rounding out the excellent feature set is a 450Mbps Wi-Fi networking card, which might just be fast enough to stream HD movies if you're in an ideal environment (we still recommend Ethernet where possible, just to be safe). Controlling everything from the comfort of your couch with the Shintaro Wireless Media Centre couldn't be easier, although we do wish that it was backlit for those who like to watch in the dark. Optional remotes can be had for just a little extra.
This is a very well-rounded HTPC, but the AMD APU might concern power users. Our benchmarks illustrate its weakness in applications that aren't accelerated for the APU, but hopefully this will become less of an issue as more developers take up AMD's heterogeneous programming approach.