6/24/08 - Polywell is not a new company when it comes to home theater PCs. They have been producing media center systems for a number of years. In fact, they have decided to finally integrate that functionality into their new product name of PolyCenter over their traditional Poly name. Let's see what they have to offer in this home theater system ...
Polywell actually offers a wide range of proccessors available with the PolyCenter i7150 HTPC. The base processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 but it is possible to purchase the system with a Pentium 4 631 if you so desire. Those looking for extra performance can elect to get one of the newer Core 2 Quad or Core 2 Extreme processors. Core conscious consumers will likely opt for the Intel Core 2 Duo E4000 series processors to balance cost and performance.
The motherboard of the PolyCenter i7150 HTPC is designed to use the DDR2 memory technology. Users can select from 512MB up to 4GB using either PC2-5300 or PC2-6400 speed modules. The system is limited to only two memory modules and thus 4GB of total memory that is a bit restrictive but not too much of an issue. The default configuration uses 2GB of PC2-5300 DDR2 that most people would want to upgrade to PC2-6400 for extra performance.
Hard drive space is incredibly important for home theater based PCs because digital video uses a large amount of space. Thankfully, the PolyCenter i7150 has the space to hold a large number of hard drives. The default configuration uses three Seagate 500GB SATA hard drives to provide a total of 1.5 terabytes of storage. If additional storage is required, 750GB and 1TB Seagate drives are available to allow up to 3TB of total storage. Of course, Polywell also offers smaller drives or single and dual hard drive configurations to help reduce the overall costs.
DVD burners are pretty much a standard with all personal computers these days. The PolyCenter i7150 comes with a 20x dual layer Lite-On burner standard for playback and recording of CD and DVD media. The case only has a single space for an optical drive but users can opt to have a Sony Blu-ray burner installed in its place. This allows for support of the high definition movie foramt in addition to the DVD and CD media. Both of these drives are IDE interface. It is possible to get a SATA interface drive but then it can only support two hard drives as it only has three SATA connectors on the motherboard.
Graphics and Display:
One of the key features of a home theater PC is the ability to connect up with today's high definition TV's. The base intergated graphics of the PolyCenter i7150 does support an HDMI output. The GeForce 7150 integrated processor is only rated for a 1080i output though. So, if you want to fully support 1080p, you want to upgrade to one of the many options. A variety of cards ranging from the GeForce 8400 GS to the 9800 GX2 are available. The best overall option is the GeForce 8600 GTS fanless that keeps the system as quiet as possible.
What is a home theater PC without a TV tuner? The PolyCenter i7150 features a standard digital and analog TV tuner along with an FM tuner. This allows it to pull in HDTV or traditional analog TV signals using an external TV antennae. The drawback to this setup is that it can't fully function with a satellite or cable setup which is how the majority of people receive HDTV signals currently. This really limits the overall ability of the system.
Users only have two options for audio with the PolyCenter i7150. The primary setup is to use the onboard HDA 7.1 audio. The upgraded option is to use a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio card. This is a good upgrade for those looking to use the system for gaming, but it lacks the features such as Dolby Digital or TrueHD that are more important for a home theater setup. Polywell does offer the Logitech Z-5500 5.1 amplified speaker setup with the system or a variety of other speaker options.
Polywell actually offers a wide variety of operating systems with the PolyCenter i7150. All of the version of the Vista operating system are available, either in 32-bit or 64-bit. The default is the Home Premium version. They also offer users the options of Windows XP, Solaris or SUSE Linux on the system although they have limited features for a home theater setup. It is also possible to get a multiple boot setup with two or three of the different versions. Productivity, security and entertainment software is optional.
One of the great things about the PolyCenter i7150 is the flexibility in it's configuration. Consumers have a large number of options when it comes to the processor, hard drives and graphics that will be used in the system. This makes it highly flexible to fit the budgetary and computing needs that one might have. The problem is that this flexibility doesn't extend out to all of the components within the system. For example, the audio card selection is essentially non-existent as is the tuner configuration.
The tuner configuration is probably the biggest flaw with the PolyCenter i7150. Users are essentially limited to just using it for over the air broadcasts. This is extremely limiting as the majority of consumer who view high definition TV do so over satellite or cable. Sure, it still can be used as a high definition movie player with the installation of a Blu-ray drive, but that defeats much of the DVR capabilities that most people are interested in with a home theater PC.
Polywell did make some sound design decisions though. A good example of this is the fact that there are a large number of fanless component options. Cooling fans are the biggest noise source from personal computers. The fanless power supply and video card options really do a lot to help reduce the noise. Consumers will still hear the CPU cooling and drives, but they tend to be less of a distraction than the other components.
The case design of the PolyCenter i7150 would work within a home theater setup along side amplifiers and other gear, but it doesn't really have much functionality to it beyond its appearance. It is really just a glorified desktop PC case. In fact, users even have the option of switching out the home theater style case for a traditional desktop tower or mini-box case.
The end result is that the PolyCenter i7150 is a decent media center PC, but it fails from the goal of being an outstanding home theater setup.