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The One Has Arrived, Continued, Page 3

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The EPIA-M10000 is equipped with just a single PCI slot, and there is no AGP slot. So unless you use a PCI-based 3-D card, which are a rapidly vanishing breed, you must use VIA's new CastleRock integrated graphics core. The CastleRock graphics core has a 128-bit 2-D engine and a 64-bit 3-D graphics engine. But it’s a far cry from being a gaming system solution. In fact, just forget about it, as the 3-D performance of the CastleRock core is abysmal for games.

Likewise, forget about using the M10000 as a show-shifting PVR. It’s real time video encoding for show shifting sucks.  But it can do time shifted-only PVR (that is, TV recorded at an earlier time and played back later) with superb playback. That’s because MPEG-2 decode and playback on the EPIA-M10000 is done via the CastleRock core’s integrated MPEG-2 decoder. This integrated feature offloads MPEG-2 decoding from the M10000 CPU, and in real life its playback performance was superb. It never dropped a single frame or messed up the audio on even the most complex and demanding of material. I used CyberLink’s excellent PowerDVD 5.0 DVD player, which also does a great job in playing back video files stored on a hard drive.

I also used Windows XP Home Edition instead of XP Professional for a change. XP/HE had more than enough features to do the kinds of AV chores I wanted to run on the Epia M10000. And although the Epia M10000 blows as a gaming machine, it ran MS Office more than capably. In fact, as a desktop solution for standard office applications, web browsing, mail, and other such non-3-D graphics tasks the little Epia M10000 makes for a great, low noise, small form factor box. The Epia M1000 will also run Linux.

In late August 2004, VIA Technologies released enhancements to the open source Xine project in the form of VeXP 3.0 (VIA enhanced Xine Player, version 3.0) supporting hardware-based MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 video acceleration for entertainment devices based on VIA C-series digital media chipsets. Hardware digital video acceleration in VeXP 3.0 will work on systems based on the VIA CN400 and VIA CLE266 digital media chipsets, like the M10000. With support for an extensive range of media formats that include AVI, ASF, CDDA, DVD, MP3, VCD and RM, VeXP 3.0 is able to reduce the workload on the system processor by more than 50%.

Linux distributions supported by the player include Fedora Core 1, Mandrake 9.2, MontaVista 3.1, Red Flag 4.0, Red Hat 7.3/8.0/9, and SuSE 8.1. The VeXP 3.0 application can be downloaded from SourceForge.net Once widespread distribution support is available for VeXP 3.0, I am putting Linux on this cute little puppy in a heartbeat and run it instead of the bloated, bug-plagued, virus magnet known as Windows.

VIA uses one of its own VT1622M TV encoder chips to power the EPIA-M10000's video output port. The VT1622M can output NTSC and PAL signals at 640x480, 800x600, and 1024x768, but neither widescreen nor high definition output formats are supported. The VT1622M is only a TV encoder chip, so you still need a discrete capture card if that’s the game you want to play.

I use another PC setup as the heart of my TV-based home theater system and I am quite spoiled by it. It consists of a 64-bit AMD Athlon 3400, 768 MB of Corsair XMS RAM, an ATI All In Wonder 9800 Pro 3-D card, and a 400 MB RAID O array, all housed in a P160 tower case from Antec. Although viewing PC text on an analog TV set will probably never be good, movies, PVR, and games all look and run great on this AMD powerhouse. It’s a terrific setup whether it's for use with a TV or with a computer monitor.

The P160 case is also very quiet, but not as quiet as the Aria/M10000 rig. The TV output from the M10000 offered text clarity and movie playback performance comparable to the big AMD rig. But as with showshifting, forget about using the M10000 for ripping and encoding video and audio. Leave those A/V encoding chores to the big boys.

Finally, we come to the audio section of this review, which is what it’s all about. The EPIA-M10000's has what it calls its  "Vinyl Audio" solution, which combines the VT8235 south bridge's internal 6-channel audio controller with VIA's VT1616 codec chip.

Moreover, if you go into the audio control panel on Windows, and click on the front speaker “Advanced” tab, you will see two options, S/PDIF Enable (which also requires that you manually set the jumper on the motherboard from RCA video to S/PDIF), and Smart5.1 Enable. Selecting the latter option converts the rear line-in port to a rear L/R speaker channel, line-out now becomes the front L/R channels, and the microphone port becomes the center/sub port for an analog surround sound solution.

The board’s S/PDIF port is there for digital output, but note that the VT8235 integrated south bridge audio controller used by the M10000 lacks the ability to encode a digital 5.1-channel output signal in real time. In any event, sound quality via either M10000 audio option sucks from a high-end audio standpoint, which is why you absolutely need RME Audio’s incredible HDSP 9632 card

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21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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