Asus has taken the less trendy option of using an AMD chipset and CPU in its A33 Media Center PC. In this case it's the AMD 690 chipset and the X2 4000 CPU. The latter is a dual-core model clocked at 2.1GHz, which isn't so fast that it needs loads of noisy cooling, but isn't so slow that it will cause your media to judder or skip. In combination with the monstrous 4GB of RAM, it makes a good foundation for a PC of this ilk.
The A33 suffers the same graphical limitations as any Media Center PC in that it uses a low-end graphics card. Again, a high-end GPU would require more cooling from a fan or cooling assembly that generates more noise, so it's understandable, if a tad regrettable, that Asus has opted for an ATI Radeon Xpress 1250. As a result, the A33 isn't capable of playing demanding games, and it's recommended video playback mode is only 1080i or 720p.
All the best Media Center PCs come with a TV tuner, and the A33 is no exception. It uses two hybrid tuners that can either display analogue or digital broadcasts. This is great because you can run them in analogue mode if your home aerial isn't good enough to receive digital Freeview TV. What's more, Media Center will let you watch one channel while you record three others simultaneously.
As discussed, the A33 has a number of video output options. The one
that will prove most popular is probably HDMI. It has just a single
HDMI port, which is compatible with the HDMI 1.2 standard and,
according to Asus, supports audio over HDMI -- although we couldn't get
this feature to work.
Storage on the A33 is modest, but acceptable given the machine's relatively low price point. It comes with a 500GB hard drive, which is capable of storing a few hundred hours of video. To give you an idea, Media Center can record DVD quality video at a rate of approximately 1GB per hour.
The A33's trump card is its integrated power amplifier. Asus initially planned to release a 500W amp, but this has since been reduced to 300W in the final version of the A33. Despite the slight reduction, the A33 is still able to drive six separate audio channels -- two front channels, two rear channels, a centre channel and a subwoofer -- without the need for a separate amplifier.
This is great for anyone that wants more choice when deciding what speakers to go for. No longer do you have to resort to dedicated PC speakers such as those from Creative or others, because you can now buy a set of passive high-end speakers and connect them directly to the PC.