The Fusion Multi Media PC is designed to be used as Media Center PC with extensive personal video recorder (PVR) functions. Its physical appearance helps it blend in with your existing audio or video components, and its hybrid digital/analogue TV tuner lets you watch and record a host of terrestrial Freeview channels -- all for under £800 from Expert Technologies' Web site. You certainly get what you pay for, though. The Fusion is badly let down by its lack of a wireless keyboard and mouse, no memory card reader, and one of the noisiest cooling solutions we've heard in some time.
The Fusion Multi Media PC looks much like an ordinary DVD player. It uses a SilverStone LC10m case -- an undeniably attractive box, whose appearance is enhanced by a brushed-aluminium front panel. The front edge of the DVD tray juts out too far for our liking, but your attention will more likely be drawn by its front-facing LED information panel. This useful addition relays handy information including what tasks the PC is performing at any given time.
Our only real concern is the case's size -- it's around twice the height of an ordinary DVD player. You should be prepared to dump or move your existing audio-visual components unless there's tonnes of space available under your television.
FireWire, microphone and headset ports are conveniently located to the left side of the case and there are four USB ports at the front, which is helpful as you're unlikely to get day-to-day access to the four remaining USB ports at the rear. Unfortunately, the four front-facing USB ports are spaced only a millimetre apart, so you may have difficulty connecting large USB devices side by side.
The Fusion Multi Media PC lacks any sort of memory-card reader. This is an almost criminal omission given that it's being marketed as a multimedia PC. Sure, you can transfer files to and from the PC using a USB memory stick, or via an add-on card reader, but this is hardly ideal.
The Fusion Multi Media PC's most notable feature is its use of Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). This version of Windows XP is almost identical to Windows XP Professional Edition, but it features vastly improved multimedia file-handling capabilities. You can use it to watch and record television, play video files and DVDs, as well as listen to MP3s or view digital images.
The Fusion Multi Media PC doesn't come with a monitor, but it'll work out of the box with any standard CRT or LCD screen with a D-Sub video port. It'll also work with a TV or projector with component video ports, but first you'll need to connect a standard monitor and choose the appropriate display method using ATI's Control Panel utility.
Fusion takes good advantage of MCE's capabilities by including a hybrid TV tuner that is capable of receiving analogue and digital broadcasts -- although not simultaneously. Users who live in areas with strong Freeview reception can take advantage of the digital tuner, but those in weak digital signal areas can use the analogue tuner as a backup. We'd have liked a second, discrete tuner to be installed in order to allow the recording of one channel while viewing another, but this can be installed at extra cost if required. Fusion has supplied a 250GB hard drive, which is capable of storing around 80 hours of video at 'best' quality.
You can use the supplied Compro Videomate remote control to access access features both within and outside of MCE. For example you can open and switch between Windows applications, and launch an on-screen keyboard for entering text into programs such as MSN Messenger. Unfortunately, this is a very poor substitute for a wireless keyboard and mouse. Fusion has supplied a wired USB mouse-and-keyboard combo, but we're not sure where you're supposed to keep these, since the PC is designed to be installed under a television.
Although Media Center PCs don't require an awful lot of processing power to run efficiently, system builders need to select components very carefully. Fusion has chosen to base the system on the Asus A1 Proactive motherboard -- a commendable choice. Whereas some motherboards use a fan to cool the Northbridge chipset (the portion of the motherboard that controls the flow of information between the processor, graphics card and memory), the A1 Proactive is fanless. It is therefore completely silent in operation.
But any advantage gained by the fanless motherboard is lost by the almost bizarre decision to include five cooling fans inside the case. One sits behind the power button at the front of the PC, another in the power supply, and two smaller, particularly noisy exhaust fans create a huge din at the rear. The final fan, used to cool the CPU, is of the standard Intel variety -- a cooler hardly renowned for its quietness. The end result is a home-entertainment PC that does its best to drown out your entertainment audio with its own hugely annoying cacophony of noise.
Media Center PCs don't need much power, so we weren't expecting this Fusion offering to pack a mean punch. Its 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 CPU is a perfectly capable CPU that will provide enough grunt to run every application you're likely to install on this type of PC. This is proven by its fairly average but competent PCMark 2005 score of 2,498. The PC doesn't come with a tremendous amount of memory -- only 512MB of DDR400 SDRAM is installed -- but you're unlikely to need more unless you plan to edit large images, databases or spreadsheets.
Graphics performance is far from spectacular. The motherboard has an integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics adaptor, which is fine for most tasks, but don't expect it to run modern games very well. It achieved a fairly pathetic 3DMark 2005 score of 674; Doom 3 chugged away at an unplayable 9 frames per second (FPS), and Far Cry at 14.57 fps. Unless you like playing games in slow motion, we'd recommend upgrading to a faster, passively cooled graphics card.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide