The IT world is full of PCs that use the Windows XP Media Center (MCE) operating system, but most designers are lazy with their implementations, rehashing old designs, and often failing to get the most out of the features on offer. Shuttle, however, is best known for its work in the field of small form-factor cases, and its obvious expertise pays off with the XPC M1000.
It's one of the most painstakingly well designed desktops we've seen, and provided you don't mind its slightly retro looks, its list of features suggests it's the most complete implementation of MCE on the market.
The XPC M1000 makes a positive impact from the moment it's lifted from its box. It's housed in Shuttle's 'M' chassis, which is about the size and shape of an ordinary DVD player. This original and exclusive design is head and shoulders above other PCs that are crafted to look like standard AV equipment. The same attention to detail has been applied to the M1000's accompanying wireless keyboard and proprietary MCE remote control -- which are just as stylish as the base unit, if not more so.
The case has an attractive, glossy black finish, and there's a large, silver XPC logo plastered across the top. Despite the M chassis' shiny good looks, it's slightly less attractive when viewed from the front. From some angles it looks like a VHS recorder, which isn't necessarily a good thing. The upshot is that nobody will recognise it as a PC -- any components that could betray its computing heritage are secluded behind flaps, fascias and stealth drive-bay covers.
Hidden behind a flap to the left side, you'll find an 8-in-1 memory card reader, two USB ports, a four-pin FireWire port, and two audio sockets for connecting a mic and headphones. On the right, again secluded behind a flap, there's a port for connecting a removable 2.5-inch hard drive, which is included in the box.
Sitting proudly in the centre of the unit is a multi-coloured LED display that shows which Media Center mode (My Videos, My TV etc) the XPC M1000 is currently in. Just above this is a tray-loading DVD drive, which sits adjacent to an unnecessarily wide eject button. Their close proximity gives the impression of a single, large video slot, and contributes to the M1000's VHS player-like appearance.
Shuttle has wisely chosen to position the PC's main cooling vent to the rear of the case. Unlike computers with top-mounted vents, there's less chance of the M1000 overheating when other devices are placed on top of it. The rear section of the PC also houses a plethora of input/output ports, including composite and component.
Like its exterior, the XPC M1000's innards bear only a slight resemblance to those of an ordinary PC. Even experienced users will be hard-pressed to locate the CPU and memory, as these are subject to the same stealth treatment as the external ports. Their seclusion isn't just for cosmetic reasons, though -- the PC has an elaborate cooling system that consists of a number of heatpipes and heatsinks connected to exhaust fans. Their compact, inaccessible layout means you're going to have to get your hands very dirty when upgrading.
Most users should be happy with the standard components. At the helm is a 1.73GHz Pentium M 740 CPU, which is the driving force behind many Centrino laptops. This processor provides strong performance and requires relatively little cooling, so the entire system runs very quietly. The basic M1000 comes with 512MB of DDR2 memory -- which is a tad disappointing. 1GB would have been preferable, especially as the PC is designed to handle large, complex multimedia files.
Many MCE computers neglect gamers. The XPC M1000 does its best to cater for that market with an Nvidia GeForce 6600LE PCI Express graphics card, with 256MB of dedicated memory. These cards can become fairly hot and noisy, but Shuttle has modified the standard cooling system so it runs more quietly. Hot air is dissipated along a heatsink and a pair of heatpipes to an exhaust fan, which expels hot air through a discreet vent at the left of the case.
Just above the graphics card, you'll find a pair of digital TV tuners that let you view digital terrestrial (Freeview) broadcasts. MCE lets you view one Freeview channel while recording another, or to record two broadcasts simultaneously. Shuttle tries to make the most of the M1000's recording features by including a fairly large 250GB Seagate hard drive, which should be sufficient to store around 80 hours of high-quality video.
Once you've captured video from the TV cards or a DVD, there's a huge range of choice as to how you output that signal. There are analogue D-Sub and digital DVI outputs, but AV enthusiasts may prefer to use the component or composite video outputs, as displays with these ports are slightly more commonplace. Surround-sound output ports are also supplied, as are coaxial and digital SPDIF outputs, but this PC doesn't support surround-sound output via common 3.5mm audio jacks.
As it's based on laptop hardware, the XPC M1000 isn't the most potent performer we've come across. It's certainly no lame duck, though. The Pentium M 740 may have a low clock speed, but it has a greater amount of cache memory than dedicated desktop CPUs, meaning it can easily keep pace when performing most tasks. It scored a fairly respectable 2,646 during our PCMark 2005 tests, which is on a par with what we'd expect from a laptop using a similar specification.
Graphics performance was also acceptable. Its graphics card isn't particularly modern, but it was a capable performer in its time, and it still manages to run the latest games. You won't be able to crank up the resolution and detail settings on demanding titles, but it's certainly fine for casual 3D bouts. It scored a very playable 36 frames per second in Doom 3 at a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels, and 24fps at 1,280x768 pixels, which belies its modest 3DMark 2006 tally of 396.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide