So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Altech Computers Maestro Pro 2
- Fast boot up, Quiet operation, reasonable performance, Tuner cards work well.
- Front LCD panel pointless, overpriced
If you have a bundle of cash and are looking for a good looking device to add to your home theatre or a PC that can handle most media related tasks, then the Maestro is for you. If you are looking for a gaming PC, you may want to look elsewhere.
Price$ 2,999.00 (AUD)
The current push toward integrated PC and home entertainment components has spawned the media centre PC, a computer disguised as a DVD player that handles all your entertainment while blending with your lounge room environment. We had the chance to give the new Maestro Pro 2 Media PC a run and were pleasantly surprised with its look and features, with very few issues to speak of.
The Maestro is a huge black box with a DVD player/recorder on the face with the start and reset buttons and a small LCD window which displays changing neon blue text. This is the first point of contention with this system. This screen is far too small for realistic use. It displays all kinds of information including news headlines but you have to be fairly close to read them. If this were a PC Desktop replacement system the system would be fine, but if you were to use it in the lounge room, as intended, this screen is fairly useless. The screen on the Claritas system is far more suited to this feature but since this was the only partof the Maestro that we were disappointed with, it not half bad.
The Maestro Pro 2 has a Pentium D 2.8GHz Dual Core processor with a Geforce 6600 graphics card, on-board sound, Dual Digital TV tuners, 1GB of Ram and a 200GB hard drive. Of the media centre PCs that we have tested thus far, this one starts up the fastest and ran without any crashes or problems. If this were a gaming machine we would be somewhat disappointed by the on-board sound and the Geforce 6600 card, but as a lounge room media player, these specs are more than enough and the DVD player and media players run flawlessly. Being a Windows PC the Maestro will play any media file you can throw at it, providing the correct codecs are installed. Since it is meant to always be connected to the internet, this is generally not a problem at all, if you know where to look.
The Tuner cards work very well and the scheduling feature is flawless. However, weak TV signals tend to be ignored by the system so you need to have sturdy signal strength in order to have the box work at its full capacity. The Maestro also comes with IceTV for easy TV guides and makes the scheduler simpler while the weather feature of Windows XP Media Centre edition is a great addition. The Maestro includes a 30 day trial of IceTV, while the Claritas offers users a full one year subscription.
Since the box is so large there is quite a bit of airflow around the components and with the heat sinks and only one CPU fan the whole system is fairly quiet which is a great factor for the lounge room environment.
The only real issue we have with this machine is the price. At this price you would expect the system to be a little more high performance or at the very least have far more storage than the paltry 200GB on offer here. For the cost of this machine, an identical system could be constructed in a white box system with a large wad of cash to spare. However, this system does look rather attractive and some people may just want an all in one simple solution for their media playback needs. If you are looking for a quick and easy device to dominate your lounge room and have the cash to throw around, this is a sexy choice.
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