Velocity Micro Media Center review –
It’s broken but still awesome

Velocity Micro Media Center PC

So the moment of truth has arrived. For those of you who missed all the locomotion last week, this is one of the several machines the Free Software Foundation sent out to bribe bloggers with. It comes preloaded with Windows Vista to expose what a terrible operating system it is. Just kidding. Disclosure: This is a review unit from Microsoft.

The machine comes from an unreleased range of Windows Vista Premium-Ready PCs by Velocity Micro, who builds state-of-the-art custom computer systems including gaming, media, office, mobile, business and media center PCs. This is the same machine Chris Morley, director of product development has been touting as the ‘ultimate media center’ on the Velocity Micro Blog last year.

As I’ve been informed by Microsoft, some of these review units have been damaged during freight, including mine. This may be a problem caused by either Velocity Micro or DHL. Nevertheless, the problem will be fixed. I’ve reviewed as much as I can with what I can do, that is turning it on and watching lights blink and fans spin. A replacement unit is on its way.

Velocity Micro boxVelocity Micro box
The bigger the package isn’t always better.

The first thing you’ll notice about this computer, and I mean the absolute first thing, is that there is nothing micro about the packaging. The box is almost a meter wide, and weighs just enough to be carried across a room. If you’re a hobbit or intend to carry this home on a unicycle, I would avoid purchasing this.

Velocity Micro foamVelocity Micro foam
Enough foam to afloat a small island nation.

Opening the box will reveal two foam pieces holding the machine, almost twice the size of the case itself. Velocity Micro tells me this is to protect the machine from projectiles when you’re innocently walking down the street with your new PC. They’ve spent millions of R&D dollars into ensuring the safety of their customers during these times of terrorism.

Velocity Micro indoor HDTV antennaVelocity Micro shirt
Velocity Micro Media Center PC accessoriesVelocity Micro Media Center PC accessories
Stuff you get with a PC these days. Makes Dell’s bundle looks pathetic in comparison.

Once you get your head around the concept of a box in a box, you’ll discover a slim Media Center keyboard, an indoor HDTV antenna, accessories and a bright blue walking-billboard shirt. If you’re the type of person that likes building PCs yourself because you get to keep all the manuals and accessories, then rest assured as Velocity has kept all that for you.

Velocity Micro Media Center PC remoteVelocity Micro Media Center PC keyboard

The included remote comes from Origen ae. For a generic Media Center remote, it feels quite comfortable, light and easy to use. You also get a Media Center keyboard. It has low-tactile keys, similar to those found on a laptop, which I like very much. Comes with plenty of buttons to launch every shortcut available in Windows. Also if you’re too lazy to use a real mouse, it offers a mini-joystick for awkward mouse movements.

Velocity Micro Media Center PC caseVelocity Micro Media Center PC caseVelocity Micro Media Center PC caseVelocity Micro Media Center PC case
Black is the new beige. “Welcome to HTPC”? At least it’s better than “Welcome to the social”.

Last but not least, the computer. I still don’t know why they call the company Velocity Micro, when the machine is anything but. The case comes straight from Origen ae, the X11 model to be exact. It has a pretty slick aluminum finish which sets the standard a bit higher than your average black box. This is not a tower case, so you’ll have to lay it flat for the DVD drive to work. The front panel has a power button, LCD VFD (vacuum flourescent) display, DVD drive and a flip-out cover revealing additional USB, memory card ports and even floppy drive bay for easy access.

Velocity Micro Media Center PC case screwsVelocity Micro Media Center PC inside case
Screws in the 21st century. Call it old fashioned, but at least it’s worth it.

Opening this contraption is no easy task. You can’t open this case by hand; there are no hand-operable screws. You’ll have to use a screwdriver to unscrew 8 tiny screws, which will pop off the top lid. But once you’re inside, you’ll appreciate the effort. Everything is laid out extremely well, with round ribbons and tied knots. Exceptions to the hard drive bays in these review units, which have come loose during freight and ended up damaging the case and a few other things too.

Velocity Micro Media Center PC insideVelocity Micro Media Center PC insideVelocity Micro Media Center PC insideVelocity Micro Media Center PC inside

I tried as hard as I could to get it working, replugging some of the more obvious plugs that came lose as a result, nothing worked. I presume there was permanent damage to the circuit boards, as a result, the machine would not POST/boot. But the specifications alone makes you drool.

All in all, this is one of the most powerful and well made OEM computer systems I have ever seen and touched. Unfortunately I couldn’t even get it to boot, let alone run Windows Vista. I have no doubt (when it works) that this is one hell-of-a desktop PC, and even more hell-of-a media center PC. The retail price has yet to be released, but I wouldn’t expect such premium services to come cheap.

If you want a Windows Vista Media Center PC for flawless gaming, enjoying high-definition content, multimedia authoring or even Solitaire in 1080p, then I’d hold off any purchases until Velocity Micro starts shipping this powerhouse this month.

26 insightful thoughts

  1. What’s that lower-left fan supposed to cool off?

    And the noise of 7 fans during a movie isn’t my idea of a well-made media-centre. I’d rather see a compact model based on the new Epia-board.

    This is nothing more than a custom-made PC, slapped in a oversized, look-a-like hifi-housing, just to call it the “ultimate media-centre”.

  2. @NeuroticFish: The lower left fan draws cool air from the bottom of the unit. It also cools the hard drives, they’re suppose to sit above it, but the hold bay is broken so I had to remove it.

  3. X2 5000+ in a HTPC? Slight overkill, but I guess people use Core2Duo’s in their HTPC’s too.
    Awesome looking fan, but its a testament to the overkill of the CPU if it needs to cool it that much ;)

    That x1950, does it have HDMI?

  4. This is a good example of why bloggers are not always the best people to review products, especially when they’ve got limited experience with reviews (which is one of the flaws Microsoft exploited with their ‘review this Ferrari, then keep it’ scheme).

    You admit that “Unfortunately I couldn’t even get it to boot, let alone run Windows Vista” and that “the retail price has yet to be released, but I wouldn’t expect such premium services to come cheap.”

    But then you go on to endorse the system by saying “If you want a Windows Vista Media Center PC for flawless gaming, enjoying high-definition content, multimedia authoring or even Solitaire in 1080p, then I’d hold off any purchases until Velocity Micro starts shipping this powerhouse this month.”

    How on earth can anyone make such a recommendation without having even turned on the machine? Sure, the specs look nice, but the system could be overly noisy, could run very hot, might for some other real-world reason not quite be as brilliant as the specs alone indicate.

    You don’t even have a price, so you can’t even make a judgement based on the ‘value’ of the system. Maybe it’ll be significantly over-priced compared to some other media center with almost-as-good specs (which of course you’d research by checking out similar systems for price and spec, after all, that’s what a real reviewer would do).

    Sorry, but can you imagine any PC reviewer getting a system that doesn’t boot and has no price tag, but suggesting that readers not buy a new PC until this one ships? Can you imagine a motoring writer making a similar recommendation of a new Ford or whatever, just from sitting in it and having a poke around the engine bay? (“The car wouldn’t start so we have no idea how it handles or if it’s noisy or what the fuel ratings are, and we don’t know how much it’ll cost, but don’t buy a new car until this one comes out!”).

    I look forward to a real review when the unit gets working, but until then, please hold off on these lame puff pieces!

  5. @Callie: I’m recommending people to hold off purchasing other Media Center PCs until Velocity Micro releases more details (including price and final specifications) about this unit.

    I’m not suggesting anyone to buy anything, only recommending to consider.

  6. I’m liking look of this machine.

    On a side note, the display on the front of this machine seems to be a VFD (vacuum flourescent) display, not an LCD.

    It will be nice to see this guy running.

    Stellar Part 1 – “Unpacking and First Impressions” review ^__^

  7. Hmm, thats a good looking PC.
    Went with the 1000 myself as I want to try out portability and I prefer to build my own main systems…

    …not so hot on this MCE technology myself, but then if I needed to I can use my 360 as an extender.

  8. Apparently there were a bad batch of screws that went into the final builds of our latest batch of HTPC chassis. This has since been rectified and I’m sorry for any of the problems it has caused anyone. Long – if you haven’t already contact us or MS, please drop me a line @ cmorley AT velocitymicro DOT com.

    As to the comment about fans – these fans are all VERY low speed. The bottom fan draws in air and cools the HDD. It’s oversized to acommodate all the hardware we’ll be offering as an option, including 4 HDD in RAID 5 with a hardware RAID controller, multiple TV tuners, and HD DX10 gaming courtesy of NVIDIA GeForce 8800′s (and ATI’s R600 when it comes out!) – and if you’re worried about THAT noise, then you’ll be excited to know that we’ve designed a custom built TEC cooling unit that is passively cooled by the internal airflow of the chassis, which eliminates the noise signature associated with high end GPUs. See – this isn’t the first PC we’ve designed. =)

    And if that’s not good enough for you, we’re also going to be launching a much smaller “player” device with less powerful graphics and storage to match the size of most DVD players. This is just the “ultimate” design.

  9. # of fans is not important guys… size and speed and quality are important a lots of slow quality fans create great airflow and won’t be loud at all… while on the other hand 1 single crappy high speed 80mm could easily annoy a tv watcher. and from the looks of this it looks like quality components in the system… the question is the speed of the fans

  10. Chris: i’d love to see a design like the new toshiba hddvd players those new ones are super sexy… a htpc in that form would be wicked

  11. Chris-

    We already have a lot in the works when it comes to slimmer “players.” One we’re working on looks very similar in size to the Toshiba HD-DVD players. This unit is more of the ultimate media “server” – you can do everything on it and even game at high resolution.

    We definitely see the need for a more stripped-down, videophile quality “player.”

  12. OMG that is awsome.

    ive been a fan of your blog for sometime now and have seen it evolve and love the K2 theme modified.

    any chance you can give it away with a contest.

    i would so love you for that. ;)

  13. I’m building a very similar unit, check the “tech” category on my blog for pics. I don’t have the video card yet but it will be fanless – you don’t need a gonzo gaming card with a fan.

    The two rear fans in the Origen X11 are pretty quiet. It’s that one at bottom left you mention that runs loud, and there’s no speed control on it. I’ll be looking to replace it. Also, there are some issues with the USB ports on the front of the case. I really need to call Origen about that before I’m completely out of warranty.

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