AMD Maui: Ultimate HTPC Integration

Complete|Mobile Systems
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AMD Maui

March 5, 2009 by Lawrence Lee & Mike Chin

Product/Concept AMD Maui HTPC Platform
Manufacturer MSI / AMD

AMD Live! is an initiative to promote PC software and hardware for better home entertainment. It is a concept that few hardware enthusiasts are familiar with. For many, their only knowledge of AMD Live! comes from the sticker spotted on the occasional brand name AMD-powered computer at a big box store. So what does it take to be AMD Live! certified? Basically a dual core processor, Vista Aero-capable graphics, and digital video and audio outputs — not exactly tough requirements.

Maui, on the other hand, is AMD's internal codename for a project that combines a motherboard with the 780M mobile chipset and unique audio amplfier cards utilizing chips from D2Audio specifically for use as a home entertainment component. The amplifier module is a key to the system's appeal. The proposition is simple: Instead of yet another box to add under your TV, eliminate the usual amplifier or receiver and keep it all in one box, running the speakers directly from the HTPC. Powering five speakers is not something any onboard sound card in a motherboard can do. Normally, you'd have to run powered speakers that have built-in amplifiers and use the preamp output of the sound card. AMD says that this is no gimmicky add-on, but a capable, high quality amplifier at a very good price point .

Another available option in place of the 5-ch amp is a 7.1 preamp board, also based on a D2Audio chip, that fits into the PCIe 4X slot. One of these came along with the system. We chose not to examine the preamp. The preamp and amp cannot both be used simultaneously in the same system, and the MSI motherboard ia bundled with either the amp or the preamp, and there's no separate amp or preamp purchase option. The preamp is not as appealing because it dictates the use of an external amp; doing away with another electronic box under your TV is what appeals most about the 5-ch amp.

A complete Maui system we received from AMD consists of a MSI motherboard powered by AMD's mobile 780M chipset (utilizing integrated HD 3200 graphics), an ATI TV Tuner card, and the dedicated 5-channel audio amplifier installed in a PCIe 4X slot. It came prebuilt in a case with a LIS display and a Vista compatible remote control, with Vista Ultimate installed. It has all the makings of a good HTPC, with a strong slant toward the audio side of things.

This article is a review of the Maui system as configured and delivered by AMD. No price is listed for this system in the usual summary box atop because it's not a system anyone actually sells. It's just one iteration of Maui. The heart of the system, the MSI Media Live DIVA motherboard (MS-7411 v1.1) and the 5-ch amp, is sold as a package ($189 at Newegg), and there are many different ways that a HTPC could be built around these core components.

The system box with separate MSI 7.1 preamp option.

The system is housed in a nMedia HTPC-1000B case.

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