AMD Maui: Ultimate HTPC Integration

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

The basic concept of the Maui platform is strong. Consolidating home entertainment gear has always been one of the promises of HTPC, but in all previous executions, an external amplifier has been necessary. With the Maui platform, this is no longer true. The platform can combine all the strengths and flexibility of a PC — photo and video editing and management, web and email access, gameplay (doable with the 780M graphics but better with a suitable discrete 3D video card) and other software functions — with multi-tuner TV access, digital movie play from downloads, DVD or Blu-ray, recorded/time-shifted TV programs, access to digital music files on its hard drive or on network sotrage, and finally, multi-channel amplification for direct hookup of speakers without an external amp or receiver.

The sound quality of the D2Audio amplifier is very good, and the only caveat is that the clean volume limit may be a touch low for those who like their blockbuster movie sound effects to be intensely immersive. In a small room with high sensitivity speakers, that's probably achievable. The amp is capable of playing loud enough for our taste. The fact that the amplifier board adds perhaps $100 to a good ~$100 motherboard makes it a bargain. It's difficult to think of any multi-channel amplifier of suitable quality anywhere near that kind of price.

We were not exactly bowled over by some of the other hardware choices made for this Maui system sample, but we had no problem tweaking it for lower noise to suit our taste. The bit of sluggishness was occasionally annoying, but again, it seems mostly a matter of tweaking — the software this time, probably a whole new clean install of Vista — to make the system snappier, or swapping out the 2.0 GHz Phenom for a faster clocked X2 model (like the $65 2.6 GHz Athlon 64 X2 5050e). Keep in mind, again, that the sample system is not a recommended build nor is it offered as a system by anyone; it's just a system cobbled together to show the Maui concept to reviewers like us. Obviously, not only are there numerous other internal components that could be used, but also different chassis solutions from Silverstone, Lian Li, Thermaltake, Antec and several others, which offer consumers real differentiation and price points.

AMD processors with 780 chipset boards have already become, in most enthusiasts minds, the HTPC components of choice, due to the high integration of core functions (including HD video), low cost and simplicity of implementation. As Nick Geraedts remarked in a recent chat, "The AMD platform just works for home theater, and its so affordable." He described assembling a HTPC for his girlfriend with a 780G mATX board, an X2 processor, RAM, WD Green Power drive, and case/PSU, all for little over CA$500. When he first powered it up, his girlfriend's roommates insisted it wasn't working because it didn't make enough audible noise. "That's priceless," Nick said, grinning, "and now they use it all the time, to watch downloaded HD movies, TV, listen to music and so on."

With Maui, AMD further strengthens their position as the HTPC brand of choice. The company has gone so far as to start their own AMD at Home blog, which contains useful posts and articles for DIY HTPC builders, as well as links to Maui-based HTPC system specialists and installers. MSI is not the only Maui component maker. Several other companies, including Foxconn, are working with AMD to produce other variants of the AMD-chipset motherboard plus dedicated D2Audio amplifier combo that is Maui. Things are progressing slower than expected due to the downturn in the world economy... but that holds true in every industry everywhere. Still, Maui's strong multi-functional role should look attractive to savvy consumers in these down times.

AMD Maui Platform
PROS

* Unique, high quality 5-ch audio amp
* Proven 780 chipset
* Affordable components
* Good core performance
* Can replace several external home entertainment components
* Support through AMD at Home blog
CONS

* Only MSI offers the hardware at this time
* Bit more power would be nice


Our thanks to AMD for the Maui HTPC sample.

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