With the introduction of Media Center, we were promised chassis innovations that would turn the bulky and boxy PC into a sleek design piece. Whirring fans and ungainly design were a thing of the past; silent and sleek was the way of the future.
Unfortunately, the Evesham Knockout Pro doesn't quite meet this description. It remains a big, dark and brooding chassis, weighs a ton and is far from silent. But none of this undermines its abilities as a media centre PC - and a media centre PC on a decent budget, no less. Media Center Edition 2005 comes pre-installed, as does a very respectable Dual-DVB TV tuner, and with the bundled 19in TFT screen, the Knockout Pro is begging to let it entertain us.
Inside the Knockout Pro rests a 250GB Western Digital hard drive spinning at 72,000rpm, complete with 8MB buffer. 250GB might seem to be a little lowly for a media centre machine, but Evesham has been careful to leave five spare slots for adding extra drives, and with the ubiquity of USB external memory devices, it's a prudent choice to keep the price down.
A DVD writer and ROM drive make up the optical options, while a flip-up front panel on the front of the machine conceals two USB ports, a FireWire port, and mic and line-out sockets. On the rear, you'll find a further FireWire port, and four USB ports. Dual DVI ports hint at the Knockout's graphic prowess, while a simple AVI aerial connection keeps TV connectivity straightforward.
Media centre machines walk a fine line between keeping a realistic price tag and supporting the right selection of kit. To this end Evesham has managed well, basing the Knockout Pro around AMD's Athlon64 X2 Dual Core processor, complemented with 1GB of fast DDR 400.
The pairing offers a good mix of pace and stability, and the Knockout Pro handles everyday tasks with ease. A SYSmark score of 210 shows that, while not the fastest, the Knockout can hold its own within the competitive £1,000 price bracket.
By cutting back on the size of the hard drive and scratching things like memory card readers and excessive RAM, Evesham has managed to keep the price down. Gaming comes as easily to the Knockout as media tasks, thanks squarely to the Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT with 256MB of onboard RAM firing at 560MHz.
Graphic benchmarking in Doom and 3DMark 05 and 06 proved that while the Knockout won't blow the doors off your gaming experience, it can handle rapid frame rates and heavy modelling very well. And while the 7600 GT is a highly regarded card, it's relatively cheap, again helping to keep the Knockout's price tag down.
The bundled 19in ViewSonic widescreen TFT sports a native resolution of 1,440x900, and although we see many of these pass through our reviews it remains a well defined monitor. DVD playback is crisp and clear, and the dimensions of the screen allow a good amount of space to work with. The anti-glare properties perhaps trumpet more than they actually bring, but combined with the 7600 GT, the screen completes the Knockout's wellrounded visual offerings.
The robust MSI motherboard supports up to 7.1 surround sound, and optical and co-axial S/PDIF ports are on show for those who take their sound seriously. The bundled 2.1 surround sound speakers are more than adequate, but they do reveal a cost-cutting measure in the Knockout's design budget.
The MSI motherboard is built around Nvidia's Nforce4 SLI chipset, providing Gigabit Ethernet capabilities, yet no wireless capacity. At fi rst glance, this doesn't seem a huge drawback for what's meant to be an all-out entertainments centre, and it also helps to keep pricing down. But with our current thirst for wire-free living, it does seem a slight oversight.
For the price, the Knockout is a great media centre PC. It's more than powerful enough to satisfy all of your entertainment needs and brings in performance on a budget. Rivals such as Mesh and Dell offer similar set-ups for a similar price, and Evesham itself has a 7900GT-equipped line for less than £100 extra. So while it might not have the muscle of some other machines, its combination of allround performance and value for money makes it a worthy purchase. Tom Dennis