The iPod is pretty much the de facto standard many MP3 players try to mimick and possibly replace. While Apple has some reason to feel a bit of heat, it's safe to say they still hold considerable mindshare. Over in the PC world, specifically the small form factor (SFF) area, Shuttle has pretty much ruled the roost in this market. As with the iPod, many have imitated, but few have replicated. The mPC series from MSI does compare with Shuttle's XPC's in several ways, mostly in terms of the shape and size. SFF's come in many designs, but the "cube" is perhaps the most functional, and hence most popular.
We previously reviewed the MSI mPC 915 and 945 a couple months ago and found both of them to be very serviceable. As the names imply, the chipsets used for those PCs are designed strictly for the Intel platform. The we'll be looking at today is MSI's latest AMD SFF and is catered to the same crowd as their previous SFFs. Based on NVIDIA's GeForce 6150 and nForce 430, the mPC C51PV features a number of nice features such as Gigabit Ethernet, AM2 support and DDR2.
Support AMD® Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 (Dual Core), Athlon 64 and Sempron processors.
||NVIDIA® C51PV (GeForce 6150) and MCP51 (nForce 430) chipset
||Supports 2 Dual-channel DDRII 800/667/533 Memory (2GB Max.)
||On-board Graphics of NVIDIA® GeForce 6150
• Vitesse Gigabit LAN Controller VSC8201 (1000/100/10 Mb)
• 802.11b/g Wireless LAN (Mini PCI Card)
||8-channel high definition audio (Realtek ALC880)
The MSI mPC C51PV SFF
The MSI mPC C51PV SFF came packaged in a simple box which contained a plastic bag housing the SFF surrounded by thick pieces of Styrofoam. The SFF we received was the fully loaded retail version, albeit in a white box rather than a finished box with custom artwork. Other than the PC which we will cover soon, there is a driver disk, power cable, manual, 2dBi Omni WiFi antenna and custom heatpipe cooler.
Like the previous MSI mPC computers, the mPC C51PV features straight lines and a basic colour scheme, a very basic one. Those of you hoping for something Picasso inspired had better look elsewhere. Rather than being splashed with fancy colours, the mPC is all black with a matte charcoal coloured trim. There is a bit of a Rubic's Cube pattern on the front facade composed of 9 squares, which does serve a bit of a purpose which we'll get into lately, but mostly it is cosmetic. There are all white versions of the mPC, but only for the Intel models.
The chassis is constructed primarily of aluminum, but the front facade is all plastic. Overall the mPC measures 210 (W) x 330 (D) x 175 (H) mm, and fully loaded, around 7 pounds. The main body is a one piece shell, which makes dismantling a little quicker than having three panels to remove. Each side of the body has ventilation holes to aid in system cooling.
The front of the mPC is essentially one piece with two doors for stealthing a couple areas. We mentioned the Rubic's Cube pattern pattern earlier having a purpose, and that purpose is stealthing two key areas. The upper three squares hide the optical drive. The door is designed so that it should not catch the optical drive when it closes. We only tested the setup with a flat front DVD bezel. MSI has stated curved bezels will not work, and it's fair to say slot loaders will not either.
The center area has two buttons. The one on the left is the optical drive eject button and the one on the right is the power button. The power button lights up blue when the PC is turned on. Next to the optical drive eject is the HDD LED light. The front facade is not completely opaque, thus you will be able to see the light in most cases.
The lower section, that is the bottom 3 squares, of the front section hides the 7 in 1 card reader which supports CF, MS, SM, SD, MMC, MS-Pro, and Micro Drives. Only two drives can be used at any given time though as Windows Explorer only recognizes two physical drives. Also in this area are two USB ports, one 4-pin IEEE1394, one 6-pin IEEE1394, SPDIF in, the Headphone out connection and the Mic-in.
Moving on to the back of the box, we can see that you can only fit a maximum of two peripheral cards in the mPC. There are two exhaust grills for the both the 260W power supply and 80mm rear fan. The PSU has a physical power switch in the event you need to turn off the PSU completely for maintenance.
For input and outputs, you have the 7.1 audio ports, two PS/2 ports, VGA port, a SPDIF out, four USB and the Gigabit LAN jack. Those of you considering this box for HTPC duties, the C51PV also has a DVI connection, S-Video as well as Component out.
The mPC C51PV may include an optional 802.11b/g Wireless LAN card and antennae for wireless communication, which we received with this package. The antennae can be turned North/South 180° and rotated 360° to accommodate any special space requirements.
One thing that drives me nuts is misplacing thumbscrews that I remove when working with cases. Sure, I'm just disorganized overall, but for people like myself, the mPC uses thumbscrews that do not release itself from the chassis cover, hence, keeping all the bits and pieces together.
Based on the NVIDIA's C51, the mPC C51PV uses MSI's very own MS 7214 v1.0 motherboard as the heart of the SFF. CPU support is covers AM2 X2 and lower CPUs. The C51PV is made up of the GeForce 6150 and MCP51 (nForce 430) chipset and features Dual Core support, dual-channel DDR2 memory, and a 800 MHz system bus.
For expansion, there is one PCI Express x16 and one standard PCI slot. The PCIe slot is located on the inside of the mPC and given its location, video cards with large two slot coolers should fit without modification to the side panel. Our MSI NX7950 GZ2 didn't have any issues fitting, though you can see we lost the use of the standard PCI slot.
It also requires a PCIE power dongle which the PSU does not include. We had one spare, so we put it into the C51PV. To be honest, I wasn't expecting the system to boot with such a power hog in place, but boot it did as well as play for 8 hours straight a whole slew of 3D shooters with no hiccups.
For those of you who do not wish to use a discreet graphics card, the mPC C51PV is equipped with NVIDIA's GeForce 6150 integrated video. For integrated video, it's above average for gaming but perhaps more attractive for HTPC enthusiasts. HD playback is supported, and the mPC C51PV has the connections needed if this is the route you wish to take.
Almost everything is tool free in the mPC C51PV, making installation a snap.
The instructions are clearly outlined in the user manual, but for optical and hard drive installation, it's as easy as putting them into place and snapping down some locks, much like drive rails we've seen in other cases.
Another factor that makes installation easy is the neat cable routing that is pre-done by MSI. All the key cables are carefully routed and secured with plastic clips keeping them out of the way.