ARCTIC MC101-A10 Home Entertainment Centre Review

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅27-07-12

Home Theatre PCs continue to be all the rage as the PC moves from the being the sole province of a bedroom or study and into the front room. Some consumers, generally those with an enthusiast background, will choose to build their own; many however will be looking for off-the-shelf solutions which can serve as a PC and replace one or more of the roles of a set-top box. It's in this vein that the ARCTIC MC101-A10 is designed to operate.

Without doubt the MC101 looks the part. A brushed aluminium finish seemingly goes with everything, which is handy as hiding this system away is a little more difficult than many other HTPC systems on sale today; without a tailored bracket, mounting it to the rear of a TV is much more trouble than it's worth compared to other HTPCs. Equally, none of the features of the system necessitate taking it out of line of sight: the soft glow of the white power indicator isn't distracting and built-in IR sensor is sensitive.

The next question is, could you live with the MC101 on a day-to-day basis? Importantly in that respect, during idle and low-load situations the noise profile of the MC101 is very good: whilst not totally silent, the fan tends to kick in infrequently and is a low pitch whoosh rather than whine. During extended or high-load operation, such as gaming, the fan is audible but not unpleasantly so; in this respect the MC101 puts you in mind of an excellently cooled notebook rather than desktop PC. The trade-off is one of radiant heat: the MC101's chassis becomes quite hot during operation. In the event that either noise or heat becomes a concern, ARCTIC have allowed the changing of fan profiles in BIOS and suggest making them more aggressive if you plan to stretch the units capabilities.

The PC functionality of the MC101 is great, mainly down to the very competitive AMD A10-4600M, 8GB RAM, and WD Scorpio Blue HDD. The system feels quite responsive in most applications and doesn't register any slow-down during Blu-Ray quality High Definition Video playback. For a system with merely an integrated (on-die) GPU, the MC101 has very accomplished graphical performance: the HD 7660G is capable of very playable Skyrim framerates given modest expectations, and will be ample for most RPGs and casual games suited to front-room play. Modern First Person Shooters, especially those poorly ported to the PC platform, will prove be significantly more of a stretch above 720p.

When it comes to additional connectivity for the MC101, the options are extremely diverse. ARCTIC have taken advantage of the Hudson M3's chipset features to offer HDMI (including bitstreamed audio), USB3.0, Optical SPDIF and Gigabit Ethernet. Additional and welcome features include powered eSATA (for external optical drives for instance), a 4-in-1 SD Card reader and TRRS jack for headsets. Internally, the system can fit an mSATA SSD and an additional 2.5" HDD/SSD. The vast majority of bases seem to be covered.

Unfortunately we need to move on to one prominent feature of the system, where not quite everything is quite so rosy. The MC101 includes a DVB-T/ATSC tuner which is capable of decoding SD and HD digital terrestrial signals. In the UK however High Definition Digital Terrestrial signals - generally known as Freeview HD - utilise DVB-T2, which is incompatible with this particular tuner. Windows Media Centre allows the MC101-A10 to operate as a Freeview PVR with only a few minutes of set-up, but lack of Freeview HD compatibility will be a deal-breaker for many at any price. We should note that those looking to use the MC101 as a PVR will need to acquire an MCE Media Center remote.

And so we come finally to the price point: the reviewed system has an MSRP of €539.00/$699.00 excl. VAT, which we project to an approx UK street price of £550 Inc VAT. You certainly get a lot for the price, including Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed, an excellent HDD, 8GB of high quality Team Group RAM and the additional option of installing an off-the-shelf SSD. On the other hand, the lack of Freeview HD is disappointing given the UK's drive towards broadcast HD TV through the airwaves.

It's also worth mentioning the intriguing barebone options, all of which feature the same attractive brushed-aluminium chassis. ARCTIC offer barebone systems with AMD A10-4600M or A8-4500M APUs that do not include Windows 7, HDD or 8GB RAM option, granting much more flexibility for the enthusiast. Keenly priced from €383.20/$479.00 for the A10-4600M model, we can definitely imagine enthusiasts looking for a sleek HTPC choosing to assemble such a system with an HDD and SSD for even quieter operation and greater responsiveness.

Overall we loved the look of the ARCTIC MC101-A10, appreciated its responsiveness despite a mechanical HDD and were left impressed with its gaming potential. Noise, so often a bugbear with off-the-shelf HTPC - wasn't a significant issue during long-term idle or low load operation. The system operates well as a Freeview PVR, but lack of Freeview HD compatibility in the UK is problematic. Overall, considering the bundle and assuming a projected £550 inc. VAT price point, we're happy to present the MC101-A10 with a Silver Award.

+ Strong performance for an HTPC
+ Good overall choice of hardware
+ Potential for internal and external storage expansion
+ Excellent external connectivity

- Unit casing becomes hot during extended operation
- DVB-T Tuner only allows non-HD Freeview content in the UK
- Price

Click here for an explanation of our awards at Thanks to ARCTIC for providing today’s review sample.

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