What if you could build a sub-$500 HTPC that was slim, fast, and capable, without the headache of picking bargain-barrel parts to accomplish your design goals? What if it had HDMI and 7.1 audio? With the help of their Pundit series, ASUS hopes to make barebones relevant again. Have they done it?
Whether you’re a novice system builder, or a more accomplished enthusiast looking for a quick and easy path to a small form-factor system for less-demanding computing tasks, the ASUS Pundit P2-M2A690G offers plenty of reasons to give it a second look. It’s slimmer and more compact than Dell’s slim Inspiron mini-towers, and elegantly styled as well, from its glossy front bezel door to its subtle blue front-panel LEDs.
At the same time, its chassis is easy to work on; despite the cramped internal quarters, we had no trouble assembling and disassembling various hardware configurations in the case. The machine also ran quietly enough to live with, and its low noise level would certainly be tolerable for 24/7 operation.
The P2-M2A690G’s support for HDMI video output comes courtesy of a capable – albeit last-generation – integrated graphics chipset, AMD’s 690G, and while this doesn’t do much for its gaming abilities, it had no trouble with 1080p HD video playback in our testing, nor did it struggle in the slightest with Vista’s Aero Glass interface.
For HTPC duties, it’s certainly a viable contender at the bottom end. We’d like to see a system based around AMD’s new 780G integrated graphics chipset, however, which provides a full DX10-capable Radeon HD3200 graphics core on-die. More new photo manipulation applications are relying on GPU acceleration, so a competent GPU makes sense even for a productivity or content creation PC.
Our biggest concern with the P2-M2A690G barebone is upgradability. Some barebone systems can be upgraded to support gaming applications, but the P2-M2A690G isn’t one of them, due to the lack of a 16-lane PCI Express expansion slot, which condemns the system to bottom-of-the-barrel gaming performance. You’re also restricted to one internal 3.5″ hard drive, one PCI expansion card, and one single-lane PCI Express card.
With these constraints in mind, you’ll likely end up using this barebone system in one of three ways – as a simple productivity machine, a low-end home theater PC (the two expansion slots providing space for an improved discrete audio solution and a TV tuner card), or a very basic home server.
Taking all of this into consideration, we’re awarding the ASUS Pundit P2-M2A690G barebone system a Techgage score of 7/10. Its last-generation IGP chipset is the machine’s greatest weakness, and the inability to upgrade beyond that level of performance is enough to give us pause before we’d take the plunge with this system.
A Shuttle XPC cube-style barebone system, for example, would afford us the ability to install a competent mid-range GPU, for light gaming use and future-proofing. However, if you’ve considered your intended application carefully, and can live with its ‘just enough’ graphics performance for home theater PC or productivity PC usage, the P2-M2A690G deserves your serious consideration.
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