MSI MEGA 180
Since its inception a few years ago, little has basically changed in the small form factor (SFF) PC. Sure, SFF boxes have grown over the years, the first big addition being a dedicated AGP slot, while newer SFF systems have added all kinds of cool features such as Wi-Fi and even Gigabit Ethernet networking, but fundamentally the formula hasnít changed much: simply design your chassis and cooling (the biggest step in the whole process) and drop in your motherboard. The main ingredient, the system chipset, is often the main source of innovation.
This was enough in the early days of small form factor when there were only a handful of players, with Shuttle being the predominant leader, but today nearly every motherboard manufacturer has a small form factor product, or a SFF design thatís in development. The result was a crowded field, with little originality among products.
Then MSI spiced the SFF market up with its MEGA announcement. MEGA, short for MSI Entertainment Gaming Appliance was just that. Rather than follow everyone elseís lead with another small form factor PC, MSI went one step further, transforming the SFF PC into a fully-fledged entertainment device. The idea was to take SFF from the office/den into the living room or the rack in your home entertainment center. MSI set out to blur the lines between the conventional PC and traditional home theater equipment, with gaming capability to boot.
The MEGA concept wasnít merely to build another small form factor; it was to build an entirely new class of consumer electronics devices.
Gamers and enthusiasts everywhere were giddy with anticipation, if MSI delivered on this concept, MEGA would be the most innovative SFF PC since the idea of a small form factor PC was first conceived. College students in dorm rooms would have the perfect solution for their situation Ė a small, portable PC that could do it all, and serve as an entertainment device. Drop in a TV tuner card and it could even double as a television! But unfortunately, the final product didnít quite live up to everyoneís lofty expectations.
For starters, MSIís original MEGA-651 relied on SiSí outdated SiS651 chipset. SiS651 lacked support for Hyper-Threading, and worse yet, relied on a 533MHz system bus. This paled in comparison to the 800MHz bus that had been launched a few months earlier for Intelís Pentium 4 ďCĒ processors. The CPU was also strapped for bandwidth by SiS651ís single-channel memory controller, while the chipset also lacked support for Serial ATA drives.
To its credit, MEGA-651 was originally envisioned before these technologies became the norm, but due to product delays it shipped months behind schedule. The chassisí grey-on-orange look also didnít help matters, especially for a device that was intended to be showcased in a home theater system. It had an appearance only its mother could love. The end result was a product with lots of promise, but ultimately never took off because of these factors.
Now MSI is back with its second generation MEGA SFF, the MEGA 180. MSI has tried to address the MEGA-651ís shortcomings with the MEGA-180, and added a few new features to round out the package.