First of all, I’d like to thank the team over at Viako for sending LTG the Mini Letter HTPC. Personally, I have never heard of this brand since I’m so used to using Sony, HP, Lenovo and Acer. However, after some research, this is a very reputable company in Asia. I have been looking for a small desktop-style computer that would fit in the small space that I occupy in my apartment. My sole reason to get another desktop was to have it as a media hub for my TV. When Rad told me about the HTPC or Home Theater Personal Computer, I was psyched.
We received the device fairly quickly since it was coming from Asia and I was eager to set it up. According to our Viako contact, the box was “plug-and-play.” With my limited computer knowledge, that was music to my ears. The box was fairly light and felt like there was nothing inside. It’s made of brushed aluminium so it’s very futuristic looking and fits in perfectly with most electronics (Xbox 360, Comcast Cable Box). It does come with a remote control but I couldn’t figure out what for. As for the insides, this little guy’s packing a 32-bit Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 motherboard, an AMD Athlon 64 Mobile processor and an AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics card. Nothing on the box mentioned how much RAM was included but we could only assume at least 2GB of DDR3. Boy were we wrong. The wall cable wasn’t a US plug so I had to find the proper plug but since the transformer was dual-voltage, I didn’t have to worry about blowing up the circuits. The device has a front slot for a DVD/CD-ROM/Blu-Ray reader with a digital reader. In the rear, you’ve got a blutooth dongle pre-installed, an HDMI port, USB ports, WiFi antenna, SATA ports and of course a DVI port. Since this is a home theater box, it also has audio out via an optical port and a standard headphone jack. Everything seemed to be pretty self explanatory since the English manual was very limited.
Here We Go!
I knew that my HDTV had an extra open slot for HDMI so I was excited to see what the picture and sound quality was like. The moment of truth came: I plugged it in, we got the red light, and.. beeping. Similar to a car alarm going off at 2 in the morning, it started getting annoying. I knew something was wrong.
Like I mentioned before, my computer knowledge is limited but my computer building knowledge is slim to none. I opened up the box to find the motherboard. First of all, there was no DVD/CD-ROM drive installed, no hard drive and no RAM. I thought this was supposed to be “plug-and-play!” There was a small digital readout inside that kept spitting out different numbers. Obvisously, this was giving us error codes but there was no English manual that explained what it meant. After searching Viako’s website we decided to check AMD’s site. Sure enough, down in the bowels of the English manuals we found the error code. Error code 15 meant no memory ie no RAM (duh!). Thanks to Rad and the guys at NewEgg.com, we were able to get some DDR3 RAM (4GB) installed within a week and the beeping stopped. Rad used an old 80GB hard drive that had Windows Vista installed. We wanted to turn it up a knotch: Windows 8. Rad was lucky enough to get the developer preview of Windows 8 after the Build Conference back in September. At first he gave it to me on a CD but since there was no CD drive, we had to convert it onto a USB stick. It was installed with ease at the office but when I got home, nothing showed up on the TV. Mind you, I was using an HDMI cable so I quickly swapped out to a DVI cable and it was find. Once I did this, I plugged in some old Harman Kardon PC speakers and it was go time.
The machine is very quiet and seems to run quiet smoothly. With the Windows 8 Developer Preview installed, I quickly found out why people were complaining about the “Start Menu” and the strangeness of the Metro-style UI. Luckily, this version still has reminisces of Windows 7 that once you hit the ‘Windows’ key, you’re back to the normal desktop. I wanted to see how this device matched up against other PCs of similar power so I used PCMark 7 to do some benchmark tests. Before I get into the actual results let me say this: the graphics during the test were horrific. If you’re looking to play a game like Crisis 2 or Battlefield, upgrade the graphics card. They were choppy and skipped constantly. However, if you’re just going to listen to music and watch videos (movies, Netflix, YouTube) no upgrade is needed. I watched Cars 2 off of the HTPC and the picture and sound quality were fine. I can only imagine it to be better via HDMI and with a proper surround sound system. Nevertheless, the Viako Mini Letter scored 1021 PCMarks. Here are the detailed results from the tests:
Windows 8 Experience
If it wasn’t for the misrepresentation of the product when they mailed it to us, I think my overall experience of the HTPC would be 10 times better. I understand that Viako’s English market isn’t as vast as their Asian market but the manual and CD could be more in depth. Also, when were were told the device was “plug-and-play” it obviously wasn’t so that’s a turn off for someone like me who’s not so computer savvy. Plus, when we received the box, we didn’t expect that we had to purchase the proper American plug as well. However, once we got the computer up and running it was worth the wait. Now we’ve got a computer that can broadcast video to our TV and it’s got pretty good version of Windows 8. With this HTPC, you’re total investments on RAM, hard drive, CD drive, and upgraded graphics card and US wall plug could be well over $1000 but for the box itself you’re looking at around $400. If you’re willingly to spend that dough, this is a pretty good choice. Just know what you’re getting yourself into.