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World Exclusive: MSI MEGA 865 Deluxe
By Vijay Anand
Category : Barebone/SFF
Published by Jimmy Tang on Wednesday, 10th March, 2004
Rating : 4 out of 5 stars   (Most Innovative Product Award)

The MSI MEGA 865 Exterior

Even with the old MSI MEGA 651, it would have been tough to identify it as an SFF system, but MSI hadn’t just stopped its design evolution there. Since then, MSI has diligently worked to perfect its MEGA series design and the outcome today is nothing short of impressive when gauging the MSI MEGA 865. No matter which way you look at it (besides the rear where the I/O connectors would give it away), the MSI MEGA 865 resembles a modern home’s entertainment system.

Rejoice at the excellent facade design of the MSI MEGA 865. It is a system that truly lives up to its ‘Entertainment’ name.

Here's a comparison between the new MSI MEGA 865 and the older MSI MEGA 651.

The all-uniform front bezel accommodates for a ‘hidden’ optical drive and it requires no extra steps unlike the EPoX Mini Me eX5-300S.

Here's the hidden optical drive tray when ejected.

The dimensions of the system are also as unique as its overall looks because it is unusually short in height, but the depth of the system is deeper than normal. This characteristic is also evident in many stand-alone audio decks and Hi-Fi units, which again the MSI MEGA PC depicts. Similar to the original MEGA PC design, the new MEGA 865 too has its functions somewhat segregated, i.e. the top half of the front bezel harbors most of the Hi-Fi related functions, whilst bottom-half is the PC portion. However, the large LED display and the optical drive bay are of course a shared feature for both functions. We will touch on the Hi-Fi operation on the following page, but first, we will run through the aspects of the traditional PC.

The bottom portion consists of more aspects pertaining to the normal PC functions.

On the side maroon bar, you’ll find the power button for the PC, reset switch and the last button at the bottom is to expose the hidden forward input/output (I/O) bay.

When the PC was powered up, the letters ‘PC’ lit up in green for visual indication for the mode of operation.

Just below the LED display is the 6-in-1 card reader that reads CF Type-I, CF Type-II, MS, SD, SM and MMC media cards. Note that only the Deluxe models are equipped with a built-in card-reader. The bottom-most bay contains the usual set of front-facing connectivity ports.

By pressing the release button on the side panel, the bay cover gently lowers to reveal the various ports. From left to right, the ports are: Optical S/PDIF-in, Mic-in, Headphones-output, dual USB 2.0 and dual Firewire ports (one is a normal 6-pin and the other is a 4-pin mini DV port).

The design to incorporate a release button that gracefully opens the bottom bay adds a touch of finesse to the overall feel and build of the system instead of manually opening the bay in most other SFF designs. Overall build quality and feel is excellent and is quite a leap considering the initial MEGA PC series. For those wondering where the hard drive activity LED is, an icon on the LED display would indicate its operation instead. When the system is plugged to the mains, but not powered yet, the LED display will indicate current time, which is easily set by the Shuttle control and is detailed in the quick guides. Even when operating the MSI MEGA 865 in PC mode, it would still continue to display the current time.

The LED panel showing current time.

Unfortunately, the set time will be reset if you unplug the power cord from the mains and it is in this aspect we wish MSI took hints from the EPoX Mini Me SFF that reads the time set in the BIOS instead. The only nitpick we found with the front design was of the tiny reset button that required an object as sharp as a pin to reset the system. We theorized that MSI wanted to differentiate the reset button from the others to prevent accidental system reset because of its close proximity to the power and bay-cover buttons that look very similar.

The rear of the system is the only give-away that the MSI MEGA 865 is still a PC at heart.

The exhaust port here is that of the PSU and to the right is the radio antennae connector.

The MEGA PC package does include a radio antenna loop that is compatible with both AM and FM Radio.

Here’s a close-up of the rear-I/O. Note that the jack to the left of the printer port is an RJ45 port for 10/100Mbps networking, while the port on the right is an RJ11 phone line jack for the 56K Modem built into the system.

All connector details on the back panel are in the specifications table of the previous page. Although you see only one Fast Ethernet port for wired-networking, the Deluxe version of the MSI MEGA 865 also integrates a Mini PCI Wireless LAN card (IEEE 802.11b compliant). This makes the MSI MEGA 865 Deluxe the first Wireless-ready SFF and is definitely a sign that more SFF systems in future will be rolled out of the factory wireless-ready too. We'll show you on a later page where exactly did MSI integrate this feature within the system.

The MSI MEGA 865 Deluxe is packed to its brim with features, but to relieve the system from heat building up due to all those components, its casing has been designed with numerous ventilation holes throughout its entire length:-

As you can see, the chassis cover has numerous ventilation holes on both sides, but they do not spoil the overall look of the system because they form a patterned design. The cover is finished in brushed black for design purposes, but coincidentally it also made the ventilation holes look less conspicuous.

The CPU’s cooler is designed to pull in fresh air on the left, while it exhausts the hot air on the other side. This is why the cover has numerous ventilation holes on both sides. The PSU’s exhaust fan is hardly powerful enough to draw out the warm air within the system, but with the CPU cooler’s strong cross ventilation, it also aids to exhaust hot air from the rest of the system.

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