An excellent all-rounder with bags of potential, either as a HTPC (Home Theatre PC), VI (Virtual Infrastructure) or everyday machine.
Supplier: Stone Group
- Intel(tm) i3-3120 2.5GHz Dual Core (4 threads) Processor
- 300GB Maxtor HDD
- DVD-RW Drive
- Gigabit Ethernet
- Intel HD Graphics
- 4GB Memory
- Windows 7 Professional SP1 64-Bit
So, what’s this machine for?
As previously mentioned, this computer is targeted for the office environment, as a simple desktop machine. That said, I’ve got in running in a HTPC environment with XBMC installed, and Reflector for AirPlay. It’s however still capable of performing CPU-intensive activities, such as video encoding and running a VI (when more memory and storage is provided).
I’ve never heard of Stone Group!
You probably haven’t. Stone are a UK-based company, located in Acton Gate, Staffordshire (just off Junction 13 of the M6) and have been producing PCs, laptops and servers for the public and education sectors for some time. I’ve used Stone Machines during my time at University and thought they were sturdy machines, and had a look if the public could purchase them.
Whilst Stone don’t have an online ordering system (most, if not all machines are bespoke and built just for you). You can contact their sales team and they can quote you for a machine, on a specification you want from your machine.
In the case of this machine, I gave Stone’s Encore division a try. Encore takes back the machines, either demonstration machines, or ex-client machines, and restores them according to the Microsoft Refurbisher Scheme, which includes a new COA for Windows.
The ordering process itself was painless, with myself being able to add additional storage and upgrade the Windows license provided to Professional (Home Premium is offered, or even NO OS!).
Back to the Review
When I received the machine, it was in a very good condition, and the Windows Image I specified (without Microsoft Security Essentials, as I use Sophos) was installed and booted up in a typical manner. I put on my ‘Gold-Image’ applications, since the machine had the base image I specified, without the required software. That took half a day to complete, which was managed through RDC, given the Logitech HTPC keyboard I bought wasn’t the best for long administrative processes.
One issue I did have was that of the screen resolution – the Intel HD Graphics chip can go up to 1920×1080 resolution, but on the screen I had it connected to (a ~2010 Samsung LCD Panel), it was only going to 1366×768, with no opportunity to increase it. After a bit of research, it appears that in ‘PC Mode’ (i.e. VGA connection to the panel), that’s the highest you can go. If you use HDMI (like I previously used with my Precision (with a DVI-HDMI cable)), it can go up to 1080p. The lower resolution isn’t noticeable, and for me, the icons are larger, so using Firefox etc from a distance is a lot easier.
Looking into the Future
As mentioned before, I’m using this machine as a HTPC, with the view of actually starting a Virtual Infrastructure, to simplify matters at home, but that’s a project that can be postponed for a while.
The Stone Small Form Factor Machine is excellent as an all-round machine, with the only things to be aware of are:
- Noise (Maxtor HDD’s have a long history of being noisy compared to their WD and Seagate counterparts)
- Specification – on Encore, make sure you check out the ‘history’ of the machine, by running the serial number through their system, and that it meets your needs. Their team are exceptionally great to deal with, and I’m sure they can help accommodate your needs
- The specifications are very similar to commercial offerings, so this is something worth bearing. In my case, it was cheaper to get a Stone machine
For these scores, they will be derived from the tried and tested PC Pro Scoring system on a number of factors:
- Features and Design: 5/6
- Performance: 5/6
- Value for Money: 6/6
- Overall: 5/6