Outside the H971
The Gigabyte H971 has loads of style and sophistication and it looks great sitting next to our Sony Bravia HDTV. It's not a small unit as far as width, length and height goes but it's more than likely to fit quite nicely into any disconcerting HTPC enthusiasts lounge room. I'm quite picky when it comes to this type of thing and I was suitable impressed.
Whoever designed the H971 has done a great job with appearances. It's not overly impressive in the sense that it is mind-blowingly brilliant but at the same time it has just the right mix of styling and design that makes it attractive and pleasing to the eye. The color scheme of the unit is mostly a darkish grey with areas of black and white and that means it's going to match most modern HDTV's almost perfectly. As you can see in the picture below, the unit almost perfectly matches the color of our Sony HDTV.
Starting with the focus on the front of the system, you are presented with a stylish finish that is neither over the top nor boring by any stretch of the imagination. Starting from the left is the DVD optical drive cover - simply push the eject button and the drive tray comes out as normal. Below that is the front panel area which hosts things like the 7-in-1 card reader and USB 2.0 ports - just pull the lid down and then using magnetism, the lid stays in place.
The shot above gives you a shot of the VFD with the power switched on and the clarity of the text is very good and can be seen from a distance - the colors also look very stylish and only improve the overall appearance of the H971 unit. The green LED you can see provides you with visual information about hard drive activity and the orange LED lets you know when there is network activity in progress. The front of the unit is constructed of plastic but never fear, the plastic used is very solid and appears to be high quality with its slightly metallic grey paint job. The shot above was taken without flash in low light and as you can see, the unit is able to display the information from the VFD clearly and the unit becomes a whole lot sexier in the evening.
We had a look at the back of the system on the previous page but let's take a closer look at the connections available. From the top left is the 7600GS graphics card installed in a PCI Express x16 graphics slot - it provides video output using a couple of digital connections supporting HDCP (DVI and HDMI) and you'll notice the s-video like port which provides component video out along with plain old s-video. You are also given a DVI to VGA adapter if your TV does not support DVI. Below that is the ATI Theater 550 TV card which has AV in, radio in and cable TV in which allows you to playback live TV through MCE. You'll notice the regular VGA adapter in the middle which has a plastic cover over it - Gigabyte have done this since they are using the GeForce 7600GS and the motherboard will disable the onboard graphics from the G965 chipset when installed.
Moving onto the audio ports, there are plenty of options for audio output to either uber expensive home entertainment sound systems or regular computer style speakers. On the left hand side at the bottom you have an 8 channel setup for older analog speaker systems which provide up to 7.1 surround sound and moving over to the right you have the digital audio outputs (optical SPDIF and digital coaxial).
If you're looking at adding external storage to the system (there's no room inside the system for adding extra drives even though there are spare SATA ports), you've got a total of four USB 2.0 ports (and two at the front for a total of six) as well as a single e.SATA port, a Firewire 1394 port and a Gigabit Ethernet port for adding the system to your network. There is an option for wireless networking but our system didn't come with that feature included. And although while not pictured here, you are given an infrared cable which is attached to the back of the system - just attach the infrared sensor somewhere which will not be obstructed (like on your TV) and then you're keyboard and remote control will work just fine.
Check out all of those cooling vents on the bottom of the unit! We want to make a special point that Gigabyte has paid special attention to cooling - there are cooling vents all over the unit, in fact there are a grand total of eight vents situated on the top, on the bottom, on both sides and at the back. This helps reduce the operating temperature inside the case and make sure your HTPC is stable and working at all times. That's important considering a vast majority of people will never turn off a system like the Gigabyte H971. The unit actually sits on four feet that elevate it almost 3cm off the surface which allows for hot air to escape through the bottom of the unit.
Now it's highly unlikely that this was considered during the design process at Gigabyte but as it happens, Microsoft's Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive sits perfectly on top of the unit without blocking off any of the cooling vents, almost as if it were designed for the $200 USD HD-DVD drive. Works good for me!