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Hy-Tek Tek Panel 300 Review

DT Recommended Product

Highs

  • All-in-one design
  • high-end components
  • large display
  • custom aluminum case.

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 5

Lows

  • Might be hard to find a good location for it
  • no-name RAM used.
Put the Tek Panel 300 in front of any serious gamer and you'll need a towel and a squeegee to wipe up all the drool.

Summary

With configurations costing upwards of $8,000, this system may be out of reach for most consumers. But taking all of the high-end components and custom features into account, the price is quite reasonable.

We really were torn when deciding on a final score for this product. If we were rating this purely on gaming performance and the coolness factor, it would be a 9/10 – the one knock being the sub-standard RAM that they included. But we also considered the Tek Panel as an HTPC as well, since it is the configuration that makes the most sense – even though our test rig wasn’t outfitted with the All-In-Wonder.

When looking at the Tek Panel 300 as a complete home theater and gaming system, it fell short in a few important areas: The keyboard, mouse and speaker selection just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the high-end components and the protruding optical drive takes away from the aesthetic appearance of the unit. The on/off switch issue also hurts the overall score. While Hy-Tek can take pride in their ability to tie the two different systems into one switch, their use of a toggle switch instead of a momentary pushbutton really causes some headaches. The aforementioned “identity crisis” also hurts its final score, just because it might be hard for someone to justify buying the Tek Panel if they don’t have the perfect place to put it. But let’s be honest here, the engineering ingenuity and raw power of the Tek Panel 300 do outweigh the few issues we had with it.

Put the Tek Panel 300 in front of any serious gamer and you’ll need a towel and a squeegee to wipe up all the drool. The fact that Hy-Tek could squeeze all of these high-end components into a slightly thicker-than-normal LCD casing is a testament to their engineering and design prowess.

If you’re looking for the ultimate gaming PC or are a consumer that wants the best of everything, look no further Tek Panel 300 – until they start shipping the Tek Panel 370.

Introduction

When we first saw the Tek Panel by Hy-Tek Manufacturing at CES 2004, we knew we had stumbled on to something special. With a fully functional Home Theater PC (HTPC) integrated into a custom aluminum frame holding a 30-inch LCD display, this was a product we had to get our hands on. We said it then and we’ll say it again now: this device is the future of home theater and PC convergence.

Hy-Tek Manufacturing is a Chicago-area company that has historically made their living by supplying technology products to the military and big business. They originally developed the Tek-Panel 300 as a presentation device and high-powered workstation for these clients, but quickly realized its potential in the consumer marketplace.

They actually unveiled the first version of the Tek-Panel 300 at CES 2003, but have updated and refined it a few times since then. CES 2004 brought the introduction of the Tek-Panel 370 – a new version based on a 37-inch display that we also hope to review in the coming months.

The Tek-Panel has had some great exposure lately, including being prominently featured on the NBC reality show “The Apprentice”. And if the product is good enough for “The Donald” to feature on his show, it should be good enough for the discriminating gamer or PC geek, right? Well read on to find out.


The Tek Panel 300 is a high-end PC integrated into a 30-inch LCD.

Performance

Benchmarking

We ran the Tek Panel 300 through some of the regular benchmarking programs. The Tek Panel was tested against two test systems from our labs. All of the system configurations are listed at the bottom of this page.


The Tek Panel clearly benefits from the Extreme Edition Pentium 4 and the Radeon 9800XT.
The Radeon 9800XT and


Again, the Tek Panel blows away our two other test systems.


Aquamark is no difference: the Tek Panel wins hands down.


Finally, the Tek Panel shines in both Gun Metal benchmarks also.

System Configurations:

Tek Panel 300

Windows XP Pro SP1; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB Graphics Card; Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.2GHz; ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe Motherboard; 2GB PC 3200 DDR Memory ; 200GB Western Digital SATA Hard Drive

Test System 1

Windows XP Pro SP1; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; AMD Athlon 2800+ (Barton Core); Chaintech 7NJS Ultra Zenith motherboard; 1GB Mushkin PC3500 DDR

Test System 2

Windows XP Pro SP1; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz (Prescott); Abit IC-7 MAX3 motherboard; 1GB Corsair PC4000 DDR; Maxtor 160GB SATA Hard Drive

Features and Design

The Tek Panel 300 is just about everything a computer enthusiast and gamer would want, integrated into one slick looking piece of equipment. It is an all-in-one unit capable of playing the latest games at aggressive settings and immersing you in any game or movie you choose. With configuration options featuring the fastest Intel processors, up to 2GB of RAM, the fastest ATI video cards and the Creative Labs Audigy sound card, the Tek Panel 300 is not just a high-end computer, it is also quite the conversation piece. Our review sample was configured as follows:

Components:

  • Intel Pentium 4 3.2 GHz Extreme Edition Processor
  • Western Digital 200GB SATA Hard Drive
  • ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe Motherboard
  • 2GB DDR PC3200 RAM
  • ATI Radeon 9800XT Video Card
  • Toshiba SD-R 1202 DVD/CD-RW
  • Creative Labs SB Audigy 2ZS sound card
  • Windows XP Pro
  • 30″ LG Electronics LCD display

The case:

  • 31 ½”w x 20 ¾”h x 5 ¼”d
  • Custom aluminum case with black powder coat finish
  • Included wall mount hardware
  • Included tabletop free-standing mounting hardware

Additional external accessories:

  • Wireless keyboard/mouse/remote by Interlink Electronics
  • Bose Media Mate 2.1 channel computer speakers

Hy-Tek does a great job of integrating all of this into a 5 ¼-inch deep custom aluminum case. To fit a full-sized ATX motherboard, power supply, optical drive and two I/O cards into such a confined space – and to keep it properly cooled – was no small feat, and Hy-Tek engineers used some innovative ideas in their configuration.
As you can see from the below pictures, Hy-Tek uses two 90-degree risers to get the AGP graphics card and the PCI sound card into place.

Features and Design (Continued)

The motherboard is supported by a custom riser and all of the drives and peripherals have custom-built mounting brackets. Since the Tek Panel is often used by the military in demanding locations, Hy-Tek told us that each unit has to pass a “drop test”. They use 1/8-inch aluminum throughout and ensure each fastener is tight by applying Locktite to them all. All of this attention to detail makes the Tek Panel as beautiful on the inside as it is on the exterior.

With a weight of just under 50 lbs, the Tek Panel 300 can be easily mounted on a wall or on a flat surface, and Hy-Tek includes brackets for both mounting options.

The display used in the Tek-Panel is an LG L3000A, but Hy-Tek buys just the bare display with just the glass and inverters as they use their own enclosure. This display is ultra-bright at 450cd/m2, compared to the typical 250cd/m2 of similar displays. It is a 15:9 ratio display that handles 1280 x 768 pixels, features a 400:1 contrast ratio and boasts a 25ms response time.


Inside of the Tek Panel is a work of art – everything fits perfectly and no space is wasted.

All the connections for input and output can be found on the bottom of the unit, in the back. Accessible are all of the motherboard connections such as PS/2, USB, 1394 (Firewire), parallel printer port, serial port, 10/100 Ethernet port, and the on-board audio ports (which were disabled due to the use of the Audigy). To the right of the motherboard ports is the input power connection. To the left are the connections for the video card and the sound card, aligned parallel to the motherboard with internal risers. Lastly, is the actual input connector for the display, which was hooked up to the output of the video card with an 8-inch DVI cable.

On left side, facing the front is the vertically mounted DVD/CDRW combo drive. This is a typical tray-load design, but we had no troubles getting optical discs to stay in the tray, as you might expect from a tray loading drive mounted in this fashion.  The front of the drive sticks out slightly from the case while viewed from the front. From the front this doesn’t create any noticeable aesthetic concerns, but from the side it looks a bit out of place.

Hy-Tek’s Customizations

A system such as the Tek Panel 300 requires quite a few custom designs to make it all work, and this is where Hy-Tek really shines. We already mentioned the great job they did with the case, but there were other issues that the Hy-Tek engineers had to address.

Since the system is really two devices in one – a computer and a display – Hy-Tek had to come up with a way to power both together and turn them on and off with one switch. Their power supply design is actually two separate PSUs wired to work as one. As a Hy-Tek engineer explained to us, the system features a 300-watt 2u server power supply for the computer, and a second 1u power supply for the LCD panel.

These two separate power supplies are bridged together to act as one, so if the computer requires more than the 300 watts provided by the first PSU, it can instantly draw from the second unit, which still has more than enough juice to handle the display. This accomplishes a few things in the design of the Tek Panel: it helps with cooling by separating the two devices apart; it also allows them to locate the power where they want to, instead of having to fit a larger, say 450W 2u power supply somewhere in the unit; and presumably, it saves Hy-Tek some cost building the unit.

By bridging the two power supplies together, Hy-Tek has also enabled both devices to be powered on with one switch. This is a no-brainer in our opinion, as it would be really annoying to have to flip two switches to power up the computer and display separately – but we think Hy-Tek could have done a better job with the type of switch they selected. They use a toggle switch instead of a momentary pushbutton switch. What this means is that when you power the unit down, which is done through Windows, the switch is still in the ‘on’ position. So the next time you want to turn the Tek Panel 300 on, you have to turn the switch to ‘off’ and then back to ‘on’. This probably has something to do with the need or desire to turn the display panel off at the same time as the computer, but we hope Hy-Tek can figure out a better way of doing this in the future.

Noise and Cooling

Cramming all this high-end equipment into a relatively thin case with an integrated display is hard enough, but Hy-Tek also had to make it quiet while running at acceptable temperatures. They did a good job with this too.

LCD displays typically give off less heat than plasma displays of the same size and this is one of the reasons why LCD was a good choice for this particular application. The case has plenty of venting for the well-placed fans. Even the processor fan is precisely placed such that it draws air directly from outside the case. This ensures that only room temperature air is being used to help cool the processor, rather than warmer air that may be circulating inside the case. To help exhaust the warm air from the unit, there is a small case fan located in the lower left-hand corner of the back panel. The top panel is also perforated with small holes throughout to allow heat to rise out of the case.

We used the on-board temperature sensors and Motherboard Monitor 5 to record the temperature of the CPU and motherboard, first idling, with no applications running and then later after gaming for over an hour. We did not see much of a rise in temperatures from the processor, which was somewhat expected, but good to see considering the confined spaces of the Tek Panel case. This is also a testament to the smart design of the processor fan placement mentioned above. For the motherboard, we did see a bit more temperature increase after gaming, but that is nothing out of the ordinary.

Temperatures after cold boot:

  • CPU temperature after cold boot with no applications running => 42.5C/108.5F
  • Motherboard temperature after cold boot with no applications running => 41C/105.5F

Temperatures after 1 hour of gaming:

  • CPU temperature after gaming for 1 hr => 43C/110F
  • Motherboard temperature after gaming for 1 hr => 49C/120F

The Tek Panel 300 was also surprisingly quiet. We were very pleased with the noise level, considering this was designed to be a high-powered gaming system. Although we did not get to measure the exact level with a sound measurement device, it was comparable to what you would hear coming from a typical retail PC. At a comfortable viewing distance, the fans were barely audible and certainly did not interfere with DVD watching, gaming, or regular PC usage.

Performance and Gaming Experience

As you can imagine, we tested the Tek Panel as often as we could. We watched DVDs, browsed the Web, used office applications and of course, played games.

DVDs were crisp and highly detailed. The Tek Panel handled all movies and genres we threw at it without any skipping or ghosting issues.

The Tek Panel brings online multiplayer gaming to a new level. There’s just something extremely satisfying playing Call of Duty on a 30-inch widescreen display with all of the lights off and five speakers surrounding you.

As can be expected from a Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and an ATI Radeon 9800XT, this machine handled all of the games we tried on it with relative ease. Call of Duty, Far Cry, Unreal Tournament 2004, Painkiller and every other game we tried played smooth and looked great. The game detail was very sharp and crisp and we didn’t notice any ghosting, which often occurs with LCDs when used for gaming.

And talk about immersive: Painkiller is a scary enough game on a regular gaming rig – try it on the Tek Panel with all the lights off and either headphones or surround sound speakers pumping and we guarantee you’ll be jumping out of your seat.

Game maps loaded incredibly fast, and we were always the first to load a new map in the Call of Duty servers we played. The fastest processor (at the time) on the market and 2GB of RAM tends to do that for you.

As configured, our review Tek Panel 300 scored a very respectable 6629 in 3DMark 2003 with default settings.


Gaming on the Tek Panel 300 is intense. The display dwarfs this 19-inch CRT monitor.

The brightness of the display was an issue for us. The default brightness was just too much and even the darkest game scenes were too bright. With a completely black screen, the display threw off enough light to allow us to see without a problem in an otherwise completely dark room. Browsing the Web at first was painful. With the display so bright and most Web pages having a white background, we either had to reduce the brightness or use the Tek Panel with sunglasses. As you can imagine we opted for the former, and once adjusted, our eyes thanked us. The engineers at Hy-Tek told us that they run the backlights of that display at 70 percent normal brightness as it is. LG Electronics notes on their Website that this display is brighter than most and since Hy-Tek also markets the Tek Panel to companies for presentation purposes, it makes sense to use such a bright display.

We found the ideal viewing distance to be in the neighborhood of 3 ½ to 5-feet. For the test unit we used the free-standing detachable feet, and set it on a desk, towards the back of the work surface. Any closer and you’d have to move your head to look from one side to the other, instead of just moving your eyes.

A Few Refinements Needed

While it’s hard not to like the Tek Panel – in fact a few tears were shed when we had to part with our review sample – the unit could use a few refinements. First, the optical drive just looks out of place. The color matches but the square-faced drive sticks out too much from the rounded side. It doesn’t look that bad from the front, but from the side, it is a bit of an eyesore. Hy-Tek could avoid that by using a laptop-sized optical drive instead of a full sized 5 1/4-inch drive.

Also, the included peripherals don’t seem to go with the Tek Panel. The Bose 2.1 channel speakers aren’t terrible, but a high-end rig like the Tek Panel with a Creative Labs Audigy sound card would be better suited with a 7.1 channel speaker system. The Bose Mediamate speakers are included in the price, but Hy-Tek has a relationship with Klipsch and offers their 2.1 and 5.1 Promedia speakers as upgrades. In our opinion, a no-speakers option would be ideal here, as you can either hook the Tek Panel 300 up to your stereo or a better set of PC speakers purchased separately. And the included keyboard and mouse were certainly nothing special. The mouse actually felt quite small. With such a high-end model, we’d expect to see a better keyboard and mouse combo included.

As we mentioned, the Tek Panel 300 we reviewed was configured with 2GB of PC3200 RAM. This may be overkill for most applications, but it was certainly nice to have for the review. However, the RAM was unbranded – as far as we could tell – and lacked heatsinks. We’d expect a high-end system like the Tek Panel 300 to use branded memory, as experts will tell you, quality, brand-name memory does make a difference. With everything else top-of-the-line, we wondered why Hy-Tek seemed to “skimp” on this one component.

When we met with Hy-Tek at CES 2004, they explained that they use a proprietary scaling technique to make TV images on the Tek Panel look even better than HDTV. Unfortunately, our review unit didn’t have the Radeon All-In-Wonder that features an integrated TV tuner, so we were unable to validate this claim or try it out. This effectively made our review unit just a high-end gaming system, instead of the HTPC we were expecting. In our opinion, the Tek-Panel really needs a TV tuner to make it the ultimate home entertainment PC.

We also would like to see the inclusion of a wireless network adapter as an option for the Tek Panel. There are now USB 2.0 802.11g adapters and this would be a good addition for the Tek Panel, especially if it is to be wall-mounted.

As mentioned before, the power switch was an issue for us and we hope that Hy-Tek can improve on this design in future revisions.

Finally, our test unit came with slightly outdated video drivers and we also needed to update the RAID driver to stop an error message from continually popping up during each boot up. This was a very minor inconvenience and one we easily fixed, but we would expect that on the production units, Hy-Tek will be sure to fix this at the factory before the product goes out the door.

Is it all Worth it?

As configured, our Tek Panel would cost a little over $8,100 plus shipping direct from Hy-Tek. That is of course a lot of money to pay for a top-of-the-line gaming rig, but certainly not unheard of, especially when you add in a 30-inch display. So is it worth it?

We configured a very similar collection of hardware at Newegg.com and from various retailers found on Shopping.com and we came up with a price of about $6,300. The computer hardware totaled about $2,800 and the LG Electronics 30-inch LCD was about $3,500. This price does not include a case and keep in mind that Hy-Tek uses a bare LCD as well as a custom power solution.

When you take into account the custom case, which would take weeks to create yourself, the custom power and cooling solutions, and the fact that prices on these individual components have surely dropped since Hy-Tek put the unit together, we’d say that the $1,800 price difference is negligible and makes the price of the Tek Panel 300 right on target.

The main problem with the Tek-Panel 300 is that it suffers from an identity crisis. At 30-inches, the display is just too big and bright to put on a desktop in front of you and comfortably play games or browse the Net. Ideally, you’d need a deep desk with plenty of free space so that the display was far enough away from you to view at the optimal distance.

On the other hand, many consumers may find that a 30-inch widescreen display just isn’t big enough for their living room or home theater. The display is probably perfect for board room presentations and whatever cool uses the military has for it, but at home you may have a tough time finding the right place for it.

We think the ideal location may be in a bedroom, dorm room, home office or on the ultimate gamer’s desk. Don’t get us wrong – it is not impossible to use the Tek-Panel 300 as your main workstation or gaming platform and in fact it is quite an experience. You’ll just need to do some planning. If you get creative, you should have little problem finding the best location for the Tek-Panel 300. And since it can be mounted on the wall or free-standing on a desk with the included brackets, you’ll have plenty of options.

Conclusion

With configurations costing upwards of $8,000, this system may be out of reach for most consumers. But taking all of the high-end components and custom features into account, the price is quite reasonable.

We really were torn when deciding on a final score for this product. If we were rating this purely on gaming performance and the coolness factor, it would be a 9/10 – the one knock being the sub-standard RAM that they included. But we also considered the Tek Panel as an HTPC as well, since it is the configuration that makes the most sense – even though our test rig wasn’t outfitted with the All-In-Wonder.

When looking at the Tek Panel 300 as a complete home theater and gaming system, it fell short in a few important areas: The keyboard, mouse and speaker selection just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the high-end components and the protruding optical drive takes away from the aesthetic appearance of the unit. The on/off switch issue also hurts the overall score. While Hy-Tek can take pride in their ability to tie the two different systems into one switch, their use of a toggle switch instead of a momentary pushbutton really causes some headaches. The aforementioned “identity crisis” also hurts its final score, just because it might be hard for someone to justify buying the Tek Panel if they don’t have the perfect place to put it. But let’s be honest here, the engineering ingenuity and raw power of the Tek Panel 300 do outweigh the few issues we had with it.

Put the Tek Panel 300 in front of any serious gamer and you’ll need a towel and a squeegee to wipe up all the drool. The fact that Hy-Tek could squeeze all of these high-end components into a slightly thicker-than-normal LCD casing is a testament to their engineering and design prowess.

If you’re looking for the ultimate gaming PC or are a consumer that wants the best of everything, look no further Tek Panel 300 – until they start shipping the Tek Panel 370.

Hy-Tek Tek Panel 300 Competitors