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PC Advisor's 11-step designer PC buying guide

Grab yourself a stylish, souped-up bargain PC

Computers come in many different guises; some barely resemble a PC at all. We've had it with plain-vanilla and boring black machines, and we've gone designer. Here's how to get a PC that looks good, both inside and out.

Miniature PCs

You don't have to saddle yourself with an all-in-one PC to save space. A miniature PC is a far more flexible option, as you can position the screen wherever you want and angle it as required (something that isn't always possible with single-unit systems). The tiny box that houses the PC's workings can be placed anywhere you choose, either out of sight or taking up a scant few inches of desk space. You may find such a setup superior to constantly kicking a bulky tower PC.

The best-known maker of miniature PCs is probably Shuttle. As well as selling complete PCs such as the Shuttle XPX X200, the company also acts as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) supplier for other manufacturers.

Shuttle systems use a micro ATX motherboard – a mainboard that's not much larger than the cover of a hardback book. Such systems tend to feature integrated elements such as onboard sound and don't have the very fastest processors or the most generous hard disks. Even so, mini-ATX computers can be useful as secondary PCs or entertainment machines.

With cost becoming more and more important, Shuttle added a new model to its mini-ATX line-up this February. The £100 Shuttle KPC is a cubed-shaped model with an 80GB hard disk (expandable up to 1.5TB) and 512MB RAM. This can be extended to 2GB depending on the configuration chosen. With 5.1-channel audio, the Linux-based PC has a changeable front fascia that's reminiscent of a digital photo frame.

For those that want to spec out the KPC themselves, the Shuttle machine will also be sold barebones for just $99 (£50).

Shuttle sells many of its machines this way, which makes it ideal for other manufacturers to use them as a base.

Tranquil PC also aims to keep your outlay low while offering a miniature platform for basic computing. The design isn't as appealing as some of the others we've featured, but if your needs run to a capable but tiny system that's near silent in operation, its range is worth a look.

Prices start from £198 for a 600MHz Linux Puppy-based setup with 256MB of RAM. An extra £50 turns this allocation into a rather more acceptable 1GB, although the lack of hard disk space will be a worry for many users.

Up-to-date specifications can be found on mini systems by AOpen. Like Shuttle, it's in essence an OEM company that offers a range of fascias and upgrade options to its Penryn-based PC base units.

Models such as the MP965 DR come with a remote control, making them a good bet for entertainment use. A slide-in optical bay and hidden ports combined with the shiny casing make them a good alternative to Apple's derivative Mac mini.

NEXT PAGE: ever-decreasing circuit boards > >

  1. Designer PC buying guide
  2. General PC buying advice
  3. Pimp my PC
  4. Crystal-clear
  5. Super-skinny models
  6. Entertainment today
  7. All-in-one approach
  8. Miniature PCs
  9. Ever-decreasing circuit boards
  10. Silent nights
  11. And now for something completely different

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