PC Specialist's Aurelia is a compact Windows media centre PC that tracks the design of the Apple Mac mini.

Pressing the personal computer into service as a living-room media centre is an increasingly popular pursuit. It's been helped along recently by advances in laptop technology, which has allowed PCs to be made smaller and quieter, more happy to sit comfortably under the telly without drawing unwanted attention to themselves.

While it may be easy enough to find room for a personal computer in some corner of the lounge, the incessant noise of fans and hard drives is less easy to live with. So the use of notebook components should mean that the key issues of heat and noise have been addressed.

And these mini PCs should also be more economical to run, especially important if left on all day like a server.

Whether you wish to entrust your quality viewing time to a computer that requires regular maintenance and security software, when all you want to do is simply enjoy a film or play some music, is a topic for another discussion.

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In the case of the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre, we have a nicely compact unit about 6.5in square and 2.25in high, with a slot-load DVD drive at the front, and a host of connection options on the back. And at a price of around £500, it's not difficult to see where the Aurelia takes its cue: this is an Apple Mac mini tribute, built for the Windows market.

The original PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre design is courtesy of AOpen and is known as an XC mini MP45. With a spec and form factor so close to Apple's entry-level PC, it's impossible not to make comparisons between these two petite and lounge-friendly computers.

Inside the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre sample we tested is a Intel Core 2 Duo T6400, ostensibly the same as the Mac mini's Intel P7350 CPU by running at 2.0GHz, although the Aurelia's processor is a slightly slower chip, with 2MB instead of 3MB of L2 cache, and a front-side bus clocked at 800MHz instead of 1066MHz.

It's also a less efficient part, with a thermal design power (TDP) of 35W against the P7350's 25W.

We noticed that the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre stayed suitably quiet in use, with a nearly inaudible fan occasionally switching on when the system was working harder.

NEXT PAGE: Inside the Aurelia and performance results >>

PC Specialist's Aurelia is a compact Windows media centre PC that tracks the design of the Apple Mac mini.

For storage, the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre uses a 160GB 2.5in hard disk, and takes 2GB of memory, both more generous than the Mac mini's allocation of 120GB and 1GB respectively. Graphics controller is courtesy of Intel, a simple GMA X4500MHD integrated chip that's not exactly noted for excellence in playing modern 3D games.

The construction of the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre certainly feels solid, based around a well-finished brushed aluminium case sporting high-quality black anodising, all topped with a glossy black plastic lid.

PC Specialist Aurelia

Small enough to fit in any lounge - the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre PC

Unlike the Mac mini, it's relatively easy to get inside the case. You just need a crosshead screwdriver and a little patience to tease the chassis apart, rather than the putty knife and plenty of perseverance that Apple's mini demands.

And once you are in, both RAM and hard disk in the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre are a little more accessible too, although the miniaturised construction and fine interconnecting wires within still make user upgrades somewhat fraught.

For most customers, the simplest option is to have the Aurelia Media Centre built to your requirements using PC Specialist's online ‘configurator'. For example, hard discs up to 500GB and memory of up to 4GB can be specified at time of purchase. You can also add a Blu-ray ROM/DVD±RW combo drive for an extra £122.

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We put the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre to the WorldBench 6 real-world speed test, and saw a score of 80 points - a good result and one typical for a modern 2GHz Intel dual-core laptop.

The latest Mac mini, by way of comparison, scored 72 points, but was hobbled here by its reduced 1GB of RAM; fine for Mac OS X, but not nearly enough for memory-hungry Vista, the environment we use for WorldBench testing. With more RAM on board, the same Mac mini hit 83 points.

The key point is that the CPU of either of these 2GHz PCs is up to the task of decoding high-definition video, earning their credentials as capable media hubs.

Gaming is not really an option for the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre though. We saw just 4 frames per second in our usual FEAR 3D-graphics game test. Even reducing every available quality setting to minimum, the framerate only reached an average of 19fps.

Power consumption of the PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre, while low by tower PC standards, was a tad higher than the 15W Mac mini: 18W when idle, rising to 34W under peak draw.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

PC Specialist Aurelia Media Centre: Specs

  • 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400
  • 800MHz FSB
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 6.0 SP1 32-bit
  • 160GB 5400rpm 2.5in SATA HDD
  • 2GB (1x2GB) 667MHz DDR2 RAM
  • Intel X4500MHD graphics processor
  • DVI
  • slot-load DVD±RW DL drive
  • 5 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x eSATA/USB combo
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • infrared receiver
  • infrared remote control handest
  • mic in, line in, line out
  • power consumption: 18W idle, 34W peak
  • 168x168x57mm
  • 1380g
  • 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400
  • 800MHz FSB
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 6.0 SP1 32-bit
  • 160GB 5400rpm 2.5in SATA HDD
  • 2GB (1x2GB) 667MHz DDR2 RAM
  • Intel X4500MHD graphics processor
  • DVI
  • slot-load DVD±RW DL drive
  • 5 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x eSATA/USB combo
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • infrared receiver
  • infrared remote control handest
  • mic in, line in, line out
  • power consumption: 18W idle, 34W peak
  • 168x168x57mm
  • 1380g

OUR VERDICT

PC Specialist has assembled an AOpen mini PC that closely tracks the Apple Mac mini, with similarities stretching to pricing too. The PC Specialist version reviewed here is slightly more expensive than the entry-level £499 Mac but offers twice the RAM and a larger hard drive. In the deficit column, the Aurelia takes a slower 2GHz processor and DDR2 RAM, and loses out on niceties such as dual digital video outputs, FireWire and built-in Bluetooth. And aside from the more secure Mac OS X operating system, the Mac mini can also claim a graphics processor up to the task of modest gameplay.

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