Medion 6486 £549
30th Jul 2007 | 23:00
Furiously fast, cheap and for sale with your groceries
Computer shops, once the domain of the over-zealous and ill-informed, have all but been replaced.
The Internet was the first to stick the boot in, now it seems that big-name supermarkets are going to finish the job. We've previously looked at Medion's 8800, a veritable beast of a media centre.
This particular machine defies the usual Germanic business model, though. Whereas you'll need to be quick on your feet to grab a 4518, made in limited numbers and sold until it's gone, Tesco has put in a substantial order for the 6486.
In our experience, these machines aren't always pretty, churned out en masse and often built using proprietary parts or simply by grabbing the cheapest parts available.
Our experiences with the Medion 8800, which used a non-standard Nvidia graphics card, a non-standard quad tuner, and a preposterous 'media bay' built into the top of the case, were actually pretty good considering its cheap price.
On the other hand, we've had nightmarish experiences outside of the office after family members bought questionable laptops from Somerfield, with noisy fans, shoddy screens and tendon-tearing weight to contend with.
And this? This is somewhere in between. In terms of its standing as a media centre, it's moved on from the days of the 8800, offering an HDMI port on the back and, naturally, Vista Home Premium for all your media consumption needs.
But in many ways, the 6486 has regressed. There are none of the multitudinous media ports, no (admittedly mostly useless) quad tuner to be seen, and the smaller case makes the slapped-together internals look even scragglier than usual.
There is a moderately cheap feel to the case: it's pretty bog standard, with only a bespoke front panel, and a lack of any sound dampening means the vertically mounted hard drive crackles away when it's working.
At least the cooling's kept quiet; only the tiny fan of the graphics card contributes any significant amount of noise, since there's a huge fan looking after the processor.
If anything, there might be slightly too little cooling; the CPU is certainly catered for, but there are no front or rear fans to ensure a good flow of air over the motherboard, which is just odd.
Certain problems have been answered in slapdash ways. Looking back once more, the 8800 answered the question of wireless networking by basically gluing a USB wireless adapter inside the case. The 6486 simply sticks a dongle in the box.
The media centre remote is similarly handled with an external receiver, although the extra expansion offered by the media bay on the front of the unit means there should still be breathing room left when you've got them all hooked up.
The software installed isn't that impressive; it's mostly Tesco-rebranded versions of apps such as Ability Office, which do their job if a little unspectacularly, and the over-zealous and seemingly constant warnings of the Tesco Internet Security package are likely to make the uneducated a bit worried.
But climb inside the box and you'll realise that despite the cheap software package, nothing's really been skimped on.
The GeForce 8500GT is a perfectly viable card for all but the most hardcore gamer, offering HDMI and S-Video out as well as DVI, and the Freeview/analogue tuner does its job nicely.
There's the essential 2GB RAM present, a decent middle-range Core 2 Duo in the E6750 and a 500GB SATA hard drive. We were really only disappointed to see a 300W PSU, because the components are already consuming most of that power.
We ended up getting precisely what we expected from our benchmark tests. SuperPi thundered through in a shade over 19 minutes, so this isn't on the top of the pile but it certainly puts in a good showing.
Cinebench was slightly more sluggish, crippled as it was by the perennially unfinished state of Nvidia's Vista drivers, and 3DMark 06 had similar issues; on XP, we'd expect a lot more out of this card. But we can bleat as much as we like about Vista's drivers. They matter not a jot.
What matters is that this machine is going to be hitting the mass market, sold as it is to the base PC customer. And we think they'll be as happy as you will: it's a decent (if a little haphazard) effort, and the price is certainly right. In all, it's a worthy winner of PC Plus' Value award.