Aria ZPC 3100 Pro review

Price when reviewed

It’s difficult to stand out of the crowd, but Aria has thrown down the gauntlet with the ZPC 3100 Pro. It’s built around a custom form-factor motherboard and chassis made by Iwill, a specialist in small PCs, and at just 80mm wide and 240mm high the ZPC could even fit on your bookshelf.

Overheating is a perennial problem in SFF (small-form-factor) systems, but a clever set of copper heatpipes takes heat away from the 1.8GHz AMD Sempron 3100+ CPU. The Sparkle GeForce 6600 graphics card is located in a separate chamber from the CPU and RAM, with the insides kept cool by temperature-controlled fans.

Clever stuff, but unfortunately it didn’t lead to near-silent running. We measured 38.3dBA when the ZPC was idle, and fan noise will increase if you start to push the system. Also note that, to avoid making the chassis any bigger, the PSU is a notebook-style external affair. Unfortunately, it’s on a lead only 50cm long, so you won’t be able to stow it out of the way under a desk.

Even with a generous 1GB of RAM, the ZPC scored 1.66 in our application benchmarks, placing it last in the £699 group. The same was true in our 3D tests, although it managed 32fps in Halo. If you’re simply looking for a PC to browse the Internet and send emails, you won’t notice a significant difference between this and the rest of the machines, but intensive applications will show the limitations of the rather low-end processor.

A further stumbling block is the hard disk. The 80GB Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 may be enough for some, but for the same money you can have a 200GB disk from Holly. Things are slightly redeemed by the slimline Samsung TS-L532A, which will write to all kinds of DVDs including dual-layer discs.

As a living-room PC, the ZPC 3100 Pro has good credentials, with the Logitech wireless mouse and keyboard reducing cable clutter. It also comes with 5.1 surround-sound speakers, although they’ll only sound good in smaller rooms. The warranty, however, is another mark against the ZPC. While every other £699 machine comes with at least a year’s on-site maintenance, Aria only supplies a year’s return-to-base warranty.

Despite our criticisms, we do like the Aria: it’s very stylish and absolutely tiny. However, those wanting room to expand in the future will find the Evesham much more accommodating, and it’s also possible to silence the Axis SB much more easily.

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