Carrera SSC – Area 51 review

tiny but powerful home PC
Photo of Carrera SSC – Area 51
£1,191 + VAT

While this little box may not attract the attention of the Men in Black, its make up and design do give it a hint of being out of this world, especially compared with the usual beige PC boxes. It’s built into a small-format case, looking spookily like a Shuttle SpaceCube, but actually a similar design from Epox. It sports a carrying handle on top and a blue led – definitely this season’s colour – gives the acrylic front panel a high-tech glow.

The processor inside is cooled by a miniature, tangential fan – a bit like the ones in fan heaters – which dumps the heat straight out of the back of the case. With the twin fans on the GeForce4 Ti 4800 graphics card this doesn’t make for a particularly quiet system, but it’s a price you pay for performance.

And you do get performance from this little beast. The 2.8GHz Pentium 4, with a generous 512MB of 333MHz memory, pushes it along at tremendous pace and the 128MB GeForce4 not only provides 3DMark results of well over 12,000 (trust us, that’s good), but includes full video in/out.

The Carrera SSC Area 51 includes a TV tuner card, so you can display TV directly on its screen, while the combined system gives you the opportunity to make TV or video recordings directly onto its 60GB hard drive, and from there to copy them onto the DVD-RW drive that’s fitted as standard.

Unfortunately, there’s no room to fit a second DVD playback drive, so you can’t make DVD or CD copies on the PC, but there are precious few DVD movie makers who don’t encrypt their films anyway. It’s still handy to be able to record your own DV content to permanent storage.

All this talk of video begs questions about the system’s monitor and the 18-inch Sharp LCD display, with toning silver surround, complements the rest of the PC. It produces a well balanced, high-definition picture, with a good horizontal viewing angle, but less leeway in the vertical plane.

To complete the hardware set-up, there’s a matching black and silver keyboard and mouse. The Faerie optical mouse has a novel clear plastic back, enhancing the other-worldliness of the whole system.

Carrera SSC supplies Area 51 with the Ability Office integrated suite, which is much under-rated, comprehensive, Office-compatible and all British. There’s also a three-year, on-site warranty. While the turnaround on warranty call-outs is a little sluggish at three to five days, it’s still good to see this kind of extended warranty period.

Company: Carrera SSC

Contact: 0870 066 0681

This is a top specification PC in a case little bigger than a shoebox - something that hasn't been possible for a good few years. It's an ideal candidate as a 'leisure PC', sitting in your living room as an adjunct to your TV, satellite box and hi-fi. If you live in tight accommodation - i.e. if you're a relatively well-off student - it could even become a replacement for TV and VCR.