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4 Windows 7 Media Center Blu-Ray PCs Under £500

All retail versions of Windows 7 excel at managing and playing files as they all include great networking capabilities and Windows Media Center by default. What's more, a very competitive environment means that as the Christmas period, prospective customers will get superb value for their hard earned money.

Surprisingly, there are a number of computers that can serve as Media Center boxes and are available for £500 and less, many of them from recognised brands.

Dell for example has the excellent Zino HD, a diminutive Mac Mini like desktop computer that has a tiny footprint and a number of features like two eSATA ports, a number of finish options and smart services from Dell like Datasafe Online with 2GB storage space for one year and the Datasafe Local 2.0 Basic.

Maxing the Zino HD to just under £500 yields a machine with an AMD Athlon X2 3250E processor clocked at 1.5GHz with 512KB L2 cache, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, 2GB RAM, 640GB hard disk drive, integrated ATI HD3200 graphics and a Blu-ray drive.

If looks do not matter then the Fujitsu Amilo DP3/Pi 3635 might be your best bet. It is exceedingly powerful, comes with a quad core processor, 4GB RAM, a 1TB hard disk drive, a blu-ray reader and an ATI HD 4850 card - which has a VGA, DVI and HDMI ports - but alas, its enclosure won't isn't the prettiest, a huge black and white tower casing.

You should be able to upgrade it fairly easy from Windows Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Home Premium for a small fee. This model is available for £487.93 from Ebuyer, a cost that includes free delivery.

Should mobility be particularly important for you - for example if you plan to take your media center away to another room or use it as your road warrior workstation - then the Acer Aspire 6930G should fit the bill.

At £470 including free delivery, this laptop comes not only with a dual core processor but also a HD compatible 16-inch monitor (1366x768 pixels), 3GB RAM, a 250GB hard disk drive, a HDMI port and a Blu-ray reader.

If that was not enough, you get a dedicated graphics module with 512MB RAM, GbE connection, WiFi, Dolby compatibility and a fingerprint reader.

Note that this model comes with Windows Vista Home Premium rather than Windows 8 but Acer offers a low cost upgrade.

Nettops have been all rage recently with their low price combined with a tiny power consumption and small size made them favourites to accompany a large screen television in the lounge. Our last choice is actually a bundle comprising of one of those Tiny little nettops, Windows 7 and a slew of accessories.

The Asrock PC ION 330-BD costs only £320 but comes with a dual core Atom CPU, 2GB RAM, a 320GB hard disk drive, SPDIF, HDMI, built in WiFi and a Blu Ray reader.

It does also have a remote control for the Media Center but no OS. That's not a problem if you already have a copy of Windows 7 or can get one for a discount. The cheapest Windows 7 original copy we could find was £72.12 from Amazon.

The Asrock Nettop doesn't come with any keyboards or mouse so we suggest that you do get one of these awesome Keysonic 2.4GHz HTPC keyboard with touchpad for £30.

With the remaining £77, we'd suggest that you buy an external portable hard disk drive. The Samsung S2 640GB is the perfect model at only £75 from Ebuyer.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.