Palicomp knows how to build a dependable, budget-friendly gaming PC; its £500/$750 AMD Shockwave rig was a bargain when it released late last year, and remains so today. The new i3 Aurora, named for both its processor and its swirling vinyl decorations, is a bit of a pricier proposition, but still remains in reach of entry-level buyers.
It’s certainly a lot more eye-catching than most budget PCs. The vinyl design wraps around the front, sides and top of the case, forming near-unbroken swooshes of red (blue or green options can be chosen instead, for the same price) over all of the visible panels. Some may think this garish, but honestly, it’s no more brash than the light show of LEDs that adorn certain higher-end cases. The decals are well-applied, too – I couldn’t find any air bubbles or loose corners.
The case itself handily provides two USB2 and two USB3 ports at the front, alongside 3.5mm mic in and headphone in jacks. These are especially useful, as besides a single USB Type-C port, the rear connectivity options are relatively conservative; you get two USB2 ports, 2 USB3 ports, two PS/2 sockets, Ethernet and the standard three 3.5mm audio jacks.
There are plenty of display connections to utilise, though, largely thanks to the XFX AMD R7 370 graphics card – there’s two dual-link DVI-D slots, one dual-link DVI-I, one DisplayPort and two HDMI sockets. That’s enough for a fair few monitors, even if audio options are limited to a basic speaker and headset combination via the three standard 3.5mm audio jacks.
Within the case, there’s ample room both for component upgrades and for your hands to install them. The motherboard offers two PCIe x16 slots, one of which is free, plus two spare PCIe x1 slots, two legacy PCI slots and two available RAM ports, the other two of which are occupied by doubled-up 4GB DDR4 sticks for a total of 8GB. Two of the four SATA connectors are free as well.
The only issue is that the added Thermaltake Contac 21 CPU cooler hangs over the far-left RAM slot, obscuring access. The space is there for a low-profile stick, but you’d need to remove the heatsink first. More positively, there’s an eight-strong rack of dual-purpose 2.5in/3.5in drive bays, with seven going spare, two empty dedicated 2.5in bays and two 5.25in bays, one of which is taken up by the DVD R/W optical drive.
As for performance, the 2GB GPU and overclocked, 4.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-6100 pack a decent punch for £600/$900 – though it’s strange that Palicomp didn’t opt for the 4GB version of the R7 370, as it did with the AMD Shockwave. In fact, the i3 Aurora did a little worse in our Dirt Showdown benchmark; at Ultra settings and 1,920×1,080 resolution, it averaged 55fps, which is smoothly playable but a little less than the AMD Shockwave’s 68fps. In Metro: Last Light, the i3 Aurora also only managed 22fps on maximum settings, just one frame per second more than its cheaper nephew did under the same conditions.
To be fair, these are still respectable performance by budget standards; I could easily get a much slicker 51fps average out of Metro: Last Light simply by switching texture quality from Ultra to High, and disabling super-sampling anti-aliasing (SSAA). In everyday use, web browsers and Windows 10 in general feel nice and swift to operate, and the OS is appreciably quick to boot despite the exclusive use of a 1TB mechanical hard disk drive.
The i3 Aurora scored 59 in our multitasking benchmark and 68 overall; very reasonable marks on both counts. You’ll need a better CPU and RAM combination to keep speeds up in more horsepower-hungry tasks, like 3D modelling, but there’s enough muscle here for basic image and photo editing, in addition to 1080p gaming.
Fortunately, even if the i3 Aurora isn’t a do-anything powerhouse, you can count on it to keep quiet while gaming. I was concerned that the modestly-sized CPU cooler, the single-fan design of the graphics card cooler and the sole rear outtake fan might not be able to shift enough air without going deafeningly fast, but in practice, noise levels hardly registered even in the intensive Metro: Last Light. The case is lightly lined with some soundproofing foam, an effective addition that helps ensure the i3 Aurora is seen but not heard.
This is indeed a respectable, entry-level gaming PC, one that can achieve great framerates at high or even a mix of high and ultra-quality settings, depending on the game. It’s just hard to recommend when you can get similar capability from Palicomp’s own AMD Shockwave, which costs £100/$150 less, or even better performance from the Yoyotech Warbird RS10, which has dropped to the same £600/$900 price point since launching and comes with a Core i5-6660K and a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 card.
|Processor||Dual-core 4.5GHz Intel i3 6100|
|Ports and expansion|
|Front USB ports||2 x USB2, 2x USB3|
|Rear USB ports||2x USB2, 2xUSB3, 1x USB Type-C|
|Other ports||2x PS/2|
|Case type||Mid tower ATX|
|Case dimensions HxWxD||451x232x521|
|PCI (free)||2 (2)|
|PCIe x1 (free)||2 (2)|
|PCIe x16 (free)||2 (1)|
|Serial ATA (free)||4 (2)|
|Memory slots (free)||4 (2)|
|Drive bays 2 1/2″ (free)||2 (2)|
|Drive bays 3 1/2″ (free)||8 (7)|
|Drive bays 5 1/4″ (free)||2 (1)|
|Total storage||1TB hard disk drive|
|Memory card reader||None|
|Optical drive type||DVD R/W|
|Graphics card||2GB XFX AMD R7 370|
|Graphics/video ports||2x HDMI, 1xDisplayPort, 2x dual link DVI-D, 1x dul link DVI-I|
|Sound card outputs||N/A|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Operating system restore option||Yes|
|Warranty||Three years RTB|
|Price including delivery (inc VAT)||£600/$900|
|Price excluding monitor (inc VAT and delivery)||N/A|