While it is an extremely powerful and versatile assay method, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be a labor-intensive process. Since the advent of commercial test kits from Roche and the semi-automated microwell Amplicor system, PCR has become an increasingly useful and widespread clinical tool. However, more widespread acceptance of molecular testing will depend upon automation that allows molecular assays to enter the routine clinical laboratory. The forces driving the need for automated PCR are the requirements for diagnosis and treatment of chronic viral diseases, economic pressures to develop more automated and less expensive test procedures similar to those in the clinical chemistry laboratories, and a shortage in many areas of qualified laboratory personnel trained in the types of manual procedures used in past decades. The automated Roche COBAS AMPLICOR system has automated the amplification and detection process. Specimen preparation remains the most labor-intensive part of the PCR testing process, accounting for the majority of the hands-on-time in most of the assays. A new automated specimen preparation system, the COBAS AmpliPrep, was evaluated. The system automatically releases the target nucleic acid, captures the target with specific oligonucleotide probes, which become attached to magnetic beads via a biotin-streptavidin binding reaction. Once attached to the beads, the target is purified and concentrated automatically. Results of 298 qualitative and 57 quantitative samples representing a wide range of virus concentrations analyzed after the COBAS AmpliPrep and manual specimen preparation methods, showed that there was no significant difference in qualitative or quantitative hepatitis C virus (HCV) assay performance, respectively. The AmpliPrep instrument decreased the time required to prepare serum or plasma samples for HCV PCR to under 1 min per sample. This was a decrease of 76% compared to the manual specimen preparation method. Systems that can analyze more samples with higher throughput and that can answer more questions about the nature of the microbes that we can presently only detect and quantitate will be needed in the future.