Evesham/AOpen Mini PC Plus
The Intel-powered alternative to the Mac Mini
Review It's finally arrived - the first Mac Mini clone. Our review system was supplied by Evesham, but the barebone chassis is manufactured by AOpen and has been known as the 'Pandora'. Sadly this catchy name is gone - AOpen has re-named it the Mini PC, which is just plain boring. Anyhow, name aside, this is a really cool-looking little machine - it arguably looks even better than the Mac Mini, mainly due to its aluminium case.
The Mini PC's solid cast-aluminium casing oozes quality and it's hard not to fall in love with it at first sight. The slot-load DVD writer adds to the quality feel. The power button has a blue back light and a further two blue LEDs light up when the hard drive is being accessed. Even the Evesham logo looks stylish as it's a proper raised logo, not just a cheap sticker.
But enough about looks, let's get down to the technical bits. The Mini PC retains the Mac Mini's minimalist approach, so the selection of ports is limited. From left to right, across the backplane, is the power connector for the external PSU, a DVI connector - a DVI to D-SUB dongle is in the box - and an S-Video output to which a Component video dongle can be connected. Next up is an Ethernet port for the onboard Gigabit Ethernet controller, two USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin FireWire connector, and finally headphone and microphone jacks. What's missing in an option for multi-channel audio output, such as S/PDIF which could easily have been built in to one of the 3.5mm audio jacks. The downside to this is that you won't get multi-channel sound if you would like to use the Mini PC as a home theatre PC.
And that's about it. As this is a miniature PC you can't expect to get much more inside. A couple of more USB ports wouldn't have gone amiss, though.
Internally, there isn't much to fiddle around with either, as there's not a lot of space for anything apart from the bits that are already in place. Evesham has yet to take advantage of the mini-PCI slot, but it can be populated with a Wi-Fi card which is available as an upgrade option. Processor-wise the model on review came fitted with a 2GHz Pentium M 760, which is powerful enough for every day tasks, but it does have some limitations. The CPU cooler can get quite noisy when the machine gets hot, which was something I didn't expect and this is an issue I hope that AOpen will look into. Considering that there is no PSU fan noise due to the Mini PC using an external PSU, having a noisy CPU cooler is more disappointing than in a desktop machine.
Alongside the CPU is 512MB of PC4200 DDR 2 memory and an 80GB hard drive, pretty much what you get in and entry level PC these days. The Intel i915GM chipset's graphics core uses at least 8MB of the system memory and can dynamically allocate more. The optical drive is from Matsushita and handles all current formats. It will write to DVD±R media at 8x, DVD±RW media at 4x, DVD+R DL at 2.4x and DVD-RAM at 5x. That's not as fast as the latest generation of 5.25in drives, but it is a top of the range for a notebook drive. Finally, there's a small internal speaker that is good enough for the Windows sounds, but not for music.
Evesham has pre-installed Windows XP Media Center Edition on the Mini PC, although no remote control was supplied, so don't expect to be able to sit in your sofa and control it. You can get an external TV tuner as an upgrade option, but oddly no remote or USB receiver seems to be on the list of accessories. Evesham doesn't supply a keyboard or mouse either, which makes this look more and more like a Mac Mini in terms of what you get for your money. You can of course add this as well as a display, more memory, a larger hard drive and a few other accessories at the time you order the system.
Performance-wise the Mini PC Plus isn't a scorcher, but then again, that isn't the purpose of a machine such as this. Still, with a SYSMark 2004SE score of 138 it is more than up to everyday tasks. The integrated graphics core is really its biggest flaw as it i's the reason for the low graphics score in PCMark 05 as well as the 3DMark03 score of a mere 900. It 's definitely not a gaming machine, but the low graphics score in PCMark also reflects its video playback capability.
As a stylish, small desktop machine there is nothing wrong with the Mini PC, but I would imagine that most people, myself included, would like to be able to use this as a full Media Centre PC.
Without surround sound output it's not really suited as a main system though it might suffice for a secondary one. Ultimately it's the price that would put the breaks on me buying one. At £699 inc VAT it's £200 more expensive than a Mac Mini that has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth included. The Mac does have a slower CPU, but it also has a dedicated graphics chip.
This is why my positive initial impressions of the Evesham Mini PC didn't last, but I can still see many buying it because of its looks and size. However, I'd recommend hanging on for the next generation of machines which will hopefully rectify the issues, such as the lack of surround sound, and possibly even add a dual-core processor.
The Evesham Mini PC Plus is the Intel-powered alternative to the Mac Mini. It looks good, but doesn't offer enough to be a Mac beater, at least not at its current price.