The launch of the Apple Mac Mini reinforced the already enormous rift between Apple fans and their PC-loving counterparts. PC fans criticised the Mini's limited connectivity and questionable power, but Apple fans hit back, praising its innovative form factor and stylish design. PC aficionados were quick to point out they had the option of buying small form-factor PCs such as those supplied by Shuttle, but their argument was easily dismissed, as even Shuttle's offerings looked obese next to Apple's miniature marvel.
Credit to Aopen then, for plugging the gaping hole in the PC market with its 'Pandora' box -- a Mac Mini clone designed to accept Intel components and cater to the Windows faithful. Never slow off the mark, Evesham has secured the exclusive rights to the Pandora, and rebranded it the Mini PC. It certainly looks promising, but whether it can live up to expectations and silence the Apple crowd is another matter.
The Mini PC has the same physical dimensions as a Mac Mini, so it's small and light enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Whereas the Mac Mini is finished in Apple's trademark white plastic, the Mini PC has an aluminium shell, which feels far more solid. The front of the unit is uncluttered. There's a circular power button in the centre, and a raised-edge Evesham logo tucked away to the bottom right. Some would argue the unit would look better without the Evesham branding, but the overall effect is aesthetically pleasing.
The Mini PC uses a slot-loading DVD drive -- a good choice, as a tray-loading drive would have compromised its sleek looks. All the necessary ports are located to the rear of the PC. There are are two USB ports, one six-pin FireWire port, S-Video and DVI monitor outputs, and an Ethernet port. The PC's onboard audio card only provides a pair of outputs (mic and speakers), so there's no way of connecting it to a set of surround-sound speakers. Finally, on the back there's an exhaust vent for expelling hot air.
Due to obvious space restrictions, the Mini PC doesn't use an internal power supply. Instead it uses an external power brick similar to those on many TFT monitors and laptops. These power supplies run silently, which is a definite plus for a media-oriented machine such as the Mini PC.
The Mini PC is founded on Aopen's Mini ITX motherboard, which unlike most PC motherboards accepts laptop processors and memory. Evesham has selected a 1.4GHz Celeron M 360 and 512MB of DDR2 memory clocked at 533MHz as a base specification, but there's a more advanced model, the Mini PC Plus, which uses a 2GHz CPU. Neither is designed explicitly for high performance, but both are very capable of running everyday applications at a decent lick.
The Mini PC uses the Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) operating system. It's perfect for viewing your collection of digital images, sound and high-definition movies from a single, easy-to-use interface, and although it's not Intel Viiv-certified, it has most Viiv functions -- except surround-sound output. Bizarrely, the Mini PC has an integrated speaker inside its chassis. This is of little significance, as it's not very loud or clear, but it's certainly an interesting addition.
The basic Mini PC specification doesn't include a TV tuner. Evesham says external MCE-compliant tuners are available via its Web site, but none were available at the time of writing. It is also possible to add one of several LCD TVs to the package, including a 32-inch model for an additional £697.95. Unfortunately, these display TV signals independently of the Mini PC -- their internal tuners can't output to Windows XP Media Center Edition, so you'd need another tuner anyway.