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.