Evesham call this system the 'Mini PC Plus', and that really sums it up - it's a mini PC with more than you'd expect. Of course, one might point at the fact it shares the 'Mini' name with a certain product from Apple, but hey - who hasn't seen the Mac Mini and thought, "That'd be ace - with Windows!"
Evesham, in conjunction with the chaps at AOpen, have come up with this system for exactly those kind of people. It's designed to be a quiet, tiny Media Center solution for your home. It presses lots of aesthetic buttons and also packs a Pentium M under the hood to provide some decent horsepower.
It's appropriate that we kick 2006 off with a review of a HTPC, because home theatre PCs are going to become incredibly popular this year. Intel is launching it's Viiv initiative this week, and soon enough you won't be able to move for them - in fact, we have a sneaking suspicion that the machine we're reviewing today will get a Viiv upgrade and a sticker at some point in the next couple of months. But can something this small little box really handle the resource-hungry Media Center and still be an effective PC? Let's find out.
The machine is a small silvery-plastic box, barely any bigger than a CD - in fact, you can see that the slot for the DVD writer stretches almost the entire width of the machine. One of the reasons the machine can be so small is because there is no PSU inside, running off a small external one instead. Don't worry, we're not talking Xbox 360-sized here!
The important thing to note is that whilst this is a Media Center box, it doesn't contain any TV tuners. If you want to use this machine to watch TV, you'll need to grab yourself a tuner that works over USB. This is an inevitable compromise for the size of the main machine. We are looking forward to the days when we see TV tuners integrated into northbridges!
The full specifications for the machine we were sent for review are thus:
- Pentium M processor 2.0GHz
- 512MB DDR2 RAM
- 80GB 5400RPM Hard drive
- Intel Extreme Graphics
- External PSU
- Azalia High Definition audio
- DVD writer
- 10/100 Ethernet
- Windows Media Center Edition 05
- BullGuard Anti-Virus
All of this will set you back £773.94 including VAT.
However, we'd recommend a couple of tweaks to the configuration to get the optimal price/performance. Number one, drop the BullGuard software - it is quite possibly the worst AV software we've ever seen. Many of you will know that there are some well-supported freeware Anti-Virus solutions available, which means that paying for the inclusion of BullGuard is unneeded. Our favourite freeware AV scanner is AVG Free Edition
Number two, drop the Pentium M from 2.0GHz to 1.8GHz - the small drop in clock speed makes no difference to Media Center operation. However, with the cash saved, you can upgrade to a 100GB drive and add integrated wireless functionality with a 802.11G internal card. These tweaks will take the cost of the system up to £783.87, but we think this is a good price for a more rounded configuration for its intended use.