SFF PC's work much better than regular desktop machines
as home entertainment machines, however traditional SFF PC's are still usually
bigger than home theatre counterparts. Not much can be done, certain
desktop components like disk drives and coolers simply cannot be shrunk down any
further, that's why most SFF PC's on the market are still a similar size to
Shuttle's initial unit.
AOpen has a whole
range of SFF PC's, most are based on the traditional design but it has done
something rather revolutionary with its Mini PC's. Essentially AOpen has opened
the door to much smaller systems by using laptop parts for a desktop style SFF
PC. These parts already come miniaturized and tuned for quiet and low power
operation so it was a natural progression.
The new AOpen Mini PC MP945-VX is not the first AOpen
Mini PC to pass through the PCSTATS test labs, we looked at its Mini PC MP915-B
(Super Multi) a few months ago and were very impressed. With the new MP945-VX,
AOpen has increased the computing power of its Mini PC's dramatically by opting
for an Intel Core Solo processor.
Whether you're looking for a desktop workstation style
replacement, or a HTPC to replace the bulky home theatre equipment, the AOpen Mini PC MP945-VX can do the
job. The system is based around Intel's Core Duo notebook processor, uses the
945GM chipset and supports DDR2 memory. Standard features include an IEEE 1394a
controller, Intel Gigabit NIC, Ateros 802.11a/b/g wireless network adapter, an
onboard 5.1 channel audio controller and a dual layer slot-loading DVD burner.
All that and the system when fully installed weighs in at only 1.5kg!
AOpen does not skimp
anywhere with the Mini PC MP945-VX and the quality of the barebones kit is
outstanding. AOpen's Mini PC's are the perfect HTPC, I know because I use one
for that purpose myself at home. ;-) The Intel GMA950 supports high
definition conten acceleration, and that allows the system passable performance
when handling 720P or 1080P video. The Core Duo T2400 has enough power to keep
things running smoothly in most applications.
The wireless 802.11a/b/g connection is great for surfing
the internet however it does not have quite enough bandwidth to stream a high
definition video or DVD without things getting choppy. Newer DiVX/xvid movies
are ok. If you'd rather run a cable, the Gigabit NIC (even when only running at
100Mb) has more than enough bandwidth to stream high bandwidth movies.
Workstation performance of the system is good
although WindowsXP Media Center might not be the best OS to use. WindowsXP
doesn't have as many media-friendly utilities, but it seems to handle
applications like Sysmark better. Still, the AOpen Mini PC MP945-VX kept up
with other SFF machines well in SYSMark 2004 and was particularly
impressive in its raw computing power as shown in Super Pi. 3D gaming is pretty
much a no go here.
With a retail price of $420 CDN ($375 US, £203 GBP) for the
barebones unit, the AOpen Mini PC MP945-VX is pretty aggressively priced
considering it comes with a dual layer DVD burner. You will have to spend extra
to get the CPU, memory and hard drive, or find the system from a system
integrator fully installed (most likely according to AOpen). Either way, prices
will vary. The Mini PC MP945-VX may run slightly more than the desktop
equivalent, but this is definitely the smallest SFF PC on the market! If you
want the absolute sweetest HTPC or entertainment machine, the AOpen Mini PC is
definitely the machine drool over.
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