Introduction

Change is difficult. The older we get, the worse we become about accepting change. Some people always shop at the same store, order the same thing at a restaurant, buy the same brand of car... and yes, they even insist on running the same OS and web browser, year after year. Some day, your choice of operating system may not matter. To some extent, the Internet has already broken down a lot of barriers. Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same - there are still a few web sites that only display properly in Internet Explorer, for example.

As difficult as it is to change, it comes as little surprise that many people reacted to the launch of the Mac Mini with, "It looks interesting; too bad it's an Apple." I'm as bad as the next person, and while I bear no ill will towards Apple or their users, I'm pretty comfortable with my "Wintel" computer network. We still don't have a universal cyberspace, so for now, the software and applications for a platform play a critical role. For many people and businesses, all of the software that they own runs on Windows PCs, and thus, people continue to stick with the Microsoft OSes.

Give credit where credit is due: when it comes to aesthetics, Apple is one of the best. Small form factor PCs - didn't Apple start that segment with their Mac cube? How about the iPod? Let's not even get into the discussion of MacOS, Windows, and Xerox PARC.... There are many examples of Apple launching a new product with an interesting design, only to see many people avoid it simply because they want to run Windows. (We're not trying to start a debate over which is better, though, and there are many other topics that could be addressed in the PC vs. Mac wars.)

Maybe this will all change with Apple starting to ship x86 systems, but for now, Apple's creative design has once again been "borrowed" - or at least, copied in many areas. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, Steve Jobs must be feeling pretty good about himself right now. From the consumer's perspective, however, it generally doesn't matter if one company copies another company's design; if it brings competition and price wars so much the better.

It seems that AOpen has been working towards the creation of the MiniPC over the past year or so. First, we had their Pentium M desktop motherboards, followed by some Pentium M small form factor systems, and then they made the MZ855/MZ915 really small form factor design. These were all decent efforts, but I, at least, continued to think, "Can't anyone make a Windows-compatible computer that will compete with the Mac Mini?" Now, the answer is finally "yes", but there's more to it than that.

Not everyone needs a super powerful desktop system, and a super small, super quiet, super portable computer is an interesting idea. The problem is that we already have those: laptops. If you're going to compete with a laptop, only without a keyboard, touchpad, or display, you had better get the remaining features and the price right! Did AOpen succeed? Let's find out.

Appearance and System Specifications
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  • Questar - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    Where else in the x86 market is Apple not price competetive? Reply
  • rowcroft - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    Considering it's Friday, the new Mac Mini's were announced on Tuesday (one is on a FedEx truck on it's way to my house) the article really shouldn't have the errors that it does. You can certainly tell Anand didn't write this one.... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    There are a couple places where I mention the fact that this has already been superceded by the new Mac Mini. Considering this product is less than two months old (and really only 1 month in the US), the choice is either to not review it at all or to review it and basically end up with "nice, but unless you're a die-hard Windows user the Mac Mini is better." If it wasn't clear that I think that the Mac Mini is the better choice, I apologize. However, for people dead set on XP, until the MP945 is launched you really don't have any other option that uses a Pentium M chip. The only factual error right now (that is corrected) is that a USB X-Fi doesn't exist, unless you've spotted something else? Reply
  • rowcroft - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    I was referring to comments about i386 macs not yet shipping on the first page and overall sense that there the comparable mini's are the one's released a year ago now. I was a bit too harsh though, I apologize for that.

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    Oh... heh. That intro page was written a couple weeks ago, then the article got delayed as I waited for some answers and other information. I'll change it to the present tense instead of future tense. Of course, we're still waiting for a "Windows on Intel Macs" solution. I'm betting Vista will be necessary, as I don't know if it's even feasible to get XP runnign on an EFI architecture without massive effort. (First person to prove me wrong gets a pretty sizeable check, I suppose.) Reply
  • Nocturnal - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    I have worked with many laptops and this unit doesn't look that much different from the pictures although the pictures are probably a little bigger than the actual unit (I think?). Other than that, I'd definately invest in one of these for the wife. Reply
  • themelon - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    There are quite a few USB audio devices on the market today, including an X-Fi product from Creative.

    They have a USB X-Fi? It's not on there product page and this is the first time that I have seen mention of one.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    Right you are. I could have sworn I saw a Creative X-Fi USB, but I'm clearly mistaken. The best Creative USB option is still the Audigy 2 NX (right?). I will fix this error. Reply
  • psychobriggsy - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    Pointless unless you have a Windows based application that you need to use.

    And for the uses this type of system will be good for, there aren't many of those.

    If you want a small system, then the Mac Mini is clearly the better choice, and will be cheaper to boot. AOpen really need to trim their prices when they release their more-equivalent update.

    There is still the issue of the market size for a computer this small. In home entertainment systems you have the option of creating a system as large as your standard HiFi separate. Elsewhere the large box can be stuck under the desk. However it is ideal as a zero-configuration computer, one that you'll use until it dies or you replace it.

    It feels really odd writing 'Macs are cheaper and better' ...
    Reply
  • Hikari - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    Page two says, "Open has cloned the original Mac Mini with a system that is going to be faster in nearly every area."

    How old is this review? This isn't even close to as fast as a Mac mini with a Core Duo in it and 945G chipset. You just might want ot make sure you're making it clear that its slower than the old G4-based mini.
    Reply

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