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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  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    Okay, read that as "AOpen or one of their partners." The point is that AOpen can't possibly charge $330 for this unit (with DVDR) and expect people to prefer it over the new Mac Minis. $200 gets you a Pentium M, $100 for the HDD... and you're still missing the OS. Then again, $100 price premium over a Mac if you really want to run Windows isn't the end of the world. Would I recommend it over a Mac Mini? No. If you want to buy it, though, it's still a pretty cool system to play around with. I would definitely take it over the older G4 Mac Minis, because it's clearly faster in important areas (like HD stream decoding). If the MP945 launches at $850 or less for a complete Core Duo system, we have a worthwhile contender. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    Well, this is the initial version, and it does have a DVD+/-RW drive. The optical drive runs about $85 at retail, I think. I definitely agree that AOpen should be able to get the cost of the tested model down to the $650 range (including OS), which would put it up against he Core Solo Mac Mini that just came out. Reply
  • Furen - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    The OS price is the killer...

    The T2300 (1.66GHz) costs around $240 bucks (yet the core solo costs like $210), plus the $330 for the motherboard and $100 for the OS and you're already at $670. Add HD, the ram and you're way over budget. I suppose going for a Celeron M is the solution to this problem considering that Celeron performance is pretty comparable with the Pentium M's.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    That's why this needs to be sold as a pre-built system, including OS. Large businesses can negotiate very good deals with MS and Intel, and realistically there's no way the case/chassis/mobo/PSU costs $330. At wholesale component prices, they should be able to match the price of the Mac Mini. Sell more at a smaller profit margin is the idea, though again I'm not sure how many people would buy one of these. Guess we'll see what happens. Reply

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