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AOpen Gives Vars An Intel-Based Miniature PC AlternativeAOpen Gives Vars An Intel-Based Miniature PC Alternative

Posted by inet - 2006-01-15

Much of Apple Computer’s sales of its Mac Mini desktop system came about because of its cute appearance and small size. PC manufacturers knew that Apple was on to something and AOpen was the first vendor to market something similar—so similar in fact to the Mac Mini that casual users will be hard pressed to tell them apart.

More or less the same size as the Mac Mini, AOpen’s miniPC gives resellers an Intel-based alternative. The miniPC measures 6.5 inches square by 2 inches high and weighs a mere 2.5 pounds. The miniPC performs better, is more portable and is less fragile than most notebook computers. Mobile users who commute with their notebooks but use them only at fixed locations such as at home or at work would be better off with a miniPC.

Because it’s based on mobile technology, internally, the miniPC is more similar to a notebook than a desktop. The inside of the mini’s chassis is quite cramped, and servicing it requires some finesse. (Anyone accustomed to servicing notebook computers will feel right at home with the mini, but desktop technicians might be intimidated by the cramped interior.) While most of AOpen’s PC offerings come in bare-bones form, the miniPCs are available only as fully configured units. AOpen offers two models: one is powered by a Pentium M processor and the other by a Celeron M processor; both run Windows XP. Model MP915-C features a 1.4GHz Celeron M 360 processor, a 40 Gbyte hard drive and a slot-loading CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. Model MP915-P contains a 1.73GHz Pentium M 740 processor, an 80 Gbyte hard drive, a DVD burner and wireless 802.11g connectivity.

Both miniPC models include an Intel 915 GM chipset, 512 Mbytes of DDR2 400/533MHz memory and an Intel GMA900 on-board graphics processor that supports DirectX 9; the graphics processor can simultaneously support two monitors. Both miniPCs also have a pair of USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, Gigabit Ethernet, DVI and S-Video outputs, stereo audio and a built-in microphone. An included adapter cable can convert the S-Video output to Component Video with a Y/Pb/Pr output.

Solution providers can put together complete office solutions that are nearly invisible. The miniPC blends well with any environment, but it’s particularly well-suited for applications where saving space is the main concern, such as medical institutions, stock trading floors and cramped dorm rooms. The miniPC should be paired with a flat-panel display, which leaves even more free space. While 15- and 17-inch displays are the most cost-effective, wide-screen displays are ideal for both work and play.

The miniPC has an aluminum alloy cover that lowers weight, adds ruggedness and helps to better dissipate heat. The unit operates in near-complete silence, as it has no noisy cooling fans; only the CPU has a cooler attached, and the intermittent sound it makes is barely noticeable. One complaint engineers have about AOpen’s miniPC is that two USB ports are not enough—at least one USB port should be accessible from the front of the system. The system requires a USB mouse and keyboard, which end up using both USB ports. Solution providers must recommend either a combination keyboard-mouse that uses only one USB port or use a wireless keyboard-mouse set that requires only one port. Otherwise, a USB hub will be needed.

The AOpen miniPC was tested for performance using PassMark’s PerformanceTest software, which can be used for free by anyone for up to 30 days. The miniPC earned the respectable PassMark score of 290.2. Due to the Consumer Electronics Show, AOpen was unable to complete CRN’s channel program questionnaire in time for publication of this review. Test Center engineers took a look at the last channel survey completed in March of 2005 after being informed that there were no major changes to the program since that time.

The multitier program defines a partner’s level according to business scale, geographical coverage and financial status. National distributors have access to dedicated account managers, and solution providers and OEMs work with dedicated business-development managers. Top-tier national distributors and solution provider partners receive direct technical training, direct RMA service, technical consulting, MDFs and co-op marketing funds. Partners also receive marketing materials. Second-tier partners receive technical consulting services and a special marketing budget. Average margins are between 20 percent and 30 percent.

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