Evesham Mini PC review
Anyone who’s seen a Mac mini will find the Evesham Mini PC strangely familiar. When the former first arrived in the office, we lamented that no PC manufacturer had tried anything so innovative or brave, concluding that there was simply ‘nothing in the Windows world to touch it’.
But in June of this year, AOpen demonstrated a concept PC at the Computex trade show in Taipei, setting tongues wagging throughout the media. It’s taken this long for the final creation to appear, with Evesham taking up the gauntlet to build AOpen’s barebones chassis into a finished product.
Externally, it’s exactly the same dimensions as Apple’s offering, albeit in a slightly less jazzy casing. Inside, though, it’s a very different story. The Mini PC takes advantage of an Intel 915GM-chipset laptop motherboard in order to squeeze so much into a small space. The processing side is looked after by a 2GHz Pentium M 760 processor backed by 512MB of RAM. It’s a perfectly respectable specification for everything from web browsing to photo editing, and we had no complaints ploughing through a day’s work on it – the overall benchmark score of 0.83 is exactly what we’d expect from a comparably specified notebook. Graphics are handled by the distinctly modest Intel GMA 900 chip – you won’t coax any modern 3D titles to run on this particular box.
While you’ll have no issues with everyday performance, there are more space-related compromises here than you’ll find on the average notebook. The back of the unit sees the same shortcomings as the Mac mini: just two USB ports (with no PS/2) means you’ll probably need to invest in a USB hub, adding clutter to your desk, although Evesham will also be offering a wireless keyboard and mouse that require only a single port for £28 exc VAT. There’s a six-pin FireWire port, which will prove handy should you need to boost your disk space or transfer DV footage, although we’d gladly sacrifice it for another USB connection. There’s also Gigabit Ethernet to look after your wired networking needs, but basic 3.5mm inputs and outputs are all you get on the audio front. Thankfully, video outputs are slightly more generous, with the sensible choice of DVI-I and S-Video outputs catering for most displays, including TVs.
The internals are similarly sparse. The picture (see left) shows the Mini PC without its electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding in place – you can clearly see the CPU socket and north bridge chip on the right-hand side. The motherboard lacks Serial ATA, leaving the optical drive and 2.5in Western Digital Scorpio hard disk sharing the same controller. That’s normally a ‘no-no’ when building PCs and will affect performance when both are operating at once. If the drive isn’t running, it’s fine and didn’t affect our benchmarks, but you’re likely to notice a slowdown during program installation, for example.
There’s a single half-height PCI Express socket, for which Evesham is offering a wireless LAN upgrade (add £42 exc VAT to the base price), but apart from that no real room to manoeuvre – there’s only a single SODIMM slot, so you’ll have to remove the existing 512MB stick for any upgrade. Even then, it’s best done by Evesham itself, as the EMI shielding covering the motherboard is hard to re-attach. Other options include an external USB hybrid TV tuner, which will make the most of Evesham’s installation of Media Center Edition 2005 (now included on all its consumer PCs). But even without these options, you’re still getting a very competent PC in a box not much bigger than an external optical drive.