We're waiting to get our hands on the delayed CherryPal PC, an innovative and inexpensive desktop meant to connect you to the cloud, but it's not the only mini PC vying for your attention.
Earlier this month, we reviewed Acer's Aspire X1200 and HP's latest Pavilion Slimline, two relatively full-featured desktops shrunk down to a small form factor. The Acer is the better deal on paper, though it may require some mucking about with drivers and settings before it's fully operational. A few tweaks and a BIOS update were required before we had video and audio running to an HDTV via the system's HDMI connection, for example. And other users have reported similar problems with the HDMI connection along with networking problems. The HP Slimline s3550f doesn't have an HDMI port, so we didn't run into such problems with it. We like it as a budget PC for those where space is at a premium. It's also easy to add to your network with its integrated 802.11b/g Wi-Fi antenna.
Cheaper and smaller than the Acer or the HP is the Asus Eee Box. It costs only $350 and is incredibly compact--it looks like a flatter version of the Mac Mini. Despite its small size, it's no cloud-computing computer but one that serves up an operating system and a hard drive. It's similarly outfitted as the Asus Eee PC Netbook, with an Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of RAM, and Windows XP Home. It also packs Draft N Wi-Fi and Asus's ExpressGate technology--a Linux shell that lets you bypass Windows to browse the Web, instant message, view photos, and make VoIP calls with Skype.
The Dell Studio Hybrid is a bigger, pricier version of the Eee Box. The added size and dollars net you an optical drive and a faster processor, more memory, and a larger hard drive. We liked its overall design, but at a price north of $800, it gets harder to recommend the Studio Hybrid when other SFF PCs costs hundreds less and similarly priced midtower PCs provide considerably more performance.
We've reviewed two systems from SFF PC pioneer Shuttle this year, which sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. At $229, the KPC K-4500 is cheaper than the CherryPal PC. This is no bare-bones kit but a fully featured desktop--minus an optical drive (but plus a photo frame!). It runs Linux, which means you'll likely need to hunt for software codecs and hardware drivers, but you'd be hard pressed to find a cheaper, smaller PC. We'd recommend it to anyone looking for a cheap entry into the world of Linux.
We don't recommend the overpriced Shuttle XPC P2 4800X, however. At nearly 14 times the price of the KPC K-4500, this tiny gaming PC serves up unquestionably high-end components. The thing is, Falcon's Northwest Fragbox 2 delivers only slightly less power and framerates for less than half the cost.
Lastly, we can't end this small-form-factor PC tour with only a passing mention of the Mac Mini. Aside from adding Leopard to it, Apple hasn't touched the Mac Mini since we reviewed it last year. Among SFF PCs, it has the smallest footprint and arguably the best-looking design. It's not the cheapest SFF PC, but then again, with the iLife 08 suite, it serves up the most functionality out of the box.
And, thus, we conclude our tour of small-form-factor PCs.
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