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Hardly a week goes by it seems without another Mac Mini-style Media Center showing up on our doorstep. The WinBook Jiv Mini manages to pack more features into a smaller package than any small-form-factor (SFF) system we've seen to date. Not much bigger than a standard router, it boasts an impressive array of features, including a slot-loading DVD burner, a media card reader, S-Video and DVI outputs, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and even a built-in TV tuner. At $1,099, it's a not-insignificant premium over the $799 Mac Mini Core Duo or the $899 AOpen MiniPC Duo, but when you factor in the nice design aesthetic and the need for neither an external USB TV tuner nor a media card reader, the WinBook Jiv Mini's appeal begins to make itself known. We recommend it for users eager to pack the most features into the least space.
The WinBook Jiv (pronounced "jive") Mini can be positioned horizontally or vertically. Using the included plastic stand to mount the PC vertically, the Jiv Mini looks like a router and can sit nearly undetected on a desk, a bookshelf, or a home-theater cabinet. Standing vertically, it measures 9 inches high by 7.7 inches deep and is a mere 1.6 inches thick. The system weighs less than three pounds, but that measurement doesn't include the small laptop-style power brick attached to the AC cable.
Features adorn three of the system's four side panels. On its top (when it's standing vertically), you'll find a power button and a small fan vent. The front face features a slot-fed DVD burner, a USB 2.0 port, a mini FireWire jack, and a media card reader that takes Memory Stick, MMC and SD cards (users of older CompactFlash cards are out of luck). On the rear panel is a coaxial cable input for the TV tuner, along with telephone and Ethernet jacks, two more USB 2.0 ports, DVI and S-Video outputs and basic audio in and out connections. The system includes a DVI to VGA adapter for older monitors. That leads to a pretty crowded panel, and we easily could have lost the anachronistic telephone jack.
Inside, the WinBook Jiv Mini serves up1GB of DDR2 RAM and a 100GB laptop hard drive. There are no configuration options, and the Jiv Mini's sealed case makes it virtually impossible to upgrade later, so make sure that these specs meet your needs before you buy.
Like the Mac Mini and the AOpen MiniPC Duo, the WinBook Jiv Mini uses a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300 processor. Its scores on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmarks were equal to those of the AOpen system and 7 percent faster than the Mac Mini's. The Jiv Mini also bested the slightly larger Blueado m5e, which uses a single-core 2.0GHz Intel Pentium M 760, by the same 7 percent. With Intel's 945 integrated graphics providing the video muscle, it's unlikely you'll be doing a lot of gaming on the Jiv Mini. If that's important, we've seen a couple of slightly larger SFF boxes that make good gaming rigs recently: the Maingear X-Cube and the Enpower Media Center Xpress Special Edition.
Packed in with the WinBook Jiv Mini is a standard Microsoft wireless Media Center keyboard and Media Center remote. The software bundle is slim but usable, consisting of NTI CD/DVD Maker Gold and InterVideo WinDVD 5. There are a very limited number of add-ons you can select on WinBook's configuration page, such as a $16 surge protector and a $30 set of no-name 2.1 speakers. The only monitor option costs even more than the system itself, a 37-inch wide-screen Vivitek LCD TV for $1,400.
The WinBook Jiv Mini is covered by a one-year warranty, which includes toll-free tech support from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. No onsite service is offered. The WinBook Web site offers an extensive selection of drive and service pack downloads, as well as a searchable knowledge base and user forum. You can upgrade the warranty to a three-year plan for an additional $159.