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Will Intel open Pandora's box with Mac Mini twin?

Chipmaker shows off AOpen prototype in Taiwan; boxes could hit store shelves later this year. Photos: Concept PC pays homage to Mac Mini

Taking another crack at the living room, Intel is again showing off a concept PC that closely resembles Apple Computer's Mac Mini.

The chipmaker unveiled the prototype with AOpen on Tuesday at the Computex trade show in Taiwan.

The squarish metallic box, originally code-named Pandora, will be released under AOpen's XC Cube product line and is similar to one revealed by the chipmaking giant at its Intel Developers Forum in March.

AOpen mini PC

Intel often contracts with smaller PC manufacturers to establish prototypes and reference designs. Sometimes the designs succeed--often they don't get much farther than trade shows.

The AOpen prototype is one of several designs on display at Computex this week, said Intel spokeswoman Barbara Grimes. Intel is working with multiple computer and device manufacturers on similar designs and expects the products to come to market later this year, she said.

Taiwan-based AOpen, an affiliate of PC maker Acer Group, mostly serves as a contract manufacturer for other companies. It is expected to sell Pandora systems starting around September, according to PC enthusiast site Silent PC Review.

The new design lets Intel take another run at the entertainment PC, heralded at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2004. The first generation, however, didn't sell well. So this year, Don MacDonald, a vice president with Intel's home product group, has said that future living room units will be smaller, more stylish and likely less costly. Analysts have said Intel will need to keep production and software bundle costs down if it is to compete with Apple's $499 box.

According to Silent PC Review, AOpen's Pandora device has a slot load CD drive and power button in the front, along with three USB ports, a keyboard hookup and a serial port in the back for hooking into displays. The computer also has internal wireless networking connectors and uses a single blower fan to keep it cool.

AOpen is best known for its bare-bones tower systems, but it also makes smaller desktops, including a cube-shaped product family called XC Cube.

The computer maker also announced a partnership with Intel on the ATX Pentium M i915Ga-HFS. The hybrid motherboard is based on a socket 479 Pentium M (Dothan) CPU, Intel's 915G desktop chipset and ICH6 I/O controller. The motherboard is a likely candidate for the Pandora product line, AOpen said.

AOpen also said it is making PC motherboards based on Intel's latest Pentium D processors with 945G and 945P chipsets. The two motherboards are AOpen's first to support dual-core CPUs. Both motherboards can be installed with Pentium 4 processors with a front side bus running at 1066/800/533MHz.