Blueado Mini m5e
Boutique computer manufacturer Blueado focuses on Media Centers, producing several models aimed at high-end home-theater customers. Most of its systems are large, rack-style boxes, but the $1,500 Blueado Mini m5e is a small-form-factor (SFF) PC that's roughly the size of two Mac Minis stacked end to end. If you're looking for a very small, sleek home-theater PC with versatile audio connections, you'll find the m5e a unique entry in the Media Center market. Still, the system makes some unusual choices, from using a Pentium M CPU, usually found in notebooks, to including component video outputs, but not DVI. In the end, the Blueado Mini m5e is a good choice for a narrow range of users with specific A/V needs, but casual Media Center users can get away with spending far less than $1,500 for better performance and more features.
The Blueado Mini m5e uses a small-form-factor (SFF) case from AOpen that measures 12.75 by 4.5 by 8 inches and includes a socket 479 motherboard for Intel Pentium M processors. The AOpen logos are covered up by Blueado stickers, which isn't the slickest look in the world, but is one we've seen on other systems, such as the. The case is tiny compared to anything this side of a Mac Mini, but we question its overall quality (particularly at its price). The chassis has a cheap, plastic feel to it, and the front faceplate fell off in our hands the first time we handled the system, but it snapped back on with no further trouble.
The system's front panel is dominated by a large power button and a double-layer DVD burner. Behind two small front-panel doors are a media card reader; audio jacks, including S/PDIF; two USB 2.0 jacks; and both six-pin and four-pin FireWire connections. The back panel is almost impossibly crowded for such a small PC--so much so, in fact, that several connections have been bumped off to a video dongle. Besides serial PS2 and VGA ports, you'll find a six-jack audio connection that covers S/PDIF, mic inputs, and 5.1-channel surround sound. The generously illustrated manual shows how to hook up a variety of different types of speakers.
Aside from the standard VGA connection, video outputs are accessed via an external dongle. With it, you can output your video through composite, S-Video, or component jacks (your only HDTV option). DVI is not supported, which is problematic if you want to hook it up to a large LCD monitor, but the company promises to add it in the m5e's successor.
One of the two rear USB 2.0 jacks is taken up with a wireless networking adapter; the other is intended for the included Microsoft Media Center keyboard, leaving you out of luck if you have additional USB devices to connect and don't want them hanging off the front panel.
Inside the case, there's a 200GB hard drive that many heavy DVR users will find inadequate, plus you'll find 1GB of RAM and a single-tuner Hauppauge TV tuner card. The tiny case precludes much expansion, although one RAM slot and a single half-height PCI slot are empty.
As expected, the 2.0GHz Intel Pentium M 760 CPU didn't fare too well on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmarks. Like another recent Pentium M system, the Shuttle XPG G5, it scored 30 percent below the 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ in the Apple Mac Mini Core Duo, with its 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo. With only onboard video, the Blueado Mini m5e isn't capable of playing much more than the handful of built-in casual games included as Media Center plug-ins.(another SFF Media Center), and 20 percent below the
Running, the Blueado Mini m5e doesn't include much in the way of bundled apps but does include some custom Media Center software. When you order a system, the company asks you via a Web form about your local cable company and what kind of A/V connections you plan to use. The Blueado Mini m5e arrives preset to those preferences, which you can change later, and they are displayed on a My Blueado page within the Media Center menu, a unique and useful feature that you won't find on mainstream Media Center PCs.
The other custom MCE plug-in is Blueado's One Button TV service, which can record a "series" of related TV programs with one click of the mouse. The initial package was set up for the NCAA basketball tournament, and future updates are promised to cover everything from the NHL to the NFL. The idea sounds promising, but we were too late to try it for recording basketball games, and future updates have not yet been released, so we haven't seen it in action.