The Mini PC is less of a Mac Mini rip-off than its predecessor. It's the same approximate shape and size but is now finished in black. The sides have a tasty brushed-metal finish, but the glossy, flexible black lid won't appeal to everyone -- many may preferred an entirely brushed-metal look, or if the lid's colour was a more extreme contrast.
The front of the PC has a silver eject button, a bevelled Evesham logo and a translucent, elongated power button. This emits both blue and red LED lights, but the most impressive touch is a row of blue LEDs to either side of the button. These throb like the lights on KITT from the Knight Rider TV series as files are accessed from the hard drive. The effect is especially striking in the dark -- you won't want to hide the Mini PC away.
There's a range of input/output buttons round the back of the PC. Here you'll find DVI and S-Video outputs, an Ethernet port, a 6-pin FireWire port, a miserly two USB ports and three discrete audio ports. There's also the curious addition of an aerial socket for the integrated hybrid TV tuner.
The Mini PC continues where its predecessor left off by incorporating components designed originally for laptops. A range of processor options are available depending on which model you buy. The cheapest in the range, the standard £699 Mini PC, comes with a 1.66GHz Intel Core Solo (single-core) chip, while the fastest retails for £899 and uses a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo chip.
Our specific review sample, the Mini PC Plus, sits a notch down from the top end. It comes with a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor and 1GB of RAM, which is the maximum amount supported. These components are marshalled by an Intel 945GM chipset, which includes an Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics adaptor -- it's virtually useless for gaming, but fine for just about everything else, including movie playback.
Audio support comes courtesy of the chipset. The Mini PC supports 7.1 sound via its three discrete audio ports and includes an optical digital S/PDIF-enabled line-in port. Evesham provides a range of 2.1 (3-channel) speaker options at the time of purchase, but if you're serious about sound and have the space and inclination to install a 7.1-channel system, we suggest you do so -- the Mini PC is more than capable of handling one.
The Mini PC doesn't have much in the way of expandability. Trailing from an aerial socket at the back is a hybrid TV tuner, wedged into the PC's sole mini PCI slot. This can receive or record digital Freeview and analogue TV programmes, though you can't watch and record programmes simultaneously. It's theoretically possible to add a second hybrid tuner to one of the system's USB ports if you want to watch and record programmes simultaneously, but given the fact there are only two USB ports, you'll probably want to invest in a USB hub before you do so.
The Mini PC lets itself down slightly in the all-important area of storage. It ships with a 100GB hard drive as standard, though this is upgradeable to a 120GB drive for an extra £10. For the sake of not running out of space, we'd recommend you spend the extra money. Evesham, perhaps aware of the lack of storage, provides a range of options for external storage at the point of purchase.
Software is pretty thin on the ground, but the essentials are provided. The Mini PC ships with Windows XP Media Center Edition, which is almost identical to XP Professional Edition but has enhanced multimedia file support. It gives you access to all your movies, live and recorded TV programmes, pictures and music from one easy-to-use interface.
Evesham also includes Bullguard Antivirus with 90 days of free updates, which is a nice touch. The package is rounded off with a copy of Roxio Easy Media Creator 7 Basic DVD, Microsoft Works 8 and a 30-day free trial of Orange broadband. You get a one-year carriage and return warranty plus two additional years of return-to-base cover -- which is better than the Mac Mini's one-year standard warranty.
It would be churlish to dismiss the Mini PC as a performance lightweight. Certainly, the lower-specced £699 model doesn't provide much power, but it does everything asked of it without batting an eyelid.
Our review sample, complete with its 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor, racked up some fairly impressive performance figures. It achieved 3,232 in PCMark 2005, which is on par with many mid-range laptops. It's slightly disappointing that you can't add any more than 1GB of RAM, but this specification works just fine for most users.
Don't try to run games, though. Its integrated GMA 950 graphics card will baulk at even the merest prospect of running modern 3D titles. It'll cope fine running Solitaire or Pinball, and HD movies, but that's about it. It racked up a 3DMark 2006 score of 141, and sputtered through F.E.A.R. at an asthmatic rate of 2fps.
The Mini PC redeems itself for its lack of 3D performance, thanks to its fairly quiet operation. It's not as ridiculously quiet as our ultimate quiet PC, but you'll need to listen carefully to detect the hum of its internal cooling fans when running everyday applications.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield