AOpen Mini-PC

Info & chat about quiet prebuilt, small form factor and barebones systems, people's experiences with vendors thereof, etc.

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dougz
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AOpen Mini-PC

Post by dougz » Thu Nov 24, 2005 3:19 pm

Very detailed review of the product can be found at http://www.sfftech.com/showdocs.cfm?aid=714

Note: Review goes on for many pages. Navigate to the second page and click the "Print Article" link. View, print and/or save the complete article.

As an admirer of the Mac Mini and the Intel Pentium M processors, I was hoping that this machine would prove to be worthy. Unfortunately, noise is one of the issues that the reviewer had with this machine.
Overall, we have to give AOpen credit for creativity and branching into a market no other PC manufacturer has. The Mini PC lacks the refinement of a Mac mini much like comparing a Chevy to a Cadillac—with the Chevy being the Mini PC. It needs to be updated with ATI’s Xpress 200, high definition audio, SPDIF, a better software bundle, and made quieter to be considered a better competitor among the general consumer, silent PC and home theater PC enthusiasts. If AOpen were to at least fix the noise issues we would have no problems recommending it to users looking for a silent PC or file server—until then we can't recommend it except for the cool factor.

davidstone28
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Post by davidstone28 » Fri Nov 25, 2005 9:31 am

Thanks dougz - been waiting for a review of one of these.

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Post by MikeC » Fri Nov 25, 2005 10:16 am

That is an excellent review. Very thorough. Even without SPL measurements, it gets across the gist of the product well:
It was quiet as far as decibels are concerned but the single blower fan makes a high pitched whine that is very annoying. The whine is very annoying when the system is powered on and the Smart Fan hasn’t kicked in yet and produces upwards to 67dBa [measured very close, I am sure] of noise. When the Smart Fan kicks in the whine gets quieter but it’s still noticeably annoying. There were points during testing where I couldn’t bear the whine any longer and had to turn the system off for a while.
Nicely balanced conclusion, too.

dougz
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Let's hope Apple updates the Mini with Yonah

Post by dougz » Fri Nov 25, 2005 11:20 am

One has to admire how the Mac Mini designers managed to achieve the combination of quiet, cheap, and powerful. As any reader of this site knows, that is remarkably difficult to do.

I've been watching/waiting since the May '05 Pandora announcement, hoping that the product version would be comparable to the Mac Mini. The reviewer concludes, correctly, that the AOpen Mini PC falls short in several key areas.

Let's hope that Apple will deliver an Intel version of the Mac Mini at Mac World in January, as some have speculated.

http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/mobile/dis ... 01853.html
http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=1361
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051115-5572.html

Still looking for a quiet, cheap, and powerful X86 Linux box...
:wink:

davidstone28
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Post by davidstone28 » Sat Nov 26, 2005 6:39 am

A couple of thoughts occurred to me:-

1. How difficult would it be to replace that blower fan with something quieter?
2. Given that the graphics performance is completely hamstrung (eg. no 720p playback), is the price of Aopen mini going to reflect that?

Love the looks, I only wish Aopen had concentrated on other aspects as well.

dougz
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Post by dougz » Sun Nov 27, 2005 7:13 am

davidstone28 wrote: 1. How difficult would it be to replace that blower fan with something quieter?
2. Given that the graphics performance is completely hamstrung (eg. no 720p playback), is the price of Aopen mini going to reflect that?
As to your second point, I'm not sure I understand. The price comparison chart shown on page http://www.sfftech.com/showdocs.cfm?aid=714&pid=2757 shows that the AOpen is no bargain, compared to the Mac. Comparably priced for the Celeron M version, while the Mac is a bargain compared to the Pentium M AOpen. Mac appears to have more configuration options. Advantage: Mac.

Regarding noise, it just may not be possible to do much in this form factor. Given the restricted airflow, one simply has to blast away with a tiny, high-rpm fan when things warm up. The AOpen fan may or may not be an issue. The relative temperature differences between the G4 and Pentium M may require a higher volume of air in the AOpen.

When you think about it, the Mac Mini/AOpen Mini PC form factor is a more challenging thermal environment than a traditional notebook computer, given the tiny volume and limited space for heat sinks.

Finally, the Mac Mini is not always quiet.
One thing that did surprise me about the Mac mini was the noise level, both good and bad. Most of the time the machine is very quiet, basically silent; I expected more regular fan noise given the cramped quarters inside the box. On the other hand, under the heaviest extended loads—ripping a number of CDs in a row while performing other processor-intenstive tasks, for example—the fan ramps up to a surprising volume. Nothing compared to the wind tunnel levels of a crashed Power Mac G5, to be sure, but louder than I expected. Similarly, the Mac mini’s optical drive is about as loud as its PowerBook cousin—it can get noisy when ripping songs in iTunes. (Thankfully, it’s nearly silent when watching DVDs.) http://www.macworld.com/2005/01/news/macminihandson/
Want to hear your Mac mini rev up to Jet Engine decibels? Simply browse any website with a Flash animation, or even move around Google’s new DHTML map service, or, most annoyingly, play World of Warcraft. There’s reasons there are that many air-holes on the back of the box. Are you reading this on a Mac mini and want to test it? Here’s a great page to try, KDDI’s phone catalog at http://www.au.kddi.com/photo_catalog/index.html. Within seconds of bringing that page up in Safari or Firefox on my mini, the fan starts revving up to full speed. As soon as I close it, the fan slows down. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the fan was a bit more quiet, but it’s not. It’s a full-on blast which at night sounds like you have a an electric heater turned on. And I thought my Toshiba laptop got loud sometimes, I had no idea.

It seems a bit extreme - just putting even a little stress on the mini revs up the fan. It doesn’t seem to be for heat, but for processing speed. The more processing power needed (like for interpreted languages), the more the fan revs. My notebook just turns on long enough to cool the system down and then shuts off. The mini, however, turns the fan on whenever it *thinks* it might get hot, and that’s annoying. The direct response to certain events (as opposed to being random) makes me actually avoid certain activities. And when I’m opening tabs in the background from my aggregator, sometimes I can tell when I’ve hit a page with a Flash ad because the mini starts up. I’ll actually stop what I’m doing to find that page and close it quickly, it’s that annoying. http://www.russellbeattie.com/notebook/1008309.html
(Emphasis added to all quotes, above.) I've not personally heard a Mac Mini at full fan speed, but similar user experiences have been noted in a number of articles.

Given Intel's involvement with Pandora, it is disappointing to see that they have not at least equalled Apple's offering. However, it just may not have been possible to equal Apple's thermal engineering with a Pentium M. OTOH, Apple is rumored to have a Yonah version of the Mini ready for January.

dougz
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Brief blurb on Mini PC in "PC World"

Post by dougz » Sun Nov 27, 2005 12:00 pm

http://www.pcworld.com/reviews/article/ ... 46,00.asp#
Powered by a quiet 1.73-GHz Pentium M 740 processor, my $700 test system came with 512MB of DDR2 RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and a slot-fed SuperMulti DVD burner.

Because this was a preproduction unit, we did not run it through our WorldBench 5 suite, but in my informal tests the MiniPC seemed perky.
Article contains an invalid link to AOpen store. (Reported to PC World webmaster.)

davidstone28
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Post by davidstone28 » Sun Nov 27, 2005 12:22 pm

....then the Mini seems rather pointless. Not powerful enough for 720p as well as being expensive.

Other than looks, whats the advantage of something like the Mini over say the Beblu?
http://www.beblu.net/gallery

Vihta
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Post by Vihta » Mon Nov 28, 2005 1:30 pm

davidstone28 wrote:....then the Mini seems rather pointless. Not powerful enough for 720p as well as being expensive.

Other than looks, whats the advantage of something like the Mini over say the Beblu?
http://www.beblu.net/gallery

Well, I do not have the Beblu, but I can say that MiniMac is pretty much waste of money in my opinion. It is very loud, it is very slow and very pretty. I bought two of them when they came out. One for myself and one for my parents. I have already sold mine as it was totally unstable and way too loud and I'm planning to get a PC for my parents for the same reasons. I really haven't had anything but problems with them. Same goes for my friends who have the Mini. It's not even all that neat and tidy after plugging in all kinds of external devices to it to make it useful.

dougz
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Beblu - AOpen pricing - Mac Mini noise - Conclusions

Post by dougz » Mon Nov 28, 2005 4:59 pm

Beblu styling is very attractive but very expensive. I also do not want multiple cases or anything with 40 mm fans. Further, Mini-ITX VIA CPUs and their S3 graphics are quite unimpressive, especially for Linux users. If I go with Pentium M, I definitely do not want to go with Mini-ITX & Intel 915 graphics. YMMV, but Mini-ITX and Nano-ITX are "great ideas" that just do not seem to have worked out well for most users. Niche market and priced accordingly. Linux driver support is spotty, at best.

Missed these comments on projected AOpen pricing ($US620 and $US890). The author's final paragraph seems right to me:
At the projected price point, I personally think AOpen will have a hard time convincing consumers why they should pick the AOpen mini PC over the Apple Mac mini, especially with Apple's uber marketing team.
http://www.sfftech.com/news/index.cfm#2
It is interesting that some don't mind the Mac Mini's noise profile, while others find it very annoying. It may depend on how you use the machine as much as your noise tolerance.

What I think that I have learned from all this it that it is inadvisable to go below the size of the Shuttle boxes. Thermal engineering in Shuttle-sized systems is quite difficult, while maintaining low noise. It is apparently impossible in Mac Mini-sized boxes, at least under high work loads.

Also, given the cost of the newer model Shuttles, it makes sense to see whether one can live with an even larger box. It is a lot cheaper to build a cool and quiet Micro-ATX box than a smaller box. If you give up semi-decent airflow you pay in additional noise and/or additional heat sinking. If you don't have the "real estate" for the heat sinks, you definitely have more noise.

dougz
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Rumor: "Reborn Mac mini set to take over the living roo

Post by dougz » Tue Nov 29, 2005 8:16 am

Apple's Mac mini will be reborn as the digital hub centerpiece it was originally conceived to be, Think Secret sources have disclosed. The new Mac mini project, code-named Kaleidoscope, will feature an Intel processor and include both Front Row 2.0 and TiVo-like DVR functionality.
http://www.thinksecret.com/news/0511macmini2.html
Worth reading. Interesting for home theater enthusiasts.

dougz
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Evesham wins AOpen MiniPC UK exclusive

Post by dougz » Fri Dec 02, 2005 6:18 am

In case anyone still cares, it looks like the UK pricing of the AOpen will pretty much kill it. The Pentium goes for 699GBP and the Celeron goes for 499GBP. The Mac Mini is much cheaper.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/01 ... inipc_win/

dougz
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AOpen pricing insight

Post by dougz » Mon Dec 05, 2005 11:07 am

Right now a $999 list price iBook sells in volume for something closer to $699 and earns a small but positive margin for Apple. The PowerPC G4 in that machine has a typical volume price of around $72, or about 10% of the selling price for the machine. In comparison people like Asus, Quanta and Hon Hai Precision (who make Dell, HP, and IBM gear) pay Intel on the order of $240 per unit for the two year old, 32bit, 1.8Ghz Pentium M predecessor to the "Yonah" line.

http://blogs.zdnet.com/Murphy/index.php?p=479

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Post by acaurora » Mon Dec 05, 2005 9:09 pm

As a 6-month previous owner of a Mac Mini, I will tell you all about the noise. It is S.I.L.E.N.T., at least under normal usage like Internet, Email, etc. However, like the previous posts say, once you launch something that is extremely demanding, that sucker will start skyrocketing. The fan noise is immensely loud, and while (if i remember correctly) the tone is medium-high, it's the wooshing that really bugs me. Trust me guys, this thing can get pretty darn'd loud.

EDIT: AOpen Mini PC Barebones Sighted: http://www.shentech.com/1071565sn.html

Found a la Froogle.

dougz
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AOpen Bare Bones $269

Post by dougz » Tue Dec 06, 2005 10:28 am

EDIT: AOpen Mini PC Barebones Sighted: http://www.shentech.com/1071565sn.html

Found a la Froogle.
Of course, it is a barebones system.

From the same company -
-- Celeron M 360 (1.4 GHz.) - $96
-- 512 MB laptop memory - $52
-- 40 GB laptop drive - $82
-- OS - Linux (free), Win XP Home $100 (depending on source)

A cheap Linux box comes to $499. Not too bad, if the noise is tolerable.

Still, the Mac Mini comes out looking pretty good, given that it is assembled and you also get OS X, a warranty, etc.

I don't know how the respective noise profiles compare. The one reviewer shut down the AOpen because he found the noise objectionable. I don't believe that I've seen anyone go that far with the Mac Mini.

One can always hope for an SPCR review... :wink:

dougz
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Competition to AOpen

Post by dougz » Tue Dec 06, 2005 11:46 am

PC Magazine and C|Net/ZDNet have all said nice things about HP's answer to the Mac Mini/Aopen.

HP beats both on the price (after rebate) & disk size. Shares the AOpen's graphics limitations. PC Mag says "very quiet." C|Net says "quiet."

As the price & feature comparison chart in the PC Mag complete review shows, one has to give up a lot for the small size & quiet operation that notebook components allow.

Still, not bad for $420 (Best Buy, after rebate), given the 160 GB drive & built-in media card slots. The 7220 has dual-layer DVD writer.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1869941,00.asp
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp ... 25&loc=MSY
http://reviews-zdnet.com.com/HP_Pavilio ... ml?tag=nav
http://www.eweek.com/cobrand/0,3223,a=1 ... p=2,00.asp

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Post by acaurora » Tue Dec 06, 2005 12:00 pm

The HP's flaw though - no DVI =[

but I have heard this while at work, and damn this thing really is quiet. Powered by a Samsung SpinPoint 160GB too.

dougz
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Post by dougz » Wed Dec 07, 2005 4:23 am

The HP's flaw though - no DVI
You're right. Looks like they made provisions in the back panel, but chose not to implement. Disappointing. Perhaps they will revisit that decision in future models. Otherwise, very intriguing design for a popularly priced quiet PC.

I do like the design. Better, for my needs, than the AOpen or Mac Mini.

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Post by Mats » Wed Dec 07, 2005 9:33 am

I can come up with two solutions for a cooler bible-PC or what you want to call it. First of all, it's just stupid not to use the case as a heatsink (think Hush). 99% of all computers cooling needs one thing, ambient air. In ATX computers you need fans to get the cooler ambient air to the components and especially the CPU. If you run a low power CPU you don't need fans, but at least a little case volume.

Here they have a cool running CPU which is only 40 mm from the ambient air above but like no empty case volume, and what do they do?
Completely mess up the design! :shock: Here are my suggestions:
1. A new cover made of Aluminium and somehow squeese in some heatpipes from the PM and the i915 to the cover.
2. No heatpipes, but the mobo in the middle of the PC. PM and i915 on the upper side, touching the cover, connectors and RAM facing down. DVD and HD under the mobo.
The heatpipe idea sounds better to me. Possibly better cooling than the second idea, and the current model could be used for it. Still not possible for the average end user though... :roll: and it will probably end up being 10 mm higher, gosh. I'd give it a try if I had one, only need to find heatpipes somewhere. But I don't have one, and I'm not interested! :P
Isn't PM like much faster than the G4 clock for clock? I've seen a MacMini review where they compared it to an AXP 2200+ or something like that.

dougz
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HP 7120

Post by dougz » Wed Dec 07, 2005 12:15 pm

...I have heard this while at work, and damn this thing really is quiet.
Stopped by Best Buy to have a listen. Inaudible at idle, although typically noisy store environment masks noise. Hugely quieter than the machine I use at home.

Special deal -- $389 in-store price. Guess it is not selling. HP has $50 rebate and Best Buy has further lowered the price. Had to defend myself from salesdroid -- spiff?

If it had DVI, I probably would have bought. Right price point, adequate performance (except for video). I can't build something this quiet for the same price.

IMHO, the Intel reference model using the 915 just doesn't compete. DVI is mandatory. So close, but not quite there.

Still, I think HP did a better job (except DVI) than AOpen. Bigger, but quieter and much bigger hard disk, modem (who cares), and media card slots. YMMV.

davidstone28
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Post by davidstone28 » Wed Dec 21, 2005 4:42 am

Trusted's review of the Aopen Pandora / Evesham MiniPC
http://www.trustedreviews.com/article.aspx?art=2284

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