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The new Mac mini PC clone

Because of its low power consumption, the new mini PC would make a great server appliance that you can just leave on indefinitely without a big electricity bill. I know a lot of people who have their own home grown server rooms with electricity bills exceeding $100 per month.

Tomshardware is reporting that Aopen will bring the first Mac mini PC clone to the market this Christmas.  This isn't really a big surprise since Aopen was showing this off at Computex back in May.  The big question was if Aopen could match the price point of the Mac mini at $499, $599, and $699.  It turns out that Aopen will match Apple's price by offering their mini PC for $499 with Windows XP pre-installed.  The Open Source crowd will be even happier with the $399 model with Linux pre-installed.

The new Aopen clone will use the Pentium M "Dothan" chip which is normally used in notebooks branded under the Centrino name.  No detail on the chip speed was given, but the modern Pentium M CPUs currently run anywhere from 1.4 GHz to just over 2 GHz which can match Intel Pentium 4 desktop processor performance in the 3 GHz range.  Since even the performance of the Pentium M 1.4 GHz CPU is faster than the fastest Mac mini running a G4 1.42 GHz CPU, it's likely that the Aopen mini PC will definitely have speed advantage over its Mac counter part.  Apple will of course convert to Intel CPUs next year but they will remain significantly underpowered for the near term.  In January of next year at CES, Aopen will show off a mini PC with a next-generation dual-core Pentium M chip.

The current Mac mini is sorely underpowered with an ATI Radeon 9200 video card with 32 MBs of video memory, but isn't clear is what kind of video accelerator the new mini PC will use.  While an ATI Radeon 9200 may be completely suitable for normal computing office or server tasks, it won't be able to power current generation 3d video games.  The Pentium M CPU with its low 25 watts of thermal dissipation is what makes it possible to put a high performance CPU in to such a small computer, but it will be interesting to see if Aopen can squeeze in a power-hungry high-end video card without overheating the system.

Because of its low power consumption, the new mini PC would make a great server appliance that you can just leave on indefinitely without a big electricity bill.  I know a lot of people who have their own home grown server rooms with electricity bills exceeding $100 per month.  I can think of some immediate applications for this mini PC like:

  • Add a few large USB 2.0 external hard drives and you've got a great UPnP multimedia Ethernet storage server for videos and music.
  • I can also envision myself running M0n0wall or IPCop.  M0n0wall is a FreeBSD appliance and IPCop is a Linux appliance.  Both packages allow even novices with minimal BSD and Linux knowledge to run a robust firewall appliance with remote access VPN capability and the best part is that both are free.
  • Keep a personal web and mail server running so you can access your files from anywhere on the Internet.
  • Perhaps a LAMP or ASP.net server depending on your preferences.

I've been looking forward to a small, silent, and low-power desktop computer that doesn't sacrifice performance.  The Aopen mini PC looks to be the start of a new class of desktop computers.  I can't be certain if I'm going to buy one of these things this Christmas, I'm waiting to see if the actual product will live up to expectations.  I'll definitely be keeping my eyes on the $399 Linux version.