- Compact and quiet
- features a wide range of external connectors.
- Comparatively slow
- essentially no internal expansion
- limited 3D graphics.
Jadetec's MicroPC4 offers a fully featured PC in a very compact casing. This allows you to use a PC in situations where a large beige box isn't practical or desirable, such as your living room. Unfortunately, reduced size also means reduced performance, and the MicroPC4 isn't likely to replace the gamer's PC or console, or cut it as a heavy-duty computing platform.
We've reviewed similar devices before, although from different vendors. To fit a PC into a case this size, a number of compromises have to be made. First, internal expansion capabilities are severely limited. You can only really add more memory and change the hard drive inside the PC. There are no PCI or AGP slots, and certainly no more media bays. Everything you want to add to the MicroPC4 has to be external.
The MicroPC4 compares reasonably well to some similar form factors, such as the Mini-ITX from VIA, which produces a larger PC with slightly better expansion capabilities. It has a single, variable speed fan that, although not silent, shouldn't be audible above a game or a movie. An external power supply helps to keep the case size down and reduce its cooling requirements.
The case design is an improvement on previous models, since all the connectors are either on the front or rear panels -- the sides of the MicroPC4 are (almost) unadorned. And what a collection of connectors you get: four USB ports (the pair on the front panel are USB 2.0); VGA, S-Video and composite video outputs; two four-pin IEEE 1394 ports; two PS/2 ports; parallel and serial ports; audio input and output; S/PDIF digital audio output; V.90 modem and two Ethernet ports -- one 10/100Mbps, one 1Gbps.
There's also a Type II PC Card slot on the left-hand side of the unit, which allows you to connect a wireless network adapter, or perhaps a solid-state media adapter. With this range of connectors the MicroPC4 can be used with any form of Internet connection, just about any type of display and a massive range of external peripherals -- even without any internal expansion capabilities.
There's an infrared port at the front of the MicroPC4, which can be used with a suitable keyboard and mouse, and you get a driver for this purpose on the included driver CD. We were supplied with such a keyboard for our review, but this isn't included in the price. It could also be used with a remote control and suitable software if you're using the unit as a home entertainment centre.
The MicroPC4's specification is quite average. Our review unit was fitted with a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 with 256MB of PC2100 DDR SDRAM. The memory is on SODIMM modules -- the ones used in notebooks -- and there are only two slots, one of which is occupied. The SiS 650 includes an integrated graphics module that grabs up to 64MB of system memory for its purposes -- so don't expect good 3D performance from this system. Our review sample came configured to use a 100MHz memory clock, even though PC2100 memory requires a 133MHz clock. A change of BIOS settings soon cured this, but check how your unit is configured to get the best performance.
The hard drive is IBM's TravelStar 40GNX, a 40GB 5,400rpm notebook unit. Its Ultra ATA/133 interface is just as fast as an average desktop system's, although you may find 7,200rpm drives in many desktop PCs these days. There's also a notebook-style removable media drive -- our system had a CD-ROM drive, although CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives are available at extra cost.
Despite what seems like a reasonable specification, this isn't a particularly quick system. Its Business Winstone 2001 score of 35.3 is below what we'd expect from a full-size desktop PC with the same processor and memory, as is its Content Creation Winstone 2002 score of 23.3. We suspect that a combination of the SiS 650 chipset and notebook hard drive are responsible for this -- when compared to a notebook of equivalent specification, it doesn't look so bad. As you'd expect from a machine without a dedicated 3D accelerator, games-based benchmarks produce poor results: a 3DMark 2001 score of 1,236 is around 10 per cent of the desktop state of the art, but compares reasonably well with other systems featuring low-end graphics chipsets. There's enough power here to do basic tasks like email, browsing and media playback, but 3D gaming is really out of the question.
Ignoring the form factor, at £899 (ex. VAT) the MicroPC4 isn't particularly good value for money. You can get a much more capable PC, supplied with a monitor and keyboard, for around the same price from a number of vendors. However, such a PC will be bigger and noisier than the MicroPC4. If you're planning on using this system as a home entertainment centre, replacing your DVD/CD player, it'll do just fine.