Apr 7 2009 - Small form factor or mini PCs are one of the latest trends for desktop computers. These small computers are able to pack the same amount of power as full size desktop tower PCs but in computers the size of a large shoebox or a pizza delivery box. Add in a processor, memory, hard drive and optical drive and these small systems are all ready to go. Below are a selection of some of my favorite small form factor kits for a variety of different purposes and prices.
Shuttle has always been one of the leaders when it comes to small form factor PC kits. Their XPC series has pushed the limits of what one can do with a very small space. Their latest is the SX58H7 based around the new Intel X58 chipset that supports the new high performance Core i7 processors. This gives it extremely strong performance thanks to the quad core processors and the triple channel DDR3 memory controller. Users will need to supply a graphics card for the system but most buying this $600 kit will likely be doing so anyways. The 500W power supply has no problem but the space will prevent many of the latest graphics cards from fitting inside.
Those looking to get a high performance barebones SFF kit but not spend too much should check out the Shuttle XPC SN78SH7. This system uses a similar case design as the SX58H7 but instead Features the nVIDIA GeForce 8200 chipset for use with Socket AM2+ and AM2 AMD processor including the Phenom. With the kits $300 price tag and the low cost of the AMD Phenom processors, this is a system that can be outfitted for a very low cost. It does feature an integrated GeForce graphics processor but those looking to use it for gaming will want to include a PCI-Express graphics card as well. Sure, ti won't reach the same performance levels as the new Core i7, but it is much more affordable.
One area that many are looking to use a small form factor PC is with a home theater setup and TV. In this area, the AOpen XC-Mini MP45-BDR excels both as a mini-PC and as a home theater PC. The system is extremely small allowing it to be installed in just about any location. It uses an Intel GM45 chipset allowing to use any of the Socket T Core 2 or Celeron processors with it. The integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics may not handle 3D gaming but it is fully capable of decoding high definition DVD. The best part is the MP45-BDR comes equipped with a slim Blu-ray compatible drive for playing back high definition movies on a HDTV. It is also possible to get it configured with a ATSC tuner for fully HTPC capabilities.
It you want an extremely low cost mini PC to be used for a terminal that will be doing internet browsing, email and basic word processing, then the Jetway HBJC200C91-330-B is very affordable. The $170 base platform includes the new Intel Atom N330 dual core mobile processor that allows it to run better than the original single core modes. Add in a 2.5-inch hard drive and a single stick of DDR2 memory and it is all ready to go. The case also has space to add in a slim DVD drive in case you want to have the ability to playback or record CD and DVDs. Be aware that this doesn't really have much processing power or graphics capabilities to handle and high definition video streams.