AOpen shows Intel’s answer to Mac mini

AOpen Inc. is showing off at the Computex trade show in Taipei a small desktop PC that closely resembles Apple Computer Inc.’s Mac mini except for the use of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system and Intel’s Pentium M processor.

The AOpen product, which is modeled on its XC Cube product line and is being shown at Intel Corp.’s booth, is part of a larger effort backed by Intel to promote the use of the Pentium M processor in small PCs designed for living rooms and entertainment centers, an Intel spokeswoman said. The company is working with several PC manufacturers and vendors on similar PCs, which should be released later this year, she said.

The Mac mini drew favorable reviews from Apple fans for its simple design and compact chassis when it was unveiled in January at Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco, Calif. It costs just US$499 and isn’t much bigger than a standard CD.

AOpen’s existing XC Cube PCs are larger than the Mac mini, but the company has been working on shrinking its Pentium M-based motherboards to enable smaller and smaller cube-sized PCs, AOpen executives said earlier this month. AOpen makes motherboards and PCs for other manufacturers but also sells PCs under its own brand name.

AOpen also demonstrated the upcoming PC, which measures 165 millimeters by 165 mm by 50 mm, in its booth at Computex, according to Irene Wang, a sales manager at AOpen, who attended the show on Wednesday. That makes it almost the same size as the Mac mini, which measures 165 mm by 165 mm by 51 mm.

The version displayed in AOpen’s booth actually uses an Intel Celeron M processor running at 1.3GHz and has 256MB of system memory. The Celeron M processor is based on the same architecture as the Pentium M, but features half as much cache memory and runs at slower clock speeds. It is primarily used in budget notebooks.

Versions of AOpen’s machine with 40GB or 80GB hard disk drives will be available and the machine will go on sale in September, Wang said.

The sales manager conceded the machine draws its design influence from Apple’s Mac mini, but she said she thinks Apple has been expecting such look-a-like products.

“I think they have been expecting someone to come in and enlarge the market,” she said. “At first we were kind of worried about [showing it at Computex], but it’s our technology inside and we want everyone to know it.”

The Pentium M’s power characteristics make it much more suitable for entertainment applications than are the Pentium 4 or new Pentium D processors, which are powerful but require sophisticated and noisy cooling technology. McDonald’s group has been given the freedom to choose chip designs from all areas within Intel to develop products for the digital home, and Pentium M-based PCs are very interesting candidates for multimedia entertainment PCs, he said in an interview in February.

Updated 5:40PM 06/01/05: Added comments from AOpen sales manager and additional product details.

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