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Common Features And Differences: ECS, MSI, Shuttle And Soyo, Continued

The Mailman Has Arrived: Four Mini-PCs on the Test Bench
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Apart from Soyo, all the other test participants opt for an aluminum frame.

The light metal aluminum dominates among the test participants ; in the models from ECS, MSI and Shuttle, the basic structure and the housing frame are made out of this material. The result is a significantly lower overall weight compared to the hulking PCs from discount warehouses. Aluminum is not always advantageous : owing to the soft material, bored holes quickly expand if they are frequently tinkered with, so that larger sheet metal screws are needed. In order to save space in the housing and to avoid thermal problems, ECS and Soyo use external power units. To give a fair assessment of the volume, the power units would therefore have to be included. There are differences to be observed, particularly in the cooling system of the processor : Shuttle and Soyo use a heat pipe, whereas ECS and MSI opt for conventional CPU coolers.

All four systems have an AGP slot for upgrading in addition to the onboard graphics.

If you want to use your Mini-PC additionally as an audio system, you’d be best served by the MSI model : there is a factory-equipped stereo radio with a display at the front. As an optional feature, a CD/ DVD drive can be ordered, which reproduces normal music and MP3-coded CDs and DVDs - without powering on the PC. Otherwise, ECS, MSI and Shuttle offer 5.1 audio ; Soyo only offers stereo sound and is therefore somewhat lacking compared to the rest of the field. For photo fans, the ECS and MSI models offer a built-in card reader for popular storage formats, thus making the complicated transfer by USB cable redundant.

Another piece of important information about the test : all barebone systems have been equipped with identical hardware (this time ultra- sophisticated components have not been chosen) : Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz (without Hyper-Threading) for 133 MHz FSB, 512 MB DDR400 memory (CL 2.0), a 40 GB hard drive from Maxtor and an ATi Radeon 9700 Pro.

These components are the bare minimum to ensure that a barebone becomes a complete PC.

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