More Solid-State Storage
Even with an 80 GB SSD populating our motherboard’s mSATA slot, more NAND-based storage couldn’t hurt, right?
We’re using a 500 GB Western Digital Scorpio Black drive spinning at 7200 RPM for our iMac price comparison. But we’d much rather be launching apps from a 300 GB SSD 320. So, that’s what we installed in the one spot available for 2.5” drives.
Installing Intel's 300 GB SSD 320
Screwed into a caddy and secured, the 300 GB SSD 320 ensures we have plenty of space for Windows and anything else we might want to install.
An 8x DVD Writer From Sony
An 8x DVD+/-RW drive from Sony is both fast enough and functional enough to keep us happy. It’d be nice to have Blu-ray read capabilities as well, but that’d nearly double the price of our selection.
Of course, if you want to spend some of what you’d save on an iMac, splurging on a Blu-ray combo drive for less than $60 isn’t an entirely bad idea.
A Precise Fit Is The Key To A Pro Finish
Slid into place and secured by an included bracket, Sony's optical drive integrates cleanly with the rest of our all-in-one.
Truly, one of the most important factors in our decision to present this little project is an end result that we’d be happy to have on our desk at work or school. A neatly tucked-away DVD burner helps keep the system’s lines clean as you look at it head-on.
Familiar Bits And Pieces, Just Smaller
The completely built-up platform consists of copious memory, an 80 GB mSATA SSD 310, a mini-PCI Express wireless card, and a Sandy Bridge-based processor—in our case, a Core i5-2400S, after all of our testing was said and done.
Closing the chassis back up is as easy as it was to open. There are five screws holding the plastic back onto the body. Simply mate the two sides together, make sure everything snaps into place firmly, and re-attach the screws.
First, though, be sure to connect the power lead for the fan attached to the plastic lid. There’s an open header on the motherboard you can use.
An I/O-Rich Back Panel
Here’s what the bottom of chassis looks like closed up, and with the Intel DH61AG motherboard installed. In addition to the two USB 2.0 ports on the side of enclosure, the platform itself exposes an additional two USB 2.0 ports, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, 1/8” audio connectors, gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, eSATA, and DVI display output.
The left-most connector is for power. Without room for an internal power supply, you’re forced to lean on an external brick. Fortunately, cooperation between Intel and its Thin Mini-ITX ecosystem partners means that all-in-ones and their building blocks are being designed with the same power sources, thermal ceilings, and cooling solutions in mind. You shouldn't find Thin Mini-ITX motherboards without that vital connector. Otherwise, you'd have no way to get this thing up and running.
Securing The Stand
Mounting the Loop enclosure’s stand is a simple matter of sliding four large cut-outs over similarly-sized screw heads and sliding the stand down.
One Last Step...
From there, thread in a fifth and final screw to lock the stand into place. It tilts up and down, but doesn’t swivel side to side (it doesn’t adjust vertically, either). So, you’ll need to arrange the all-in-one facing right at you and tilt into the best possible viewing position.
Taking Pride In A Sharp-Looking Build
I’m not going to sit here and try to claim that these first-gen Thin Mini-ITX-based all-in-ones are as polished as iMacs. Their cameras are inferior, they don’t include AMD’s mobile graphics processors (and are consequently unsuitable for gaming), and their speakers are pretty weak. Moreover, the fact that Apple supports its entire platform is a boon to folks unwilling to crack their systems open and troubleshoot hardware.
However, our alternative isn't at all bad. Nothing about it feels cheap or hacked together. And we have a lot more flexibility over what goes into it than Apple offers. Processing, memory, storage, and networking are all fairly tunable to suit your budget or performance desires. Access to a more potent GPU would be the one thing we wish we could change.