The market for small form factor PCs is only growing in popularity, and these offer a very nice alternative to a bulky desktop or tower system. Size is only part of the allure, and overall cost and basic aesthetics also figure into the buying equation. These cube-shaped systems offer a highly integrated design that naturally lowers their price quite significantly, and the overall design has moved towards more of a "digital box" mentality that fits more with the lifestyle of a new breed of computer buyers. By combining a small form factor PC with a 15" LCD, you get a low-cost, compact system that will turn some heads. Even the ambient noise angle has become popular, and these diminutive systems and their low-wattage power supplies are certainly quieter than the standard tower.
The initial wave of small form factor PCs utilized low-cost chipsets, and were more concerned with size and cost than overall performance. This has changed with the newer models, and we're seeing compact systems with high-end Intel chipsets, dual-channel DDR, Serial ATA, Firewire and basically all of the accoutrements of a high-end desktop PC. A great example of this shift is the AOpen XC Cube EZ65, which features the powerful and flexible i865G chipset, along with a host of high-end features and expansion capabilities. This is a new world for compact computers, and adds high-end performance and options to the already-impressive line of features.
The AOpen XC Cube EZ65 is built around the Intel 865G chipset, which provides a powerful yet flexible platform solution for many different user levels. The power comes from the chipset's support for dual-channel DDR400 and Hyper-Threading, and up to 800 MHz Intel processors, while the flexibility checks in with both dedicated AGP and integrated Intel Extreme 2 graphics, along with a host of onboard features like Serial ATA and Gigabit LAN. The XC Cube EZ65 takes these and creates a very attractive mini-PC with desktop-level performance and features.
The AOpen XC Cube EZ65 features an enamel metal housing combined with a plastic faceplate and the overall aesthetic is one of smooth edges and a very current look and feel. The outer housing is a one-piece design, and is attached via thumb-screws for easy access. The XC Cube EZ65 is also available in both white and black models.
The faceplate includes three external doors, which allow access to the DVD/CD device, floppy drive and external connectors. The DVD/CD drive bay is hinged, and uses the drive tray to open and close, while the floppy and connector doors feature push-locks that click into place when closed, and drop open when depressed. These all worked quite well, although care should be taken to line the DVD/CD drive up to the mountings, so that it matches up directly to the external eject button.
The front-mounted external connectors include two USB 2.0 ports, speaker and microphone jacks, a S/PDIF OUT port, and both 6-pin and 4-pin IEEE1394 Firewire ports. These are all easily accessible through the bottom case bay, and can be easily hidden when not in use. The faceplate also includes a large silver ON button (which lights up blue when active) and a hard drive LED. The only thing missing is a reset button, although these are becoming less popular with newer case models.
The back of the XC Cube EZ65 features a color-coded set of connectors, with a few extras that may surprise you. These include PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, VGA and S-Video out, Coaxial RCA port, an IEEE1394 Firewire port, LAN connector, two USB 2.0 ports, and line/mic/speaker and S/PDIF IN audio ports. This is a whole lot more than we expected with a mini-PC like the XC Cube EZ65, and this can easily function as a compact multimedia system.