AOpen releases new Pentium M-based desktop

AOpen's new Pentium M-based desktop is the company's smallest cube-sized PC to date.

The words "quiet" and "small" usually aren't associated with desktop PCs, but a new desktop system from AOpen weighs less than many notebook PCs and promises to never drown out a movie or video game.

The AOpen XC Cube Mini MZ855-II is the latest small desktop from AOpen, a Taipei-based PC company that manufactures PCs for larger vendors and also sells systems under its own brand name. It uses Intel's Pentium M processor, normally found in notebook PCs, to power a desktop system that operates at a fraction of the size and noise specifications of most desktop PCs.

With the latest generation of Pentium 4 desktop processors from Intel capable of consuming up to 115 watts of power during peak operation, sophisticated and often noisy cooling fans are needed to prevent the inside of the PC from melting into an expensive pile of sludge. The noise from those cooling fans is hard to avoid, especially if the PC is being used to replay a video or to work in a quiet office. Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon 64 desktop chips are a little cooler but can still reach peak power consumption figures of up to 89 watts while processing demanding applications.

However, Intel's Pentium M processor consumes only 27 watts during peak operation and still delivers performance comparable to Pentium 4 processors. Intel is eventually expected to make a derivative of the Pentium M the centerpiece of its processor architecture for desktop, notebook, and server chips due to its power-friendly design.

For now, PC users looking for an inexpensive yet quiet system can take advantage of the Pentium M's performance in systems such as AOpen's XC Cube Mini. It measures 7.75 inches wide by 4.25 inches high by 12.75 inches long (19.7cm by 10.8cm by 32.4cm) and weighs about 4 pounds (1.8kg). The noise produced by the XC Cube Mini will not exceed 27 decibels, even when working on demanding applications, said Al Peng, senior director of AOpen's Business Integration Division.

The XC Cube Mini is half the size of the other Pentium M-based Cube desktops in AOpen's product line, Peng said. It uses Intel's 855GME chipset that features integrated graphics technology, he said.

AOpen is selling a bare-bones version of the XC Cube Mini for US$449 that comes without much of a PC's basic hardware. The idea is that a PC enthusiast could purchase a Pentium M processor, hard drive, and memory chips at retail and install them into the system on their own, an AOpen spokeswoman said. The bare-bones system does include a motherboard and a choice of optical drives.

Complete systems for less confident PC buyers will also be available, the AOpen spokeswoman said. Pricing and configuration information was not immediately available.

AOpen and other PC companies such as Shuttle Inc. have been selling so-called "small form factor" desktop PCs for some time.

Earlier this year, Apple Computer unveiled the Mac Mini, a pint-size desktop PC that sells for $499. The Mac Mini is 6.5 inches square, according to Apple's Web site. It features the basic computing components, such as a processor and a hard drive, but does not ship with a monitor or keyboard for that price.

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Tom Krazit

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