Is this a Mac mini killer we see before us? Look at the price: £222 including VAT. A miniature PC for the cost cutters, surely?
On initial inspection, Aopen's new XC Cube MZ855-II PC looks similar to the Mac mini. They share rounded edges and front-loaded optical drives, and Aopen has even built a smaller version in the obligatory white. However, this stylish little number isn't necessarily for cost-cutters, and is open to a much fuller feature set while providing decent power.
The reason the Aopen XC Cube MZ855-II is so cheap is because when you open the door the cupboard is bare. It's a barebones system, meaning you have to fill it with the components you want. As a result, potential customers are people who like to manually tinker - a million miles away from the Mac mini user.
At 2.6kg and 200x106x320mm, the XC is more Mac medium than mini. Aopen uses its own UX855Gme motherboard, which offers compatibility with Intel's Pentium M processors and 855GME chipset. This is a perfect match for the slinky hardware because of its low power consumption. The box is designed for low noise so should be unobtrusive.
A flip-down panel at the front reveals two USB, two FireWire, SPDIF, mic and earphone sockets, while the back has more USB and FireWire, LAN, SPDIF, serial, parallel, VGA, Coaxial-out and PS2 ports - you can hook the XC to almost anything.
There are only three oversized head screws to deal with, so it's easy to get inside the box - the cover lifts off on all sides. You'll need a steady hand to fit components, though.