I don’t intend to buy any new hardware in the near feature, but I’m considering what would be the best choice between a normal PC, a mini PC or a notebook in the hypothetical situation that I’d be buying new hardware today. Currently there is one PC located in my house which all my family members share. It uses an mATX enclosure, but it’s still relatively large compared to a mini PC or notebook, and consumes a bit more energy. I wonder if a mini PC or a notebook would be a good candidate to replace it? It’s used not used for any demanding tasks, mostly web browsing, e-mail and at most a game like The Sims. First, let’s establish a benchmark configuration similar to the current PC.
Normal PC, microATX enclosure
The prices listed for the following configuration are taken from a Dutch Internet store, Azerty Hardware. The system is very cheap, but I spent almost € 40 extra on a separate heat sink (which can cool the CPU passively) and separate fans to lower the noise level. These replace the heatsink and fans which are shipped with the CPU and enclosure respectively. The ventilation holes in the side panel of the enclosure are a problem for low noise levels, so the side panels should be switched. The power supply was chosen for it’s low wattage and it’s quiet performance, a cheaper one could probably be found. The motherboard provides an integrated graphics solution, which can’t handle high-end games but would be capable enough for The Sims. The idle power requirement of this configuration would probably be very low. In this article a similar configuration is tested, which reaches 31 Watt when it’s idle. This is very close to low-power systems using an Intel Atom for example, and the E5200 will have more performance reserves when performance is needed. The low power requirement will also mean that the 300 Watt power supply will be overkill, but unfortunately it’s hard to find a power supply with a lower wattage. The enclosure doesn’t fit motherboards of a larger size than the microATX form factor, so the enclosure is compact, but still relatively large compared to mini PC’s or notebooks. It’s rather cheap and doesn’t look good either.
|CPU||Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200||€ 60,17|
|Motherboard||MSI G41M-FD||€ 65,96|
|Memory||Patriot Signature 2x1GB CL5 PC2-6400 DIMM||€ 18,29|
|Hard disk drive||Samsung EcoGreen F2 HD502HI 500 GB||€ 50,28|
|Optical Disc Drive||Samsung WriteMaster SH-S223F||€ 18,09|
|Enclosure||Cooler Master Elite 341||€ 27,52|
|Power supply||be quiet! Pure Power 300W||€ 34,84|
|Heat sink||Scythe Ninja Mini||€ 28,11|
|Fans||Scythe Slip Stream 800 rpm (2x)||€ 11,02|
Let’s take a look at how much a nettop would cost. The Fit-PC 2 is interesting, which is sold here for a starting price of € 226. It’s very small and I like the simple looks of the enclosure. A hard disk drive is an option, which is good, because I want to place my own hard disk drive (or solid-state drive) anyway. Hard disk drives with a greater capacity often perform better because of their increased platter density, and most nettops are shipped with hard disk drives with a low capacity. It’s slightly cheaper than it’s competitors like the Asus Eee Box or the MSI Wind PC. The Fit-PC2 consumes less energy than other nettops because it uses a combination of the Atom Z510 and the US15W, but this also comes with a serious disadvantage. The US15W uses the GMA 500 graphics chip, which doesn’t play nice with Linux. That prevents the Fit-PC from being a viable option. And gaming isn’t possible on nettops, anyway.
A mini PC would possess more power than a nettop, and a similar small size. AOpen is the only one who offers an interesting barebone solution for a mini PC, the XC mini. The MP45 series is the most recent, and uses the Intel GM45 chipset which is also used in notebooks. The MP45-DR version comes with a remote and built-in IR, if you don’t want to use at as a HTPC you’d better choose the MP45-D which doesn’t include a remote. However, because the MP45-D is hard to find I use the MP45-DR in this example. Because it is a barebone, it is shipped with a motherboard and optical disc drive already installed. All that needs to be done is to add a CPU, memory and a hard disk drive. The prices of the following example configuration were again taken from Azerty. The price is quite high, twice as expensive as normal microATX form factor PC, but the performance of this MP45-DR configuration should probably be close to the microATX sytem, and power consumption would probably be slightly lower. It should also be quiet, according to user experiences.
The price is similar to a Mac Mini which starts at € 599 in The Netherlands. At that price, the Mac Mini doesn’t give you better hardware than this configuration of the MP45-DR. The Dell Studio Hybrid starts at € 499 in The Netherlands, but the version priced at € 609 still has inferior hardware compared to the MP45-DR configuration. The Studio Hybrid is also quite noisy. Another competitor is the transtec SENYO 610, which has a lower entry price of € 399 excluding VAT. It’s supposed to be quiet as well. Just like the Mac Mini and the Studio Hybrid however, it offers less at a similar price to the configuration of the MP45-DR. Interestingly, power consumption figures are given, below 25 Watt while idle.
|Barebone||AOpen XC mini MP45-DR||€ 384,11|
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo P8400||€ 176,56|
|Memory||Transcend JetRAM 2×1 GB DDR2 CL5 PC2-6400 SO DIMM||€ 20,78|
|Hard disk drive||Samsung SpinPoint M6 HM320JI 320 GB||€ 53,47|
I’d want to connect the desktop to a large 20 inch monitor, a full size keyboard and a mouse. With a notebook this can be done too, but because they already include a smaller monitor – 15 or 17 inch – a keyboard with a smaller size and a touchpad this seems like a duplication of effort. Therefore it would be impractical, unless you’d restrict yourself to using the notebook’s monitor and keyboard. For a comparison, let’s take the Dell Studio 17, which would be suitable as a desktop replacement with it’s 17 inch monitor. It has been well received, with this review been quite positive. In the Netherlands one of the cheapest configurations starts at € 599, which will get you a CPU which doesn’t perform very well and a hard disk drive with less capacity, but slightly more memory and a separate video card which is more powerful when compared to the microATX configuration. An LG W2042P-BF 20 inch monitor with ergonomical features, a Logitech MX400 mouse and a Cherry eVolution STREAM keyboard can be bought for less than € 200, when this is added to the price of the mATX system it will cost just over € 500.
|CPU||Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 – Dutch|
|Monitor||17 inch CCFL widescreen, 1440 by 900 pixels|
|Video card||256 MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650|
|Memory||3072 MB 800 MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Hard disk drive||320 GB (5400 rpm)|
A complete microATX PC system costs this:
|Base system||€ 314,28|
|Monitor||20 inch LG W2042P-BF, 1680 by 1050 pixels||€ 151,59|
|Mouse||Logitech MX 400 Performance Laser Mouse||€ 23,66|
|Keyboard||Cherry eVolution STREAM G85-23000||€ 19,17|
Buy the MicroATX system. It barely consumes more power than the nettops, mini PC’s and notebooks, and offers more performance. With some effort and extra cost the mATX system can be very quiet, too. The single disadvantage is it’s size. At this moment I don’ think nettops are attractive. Mini PC’s are too expensive. Notebooks can be a better choice depending on use case. They aren’t much more expensive than a microATX system. If you like the absence of wires, you don’t have a problem with the smaller screen size and if you really need to save space, buy a notebook.