Esaw – Mini 110 review

very small and quiet desktop PC
Photo of Esaw – Mini 110
£577 (including Windows XP Professional)

The Esaw Mini 110 is a complete PC, crammed into a case the size of a slightly longer than usual 5.25-inch CD drive. It manages to squeeze a 1.4Ghz Intel Celeron M processor, up to 1GB RAM in two PC3200 DIMM slots, a slim 2.5-inch hard drive and a slimline optical drive into the tiny case, making it one of the smallest PCs around today, and probably the most complete of its kind in terms of features.

The model supplied by Esaw for review had a standard CD drive, 512MB of low profile RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Specifications up to 1.8Ghz with 100GB hard drive and a DVD-RW drive are also available.

The all-metal case is finished in satin black and is very sturdy, although we’d have liked to see a back panel that actually fitted the motherboard being used. The review model had some large gaps in the back which were clearly designed to house other ports. Also, some plastic buttons wouldn’t have gone amiss on the front to tidy up the power and reset switches.

Of course, the first thing we did was to take the case off so we could marvel at how Esaw managed to cram such a lot into such a small space. The innards pull out from the case in one piece from the rear, revealing that the optical drive and hard drive are mounted on a special platter that plugs directly into the motherboard. Indeed, the only cable in this entire case is for the single fan which cools the CPU. This fan is very quiet in operation, but noticeable if you’re sitting by the machine.

Ports include a parallel port, a serial port, VGA, 100Mbps Ethernet, audio line out, 12v DC input port and two USB 2 ports at the rear, plus a further USB 2 port at the front along with Firewire (IEEE 1394), headphone socket and microphone input.

The BIOS is supplied by Phoenix and supports all the usual options like booting from a USB device (including the Mandriva Globetrotter that we reviewed recently).

Esaw had installed Windows XP Professional for the review, although this adds to the price of the base unit. As standard the Mini 110 is supplied without any OS, so we checked hardware compatibility with Linux using a Mandriva Globetrotter, since Linux might be a popular option on this PC. We found no problems at all with this. In use, both Linux and Windows XP ran well. Graphics were responsive for everyday tasks, although there are limits to this performance; you wouldn’t want to use this as a gaming machine.

In fact, benchmarking results aren’t really what this PC is about. The size is what matters here. The case itself is exactly the right size to fit into a standard 5.25-inch drive bay; so long as there is sufficient clearance behind it (it’s about 2 inches longer than a conventional CD drive). This means that one or more of these PCs can be installed inside a tower PC case, as a test or development PC which has dedicated resources. Used like this, it would compete with VMWare or VirtualPC. Its small size means that it’s also portable.

This isn’t really a PC suitable for use as a home media centre. Although it looks OK, it’s really not a suitable shape to sit on top of other equipment like DVD players, and it doesn’t have other useful features like an infra-red port, although one could be added. Additionally, there is no internal expansion, so extras like TV cards will need to be USB devices, plus there’s no composite or S-Video output, so your TV needs to have a VGA port.

Possible uses for the Mini 110 include being put to use as a router or file server for a small business, or a permanent installation, perhaps mounted under a table with a mounting bracket or connected to an LCD projector in a boardroom. Its size means that it could be positioned alongside a ceiling-mounted projector and operated with a remote control or wireless keyboard and mouse, and its low power consumption and low noise mean that it could be left on without becoming much of an environmental problem.

Company: Esaw

If what you're after is something cool to stick next to your TV, give it a miss, but this is a great solution for a variety of more specialised applications where space, noise or power consumption are issues.