Aopen has big goals for a small PC

Convinced its diminutive Mini PC desktop computers will soon be in demand by energy-conscious businesses, AOpen is about to release a second generation of the devices using more powerful processors.

Next week the MP945 series will debut, based on Intel’s Core Duo and Solo processors and using what AOpen calls its Mobile on Desktop (MoDT) technology. The first models in the series, the 915s, were introduced to the Canadian market in November.

The new models, which list for between US$799 and US$999, depending on configuration, are similar in size to the Mac Mini and are aimed at several markets including gaming enthusiasts and those who want to build home entertainment systems.

However, Al Peng, the company’s senior sales director, said businesses looking to cut energy costs will also appreciate the Mini PC, which consumes only 65 watts.

“If we start seeing a barrel of oil hitting $70, $80 or even $100, MoDT is going to play a major, major role in the marketplace,” he said, “especially replacing the entire (IT) infrastructure with much cooler, less power-consumption PCs.”

With the help of Intel, AOpen has fashioned an entire system around MoDT, ranging from motherboards for system builders to build custom boxes to the XC Cube and ePC versions of a complete small PC. In May or June it will release a set-top box around the platform for home theatres, said Peng.

Since the introduction of the Mini PC, some 7,000 to 10,000 units have been sold in North America, he said. He didn’t have specific sales figures for Canada.

IDC Canada analyst Eddie Chan said the company doesn’t break out sales figures for small form factor PCs. While he said they could make sense in some environments, they may also have limited markets.

In homes, for example, “that type of form factor does have appeal.” However, the top-end MP945 would cost $1,200 in Canadian dollars, compared to $945 for a Mac Mini. “It’s going to be a little challenging,” he said.

Among business, buyers “we’re starting to get increasing interest and awareness in thermals and noise,” he said. Both Dell and Hewlett-Packard are now making mini-tower desktop PCs, a nod to the move to increase desktop space, he pointed out. The Mini PC could be seen as akin to a thin client PC, he continued. However, he added, a true thin client has better manageability and security. And, he said, businesses still lean towards a traditional PC for employees.

In his desktop forecasts he doesn’t see sales of mini-PCs ramping up until at least 2009.

The MP945, built around Intel’s 945Gm chipset comes in two models. The top of the line VX, which is ready for Intel’s Viiv platform, comes with Windows XP Media Edition, 1Gb of DDRII memory, a TV out port, a DVD-RW drive, an 80Gb hard drive and either dual core or single core CPUs.

The base X model, which is not Viiv-ready because it is aimed at the corporate market, has a 40Gb hard drive and 512 Mb of memory.

List prices for the MP945 are up over the MP915s, which have less powerful CPUs and stays in the catalogue. Their prices run from US$499 to US$799.

Peng said Toronto-area resellers can get a closer look at the Mini PC and AOpen’s strategy for the platform at the Intel Channel Conference May 25 and May 29.

AOpen wants to convince system builders to shape systems around the platform. Peng says they can be built for space- or low energy-demanding applications such as running displays, kiosks or point-of-sales devices, squeezed into cars or yachts and set on hospital carts. AOpen is designing a server version which it believes can pack four motherboards into the space of one in a 1U housing.

One VAR is trying to convince an Alberta school board to replace thousands of desktops with the Mini PC, he said.

“We have the entire ecosystem,” said Peng, noting that there are now seven MoDT motherboards. The top model is the i975a-YDG, which can carry up to 4Gb of memory and has slots for two video cards. “We are providing a sales kit that lists all the performance for these motherboards to prove this is a gamer’s dream.”

“We tend to believe MoDT will take off very fast.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer. Former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, Howard has written for several of ITWC's sister publications, including Before arriving at ITWC he served as a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times.

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