The Inquirer-Home

EPoX MiniME eX5

Review Mini-ITX ‘barebone' System
Tue Oct 21 2003, 10:13
FOLLOWING ON from the exclusive pictures we posted earlier (see EPoX ‘Mini Me' tips up for photo shoot) here's our hands-on impression of this interesting ‘mini-barebone' SFF (Small Form Factor) baby. As we said in our preview of the EPoX MiniME eX5, the ‘Mini-ITX' mainboard upon which this system is based features Intel's i865 core logic, and so we used an Intel Pentium 4 3GHz processor for our testing.

The first interesting thing of note we found was, that with the current BIOS version on the pre-production sample that EPoX sent us, the MiniME eX5 would actually slightly ‘underclock' our test CPU… our ‘3GHz' P4 should operate at 2.999 GHz but we found that the actual frequency was 2993.20 MHz. We suggest that this is because the the system BIOS sets the FSB frequency at only 199.55 MHz, but we reckon that (if EPoX deems it necessary), this should be easily fixed in the production BIOS.

alt='epox_front_big'

I reckon the MiniME eX5 is a little bit smaller than Shuttle's similarly-sized PCs, and because of the compact nature of the chassis it means that during assembly there's little space to move everything around comfortably; so although assembling the system was very easy, it may take you a little time to ensure all the components are integrated together properly.

One thing that is very easy to assemble is the bespoke cooler that provides thermal control for both the CPU and the mainboard chipset. In fact installation of this is entirely tool free!

This innovative design features two fans, the first of which draws air onto HeaTSink fins and the second that then extracts the air across the HeaTSink, and then directly out to atmosphere; this effective ‘tunnel' approach seems to have been designed to also exhaust any heat out of the MiniME eX5 chassis.

It should only take you just a few minutes to screw your hard disk drive and CD or DVD-ROM/ Recorder into the MiniME eX5, but we encountered one small ‘compatibility issue' of note.

To maintain consistency of aesthetics, EPoX have thoughtfully provided the MiniME eX5 with additional ‘covers' or bezels that attach to the front of most tray loading CD/DVD-ROM drives.

I was intending to use a Pioneer DVD-ROM drive that, nicely and simply, has only a slot into which CD or DVD-ROMs are inserted; unfortunately no provision is made for this format, so I recommend avoiding this combination.

The only thing we found somewhat awkward was plugging-in the standard Molex power cables into the hard disk and DVD-ROM drives, which were an extremely tight fit.

Oh before I forget, the MiniME eX5 features microphone, two USB and FireWire ports accessible via the front panel and hidden behind small "doors". P

Our past experiences of cutting edge kit from Taiwanese manufacturers has made us rather sceptical that things will work first time round, but we were pleasantly surprised that that upon our first attempt to boot the machine, it worked!

You cannot help but notice the huge blue illuminated LCD screen at the front of the MiniME eX5; this provides information relating to the host CPU Speed, the installed amount of memory, DVD availability and some other cool stuff. We sure we like the icons in this attractive display and feel they enhance the overall appearance of the system.

Even which switched off this LCD display on MiniME eX5 continues to show you the time.

Apparently one feature of the MiniME eX5 that EPoX was keen to show-off at their stand in Computex was that due its special BIOS and embedded version of DOS you can play your music even before you boot the system into Windows; we had limited time to explore the full characteristics of this before we needed to hit the road, but we can confirm that the basic functionality is there and it seems to work as expected; if we have time we'll update you later on this.

Immediately after heavily loading the CPU we found the operating temperature to be an acceptable 51°C, which is pretty good for a 3GHz P4 as this processors core is known to be quite er, ‘warm'.

I also liked the fact that machine was, as EPoX claimed, very quiet in operation and that, unlike an nForce2 based Shuttle we recently tested, and that was with only a Barton 2500+, the system fan(s) was not constantly spinning up and down according to the CPU temperature; I find any system noise to be less intrusive when it is constant and not variable.

Unfortunately as we implied earlier, had to get back on the road again (this time to the ‘Capital of Beer' as our German friends like to call Munich) to see some of the latest greatest NVIDIA stuff (codenamed NV38 and NV36 with commercial names GeForce FX 5950 and 5700 respectively) we did not have time to install an AGP card and undertake more detailed testing and see this machine in action running more intensive graphics tests. (Since I am the "Graphics guy" I focused most of my tests on graphics, I just cant help it :) )

Test Notes

Our integration of the EPoX MiniME eX5 was completed with the following components: two 256MB Corsair XMS 4000 DDR RAM modules; a Maxtor 80GB 7200RPM 2MB cache hard disk drive and the aforementioned Pioneer Slot loading DVD-ROM drive (since that's the only we have); everything else, usefully, came complete with the EPoX ‘MiniME' eX5.

We tested and compared our measured results with two other systems: our "old" AMD Athlon XP 3000+ on an NVIDIA nFORCE 2 400 mainboard and a rig based on an Albatron i865PE mainboard.

The maximum amount of video RAM that can be assigned to the integrated Intel ‘Extreme' graphics (‘extreme' definitely being Intel's description!… ;) ) is, surprisingly, only a measly 16MB.

Consequently it didn't make much sense to me to run anything more taxing than Quake3 Arena and 3DMark 2001SE Build 330 ‘cause anything more demanding would probably be just to slow and painful to endure!…

At a resolution of 640x480 Quake3 Arena returned 131 FPS and even at 1024x768 you should still see an acceptable 60.8 FPS at 1024x768; if I remember correctly, this is a similar level of performance to ATi's older RADEON IGP chipset with its graphics based upon RADEON 7000 technology.

Unfortunately though, in 3DMark 2001SE Build 330, the Intel ‘Extreme' graphics probably stands for extremely slow… aw we could only achieve a ‘magnificent' 2691 3D Marks, which is much slower then most of the low-end cards on market!

We're not sure this Intel stuff was ever seriously meant for FPS gamers, and whilst it doesn't seem to even offer the same level of performance as nFORCE graphics, undemanding gamers and those who only need enough power to get you to the Windows desktop, run 2D stuff at an acceptable level, and nicely play DivX and DVD video should be fine. What more do you need if you are not a hardcore gamer?

Testing both P4 based systems with SiSoft Sandra 2003 Professional and PC Mark 2002 showed very close results, though in most of cases the Albatron mainboard based system extended a slight lead, possibly due its 7 MHz faster clock (from curiously down-clocked EPoX) but we could easily say its draw result. The EPoX MiniME eX5 simply performs similarly to a conventioanally sized desktop I865PE, so no complaints about it speed.

Conclusion

With the MiniME eX5, EPoX's first foray into the mini PC arena will surely spice-up a pretty spicy market segment.

It brings genuine innovation into this market, and for the enthusiasts sector there are even overclocking options, and built in real-time temperature monitoring to check temperatures while you work.

Purely in the interests of professional journalism you understand ;) as part of my testing procedure I showed the MiniME eX5 to various females (who I think may well be prospective customers for this kind of machine) and those that saw it sure fell in love with it.

EPoX seems to have had a vision of producing a machine that will blend into your living room, perhaps close to your TV, or even one that would appeal to your ‘not so computer freaky' boss (but that likes to show off!) and they seem to have done a good job!

It looks good, it feels good and it's very quiet - all the things that we like. µ

 

Share this:

blog comments powered by Disqus
Advertisement
Subscribe to INQ newsletters

Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ

Advertisement
INQ Poll

Heartbleed bug discovered in OpenSSL

Have you reacted to Heartbleed?