The Case of the Incredible Shrinking PCs
Let's face it: The average bulky PC tower doesn't always fit where you need it--size- or style-wise. Hence, the ongoing niche market for small and/or attractive PCs.
Tiny used to mean a lack of expandability and upgradability. Nowadays, though, almost any new PC is fast enough for all but the most demanding tasks, while the increasing quality of integrated graphics and sound lessens the need for space-hogging card slots. This makes smaller mainstream PCs more feasible. I looked at two multimedia-focused systems from Alienware and Sony that don't dominate your desktop.
The back features two USB 2.0, FireWire, and legacy serial ports, as well as in and out audio ports, a headphone jack, and one ethernet port. And it has two card slots--an AGP slot occupied by a 64MB GeForce4 Ti 4200 graphics card, and a PCI slot filled by an Emuzed Maui PCI PVR TV-tuner card. These PCs have not been benchmarked by our Test Center, but in my hands-on evaluation, the Navigator Pro was extremely responsive--and booted in a flash.
Sony's sleek silver-gray, all-in-one
My shipping model's most noticeable feature was its wide-aspect, 1280-by-768-resolution, 1.66:1-ratio LCD screen--perfect for viewing widescreen DVDs played in the PC's side-mounted DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drive. Resonant integrated speakers flanking the display round out an excellent desktop movie experience.
Though the $1600 PCV-W10 is easy on the eye and ear, its basic components put it in the lower end of the "fast enough" scale. The unit's 1.6-GHz Celeron CPU, 512MB of 266-MHz DDR SDRAM, and 60GB hard drive are brawny enough for most tasks, but the integrated graphics system that consumes 32MB of main memory for the video chores could cramp gamers' style.
The PCV-W10 is a legacy-free PC (no parallel or serial ports) with three USB 2.0 and two three-pin I.Link (mini-FireWire) ports, a Memory Stick port, and modem and ethernet ports, plus the usual audio-in/audio-out/headphone jacks. You also get Windows XP and dual Type II PC Card slots that take the place of standard card slots.
The PCV-W10's elegant, space-saving design is classy all the way. And the Navigator Pro is a cleverly designed, small-profile multimedia box. They're each well worth a look, especially if you're short on space and long on cash.