The idea of a small desktop is not a new one. Anyone who has been following the PC industry for a while will be aware of a company called Shuttle, which around 2001 introduced the SFF (Small Form Factor) PC as a commercially viable and comprehensive alternative to a regular-sized desktop case, the Shuttle XPC Glamor Deluxe being a recent example. Then in 2005, along came Apple's Mac Mini, and redefined how small a fully-featured desktop computer could be. Strangely enough, apart from a few efforts like the Evesham Mini PC Plus and of course Shuttle's own XPC X100, there weren't as many SFF PC imitations as might have been expected.
But now there's a resurgence in trying to make the smallest desktop PC possible, thanks to everyone's favourite miniature sub-notebook, the Asus Eee PC. This sleek, affordable portable has been so successful that a desktop variant was inevitable, and indeed the Asus Eee Box is already on its way - as is its competition. In fact, some manufacturers have pipped Asus to the post: MSI might not have launched its Wind subnotebook or Desktop PCs yet, but it does have a small desktop machine available to buy now, the ironically named Titan 700.
It comes in a minimalist bundle: the unit itself, a well-constructed stand, driver CD and CD-sized manual. That's right, no operating system; this is apparently one of the ways in which MSI keeps the price down around the £200 mark, though I can't help but think a free version of Linux wouldn't have added that much. Having said that, it might have something to do with the drivers supplied being only for Windows XP (there are no other drivers available on MSI's website either), or that MSI is also marketing the Titan towards businesses who are likely to have multi-user Windows licenses anyway.
The company claims its Titan 700 is "the perfect combination of desktop and industrial PC", and at first impression, ‘industrial' is certainly the word that springs to mind. The main part of the chassis is rock-solid black matte metal, with four square, large and strong rubber feet for placing the unit horizontally. When in this orientation, all that really breaks the Titan's clean lines is a small grille at the top. However, when placing the unit vertically, the entire top is perforated with large holes, allowing you to easily see multi-coloured power cables and capacitators. This is ugly, and spoils the MSI's good looks somewhat - more of a pity because it could easily have been avoided, either by using smaller perforations or a black dust-filter.