Shuttle deserves a lot of credit for almost singlehandedly bringing the Small Form Factor (SFF) PC to the mass market. From fully-assembled systems to excellent chassis like the XPC Prima SP45, its name has become synonymous with small, well-built computers. However, they aren't exactly the most affordable options and if value is a major criterion, Mesh looks set to make a large impact with its small Cute. For a mere £399 you get a fairly powerful machine including a dual core Athlon II processor, 2GB of DDR2 RAM, integrated Radeon HD graphics, a 320GB hard drive, and best of all a Blu-ray drive and dual digital tuner card plus Windows Media remote, all packed into a relatively tiny box measuring no more than 300 x 200 x 165mm.
It seems a little too good to be true, especially since (at the moment) for an extra £25 you can get to a similarly-specified model except with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. At first glance, Mesh certainly appears to have filled the gap between high-end SFF systems like the Ultimo Nano and cheap Atom-based miniature desktop systems (or 'nettops') like Acer's Aspire Revo R3600. But how does the Cute actually hold up?
Taking the unit out of its box reveals a very neat case, with only one single set of discrete vent perforations about 5cm across on the right. The main steel body, finished in an attractive though fingerprint-loving black lacquer, feels incredibly solid.
Unfortunately the plastic front doesn't feel as strong, exhibiting some flex and give. It's available in various colours, including white, red, and the blue of our unit. We'd recommend you stick to the default black though, as the colour implementation here makes it look like two separate halves were randomly stuck together. After all, just because the Cute is cheap doesn't mean it has to look it.
Nestled into the plastic front's centre is a power button with a blue-backlit power symbol, but unfortunately Mesh has committed a bit of a design faux-pas by surrounding this with a semi-transparent white ring that lights up in red when there's hard drive activity. As the Hyundai BlueH HM22D proved, blue and red are not lighting colours you want to mix.
None of this is helped by the front headphone and microphone jacks, which are the traditional green and pink rather than silver as on many classier-looking machines. At least the only other bits marring the front are two USB ports and the chromed optical drive button.
Speaking of the optical drive, this leads us to the Cute's biggest build-quality concern. After a while the Blu-ray drive started struggling slightly to open the blue plastic drive cover. Worse still, the flimsy cover usually stayed open after the tray had retracted, showing off its cheap, unpolished underside and forcing you to close it manually.