Our Summary and Conclusion
To make it easier to digest all of the information in our summary and conclusion, we've opted to break our conclusion into relevant categories to help clarify the various points that need to be conveyed.
Construction: The construction of the Mega mPC 945 was solid. However, the hard drive cage assembly did feel a bit too involved. Hopefully MSI's engineering staff will revisit the drive cage's construction and attempt to streamline the process in future products. Additionally, the door that masks the front ports was stiff and needed a fair amount of pressure to release and re-engage the mechanism. Furthermore, the label "Push" printed on the panel is offset from the actual clasp by nearly an inch, compounding the matter. If the label was placed directly over the release button, this would be less of an issue. On the up side, the overall appearance of the unit was clean and elegant and the reorientation of the Optical Drive's eject button was seamless and worked perfectly every time, including during the POST process.
Setup: Aside from the aforementioned drive cage issues, building up the system was easy. The tool-less design was a joy to work with, with the only exception being to mount the custom CPU cooler. It was nice to see that a full-sized graphics card with oversized cooler easily fit into such a small package. The cable mechanism for the drive power and data cables was also a plus, helping to keep cable clutter at bay.
Features: There is no arguing that the Mega mPC 945 is packed to the gills with features. From an integrated 7-in-1 card reader, HD Audio CODEC, VGA Graphics and a multitude of USB, FireWire and other inputs and outputs, the Mega mPC delivers. Top those features off with integrated WiFi 802.11G and the system become that much more appealing. However, there was one component that was left out that would really broaden the Mega mPC 945's appeal and that is integrated TV-Out. Clearly, a major use for a mini PC is in Home Theater PC applications and, in most cases, that PC would be integrated with other home entertainment components, making TV-Out a bare necessity. Unfortunately, to achieve this with the Mega mPC 945, add-on graphics would be required unless used with a television that has VGA inputs. Lastly, MSI doesn't officially endorse this product as Windows XP Media Center capable which would be another key component to a product of this type.
Performance: While the Mega mPC 945's BIOS was devoid of any real performance settings, this didn't hinder the unit from competing with a full-sized motherboard that did have these options. In several tests the Mega mPC 945 matched the performance of our reference test bed with an Abit AL8 at its core. In the remainder of the tests, the AL8 held a slight advantage at most, in many cases this edge was 2% or less, which would not be noticeable in daily use. From an overall hardware performance standpoint, the fan system was essentially dead quite during low-load periods, however, under load, the unit's fan noise increased significantly and was compounded by constant throttling.
Summary: In summary, the MSI Mega mPC 945 was an impressive product overall with only a few shortcomings. Clearly there were construction issues that could be refined, but the entire package as a whole was impressive. Setting up the hardware was essentially painless and the feature set is impressive. Performance was on par with a similarly equipped full-sized ATX test bed. With a clean, modern appearance and robust feature set, the MSI Mega mPC 945 will surely appeal to a broad range of PC enthusiasts, but some HTPC users may find the Mega mPC 945 limiting.
We give the MSI Mega mPC 945 a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of 8.