I was perusing the "do-it-yourself" aisle at my local computer shop over the weekend and came across a really sweet-looking mini barebones system, the eCube EG65 (pictured) from AMS.
The eCube is an Intel 865 chipset-based system, so it supports Pentium 4 CPU's with hyper-threading and up to an 800 MHz front-side bus. It has a host of expansion features (something a lot of mini systems don't), including 2 DDR slots for up to 2 GB of RAM, two 3.5" and one 5.25" internal drive bays (one of each externally accessible), one PCI and one AGP 8X expansion slot, dual HDD controllers (both IDE ATA-100 and SATA!), plus all the usual connectivity stuff (USB2.0, IEE1394, 10/100 LAN, etc.). For the junior high crowd, the box even comes with blue internal lighting already built in (thankfully, you can switch that off).
A good review of the eCube can be found at SFF Tech, which recommended the unit.
"The EG65 combines the latest and greatest in modern case design married to the Intel Springdale P4 chipset producing a fast, portable, and great looking PC. I’ve been pretty impressed with this box over the past few days. It’s easily one of the finest looking SFF’s currently on the market, and one of the best choices if you’re looking for a Socket 478-based box. The Intel chipset goes a long way in vouching for this machine’s reliability and stability. So does the AMS eCube EG65 get my recommendation? Absolutely."
DevHardware.com has another review of the EG65, and they seemed to like it as well:
"The point I suppose is that all in all the e-cube delivered overall much more than I expected. I can honestly say that if I needed to I could run the e-cube as my main system and quite frankly would be none the worse for it. It's an attractive case that with it's compact nature, even if you aren't a LAN gamer, offers you flexibility that we're just not used to in a PC. The performance delivered by being matched up with the solid Intel 865G chipset was downright mind boggling from a SFF computer."
At well under $400, this mini looks like it could support just about any kind of system you want to build, from game box to home theater PC. However, it's not very baffled for an HTPC, so it might be louder than ideal. It seems like small form-factor PCs are definitely here to stay, and the offerings are becoming less of a trade-off and more as the obvious decision for a lot of applications.