Ayaneo Retro Mini PC AM01 Review: Cool, Compact, Computing Fun

AYANEO Retro Mini PC AM01: Starting at $149

Ayaneo’s first-ever mini-PCs sport a cute retro aesthetic and good-enough performance for desktop use or casual and retro gaming.

 
hot flat

  • Cute Macintosh Throwback Aesthetics
  • Efficient & Nearly Silent Operation
  • Capable Desktop Performance
  • Accessible Pricing

not flat

  • Power-Limited Performance
  • Prior-Gen CPU & GPU Architectures


Ayaneo, more commonly stylized as AYANEO, is a company that probably doesn’t get enough credit. While it wasn’t the first firm to start building PC-based handheld gaming systems, it was arguably the first to start doing it with style, emphasizing a gaming flair that let you know the device was more than just a pocket PC. As popular as Valve’s Steam Deck has been, it assuredly must have taken some inspiration from Ayaneo’s various devices that came years earlier.
And that’s what makes the new Ayaneo AM01 so interesting. Officially known as the “AYANEO Retro Mini PC AM01”, this miniature machine is really not targeted at hard-core gamers the way the mainstream Ayaneo devices are. Instead, it’s a fairly standard budget-oriented mini PC that happens to have a nostalgic aesthetic. The looks are notable, the hardware sort-of isn’t—but we’ll talk more about that later. First, let’s discuss what exactly this thing is and what it can do.
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The Retro Mini PC AM01 is Ayaneo’s first mini-PC, although another one is on the way. Both this one and the upcoming AM02 are part of the company’s REMAKE collection. REMAKE can fairly be described as a “movement” started by Ayaneo to respect, honor, and, well, “remake” the classic hardware of yore in modern form. A cynic might say that it’s an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia of aging tech geeks, but there’s real charm here, even if the design isn’t particularly well-thought-out.

So, while the Retro Mini PC AM01 is obviously styled after the the original Apple Macintosh computer there are some intentional departures here. The aspect ratio of the faux screen is all wrong, and the floppy drive’s eject button has been turned into a power button. Where the original colorful Apple logo would go, there’s a replaceable magnetic accent. The machine includes a number of these that you can swap out, and it also comes with some stickers if you want to place something over the fake screen.

magnetics

The machine includes a handful of swappable magnetic accents.

To us, the really noticeable aspect of this machine is its size. If you’ve used a NUC, a Zotac Zbox, one of ASRock’s 4×4 machines, or really any similar mini-PC, then you’ll already be familiar with the size class this fits into. At just over one pound and barely more than 5″ square, the Retro Mini PC AM01 is certifiably tiny, though not the smallest mini-PC we’ve ever laid hands on. It’s actually surprisingly tall, likely to make room for the 2.5″ drive bay.

Our biggest complaint with the design lies in how it doesn’t play into the aesthetics at all. If you were to stand up the Retro Mini PC AM01 so that it mimics the Macintosh, all of your connectivity would be on the top, and access to the USB Type-C and headphone jack on the “bottom” would be blocked. The machine’s air intake is on the bottom, and it comes with rubber feet to keep those from being blocked, indicating exactly how Ayaneo intends you to use it. It’s just kind of a bummer that the company didn’t blend form and function.

sidebottom

Just remove the four screws holding on the feet to get into the machine.

Also, if you want to actually install the 2.5″ drive tray and put an SSD in it, you’ll have to take the entire system apart, apparently voiding your warranty in the process. “Warranty void if removed” stickers are illegal and non-binding in the US, but Ayaneo is not an American company; who knows if the manufacturer would honor the warranty in the event something goes wrong after you install a 2.5″ SSD. At least the drive tray and necessary SATA data+power wires are included in the box along with tools—two screwdrivers and two spudgers—to help you disassemble the machine.

Let’s take a look at the specifications of the Retro Mini PC AM01 as it was shipped to us.

specifications

We got the fanciest pre-configured version of the system that Ayaneo sells. A pair of 16GB DDR4 SODIMMs give us a hefty 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD in the machine’s single M.2 socket makes for quite a bit of storage in a system like this. The pre-installed Lexar NM620 isn’t exactly a screamer, but it serves just fine, especially considering the price of the system. $379 for a complete PC with Windows 11, 32GB of RAM, an eight-core CPU, and a 1TB NVMe SSD ain’t bad at all.

If you’d rather supply your own RAM and SSD, Ayaneo sells a barebones version of this system; if you want, you can even equip it with a pair of 32GB SODIMMs for 64GB of RAM. There’s also a lower-end model that sports a Ryzen 3 3200U processor. That’s a considerable downgrade from this machine, as it not only loses six of the eight cores available here, but also steps back to the original Zen architecture from our Zen 2-based machine. It could still be perfectly serviceable for light work, like a point-of-sale system, running digital signage, or similar use cases.

retrogame

Don’t be fooled by the Ryzen 5000 model number; this is Lucienne, which was a refresh of the Ryzen 4000 “Renoir” APUs. You’ll note we put down 35W as the TDP for this processor. AMD says the configurable TDP range for this chip is between 10 and 25 watts, but the Ayaneo firmware will happily set it to 35W, which makes this chip more similar to a Ryzen 9 4900HS in practice. Actually, Ayaneo says that the system can be set to 54W TDP if you supply your own 100W power adapter; the included adapter is only rated for 70W.

But to be clear, if you want to raise the power limit and enable CPU turbo (to allow the CPU to exceed the base 1.8 GHz)—which we recommend doing—you’re going to have to do so in Ayaneo’s AyaSpace application. So let’s talk about AyaSpace.

ayaspace old
The old version of AyaSpace that came preinstalled on the AM01 was terrible.

Frankly, Ayaspace made a terrible first impression. The screen above is what greeted me the first time I booted the machine. The application wouldn’t let me navigate it with the mouse, it wasn’t responsive to keyboard inputs, and I didn’t have a gamepad hooked up. I ended up having to close the app from Task Manager every time I booted, which was frustrating.

The problem is that AyaSpace was designed for the company’s handheld devices, and the version that came on my machine hadn’t yet been updated to make sense on a desktop machine. I wasn’t going to mess with the app as I figured it was just a gaming frontend, but after realizing that the machine was limited to 15W with no CPU turbo—i.e. terrible performance that was tangible even on the desktop—I finally dug into AyaSpace.

ayaspace1
Click on the hexagon icon in the top right to access the settings.

After manually updating the program to the latest version, mouse and keyboard controls work well. Having fooled around with it a bit, AyaSpace is fine. However, on a Windows desktop machine, most of its functions are pretty redundant. I would advise the majority of AM01 buyers to simply use it to enable CPU turbo and raise the power limit, then disable launch on boot and close it forever—at least, until Ayaneo releases a BIOS update that you want.

ayaspace2
This settings page is the most important page for the AM01.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing of value here; there’s a handy screen overlay that lets you monitor performance not unlike RTSS. (Of course, you could just use AMD’s own software for that.) There’s also a bevy of options to let you adjust the system’s performance to your liking, but ultimately I find that allowing AMD’s dynamic frequency and voltage scaling to do its thing results in the best performance. When you’re not trying to save precious milliamps of battery life, most of the configuration settings in AyaSpace just aren’t relevant.

So how does it actually run? If we’re honest, that question sort of misses the point of this machine, but it wouldn’t be a HotHardware review if we didn’t throw some benchmarks at this little box. Actually, a lot of benchmarks. However, we didn’t really have anything to directly compare it against on hand, so we’re presenting things a little differently this time around. Instead of doing comparative benchmarks, we’re just going to present the benchmark values and talk about them, so head over to the next page.