Ayaneo’s NES-inspired mini PC isn’t just a nostalgia hit

The mini PC is misunderstood. Easily dismissed as underpowered, over-priced or just plain ugly; we intuit that a computer with a tiny footprint has to mean a compromise. Ayaneo, best known for its gaming , has into with retro-inspired designs. Thankfully Ayaneo’s AM01 and AM02 mini PCs have more to offer, but their initial draw over rivals, I won’t lie, is nostalgic appeal.

Sadly, I’m old enough to remember using the original Macintosh that inspired and if Nintendo ever reimagined a real NES, I hope it looks like . Both PCs come in , but to save typing out the the AM01 starts at $200 and comes in low-to-modest specifications, good for retro gaming and general office tasks. The AM02 is priced between $440 and $630, and all variants come with an AMD 7840HS APU, better suited for PC gaming and heavier tasks like video editing or even music production.

Ayaneo AM02 NES-inspired mini PC.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

As someone that plays a lot of retro games and doesn’t mind playing PC games on low or medium settings, the AM02 is fast becoming my primary gaming system. Partly because the AM02 strikes a good balance between retro and contemporary design so it fits well in my adult living room. It’s also really well built. I’m not so sure about the four-inch touch screen (more on this later) but the overall design blends in nicely with a contemporary decor without calling too much attention to itself.

The AM02 I’ve been testing is fully loaded with 32GB or RAM and 1TB of storage, but there are enough ports here that even with a lower-spec model you can add more storage or even an eGPU (thanks to a USB 4.0 port) later down the line. There are also two RJ45 ports, one of which is 2.5Gbps, future-proofing the AM02 somewhat and making it well-suited to pulling media from networked storage. This model is also powered by USB-C which makes it more “portable” than its Mac-inspired sibling that uses a laptop-style power brick. Theoretically you could power a display from the AM02’s USB 4 port and have a PC that can easily be moved around. Yes, they invented laptops for exactly this but a perk of mini PCs is that they aren’t a pain to relocate.

I’ve suggested that the AM02 works great in a living room, and it does, but the placement of the built-in display suggests this was designed to live on a desk. When Ayaneo announced these mini PCs, marketing shots showed them in horizontal and vertical configurations. Sadly, neither model makes sense in a vertical orientation. Not least because both have ports on the side that would be facing the desk. Worse, the AM02 has a delightful NES-inspired front flap covering the USB and 3.5mm ports. Press the red button and it satisfyingly clicks open, but that would be the side facing down in a vertical set-up. Not to mention all the cables would then be coming out of the top.

It’s kind of a bummer as I was hoping the built-in display could be visible from across the room, but you can only see it if you’re near enough to peer over from above. What’s more, at least right now, the display is more of a novelty. By default it shows performance statistics such as FPS, CPU usage / temperature and fan speed which is useful for some folk. You can even change the TDP/power draw right from the display, but honestly, given that this thing is plugged in I’ve just been leaving it on the max 45W setting.

Swipe left on the screen, and the view changes to a date and time widget. Swipe one more time and there’s a virtual volume control along with the option to turn the display off. Fun fact, right now there’s no option to turn it back on again. I restarted the PC via Windows and it still didn’t come back to life. I tried once more via the physical power button and that worked, there’s a neater solution coming in the final software. Relatedly, Ayaneo is hoping users will create their own widgets for this display, so there’s definitely potential here. I’m sure it won’t be long before Doom is running entirely on the linux that runs that display.

Ayaneo AM02 NES-inspired mini PC

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

If you do want to use this just for gaming, then you’ll have to decide whether you want to use the company’s own launcher or not. On Ayaneo’s handhelds it’s useful for changing power settings on the fly and other tasks that would otherwise be a pain for a handheld. On a PC like this, the launcher is adequate, but you might want to find your own or just ditch it for the most part. I set the AM02 up to load right into which handles all my retro/Steam/Epic games just fine and gives a much more console-like experience. But that’s the joy of Windows for gaming I guess, you can do what you want with it.

Despite their diminutive size, mini PCs aren’t always cheap. Like their full-size counterparts, prices range wildly depending on their performance, storage and components. Ayaneo’s handhelds almost universally fell into the “premium” pricing category with nearly all its Windows models costing more than the Steam Deck they try to rival. The two mini PCs break that trend with both models offering, at worst, and, at best, beating the competition.

Most direct rivals to the AM02 don’t have a built-in screen (though some do) or have quite as good a selection of inputs and outputs. That’s to say, overall the AM01 and AM02 are reasonably priced for their spec and even more so if you can scoop them up during the early-bird window, which at time of publication .

Ayaneo AM02 NES-inspired mini PC

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

There’s a small elephant in the room though. That is, if you’re looking for a true gaming PC, there are likely better ways to spend your money. The lowest spec AM02 costs more than a PS5. Or about the same as an LCD Steam Deck with a dock. Then there’s the Mac Mini which starts at $600 (with less memory and RAM but that M2 processor is no joke). So if gaming is your sole goal, then there’s a slim niche that the AM02 serves best — those looking for a mix of retro and PC titles that also want the flexibility of other media tasks (an easier way to watch Netflix with a VPN, for example) in a package that only draws the right kind of attention. Or maybe you just love it for its design and the capabilities work for you.

Mostly, it’s a promising new direction for a company that made a name for itself trying to take the Steam Deck head on. It might not have been truly successful in that specific mission, but it earned itself plenty of fans along the way for its high-spec handhelds that help re-establish portable gaming as an exciting category. As Ayaneo enters the more general PC market, it might well have found a space where it can excel against a very different type of competition.

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