Good Things In Small Packages: Seven Nettop Platforms, Tested

Audio And Video Conversion, Rendering, And Photoshop

Audio Conversion: iTunes and Lame

It’s not too farfetched to assume a nettop will be used to compress the occasional music file. After all, some models, such as the Blu-ray version of Zotac’s Zbox, as well as some units from Shuttle, come with an optical drive.

Both of these audio converters use only one thread, resulting in identical performance rankings. The mobile Core i3 and the Celeron, both not really nettop parts, hold on to their positions at the top of the charts, followed by AMD's APUs. VIA pulls off another surprise, as its Nano X2’s IPC advantage lands it ahead of the Atoms.

Video Conversion: MainConcept and HandBrake

Nobody is going to buy a nettop to use primarily for video transcoding, but you may want to convert a short clip for playback on a smartphone or tablet every once in a while.

Unlike the audio benchmarks, the motto here is definitely "the more, the merrier" when it comes to threading. So, while superior IPC allowed AMD and even VIA to make a strong showing in the audio tests, their dual-core designs put them at a disadvantage compared to the Hyper-Threading-equipped Atoms. Although Intel's Sandy Bridge-based parts lack Hyper-Threading, their more powerful desktop architecture kicks in to facilitate impressive-enough times to take first and second place.

Rendering:  Blender and 3ds Max 2010

Rendering is another discipline not necessarily relevant to entry-level machines. But, just for kicks, lets see how our candidates fare when confronted with heavy workloads in Blender and 3ds Max.

Blender yields a similar finish as our transcoding tests, but 3ds Max shakes things up a little. Interestingly, VIA’s Nano X2 can not only beat out AMD’s dual-core E-350, but also Intel's quad-threaded Atom D525 as well. Not bad for a CPU that debuted shortly after Intel’s first-generation Atom chips more than five years ago. It takes an E-450 to outmaneuver VIA’s little CPU-that-could. Core i3, Celeron, and Atom D2700 take the first three places, though.

Photoshop CS4: Apply Filters

Our Photoshop test applies various threaded filters to a large image. This time around, we get to see what even logical cores can do for performance, as the quartet of Intel CPUs sweeps the top of the performance chart. Despite its surprisingly good IPC, VIA’s Nano X2 brings up the rear, and AMD’s APUs slot in ahead of it.

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  • What I really want to see is a nettop using AMD's 17w A6-4455M. Being a Trinity APU, it actually WOULD have enough grunt to run Crysis, and without it looking like crap to boot!
    21
  • bavmanThese things suck. Why would you dish out the $300-400 theyre asking for them? I recently built a file server that was basically a dumbed down tower with an g620 cpu, 4 gigs of ram for under $200 (excluding all the hdds). Throw in a $50 graphics card and it would dominate any of these nettops.


    You pay for the size, power and niche factor in here,.. these are Nettops,.. you're not supposed to play AA or AAA games in here,. just browse the net,. watch movies and listen to music- as implied
    18
  • Just curious. Are these in the same price segment ?
    12
  • Other Comments
  • In all honesty, when it can run Crysis...I'll be impressed. Until then...alrighty.
    -35
  • I think this review is bias. Its missing the AMD small form factor benchmark. Any game.
    7
  • JOSHSKORNIn all honesty, when it can run Crysis...I'll be impressed. Until then...alrighty.


    Well, if you run it in:

    -320p resolution
    -Directx 8
    -All eyecandy off

    You'll get around 5-10 FPS.
    7
  • These things suck. Why would you dish out the $300-400 theyre asking for them? I recently built a file server that was basically a dumbed down tower with an g620 cpu, 4 gigs of ram for under $200 (excluding all the hdds). Throw in a $50 graphics card and it would dominate any of these nettops.
    -19
  • Just curious. Are these in the same price segment ?
    12
  • bavmanThese things suck. Why would you dish out the $300-400 theyre asking for them? I recently built a file server that was basically a dumbed down tower with an g620 cpu, 4 gigs of ram for under $200 (excluding all the hdds). Throw in a $50 graphics card and it would dominate any of these nettops.


    You pay for the size, power and niche factor in here,.. these are Nettops,.. you're not supposed to play AA or AAA games in here,. just browse the net,. watch movies and listen to music- as implied
    18
  • What I really want to see is a nettop using AMD's 17w A6-4455M. Being a Trinity APU, it actually WOULD have enough grunt to run Crysis, and without it looking like crap to boot!
    21
  • Shame these still aren't good at H.264 decoding. They would make great HTPCs.

    The hardware decoding of the VIA chipset would be a killer feature, if there actually was some software that supported it. Seems like XBMC doesn't support it either.
    3
  • The point of the Nano was power consumption, right? Didn't we just debunk that?
    1
  • I rolled out a load of Ion 330 Asrock boxes a couple of years ago for business use. Customers still love their little black boxes. These were the early 1.6Ghz dual core Atoms.

    For work use (basically 95% of what 95% of the worlds computers users actually do in the REAL world) they work great.

    There is more to life than endless benchmarking and Crysis.
    9
  • JOSHSKORNIn all honesty, when it can run Crysis...I'll be impressed. Until then...alrighty.

    The E-350 (and by extension the E-450) already can.... without even requiring a dedicated GPU....

    http://goo.gl/zrpqN
    5
  • Something else I would have liked to seen.

    What effect does AMD's integrated GPU have on performance?
    Looking at the other AMD APU articles, it could potentially be quite a performance boost.
    1
  • Nice. It would be interesting to see some ARM-based Linux nettop like TrimSlice benchmarked, too.
    1
  • bavmanThese things suck. Why would you dish out the $300-400 theyre asking for them? I recently built a file server that was basically a dumbed down tower with an g620 cpu, 4 gigs of ram for under $200 (excluding all the hdds). Throw in a $50 graphics card and it would dominate any of these nettops.


    Um, people want them because they're very very small. how small is your $200 tower plus Windows 7 plus the $200+ in HDDs plus $50 graphics card?
    8
  • I already use a nettop in the living room to run XBMC, wired network with all my content on NAS drives in the attic, programmed universal remote to control it, best technology investment ever
    5
  • bavmanThese things suck. Why would you dish out the $300-400 theyre asking for them? I recently built a file server that was basically a dumbed down tower with an g620 cpu, 4 gigs of ram for under $200 (excluding all the hdds). Throw in a $50 graphics card and it would dominate any of these nettops.

    Because an ATX tower case PC would use more power, be noisier and look stupid attached to your TV
    ...
    These are designed to be invisible and silent so you can use them as HTPC (for example)
    4
  • I don't agree with your conclusion.
    You know that all of these systems have their own niche.
    In that particular scenario is acceptable to mention Core I3 performance. That's OK.
    I have to admit that I got somehow disappointed by AMD's performance, but I think that
    the power numbers make them real winners. In that constrained space where acoustics matter is all about low power numbers, isn't it ?
    2
  • And what about price?


    I think anyone would go for the Core i3 in this situation if they are all priced similarly. You even mention it commands a premium in price, but you don't tell us how much any of this costs......
    5
  • anyone who knocks these compact computers obviously don't understand their purpose.
    they're not supposed to be able to handle BF3 or handbrake, they're meant to handle basic everyday tasks while using up very little power and space. these things would be ideal for 90% of people who don't do much beyond itunes or facebook (and certainly not gaming or photoshop).

    in fact my HTPC is an E-350, it's small a silent, all a HTPC needs to be. it can handle 1080p blu-ray flawlessly, and with a SSD and 8GB RAM it boots up nearly as quickly as the HDTV warms up.
    i'm so happy with it when it comes time to build a new PC for my parents (my old socket 939 is serving them just fine) something like an E-350 is what i'll be looking at.
    3
  • pretty glad Brazos didn't disappoint. was kinda skeptical getting an E-350 last year when i had to get a new laptop. those benches do seem about right; browsing with a Brazos may not be the best compared to my desktop, but rarely do i need more than 15 tabs, and if my Pentium M could handle office work, i didn't see why Brazos couldn't.

    best of all was the media playback with 720p and 1080p videos with hardware acceleration. a great improvement compared to how my old laptop would struggle to play HD content.
    3