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Nettop Round-Up: Four Tiny PCs, Benchmarked And Reviewed

Nettop Round-Up: Four Tiny PCs, Benchmarked And Reviewed
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We're testing four nettops: Arctic Cooling’s MC001-BD, ASRock’s CoreHT 252B, Giada’s i50, and Zotac’s Zbox AD03BR-PLUS. All of these tiny, quiet systems take a very different approach to compact computing, and we fill you in on what makes them unique.

Intel’s Atom CPU might have been the driving force behind the popularization of the nettop form factor, but manufacturers are squeezing more powerful hardware into these tiny machines. Sometimes, more potent graphics performance is added via a mobile chipset. Sometimes, processing m muscle is emphasized instead with a CPU designed for powerful notebook. And now, APUs belonging to AMD's Fusion initiative are an option, serving up efficient power use and higher-performance graphics on a single processor die.

Truly, the nettop is no longer a stripped-down machine barely capable of Web browsing and word processing. These tiny PCs are tailor-made to excel in specific applications, which often includes use in a home theater.

We’re taking a close look at four very different nettops. Before we examine them, here are their specifications:


ASRock
Core100HT-BD
Giada i50
B5541
Arctic
MC001-BD
Zotac Zbox
AD03BR-Plus
Nettop Specifications
Chipset
Intel HM65
Intel HM55
Intel NM10
AMD A50M
CPU
Intel Core i5-2520M (Sandy Bridge), Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 2.5 GHz (3.1 Max. Turbo), 3 MB L3 Cache
Intel Core i3-430UM (Arrandale), Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 1.2 GHz (1.73 Max. Turbo), 3 MB L3 CacheIntel Atom D525
(Pineview-D) Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 1.8 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache
AMD E-350
(Zacate) Dual-Core, 1.6 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache
System
Memory
Asint PC3-10700, 2 x 2 GB, 665 MHz, CL 9-9-9-24-1T
(dual-channel)
Kingston PC3-10700
1 x 4 GB, 400 MHz,
CL 6-6-6-15-1T
(single-channel)
Nanya PC3-10700, 2 x 2 GB, 399 MHz, CL 6-6-6-15-2T
(single-channel)
Samsung PC3-10700
1 x 2 GB, 533 MHz,
CL 9-9-9-24-1T
(single-channel)
Graphics
Intel HD Graphics 3000
(Integrated, shared RAM)
Intel HD Graphics
(Integrated, shared RAM)
Mobility Radeon HD 5430
(512 MB dedicated GDDR3, 800 MHz )
Radeon HD 6310
(Integrated, shared RAM)
Hard Drive
Western Digital Scorpio Black
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Seagate Momentus 7200.4
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Hitachi Travelstar 7K500
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Samsung Spinpoint
250 GB, 5400 RPM, 8 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Optical Drive
LG DS-4E1S Slimline
4x Blu-ray ROM
8x DVD-RW SATA
Not includedLG DS-4E1S Slimline
4x Blu-ray ROM
8x DVD-RW SATA
Blu-ray/DVD/CD Combo Drive
Remote
Included
Included
Not included, but Smartphone app available soon
Not included
Internal Interfaces
Memory Support
Two 204-pin SO-DIMMs
DDR3-1333, Up to 8 GB
One 204-pin SO-DIMM
DDR3, up to 8 GB
Two 204-pin SO-DIMMs
DDR3, Up to 4 GB
Two 204-pin SO-DIMMs
DDR3, Up to 8 GB
I/O Panel Connectors
DVI
none
nonenone1
VGA
1
1
1
none
HDMI
1
1
1
1
USB 2.0 (3.0)
4 (4)
4 (1)
5 (2)
1 (2)
Memory Card
Reader
noneSD/MMC/MS/MSPRO
4-in-1 Memory Card Reader
MMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD
Network
1
1
1
1
eSATA
1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)
nonenone1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)
Digital Audio Out
Optical/HDMI
HDMI
Optical/HDMI
Optical/HDMI
Analog Audio
5 rear, 2 front jacks
2 top jacks
6 rear, 2 front jacks
2 front jacks
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA
3 x SATA 3Gb/s
(2 used for optical and HDD)
1 x SATA 3Gb/s
(used for HDD)
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
(2 used for optical and HDD)
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
(2 used for optical and HDD)
Ethernet & Wireless
LAN
Realtek 8111E PCIe
Realtek 8111E PCIeRealtek 8111E PCIe
Realtek 8111DL PCIe
Wi-Fi
Atheros AR9287
2T2R 802.11b/g/n
Azurewave AW-NB037H
802.11b/g/n
Ralink RT3070L
802.11b/g/n
Atheros AR9287
2T2R 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth
noneAzurewave AW-NB037H
802.11b/g/n
nonenone
Audio
HD Audio Codec
Analog and optical:
Realtek ALC892
HDMI: Intel Display Audio
Analog:
Realtek ALC662
HDMI: Intel Display Audio
Analog and optical:
Realtek ALC892
HDMI: AMD HD Audio
Analog and optical:
Realtek ALC888
HDMI: AMD HD Audio
Audio Channels
7.1-Ch HD Audio with
THX TruStudio PRO
5.1-Ch HD Audio
7.1-Ch HD Audio
7.1 + 2-Ch HD Audio
Price
With Windows OS
Not Available
$659 at shop.polywell.com
(including Windows 7 Home Premium)
$714 at www.arctic.ac
(including Windows 7 Home Premium)
Not Available
Without Windows OS
$800 at www.newegg.com
2 GB RAM, 320 GB hard drive alternate available at www.amazon.com with Ubuntu for $465
Not Available$504 at www.zotacUSA.com, or $399 for barebone (no OS, memory or hard disk)
Display all 32 comments.
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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    chumly , October 10, 2011 4:59 AM
    These all seem expensive to me, considering you could probably build a better mini itx slim form factor system from scratch for about half the price.
  • 10 Hide
    Pyree , October 10, 2011 4:57 AM
    IDK, $800 for the ASRock CoreHT 252B. A laptop cost less, has better performance for that price range, better mobility and space saving plus you have everything (screen, speaker etc). I rather get a laptop for a small office.
Other Comments
  • -2 Hide
    jdwii , October 10, 2011 4:53 AM
    MISTAKE

    Quote:
    But at $504 with no operating system (and $399 for a version without an operating system, hard drive, or memory),
  • 10 Hide
    Pyree , October 10, 2011 4:57 AM
    IDK, $800 for the ASRock CoreHT 252B. A laptop cost less, has better performance for that price range, better mobility and space saving plus you have everything (screen, speaker etc). I rather get a laptop for a small office.
  • 10 Hide
    chumly , October 10, 2011 4:59 AM
    These all seem expensive to me, considering you could probably build a better mini itx slim form factor system from scratch for about half the price.
  • 1 Hide
    AMD X6850 , October 10, 2011 5:11 AM
    Quote:
    As mentioned, no remove comes bundled with the Zbox.


    Remote?
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , October 10, 2011 5:19 AM
    AMD X6850Remote?


    Thx, fixed!
  • 1 Hide
    molo9000 , October 10, 2011 5:59 AM
    Nettops? These things are far too expensive to be nettops.
    They are small form factor PCs or home theatre PCs, but they are not nettops.

    btw: Mac mini should be in this lineup.
  • 0 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , October 10, 2011 6:45 AM
    Very nice article. I was about to request something like it :) 

    Mac Mini should be in this lineup? Actually, a good idea. I'd love to see how it compares to similar Wintel boxes.

    I'm through with these small boxes because they're a pain in the a$$ to service and the hardware isn't good for the price ($800?! gimme a break!), but I see value in them for people who are ready to pay more for the small size.

    If I would build a small form-factor box myself, I'd use something like this new Lian Li case which was in Tom's news recently - it can fit proper PCI/PCI-E cards.

    Again, lovely article. Keep it up.

    P.S. The ASRock box is great.
  • 1 Hide
    compton , October 10, 2011 7:14 AM
    I second the sentiment that these aren't really nettops. Luckily, the next iteration of Llano should rectify that, creating the golden triangle of CPU , GPU, and low cost. At least that's what I expect anyway. These reviewed units are more HTPC solutions than low cost nettop. Intel has a new half height miniITX initiative with a rare and relatively expensive 1155 mini ITX to match. However, once Intel's iGPU gets a serving of HTPC friendly features, you could build your own full featured, passively cooled system to take these units on performance and price as well. The move to 22nm should make low powered passively cooled CPUs easy to get right. As it stands, each of the solutions tested are pretty good, but I'm not sure that any of them are worth the asking price. In particular, I've always avoided Atom like the plague, and I don't think they're appropriate in small form factor systems that cost more than about $200.
  • 4 Hide
    ruban71 , October 10, 2011 8:16 AM
    Can we now have a comparison against a couple of ITX builds? Choose an nice looking case and show us what can be put together for similar money.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 10, 2011 10:10 AM
    I've owned an E350 - struggles with HD playback in a linux system, there doesn't appear to be any support for the amd hardware decoding. So if you were thinking of making a linux htpc out of it, go for something more powerful... It will perform better though as in the article above if using Windows (Using I think - Media Player classic which allows hardware h.264 decode.)
  • 0 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , October 10, 2011 10:33 AM
    Quote:
    I've owned an E350 - struggles with HD playback in a linux system, there doesn't appear to be any support for the amd hardware decoding. So if you were thinking of making a linux htpc out of it, go for something more powerful... It will perform better though as in the article above if using Windows (Using I think - Media Player classic which allows hardware h.264 decode.)


    I agree; I had to deal with E-350 (great mini-ITX Gigabyte board, btw, has everything) two weeks ago. It's a fail in Ubuntu, I barely got Compiz to work there without issues :lol:  and my 900 MHz Celeron M can usually max it out...
  • 0 Hide
    halls , October 10, 2011 1:58 PM
    Thanks for including the Starcraft II benchmark! Please test more systems with this game!
  • 1 Hide
    max40watt , October 10, 2011 2:28 PM
    My E-350 w/ Win7 running inside an old Nintendo makes for a fine HTPC.



  • 0 Hide
    zaho0006 , October 10, 2011 3:43 PM
    Also would say my E-350 system is fine, was under $300 to build with Windows and no Bluray drive. Plays back anything but 1080P mkv files from WMC (which works fine in other software) and handles all of my HD recording/playback from WMC as well.
  • 2 Hide
    leandrodafontoura , October 10, 2011 4:04 PM
    Why no MacMini in the comparison?
  • 0 Hide
    chumly , October 10, 2011 4:20 PM
    ruban71Can we now have a comparison against a couple of ITX builds? Choose an nice looking case and show us what can be put together for similar money.


    I'd also like to see an ITX system marathon.
  • 2 Hide
    fulle , October 10, 2011 4:39 PM
    The prices are just too high. It shouldn't be possible for me to just buy a superior performing laptop instead, and actually SAVE money.

    In that vain, it's difficult for me to even build a llano based system myself, at a low enough cost to justify doing so.
  • 0 Hide
    cobra5000 , October 10, 2011 5:35 PM
    OVERPRICED!
  • 0 Hide
    K2N hater , October 10, 2011 8:57 PM
    I wanna see how good some undervolted Llano performs against anything else when set on an ITX heatsink-like case. I have a feeling running Crysis on a silent rig with system power comsuption below 80W is the deal of the decade.
  • -1 Hide
    deadlockedworld , October 10, 2011 10:25 PM
    molo9000btw: Mac mini should be in this lineup.


    I completely agree -- this was a large omission as the Mac mini is actually the class leader in this segment. Surprisingly, it is even price competitive with the PC options listed above! (weird for Apple)

    This comparison would be more valuable than typical PC/Mac because OS is largely irrelevant for a websurfing/netflix nettop. The lighter footprint of Mac OS would probably yield better performance.
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