Does Size Matter? Four Very Small Nettops Get Reviewed

The HTPC Experience

First, let’s use PCMark 7 to gauge whether these systems can handle high-def video. The following benchmark reflects each platform's ability to play back a 1080p H.264-encoded video file at 24 FPS:

According to this metric, you might think that each machine handles video similarly. In reality, though, it only really indicates that they all achieve the same baseline capability.

Blu-ray 3D Playback

We had no trouble playing back standard DVDs and Blu-ray discs on all four machines, taking us to Blu-ray 3D testing. This format yielded vastly different results, depending on the platform. 

ASRock's Vision HT 321B played back Blu-ray 3D content without any issues. We were impressed to see Intel's HD Graphics 4000 engine handle stereoscopic content in hardware.

Jetway's Mini-Top JBC700C9JG wouldn't work at all with Blu-ray 3D content. It didn't seem to be a matter of performance, but rather a driver issue. We weren't able to install Nvidia's newest GeForce driver build, and the 275.84 version that came bundled wasn't able to detect a 3D Vision dongle, inhibiting playback. We also tried using Nvidia’s Synergy (Optimus) software to divert playback duties, but Intel's HD Graphics 3000 engine wouldn't cooperate either.

Lenovo's Q180 came with promotional material that called out Blu-ray 3D support, and we almost got playback working perfectly. Almost. We noticed occasional skipping when we played Green Lantern in stereoscopic 3D. We tried alleviating the workload by disabling the video enhancement options, but they didn't make a difference. Unfortunately, we're unable to recommend the Q180 if you intend to watch movies in 3D.

Zotac's Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus doesn't official support Blu-ray 3D. And while the feature technically works, playback is far too choppy to consider viable.

At the end of the day, then, the only system able to handle stereoscopic playback is ASRock’s Vision HT. Perhaps Jetway's other model (the one without GeForce GT 520M graphics) would fare better armed with Intel's HD Graphics engine on its own.

YouTube 1080p Playback

While all of the systems played back 1080p content from YouTube, Lenovo's Q180 suffered occasional skipped frame. Video was certainly watchable, but it wasn't ideal. The Zbox Nano XS appeared smoother, but we suspect it was dropping frames on occasion, too. The Jetway Mini-Top and ASRock Vision HT both handle this workload without a problem.

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  • So I'm guessing there aren't any nettops yet that use the low-voltage Trinity APUs? (17w A6-4455M and 25w A10-4655M)
    7
  • Beware with the Lenovo Q180 if you buy the barebones DOS version to install Windows 7 64bit on it.

    The Audio doesn't work. The drivers Lenovo have up on the site are incorrect for 64bit. So far they haven't got round to changing it after 6 months.

    If you buy the version with Windows 64bit installed it works. But they just wont release the right driver.
    0
  • The big problem with net tops is longevity and lack of upgrade abilities. If all you plan to do with them is surf the web,send email, chat and watch 2D video. You most likely won't care what hardware is in them. But that's not the negative about these small form factors. Its heat, and a question of how that heat will affect the hardware in such a small form? Not to mention the small PSU's and the question of why would you buy one of these over a decent well designed notebook? Even if you like the form factor and want to run Linux on one of these. Chances are Linux will challenge you on some problem with the hardware.
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  • For day to day office work they do the job perfectly. I know quite a few businesses that are keen to drop their old 130W desktop boxes for something easier on the power bill. I rolled out a load of Atom ION boxes about 3 years ago and all of them are still going strong in some quite challenging environments. A few of them were even overclocked to give a little extra pep and no problems yet.

    The main thing that holds these boxes back are the HDDs. They still keep slipping 5400rpm drives in them. You put a 120GB SSD in there and you have a near perfect general office PC.
    2
  • Looking at the D2700 vs. the 450 reminds me of days gone by with the P4D and the Athlon 64 X2. The higher clock speed plus HT of the Atom helps a lot with encoding but despite its clock speed disadvantage, the 450 easily holds its own.

    The next generation of both these CPU families would be worth watching out for.
    1
  • I've been debating about purchasing a MINI PC vs Building, sadly one of my HTPC's just recently took a swan dive. So do I purchase something like the ASRock Vision HT for ~$700+ ($800), Build or Repair?!

    The only potential drawback to these MINI PC's as an HTPC is lacking of an internal 'TV Tuner' option. However, since Cable DVR's are very common place now the 'TV Tuner' need is getting smaller every day. I have Verizon FiOS and the newer black DVR's and a HTPC to record requires a CableCARD and PCIe CableCARD e.g. Ceton InfiniTV 4 but then you run into oddball things like "Copy Once."

    The Pro's & Con's are all from their size, but ~$700+ is a huge price and IMO reduces the demand. The only complete system in this article is the Lenovo Q180, the ASRock Vision HT 821B requires some form of OS and sure there's 'free' OSes but Windows 7 Home Premium OEM 64-bit will add an additional $100.

    Any of these listed can be used as a simple Desktop replacement. The workaround for storage is to either purchase a large capacity 'drive' (SSD or HDD) that can 'fit' or some form of external storage including an external drive (USB or eSATA if applicable) or Windows Home Server or similar network storage device.
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  • silverblueLooking at the D2700 vs. the 450 reminds me of days gone by with the P4D and the Athlon 64 X2. The higher clock speed plus HT of the Atom helps a lot with encoding but despite its clock speed disadvantage, the 450 easily holds its own.The next generation of both these CPU families would be worth watching out for.


    Just about the same performance between them back in the day. Of course it's different OS's and software, but, that was from the good ole days when Athlon 64 x2 ruled the x86 performance race.
    0
  • I bought an Asus nettop last year from Walmart. And despite putting a SSD in it + 4GB of memory, it crawled at even loading web pages...especially forums. Wife noticed the speed difference and after lots of complaining sent me back to return it.
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  • Nintendo Maniac 64So I'm guessing there aren't any nettops yet that use the low-voltage Trinity APUs? (17w A6-4455M and 25w A10-4655M)


    I couldn't find any, but this article has been in the works for a while so some might have cropped up.
    0
  • jaquithThe only potential drawback to these MINI PC's as an HTPC is lacking of an internal 'TV Tuner' option.


    The Jetway Mini-Top in this article *does* have an internal TV tuner option. :)
    1
  • I'd like to see the ASRock Vision HT compared to a Mac Mini, since that's in the same ballpark. Except for them ditching the optical drive. *sigh*. Load it up with win or linux if you like.

    For either box, you're paying a premium for the miniaturisation and polished look.
    0
  • I would love to see a comparison to a home-built mini-itx setup. I've been using them for workstations. For ~500 bucks you can build a pretty potent little computer.
    2
  • I can't believe how expensive these are compared to a laptop that includes KB, mouse, and monitor with similar price and specs. These should be either more modular or be much cheaper. It is nice to see they are starting to include wireless and bluetooth. If only laptops had their power buttons accessible from the exterior.
    0
  • I rather build an ITX with a better choice of parts instead of overpaying for some of these machines. The Asrock one looks interesting and wished that more companies would release boards for deskptops that took advantage of mobile cpus. Got an a4 3300m that is just sitting idle.
    0
  • The Zotac Zbox Nano with the AMD E-350 is $200 at the Egg -- goes on sale from time-to-time, too. Roll your own SSD and RAM, and off yah go ...

    It has a dedicated eSATA port on the back, but otherwise appears quite similar to the E-450 model.
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  • tntomI can't believe how expensive these are compared to a laptop that includes KB, mouse, and monitor with similar price and specs. These should be either more modular or be much cheaper. It is nice to see they are starting to include wireless and bluetooth. If only laptops had their power buttons accessible from the exterior.

    But picking a laptop implies 2 things:
    1. Long term maintenance is harder and more expensive. Certain models include soldered RAM and replacing the keyboard is not only expensive but also requires a lot of disassembling;
    2. Laptop screens are rather small compared to desktop counterparts. While bargain laptops come with 14-17" screens any cheap desktop comes with nothing smaller than 19 inches these days. And for $170 one could get a much larger 24" monitor;
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  • I still don't know if it can play a encode blu-ray with cabac, 8x8, rf6, bframe 5, etc etc...
    -1
  • K2N haterBut picking a laptop implies 2 things:1. Long term maintenance is harder and more expensive. Certain models include soldered RAM and replacing the keyboard is not only expensive but also requires a lot of disassembling;2. Laptop screens are rather small compared to desktop counterparts. While bargain laptops come with 14-17" screens any cheap desktop comes with nothing smaller than 19 inches these days. And for $170 one could get a much larger 24" monitor;


    Long term maintenance is about the same. Yes, laptop is more crammed inside, but not much you can do with such machine as well. Buy laptop and think you have this tiny PC: connect external monitor, keyboard and off you go. In case you need, you also have extra screen for taking it with you. And battery as well.
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  • daglesjBeware with the Lenovo Q180 if you buy the barebones DOS version to install Windows 7 64bit on it.The Audio doesn't work. The drivers Lenovo have up on the site are incorrect for 64bit. So far they haven't got round to changing it after 6 months.If you buy the version with Windows 64bit installed it works. But they just wont release the right driver.


    You would have thought that someone would have released the right driver who owns a 64-bit system. It's just a matter of using a driver export tool and saying "export".
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  • CPU usend on the ASROCK is called 3210M. Please fix it in the article.
    -1