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Does Size Matter? Four Very Small Nettops Get Reviewed

Does Size Matter? Four Very Small Nettops Get Reviewed
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We're comparing four diminutive PCs: ASRock’s Vision HT, Jetway’s Mini-Top JBC700, Lenovo’s Q180, and Zotac’s Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus. Despite their similar sizes, each tiny computer offers a unique feature set. Are any of them right for you?

Every once in a while, we like to size up the very-small-form-factor segment to see how the desktop technology we cover on the desktop is being miniaturized for more space-sensitive mainstream markets. Most recently, Zotac sent us seven of its diminutive Zboxes, which allowed us to cut right past any discussion of implementation and dive right into the many platforms currently being used to enable nettop-class machines (see Good Things In Small Packages: Seven Nettop Platforms, Tested). 

Today, we have four machines from as many different vendors. Our focus this time around is more on the products themselves, particularly now that we know how the hardware inside each performs (don't worry, we're running plenty of benchmarks here, too). Each box has its own unique focus. Some aim to squeeze desktop-like performance into a diminutive enclosure, and others minimize physical dimensions while pushing performance a notch higher compared to previous-generation models.

The point is that all of these computers share common ground when it comes to dimensions, but their personalities are so different that we're pretty much comparing apples to oranges. Nevertheless, comprehensive analysis will make it clear where each configuration excels, ensuring an informed buying decision.

Here are our four contenders:


ASRock Vision HT 821B
Lenovo Q180 31102BU
Jetway Mini-Top JBC700C9JG
Zotac Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus
Chipset
Intel HM77
Intel NM10
Intel H61
AMD A50M
CPU
Intel Core i5-3210M (Ivy Bridge), Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 2.5 GHz (3.1 Max. Turbo), 3 MB L3 Cache
Intel Atom D2700
(Cedar trail) Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 2.13 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache
Not IncludedAMD E-450
(Zacate) Dual-Core, 1.65 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache
System Memory
Asint PC3-12800, 2 x 2 GB, 800 MHz, CL 11-11-11-28-1T
(dual-channel)
Samsung PC3-10600
1 x 4 GB, 533 MHz,
(single-channel)
Not Included
(dual-channel)
Samsung PC3-10700
1 x 2 GB, 670 MHz,
CL 9-9-9-24-1T
(single-channel)
Graphics
Intel HD Graphics 4000
(Integrated, shared RAM)
AMD Radeon HD 6450A
(512 MB dedicated DDR3, 800 MHz)
Nvidia GeForce GT 520M
(1 GB dedicated
DDR3, 800 MHz)
Radeon HD 6320
(Integrated, shared RAM)
Hard Drive
Seagate Momentus Spinpoint
750 GB, 8 MB Cache,
5400 RPM, SATA 3Gb/s
Seagate Momentus 5400.6
500 GB, 5400 RPM, 8 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Not IncludedKingston mS100 SSD
64 GB, mSATA 3Gb/s
Optical Drive
LG DL-4ETS Slimline
4x Blu-ray ROM
8x DVD-RW SATA
Sony Optiarc AD-7690H
8x DVD-RW SATA
24x CD-RW
Not IncludedNot Included
(no room for internal optical drive)
Operating System
Not Included
Windows 7 Home
Premium 64-bit

Not IncludedNot Included
Human Interface Devices
Included IR
MCE Remote

Included wired keyboard
and mouse

Not included, but equipped
with IR sensor for
MCE remote
Included IR
MCE Remote
Internal Interfaces
Memory Support
Two 204-pin SO-DIMMs
DDR3-1600, Up to 16 GB
One 204-pin SO-DIMM
DDR3, up to 8 GB
Two 204-pin SO-DIMMs
DDR3 1300, Up to 8 GB
One 204-pin SO-DIMM
DDR3 1300, Up to 4 GB
I/O Panel Connectors
DVI
1
none1none
VGA
none1
none (comes with DVI-to-VGA adapter)
none
HDMI
1
1
1
1
USB 2.0 , 3.0, eSATA combo
4, 4, 0
4, 2, 0
3, 2, 1
1, 2, 1
Memory Card
Reader
MMC/SD3.0/MS/MSPROSD/MMC/MS/MSPRO
MMC/SD/MS
MMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD
Network
1
1
1
1
eSATA
1
none1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)
Digital Audio Out
Optical/HDMI
Optical/HDMISPDIF/HDMI
HDMI
Analog Audio
5 rear, 2 front jacks
2 front jacks
2 front jacks
2 front jacks
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA
3 x SATA 3Gb/s
(2 used for optical and HDD)
1 x mSATA 3Gb/s
1 x SATA 3Gb/s
(used for 2.5" HDD)
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
(can accommodate slimline optical and 2.5" HDD)
1 x mSATA 3Gb/s
(used for SSD HDD)
Ethernet & Wireless
LAN
Realtek GbE controller
Realtek GbE controllerRealtek GbE controllerRealtek GbE controller
Wi-Fi
Atheros AR946x
2T2R 802.11a/b/g/n Dual-Band
Realtek RTL 8188 CE
802.11b/g/n
Atheros AR9285
2T2R 802.11b/g/n
Realtek RTL 8188 CU
802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 3.0/4.0 HS class II
none
nonenone
Audio
HD Audio Codec
Analog and optical: Realtek ALC898
HDMI: Intel Display Audio
Analog: Realtek ALC662
HDMI: Intel Display Audio
Analog: Realtek ALC662
HDMI: Intel Display Audio
Analog: Realtek ALC892
HDMI: AMD HD Audio
S/PDIF And Optical Audio
7.1 + 2-Ch HD Audio with
THX TruStudio
5.1-Ch HD Audio
5.1-Ch HD Audio
N/A
Price
As Tested
$680 Newegg MSRP
(Expected Mid-July)
$430 at lenovo.com (including OS)
N5902 wireless keyboard remote $80
JBC700C9JG as tested is $273 at itxdepot.com
$380 on Newegg
Notes
ASRock Vision X to arrive in near future equipped with Radeon HD 7850M
Other Q180 models range from $339 to $549 depending on options
JBC700C9J, identical except for lack of GeForce GT 520M, is $180 on NeweggLarge assortment of Zbox options on Newegg from $220 to $480
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  • 7 Hide
    Nintendo Maniac 64 , July 25, 2012 4:45 AM
    So I'm guessing there aren't any nettops yet that use the low-voltage Trinity APUs? (17w A6-4455M and 25w A10-4655M)
  • 0 Hide
    daglesj , July 25, 2012 9:01 AM
    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 Hide
    Anonymous , July 25, 2012 10:25 AM
    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.
  • 2 Hide
    daglesj , July 25, 2012 12:08 PM
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    silverblue , July 25, 2012 1:28 PM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    jaquith , July 25, 2012 2:36 PM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    chewy1963 , July 25, 2012 3:23 PM
    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 Hide
    stevelord , July 25, 2012 3:51 PM
    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.

  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , July 25, 2012 4:12 PM
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , July 25, 2012 4:13 PM
    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. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 25, 2012 4:34 PM
    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.
  • 2 Hide
    phate , July 25, 2012 4:40 PM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    tntom , July 25, 2012 6:02 PM
    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 Hide
    nforce4max , July 25, 2012 6:17 PM
    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 Hide
    Wisecracker , July 25, 2012 6:22 PM

    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.

  • 0 Hide
    K2N hater , July 25, 2012 11:11 PM
    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;
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 26, 2012 4:36 AM
    I still don't know if it can play a encode blu-ray with cabac, 8x8, rf6, bframe 5, etc etc...
  • 0 Hide
    sslapikas , July 26, 2012 3:58 PM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    Christopher1 , August 2, 2012 7:52 AM
    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".
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 18, 2012 7:20 AM
    CPU usend on the ASROCK is called 3210M. Please fix it in the article.

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