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

Benchmark Results: Video Playback

The following test from PCMark 7 measures how well these platforms play back a 1080p, H.264 video file at 24 FPS:

The Giada i50 suffers a little, likely the result of its entry-level HD Graphics engine. We’re a little surprised to see the Zbox fall behind as well, as we didn't choppiness during actual Blu-ray playback testing. As a matter of fact, it's surprising that none of these solutions manage to achieve a perfect 24 FPS. Despite this, HD video appears smooth in our tests on the Zbox, MC001-BD, and CoreHT.

Now let's look at video playback quality using the HQV 2.0 benchmark. Giada's i50 is left out of this test because it doesn't come equipped with a Blu-ray drive:

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HQV Benchmark version 2.0 Results (out of 210 possible)
Row 0 - Cell 0 Zotac Zbox AD03BR-Plus andArctic MC001-BDASRock CoreHT 252B
Test Class 1: Video Conversion8978
Test Class 2: Noise and Artifact Reduction4444
Test Class 3: Image Scaling and Enhancements3025
Test Class 4: Adaptive Processing717

The Zbox and MC001-BD share an identical 170-point score, which we expected since both solutions employ similar Radeon-based graphics hardware. The Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset in the ASRock CoreHT scores slightly less, but still manages a fine result.

Blu-ray 3D Playback

The only one of these nettops advertised with Blu-ray 3D support is ASRock's CoreHT, and it performs this task well. This is our first experience with 3D over HDMI using an Intel graphics chipset, and its performance is surprisingly good thanks to hardware-based decode logic able to handle the otherwise taxing workload.

The Zbox and MC001-BD don't fare as well. Arctic's entry plays back Blu-ray 3D, but without MVC decode acceleration on its Mobility Radeon HD 5430, the resulting slide show is caused by the Atom D525 CPU trying to keep up. As for Zotac's Zbox, the E-350 APU is able to decode MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 in hardware. However, AMD didn't see fit to arm it with MVC decode acceleration, which is required for Blu-ray 3D playback. As a result, its two Bobcat cores struggle right alongside Intel's Atom, too slow for a usable experience.

Other Video Considerations

The ASRock, Arctic, and Zotac nettops all feature a Realtek 7.1-channel HD Audio codec and the ability to bitstream lossless audio data over HDMI. ASRock’s CoreHT 252B also features THX TruStudio PRO certification. While the Giada i50 does not have an optical audio output, it can deliver digital audio via a coax adapter that does not come with the bundle.

  • jdwii

    But at $504 with no operating system (and $399 for a version without an operating system, hard drive, or memory),
  • Pyree
    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.
  • chumly
    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.
  • AMD X6850
    As mentioned, no remove comes bundled with the Zbox.

  • cleeve
    AMD X6850Remote?
    Thx, fixed!
  • molo9000
    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.
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    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.
  • compton
    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.
  • ruban71
    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.
  • 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.)