Skip to main content

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

Nettop Nirvana

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-BDGiada i50 B5541ArcticMC001-BDZotac Zbox AD03BR-Plus
Nettop Specifications
ChipsetIntel HM65Intel HM55Intel NM10AMD A50M
CPUIntel Core i5-2520M (Sandy Bridge), Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 2.5 GHz (3.1 Max. Turbo), 3 MB L3 CacheIntel 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 CacheAMD E-350(Zacate) Dual-Core, 1.6 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache
SystemMemoryAsint PC3-10700, 2 x 2 GB, 665 MHz, CL 9-9-9-24-1T(dual-channel)Kingston PC3-107001 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 PC3-107001 x 2 GB, 533 MHz, CL 9-9-9-24-1T (single-channel)
GraphicsIntel 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 DriveWestern Digital Scorpio Black500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/sSeagate Momentus 7200.4500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/sHitachi Travelstar 7K500 500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/sSamsung Spinpoint 250 GB, 5400 RPM, 8 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Optical DriveLG DS-4E1S Slimline4x Blu-ray ROM8x DVD-RW SATANot includedLG DS-4E1S Slimline4x Blu-ray ROM8x DVD-RW SATABlu-ray/DVD/CD Combo Drive
RemoteIncludedIncludedNot included, but Smartphone app available soonNot included
Internal Interfaces
Memory SupportTwo 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3-1333, Up to 8 GBOne 204-pin SO-DIMMDDR3, up to 8 GBTwo 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3, Up to 4 GBTwo 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3, Up to 8 GB
I/O Panel Connectors
DVInonenonenone1
VGA111none
HDMI1111
USB 2.0 (3.0)4 (4)4 (1)5 (2)1 (2)
Memory CardReadernoneSD/MMC/MS/MSPRO4-in-1 Memory Card ReaderMMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD
Network1111
eSATA1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)nonenone1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)
Digital Audio OutOptical/HDMIHDMIOptical/HDMIOptical/HDMI
Analog Audio5 rear, 2 front jacks2 top jacks6 rear, 2 front jacks2 front jacks
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA3 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
LANRealtek 8111E PCIeRealtek 8111E PCIeRealtek 8111E PCIeRealtek 8111DL PCIe
Wi-FiAtheros AR92872T2R 802.11b/g/nAzurewave AW-NB037H802.11b/g/nRalink RT3070L802.11b/g/nAtheros AR92872T2R 802.11b/g/n
BluetoothnoneAzurewave AW-NB037H802.11b/g/nnonenone
Audio
HD Audio CodecAnalog and optical:Realtek ALC892HDMI: Intel Display AudioAnalog:Realtek ALC662HDMI: Intel Display AudioAnalog and optical:Realtek ALC892HDMI: AMD HD AudioAnalog and optical:Realtek ALC888HDMI: AMD HD Audio
Audio Channels7.1-Ch HD Audio withTHX TruStudio PRO5.1-Ch HD Audio7.1-Ch HD Audio7.1 + 2-Ch HD Audio
Price
With Windows OSNot 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.com2 GB RAM, 320 GB hard drive alternate available at www.amazon.com with Ubuntu for $465Not Available$504 at www.zotacUSA.com, or $399 for barebone (no OS, memory or hard disk)
  • jdwii
    MISTAKE

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

    Remote?
    Reply
  • cleeve
    AMD X6850Remote?
    Thx, fixed!
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.)
    Reply