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:
|Header Cell - Column 0||ASRock Core100HT-BD||Giada i50 B5541||ArcticMC001-BD||Zotac Zbox AD03BR-Plus|
|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 Cache||Intel 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|
|SystemMemory||Asint 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)|
|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 Black500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s||Seagate Momentus 7200.4500 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 Slimline4x Blu-ray ROM8x DVD-RW SATA||Not included||LG DS-4E1S Slimline4x Blu-ray ROM8x DVD-RW SATA||Blu-ray/DVD/CD Combo Drive|
|Remote||Included||Included||Not included, but Smartphone app available soon||Not included|
|Memory Support||Two 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3-1333, Up to 8 GB||One 204-pin SO-DIMMDDR3, up to 8 GB||Two 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3, Up to 4 GB||Two 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3, Up to 8 GB|
|I/O Panel Connectors|
|USB 2.0 (3.0)||4 (4)||4 (1)||5 (2)||1 (2)|
|Memory CardReader||none||SD/MMC/MS/MSPRO||4-in-1 Memory Card Reader||MMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD|
|eSATA||1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)||none||none||1 (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 PCIe||Realtek 8111E PCIe||Realtek 8111DL PCIe|
|Wi-Fi||Atheros AR92872T2R 802.11b/g/n||Azurewave AW-NB037H802.11b/g/n||Ralink RT3070L802.11b/g/n||Atheros AR92872T2R 802.11b/g/n|
|HD Audio Codec||Analog and optical:Realtek ALC892HDMI: Intel Display Audio||Analog:Realtek ALC662HDMI: Intel Display Audio||Analog and optical:Realtek ALC892HDMI: AMD HD Audio||Analog and optical:Realtek ALC888HDMI: AMD HD Audio|
|Audio Channels||7.1-Ch HD Audio withTHX TruStudio PRO||5.1-Ch HD Audio||7.1-Ch HD Audio||7.1 + 2-Ch HD Audio|
|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)|
They are small form factor PCs or home theatre PCs, but they are not nettops.
btw: Mac mini should be in this lineup.
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.