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Three Slim Atom/Ion 2-Based Nettop PCs Compared

Nettop Roundup

The nettop form factor is hard for the enthusiast community to swallow. On one hand, we want to love the fact that so much technology can be packed into such a small platform. On the other, it's frustrating to sit in front of a PC with so little performance compared to our full-sized (or even microATX) desktop machines.

Nevertheless, nettops are certainly better now than they were a year ago, thanks largely to the explosive popularity of mobile netbooks and the processing/graphics improvements aimed at that segment. While the earliest Atom processors were a little too anemic for my tastes, the Atom D500-series processors, with their dual-core, Hyper-Threaded resources, have taken nettop performance to a more respectable place. Similarly, Nvidia’s "next-generation" Ion platform pushes graphics performance beyond the basic functionality that a nettop would have had otherwise given Intel's track record in graphics.

Indeed, the nettop is bigger than its original billing lets on. It's able to handle more than just basic Internet browsing and word processing. But how much work can a modern nettop actually handle? How do Intel's Atom D500 processors compare to the comparatively powerful mobile Intel Core i3 CPU? Is the Ion 2 chipset strong enough to enable gaming from such a diminutive machine? Aside from raw benchmark performance, how responsive are today's nettops compared to more powerful desktop PCs?

These are the questions we set out to answer in today's story comparing three up-to-date nettops equipped with dual-core, Hyper-Threaded Atom CPUs and Nvidia's Ion 2 chipset. Our contenders: the Giada Slim-N20, the Jetway Mini-TOP, and the Zotac ZBOX.

Nettop Specifications
Giada Slim-N20Jetway Mini-TOPZotac ZBOX HD-ID34
ChipsetIntel NM10Intel NM10Intel NM10
CPUIntel Atom D510 Dual-Core, 1.66 GHz, 666 MHz FSBIntel Atom D525 Dual-Core, 1.8 GHz, 800 MHz FSBIntel Atom D525Dual-Core, 1.8 GHz, 800 MHz FSB
GraphicsNvidia Ion 2 (GT218)Idle: 405 MHz core/810 MHz shadersLoad: 533 MHz core/1230 MHz shadersNvidia Ion 2 (GT218)Idle: 405 MHz core/810 MHz shadersLoad: 533 MHz core/1230 MHz shadersNvidia Ion 2 (GT218)Idle: 405 MHz core/810 MHz shadersLoad: 533 MHz core/1230 MHz shaders
Graphics Memory512 MB GDDR3Idle: 405 MHz Load: 790 MHz512 MB GDDR3Idle: 405 MHz Load: 790 MHz512 MB GDDR3Idle: 405 MHzLoad: 790 MHz
System Memory1 x 2 GB Hyundai PC2-6400 332 MHz DDR2, 5-5-5-15-2Tnot included1 x 2 GB Samsung PC2-6400332 MHz DDR2, 5-5-5-15-2T
Hard DriveSeagate Momentus320 GB, 7200RPM, 16 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/snot includedSamsung Spinpoint250 GB, 5400 RPM, 8 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Optical Drivenot includednot includedBlu-ray/DVD/CD Combo Drive
Operating SystemWindows 7 Home Premiumnot includednot included
Internal Interfaces
Memory SupportOne 200-pin SO-DIMM DDR2-800/667, Up to 4 GBTwo 200-pin SO-DIMMs DDR2-800/667, Up to 4 GBTwo 200-pin SO-DIMMsDDR2-800/667, Up to 4 GB
I/O Panel Connectors
DVInone11
VGA1nonenone
HDMI111
USB 2.0 (3.0)2 (0)4 (0)1 (2)
Memory Card ReaderSD/MMC/MS/MS ProSD/MMC/MSMMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD
Network111
eSATA1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)
Digital Audio OutOptical/HDMIHDMI/SPDIFOptical/HDMI
Analog Audio1 headphone and 1 mic jack1 headphone and 1 mic jack1 headphone and 1 mic jack
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA1 x SATA 3.0Gb/s1 x SATA 3.0Gb/s1 x SATA 3.0Gb/s
Ethernet & Wireless
LANRealtek RTL8111C PCIeRealtek RTL8111DL PCIeRealtek RTL8111DL PCIe
WirelessAtheros AR9285Atheros 802.11 b/g/n PCIe CardAtheros AR9285
BluetoothAtheros AR3011nonenone
Audio
HD Audio CodecAnalog & optical: Realtek ALC662 HDMI: Nvidia L-PCM digital audioAnalog: C-Media CM108AHHDMI: Nvidia L-PCM digital audioAnalog and optical: Realtek ALC888HDMI: Nvidia L-PCM digital audio
Audio ChannelsOptical can support 5.1 output with external decoderHDMI and can support 7.1 output with external decoderHDMI can support 7.1output with external decoderHDMI and optical can support 7.1output with external decoder

Those are the specifications—now let’s look at the hardware.

  • reprotected
    Nettops fail.
    Reply
  • DjEaZy
    ... it may be a good mac mini hackentosch...
    Reply
  • hmp_goose
    Retest the N20's playback with a RAM drive for the temp files; I suspect the drive system is the issue . . .
    Reply
  • dEAne
    Overall it is good. The benchmark is fair enough - And it is presentable too.
    Reply
  • cushgod
    SHould test results with a SSD complared to a "mechanical" HDD to see how much that can help an Atom move along :)
    Reply
  • fullcircle_bflo
    So if I wanted a computer simply to stream internet videos to a television via HDMI(such as Hulu or CBS website), would any of these be a good candidate?
    Reply
  • kriminal
    ^^ guess so.. fullcircle
    Reply
  • mchuf
    For $150 - $200, you can buy a used Pentium D or C2D pc off of craigslist. Add a $50 HD5450 gpu and a $40 wireless KB/M combo and your all set. That would be a more capable box than one of these things and at a lower price (even if you upgrade to Win 7 HP). Hell, even a used Mac Mini (old model) might be a more cost effective solution. Unless you're extremely tight for space, I don't see the appeal for an overpriced "net" device.
    Reply
  • nonameworks
    ^^ Only if you ignore the cost of electricity
    Reply
  • tipoo
    Zino HD review, please! At close to the cost of many of these nettops, it blows them away in performance and is almost as small and consumes almost as little power.
    Reply