Conclusion: Just Powerful Enough To Feel That Way
You might have interpreted the benchmarks on the preceding pages and assumed that these Atom-powered Ion 2-equipped nettops are slow machines. When it comes to raw CPU potential, this may be the case. But when you look at the intended use of these PCs, they shine brighter.
Nobody should buy a nettop for its pretty little body and expect a workstation able to handle intensive tasks. These PCs are intended for basic use. In this light, they can be quite snappy, as we demonstrated in the response time benchmarks. They can play back HD video with aplomb, thanks to GPU-based acceleration for a majority of formats, and they can even play games that are more than average mainstream fare. The numbers show it, but subjective experience supports the conclusion that, for the great majority of tasks, these tiny little PCs don’t make you feel like you’re waiting any longer than you’re used to on a desktop.
Zotac’s entry is the only one in our test group equipped with a Blu-ray combo drive, and this is a particularly potent advantage in several different ways, from use in a home theater to even getting an application installed without a huge hassle. The $500 asking price without an OS (you have to add another $100 to that price for an OEM copy of Windows 7) is more than the competition, but certainly less than other nettops, such as the $649.99 ASRock Core 100HT-BD (also sans OS).
On the downside, the lack of remote could be problem for some folks. And we’d appreciate at least one more USB input on the back. HTPC purists will be put off by the lack of Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio support over HDMI (something you can get from the Intel HD Graphics solution). But there is an optical S/PDIF output, which has enough bandwidth for Dolby Digital and DTS output. Despite these concerns, Zotac’s ZBOX is a very capable nettop PC that looks sharp in a living room setting, and is especially attractive if size is an issue.
The Giada Slim-N20 is delightfully small and just as capable as its competitors, despite the slightly slower 1.66 GHz Atom D510 processor, as it is bolstered by a relatively quick 7200 RPM 320 GB Seagate Momentus hard disk.
This elegant-looking nettop is the only one in our test group that comes complete with the hardware, operating system, Bluetooth functionality, and remote for $449. A minor complaint with the Giada Slim-N20 is that we wish it had a USB port on the front panel. Our only real concern is a Flash video and HD video file playback stutter issue at the 1080p screen resolution, but this problem didn't seem to manifest itself during Blu-ray playback.
Jetway’s Mini-TOP comes as a $270 barebones kit without a hard disk, RAM, or an operating system. Add a Samsung 5400 RPM 250 GB Spinpoint drive and a 2 GB stick of PC2-6400 RAM as tested, and the total becomes $356 (but closer to $460 when Windows 7 Home Premium OEM is added to the mix).
At the same time, one of the Jetway’s strengths with its barebones nettop is the ability to tailor components. For $15, you get the faster 7200 RPM 320 GB drive (the same as the Giada nettop tested here) or a very fast 320 GB Seagate Momentus XT can be had for $70. You can also add more or faster RAM.
This very small and convenient offering is also the only Atom-equipped model in our comparison that has four USB ports. The Jetway is the most flexible nettop in our comparison to be sure, and a great option for folks who want to choose the hard disk and RAM they prefer.