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Does Size Matter? Four Very Small Nettops Get Reviewed

ASRock, Lenovo, Jetway, And Zotac: Small Form-Factor PCs

Every once in a while, we like to size up the very-small-form-factor segment to see how the desktop technology we cover on the desktop is being miniaturized for more space-sensitive mainstream markets. Most recently, Zotac sent us seven of its diminutive Zboxes, which allowed us to cut right past any discussion of implementation and dive right into the many platforms currently being used to enable nettop-class machines (see Good Things In Small Packages: Seven Nettop Platforms, Tested). 

Today, we have four machines from as many different vendors. Our focus this time around is more on the products themselves, particularly now that we know how the hardware inside each performs (don't worry, we're running plenty of benchmarks here, too). Each box has its own unique focus. Some aim to squeeze desktop-like performance into a diminutive enclosure, and others minimize physical dimensions while pushing performance a notch higher compared to previous-generation models.

The point is that all of these computers share common ground when it comes to dimensions, but their personalities are so different that we're pretty much comparing apples to oranges. Nevertheless, comprehensive analysis will make it clear where each configuration excels, ensuring an informed buying decision.

Here are our four contenders:

ASRock Vision HT 821BLenovo Q180 31102BUJetway Mini-Top JBC700C9JGZotac Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus
ChipsetIntel HM77Intel NM10Intel H61AMD A50M
CPUIntel Core i5-3210M (Ivy Bridge), Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 2.5 GHz (3.1 Max. Turbo), 3 MB L3 CacheIntel Atom D2700(Cedar trail) Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 2.13 GHz, 1 MB L2 CacheNot IncludedAMD E-450(Zacate) Dual-Core, 1.65 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache
System MemoryAsint PC3-12800, 2 x 2 GB, 800 MHz, CL 11-11-11-28-1T(dual-channel)Samsung PC3-106001 x 4 GB, 533 MHz,(single-channel)Not Included(dual-channel)Samsung PC3-107001 x 2 GB, 670 MHz, CL 9-9-9-24-1T (single-channel)
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 4000 (Integrated, shared RAM)AMD Radeon HD 6450A (512 MB dedicated DDR3, 800 MHz)Nvidia GeForce GT 520M (1 GB dedicated DDR3, 800 MHz)Radeon HD 6320 (Integrated, shared RAM)
Hard DriveSeagate Momentus Spinpoint750 GB, 8 MB Cache,5400 RPM, SATA 3Gb/sSeagate Momentus 5400.6500 GB, 5400 RPM, 8 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/sNot IncludedKingston mS100 SSD 64 GB, mSATA 3Gb/s
Optical DriveLG DL-4ETS Slimline4x Blu-ray ROM8x DVD-RW SATASony Optiarc AD-7690H8x DVD-RW SATA24x CD-RWNot IncludedNot Included(no room for internal optical drive)
Operating SystemNot IncludedWindows 7 HomePremium 64-bitNot IncludedNot Included
Human Interface DevicesIncluded IRMCE RemoteIncluded wired keyboardand mouseNot included, but equippedwith IR sensor for MCE remoteIncluded IRMCE Remote
Internal Interfaces
Memory SupportTwo 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3-1600, Up to 16 GBOne 204-pin SO-DIMMDDR3, up to 8 GBTwo 204-pin SO-DIMMsDDR3 1300, Up to 8 GBOne 204-pin SO-DIMMDDR3 1300, Up to 4 GB
I/O Panel Connectors
DVI1none1none
VGAnone1none (comes with DVI-to-VGA adapter)none
HDMI1111
USB 2.0 , 3.0, eSATA combo4, 4, 04, 2, 03, 2, 11, 2, 1
Memory CardReaderMMC/SD3.0/MS/MSPROSD/MMC/MS/MSPROMMC/SD/MSMMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD
Network1111
eSATA1none1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)
Digital Audio OutOptical/HDMIOptical/HDMISPDIF/HDMIHDMI
Analog Audio5 rear, 2 front jacks2 front jacks2 front jacks2 front jacks
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA3 x SATA 3Gb/s(2 used for optical and HDD)1 x mSATA 3Gb/s1 x SATA 3Gb/s(used for 2.5" HDD)2 x SATA 3Gb/s(can accommodate slimline optical and 2.5" HDD)1 x mSATA 3Gb/s(used for SSD HDD)
Ethernet & Wireless
LANRealtek GbE controllerRealtek GbE controllerRealtek GbE controllerRealtek GbE controller
Wi-FiAtheros AR946x2T2R 802.11a/b/g/n Dual-BandRealtek RTL 8188 CE802.11b/g/nAtheros AR92852T2R 802.11b/g/nRealtek RTL 8188 CU802.11b/g/n
BluetoothBluetooth 3.0/4.0 HS class IInonenonenone
Audio
HD Audio CodecAnalog and optical: Realtek ALC898HDMI: Intel Display AudioAnalog: Realtek ALC662HDMI: Intel Display AudioAnalog: Realtek ALC662HDMI: Intel Display AudioAnalog: Realtek ALC892HDMI: AMD HD Audio
S/PDIF And Optical Audio7.1 + 2-Ch HD Audio withTHX TruStudio5.1-Ch HD Audio5.1-Ch HD AudioN/A
Price
As Tested$680 Newegg MSRP(Expected Mid-July)$430 at lenovo.com (including OS) N5902 wireless keyboard remote $80JBC700C9JG as tested is $273 at itxdepot.com$380 on Newegg
NotesASRock Vision X to arrive in near future equipped with Radeon HD 7850MOther Q180 models range from $339 to $549 depending on optionsJBC700C9J, identical except for lack of GeForce GT 520M, is $180 on NeweggLarge assortment of Zbox options on Newegg from $220 to $480
  • Nintendo Maniac 64
    So I'm guessing there aren't any nettops yet that use the low-voltage Trinity APUs? (17w A6-4455M and 25w A10-4655M)
    Reply
  • daglesj
    Beware with the Lenovo Q180 if you buy the barebones DOS version to install Windows 7 64bit on it.

    The Audio doesn't work. The drivers Lenovo have up on the site are incorrect for 64bit. So far they haven't got round to changing it after 6 months.

    If you buy the version with Windows 64bit installed it works. But they just wont release the right driver.
    Reply
  • The big problem with net tops is longevity and lack of upgrade abilities. If all you plan to do with them is surf the web,send email, chat and watch 2D video. You most likely won't care what hardware is in them. But that's not the negative about these small form factors. Its heat, and a question of how that heat will affect the hardware in such a small form? Not to mention the small PSU's and the question of why would you buy one of these over a decent well designed notebook? Even if you like the form factor and want to run Linux on one of these. Chances are Linux will challenge you on some problem with the hardware.
    Reply
  • daglesj
    For day to day office work they do the job perfectly. I know quite a few businesses that are keen to drop their old 130W desktop boxes for something easier on the power bill. I rolled out a load of Atom ION boxes about 3 years ago and all of them are still going strong in some quite challenging environments. A few of them were even overclocked to give a little extra pep and no problems yet.

    The main thing that holds these boxes back are the HDDs. They still keep slipping 5400rpm drives in them. You put a 120GB SSD in there and you have a near perfect general office PC.
    Reply
  • silverblue
    Looking at the D2700 vs. the 450 reminds me of days gone by with the P4D and the Athlon 64 X2. The higher clock speed plus HT of the Atom helps a lot with encoding but despite its clock speed disadvantage, the 450 easily holds its own.

    The next generation of both these CPU families would be worth watching out for.
    Reply
  • jaquith
    I've been debating about purchasing a MINI PC vs Building, sadly one of my HTPC's just recently took a swan dive. So do I purchase something like the ASRock Vision HT for ~$700+ ($800), Build or Repair?!

    The only potential drawback to these MINI PC's as an HTPC is lacking of an internal 'TV Tuner' option. However, since Cable DVR's are very common place now the 'TV Tuner' need is getting smaller every day. I have Verizon FiOS and the newer black DVR's and a HTPC to record requires a CableCARD and PCIe CableCARD e.g. Ceton InfiniTV 4 but then you run into oddball things like "Copy Once."
    The Pro's & Con's are all from their size, but ~$700+ is a huge price and IMO reduces the demand. The only complete system in this article is the Lenovo Q180, the ASRock Vision HT 821B requires some form of OS and sure there's 'free' OSes but Windows 7 Home Premium OEM 64-bit will add an additional $100.

    Any of these listed can be used as a simple Desktop replacement. The workaround for storage is to either purchase a large capacity 'drive' (SSD or HDD) that can 'fit' or some form of external storage including an external drive (USB or eSATA if applicable) or Windows Home Server or similar network storage device.
    Reply
  • chewy1963
    silverblueLooking at the D2700 vs. the 450 reminds me of days gone by with the P4D and the Athlon 64 X2. The higher clock speed plus HT of the Atom helps a lot with encoding but despite its clock speed disadvantage, the 450 easily holds its own.The next generation of both these CPU families would be worth watching out for.
    Just about the same performance between them back in the day. Of course it's different OS's and software, but, that was from the good ole days when Athlon 64 x2 ruled the x86 performance race.
    Reply
  • stevelord
    I bought an Asus nettop last year from Walmart. And despite putting a SSD in it + 4GB of memory, it crawled at even loading web pages...especially forums. Wife noticed the speed difference and after lots of complaining sent me back to return it.

    Reply
  • cleeve
    Nintendo Maniac 64So I'm guessing there aren't any nettops yet that use the low-voltage Trinity APUs? (17w A6-4455M and 25w A10-4655M)
    I couldn't find any, but this article has been in the works for a while so some might have cropped up.
    Reply
  • cleeve
    jaquithThe only potential drawback to these MINI PC's as an HTPC is lacking of an internal 'TV Tuner' option.
    The Jetway Mini-Top in this article *does* have an internal TV tuner option. :)
    Reply