Nettop computing means limited ability—eMachines delivers on that
We’ve seen our share of miniature PCs over the years. They generally get smaller, more power-efficient, and quieter—but they never seem to get faster.
Take eMachine’s ER1402 machine, for example. This unique-looking, pedestal-mounted machine is the epitome of the original “nettop” concept: a low-power PC designed almost exclusively to browse the web. And that’s about all you can do with its single-core, low-clock chip.
The design is unique but the single-core performance is pathetic.
The ER1402 is similar in design to two recent “rigs” we’ve looked at: Polywell’s gorgeous Giada and Dell’s Zino HD. The ER1402 sports an external power brick, HDMI and VGA ports, and an integrated chipset in the form of Nvidia’s GeForce 9200. The CPU is an AMD 1.7GHz Athlon II Neo K125. The bad news is that the Neo K125 is single-core—pretty much an Athlon 64—so expect performance to be on par with, say, a Newcastle Athlon 64 3000+ circa 2004. Yeah, 6-year-old CPU technology. The good news is that the Neo K125 sips but 12 watts and runs amazingly cool. That’s because the K125 isn’t built on 130nm technology, it’s built on AMD’s, err, rather Global Foundries’, latest 45nm process, which makes it very power-efficient.
We ran the same benchmarks that we used to review the Zino and Giada (both dual-cores, we might add) and the ER1402 came up quite short. In graphics, the GeForce 9200 actually gives you decent performance—for what it is—but it’s not going to run anything made within the last six years at a decent frame rate.
But this isn’t about performance, is it? It’s about usability in the tasks such a PC would be suited for. You’ll plug this machine into a spare monitor so the kids can play Flash-based games, or maybe use it to watch some web videos on your HDTV, right? Well, no. The single-core sub-2GHz chip doesn’t have what it takes to run the CPU-intensive QuickTime at high-def. The latest version of Adobe Flash, with its GPU support, seems better, but even there, high-def video runs at the borderline of annoying. Even Netflix, which uses the very optimized Microsoft Silverlight player, can’t run at HD resolutions on the ER1402 without dropping enough frames to piss us off.
That, to us, is a deal breaker. Sure, if you really only used the ER1402 to access email or play Flash games you’d be OK. But what if someone wants to watch HD video on YouTube, Netflix, or Vimeo? And it’s not like people aren’t doing those things, or that Internet video is moving toward lower resolutions and bitrates. Frankly, the demands of just about all Internet activity are going up, and the ER1402 can’t keep up as it is out of the box.
So unless you’re faced with serious space constraints, you’d be better served by Dell’s similarly inexpensive, but less hobbled Zino HD.
Off the Hook
Very power-efficient; quiet; affordable.
Off the Rack
Not enough power to deal with today's Internet video; even browsing was laggy.
Dell Inspiron Zino
Polywell Giada Ion-100
Photoshop CS3 (sec)
Main Concept Reference (sec)
Quake III (fps)
AMD 1.7GHz Athlon II Neo K125
HDMI, VGA, memory card reader, analog audio out, optical S/PDIF out, four USB 2.0, gigabit Ethernet
2GB DDR3/800 (two SO-DIMMs)
Integrated GeForce 9200 (nForce 720a)
160GB Western Digital 5,400rpm 2.5-inch hard drive