Novatech Nvidia Ion PC
1.6GHz Intel Atom 330, 2.000000 RAM, N/A display, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
If you're looking to buy an inexpensive and compact Windows 7 PC, then you should consider a nettop instead of the usual bulky desktop models.
The best of the current nettop crop use Nvidia's Ion chipset, and that includes the imaginatively titled Novatech Nvidia Ion PC.
It's not the smallest nettop case we've seen, but it can be positioned vertically, as a mini tower, or horizontally, as a mini desktop. Unlike some smaller nettops, there's enough space for a built-in optical drive, in this case a DVD writer.
Inside the chassis there's only a single 3½in drive bay, which houses a 500GB disk. This comes with Windows 7 Home Premium installed, so you get all the fancy features, and the improved interface, of Microsoft's latest operating system.
The Ion chipset makes this PC capable of playing Blu-ray-quality HD video, plus there's 2GB of RAM and an Intel Atom 330 processor. This is a dual-core processor, which is almost 50 per cent quicker than a single-core Atom. It's quick enough for day-to-day tasks such as video playback, internet browsing and office documents, but not demanding tasks such as video editing or playing modern 3D games. There's a spare memory slot for doubling the amount of RAM to 4GB, but this wouldn't increase performance by a huge amount.
The chipset provides as many ports as most full-sized PCs. There are 10 USB ports, an eSATA port for faster connections to external disks and Gigabit Ethernet. For audio there are both optical and coaxial S/PDIFs, plus six analogue audio jacks with support for 7.1 surround sound. There's both VGA and HDMI outputs, and you can even connect dual monitors if you wish.
There's no monitor bundled with this nettop, so you can choose your own, use an old one or connect it to an HD TV. A basic wired Logitech keyboard and mouse are provided, both of which are comfortable to use.
There's little wrong with the Nvidia Ion PC, but it sits uneasily between Asus's EB1012 and a fully fledged PC. The EB1012 has a smaller hard disk and no optical drive. However, it's comparatively tiny, can be mounted on the back of most monitors, has built-in wireless networking and costs £80 less. Alternatively, you can buy the more powerful, but still compact, Mesh Cute Inspire for just £300 (see www.meshcomputers.com for more details).
Squeezed between Asus's mini marvel and more powerful desktop PCs, it's hard to see who would buy the Nvidia Ion PC. If you really want an Ion-based nettop with a built-in optical drive, Asus's EB1501 is a better choice. Apart from the additional drive and slightly bigger case, it's essentially identical to the EB1012 and costs around £340.