Three Slim Atom/Ion 2-Based Nettop PCs Compared

We put Giada’s Slim-N20, Jetway’s Mini-TOP, and Zotac’s ZBOX to the test. Does Intel's Atom D500-series offer smooth performance in these nettops when it's paired with Nvidia’s ION 2 graphics, or does the platform fall short of entertainment excellence...

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-TOP
Zotac ZBOX HD-ID34
Chipset
Intel NM10Intel NM10Intel NM10
CPU
Intel Atom D510
Dual-Core, 1.66 GHz, 666 MHz FSB
Intel Atom D525
Dual-Core, 1.8 GHz, 800 MHz FSB
Intel Atom D525
Dual-Core, 1.8 GHz, 800 MHz FSB
Graphics
Nvidia Ion 2 (GT218)
Idle: 405 MHz core/810 MHz shaders
Load: 533 MHz core/1230 MHz shaders
Nvidia Ion 2 (GT218)
Idle: 405 MHz core/810 MHz shaders
Load: 533 MHz core/1230 MHz shaders
Nvidia Ion 2 (GT218)
Idle: 405 MHz core/810 MHz shaders
Load: 533 MHz core/1230 MHz shaders
Graphics Memory
512 MB GDDR3
Idle: 405 MHz
Load: 790 MHz
512 MB GDDR3
Idle: 405 MHz
Load: 790 MHz
512 MB GDDR3
Idle: 405 MHz
Load: 790 MHz
System Memory
1 x 2 GB Hyundai PC2-6400
332 MHz DDR2, 5-5-5-15-2T
not included
1 x 2 GB Samsung PC2-6400
332 MHz DDR2, 5-5-5-15-2T
Hard Drive
Seagate Momentus
320 GB, 7200RPM, 16 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
not included
Samsung Spinpoint
250 GB, 5400 RPM, 8 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Optical Drive
not includednot includedBlu-ray/DVD/CD Combo Drive
Operating System
Windows 7 Home Premium
not includednot included
Internal Interfaces
Memory Support
One 200-pin SO-DIMM
DDR2-800/667, Up to 4 GB
Two 200-pin SO-DIMMs
DDR2-800/667, Up to 4 GB
Two 200-pin SO-DIMMs
DDR2-800/667, Up to 4 GB
I/O Panel Connectors
DVI
none
1
1
VGA
1
none
none
HDMI
1
1
1
USB 2.0 (3.0)
2 (0)
4 (0)
1 (2)
Memory Card Reader
SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro
SD/MMC/MS
MMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD
Network
1
11
eSATA
1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)1 (combo eSATA/USB 2.0)
Digital Audio Out
Optical/HDMIHDMI/SPDIFOptical/HDMI
Analog Audio
1 headphone and 1 mic jack1 headphone and 1 mic jack1 headphone and 1 mic jack
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA
1 x SATA 3.0Gb/s1 x SATA 3.0Gb/s1 x SATA 3.0Gb/s
Ethernet & Wireless
LAN
Realtek RTL8111C PCIeRealtek RTL8111DL PCIe
Realtek RTL8111DL PCIe
Wireless
Atheros AR9285Atheros 802.11 b/g/n PCIe CardAtheros AR9285
Bluetooth
Atheros AR3011none
none
Audio
HD Audio Codec
Analog & optical: Realtek ALC662
HDMI: Nvidia L-PCM digital audio
Analog: C-Media CM108AH
HDMI: Nvidia L-PCM digital audio
Analog and optical: Realtek ALC888
HDMI: Nvidia L-PCM digital audio
Audio Channels
Optical can support 5.1
output with external decoder
HDMI and can support 7.1
output with external decoder
HDMI can support 7.1
output with external decoder
HDMI and optical can support 7.1
output with external decoder


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

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