Thursday, November 05, 2009

ASRock Nettop

ASRock ION 330 NettopIn Sydney there is a row of computer and electronic stores behind the Queen Victoria Building which is always worth a visit. Yesterday in Adelong Computers I noticed a small black box with a DVD drive on the front. This turned out to be a ASRock ION 330 Nettop. This is at the upper end of the range of desktop computers derived from Netbook components. It has the Intel Dual Core Atom 330 processor and an NVIDIA ION graphics processor. It is in a metal case, made much like a conventional desktop PC, but only large enough to hold a DVD drive, 3.5 inch hard disk (optional) and some RAM (optional). The unit comes with six USB sockets. The metal case looks very much more robust for a classroom environment than the average flimsy plastic nettop case. One serious omission is a security cable slot (nettops are small and so easy to steal). The ASRock comes with an operating system, which is advantage for low cost installations using Linux.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Nettops arrive in Australia

Medion E2010D Nettop-PC Akoya from AldiNettops: low cost, low power desktop computers, have started appearing more in Australia. Two examples are the Medion E2010D Nettop-PC Akoya from Aldi for A$699 and the ACER e-Machine EL1600 desktop PC at JB HiFi for A$594 (after a 49 cash back). The ASUS EEE PC nettop has been available for some months, but only from a few stores. The ASUS unit may not have general appeal because it lacks a DVD drive and it was in too small a box: if you are buying a desktop computer you want to see you are getting your money's worth.

The Medion and ACER units have DCD drives and come in a slim tower case. These units also come with a wide-screen LCD monitor, keyboard and mouse. The ACER is the more conventional looking of the two with a larger case, standard keyboard and also external stereo speakers included in the package. Curiously, eMachines has its own Australian web site which does not appear to mention ACER.

The Medion is more interesting: it has a a very slim case (so slim it needs a stand to hold it upright) with WiFi and a compact keyboard. The Medion's speakers are integrated in the wide screen LCD display. While the Medion is the more elegant of the two, the ACER might sell better because it looks more like a "normal" desktop computer. The Medion could be good for cyber cafes and schools, as the slim processor and keybaord would not take up valuable desk space.

Both the Medion and Acer units are more highly specifid than needed for just email and web browsing. The DVD drives and some other components could be omitted to save A$100. But perhaps then no one would buy them.

MEDION® Akoya® E2010D

• Intel® Atom™ 230 processor 1.6 GHz, 512 KB Cache
• Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 950 on-board
• 160 GB hard disk
• Multiformat Dual Layer DVD/CD-Burner
• 8 Channel audio out
• Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 MBit/s
• Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition
• Wireless LAN 802.11 n-Draft2 with up to 300 MBit/s. 802.11 b/g compatible. For full performance an IEEE 802.11n-Draft router is required (not supplied), 300MBit/s gross, net max. 75MBit/s.
• 4-in-1 card reader SD, MMC, XD and MS/MS-Pro3
• Front connections: 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x Headphone, 1 x Microphone
• Rear connections: 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x LAN (RJ45), 1 x D-Sub VGA, 1 x AC adapter
• Audio: 1 x Microphone, 1 x Line In, 1 x Front Line Out, 1 x Rear Line Out, 1 x Center/Subwoofer Line Out, 1 x Surround Line Out
• Dimensions (without stand , without WLAN antenna): 300 mm (H) x 65 mm (W) x 270 mm (D)

Widescreen LCD TFT Monitor
MEDION® Akoya® E53002D

• Visible screen size: 18.5"
• Format: 16:9
• Maximum resolution: 1366 x 768
• Typical response time: 5 ms
• Typical contrast ratio: 1000:1
• Typical brightness: 250 cd/m2
• Multilingual On Screen Display
• 2 integrated speakers
• Connections: 1 x VGA In, 1 x Audio In, 1 x Power supply
• Dimensions: 344 mm (H) x 450 mm (W) x 195 mm (D)

Software Package:

OEM Versions, preinstalled and/or on CD/DVD or recovery DVD
• Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition (incl. Service Pack 3) preinstalled and on recovery DVD
• Microsoft® Works 9.0 ...

2 year warranty ...


Intel® Atom processor
Operating system * Genuine Windows® XP Home Edition
Platform * Intel® Atom™ processor
Chipset * Intel® 945GC Express Chipset
System memory * Up to 1 GB of DDR2 400/533/667 MHz SDRAM (single-channel support on one DIMMs)
Hard drive * Serial ATA hard disk 160 GB
Optical drive * SuperMulti with Labelflash™ technology
Graphics * Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Audio * Embedded high-definition audio
Networking * LAN: 10/100 Ethernet
I/O ports * Front I/O ports:
o Four USB 2.0 ports
o Multi-in-one card reader
o High-definition headphone and microphone jacks
* Rear I/O ports:
o Four USB 2.0 ports
o PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports
o Three audio jacks
o Ethernet (RJ-45) port
o D-Sub port
o COM port
o Parallel port

I/O expansion
* PCI Express® x1 slot

* eMachines Recovery Center
* Microsoft® Office Home and Student 2007 (Trial)
* Microsoft Works® 9.0 ...

Dimensions * 265 (H) x 315 (D) x 100 (W) mm (without bezel)
Power supply * 220 W ...

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Acer Aspire Revo Nettop

Nettops, the desktop equivalents of low cost, low power netbook computers, are taking longer than I expected to arrive. Acer's Aspire Revo SFF NVIDIA Ion PC looks promising. There are small desktop computers, such as the Dell Studio Hybrid PC, , but these are not particularly cheap, or low power. ASUS's EEE PC there are Lenovo have announced an Intel Atom powered nettop computer, H200 bundled with an LCD monitor for US$399.99.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Wired effect

In "The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time" (Wired magazine, March 2009), Clive Thompson describes how Mary Lou Jepsen in designing a low cost screen for Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child computer started the netbook computer craze. It is a good story, but like much of Wired (the dolly magazine of the computer industry) it is not quite true. Perhaps we need a new term: the "Wired effect": where you notice something happening and reach for the nearest media release to explain it, without giving the issue much thought.

I have been buying small, low cost disk-less computers for about a decade, long before the OLPC was started. These computers came from UK, Japanese and Taiwanese firms. They were not popular in the USA, because of their small size, limited performance and non-standard software. What changed in the last few years is that the performance of the electronics improved to where these little computers could do a good job of running office applications and at the same time wireless Internet access provided a viable alternative to on-board disk storage. With web based applications added into the mix, a netbook became a viable alternative for most personal computing.

Thompson's article does go on to give a reasonable analysis of the reasons for the netbooks success and the problems it is causing for the computer makers (how to sell a $1,000 laptop when the $300 model is good enough). ASUS deserve the credit for starting the current netbook boom with their EEE PC.

What the author fails to mention is that ASUS is trying the same success at the desktop with their nettop models: desktop PCs using similar low cost components to the netbooks. If successful, this will drive down the cost of desktop computers to lower than that of the netbooks. The nettops do not need their own keyboard, mouse or screen as they use standard desktop PC ones. Nor do they need a battery. If you take a $US300 netbook and remove the unnecessary components you end up with something between $100 and $200. As well as a desktop PC, ASUS are adding a PC built into an LCD panel to their EEE PC lineup. If you build the computer into an LCD screen, or an LCD TV, then the computer does not need a case, power supply, or some of the display interface components. That should take about $50 off the cost of the nettop, bring the effective cost of the unit to between $50 and $150 (not counting the LCD screen, keyboard or mouse).

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lenovo low power desktop PC for $269

Lenovo have announced an Intel Atom powered nettop computer. The H200 is a low power desktop computer. It is being bundled with an LCD monitor for US$399.99. Without the monitor they start at US$269. This includes a an Intel ATOM Processor 230 ( 1.60GHz 533MHz 512KB ), Windows Vista Home Basic, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950, 1 GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz, 160GB Hard Drive and DVD-ROM Optical Drive. It appears to come in a tower PC case which must have a lot of empty space in it (not a bad thing as users feel cheated if you give them a tiny PC box). Presumably if you ordered enough, you could get them to leave out the DVD, Windows and replace the hard drive with some flash memory, to produce a nettop for under $US200.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Custom Dual Core Nettop

Intel D945GCLF2 Essential Series Mini-ITX DDR2 667 Intel Graphics Integrated Atom Processor Desktop BoardWhile there are ready made low power desktop computers becoming available, the article "Build your own Nettop" (Roydon Cerejo, Techtree, Jan 24, 2009 1021 hrs IST), points out that you can custom build your own. Individuals can have their local computer store put one together for them and organisations can specify such systems for bulk purchase. The Intel D945GCLF is a Mini-ITX processor board (about $US73) with the same low power Atom processor commonly used in netbooks and nettop computers. However, there now also the Intel D945GCLF2 with a dual-core Intel Atom processor for a little more (about $US92).

As well as the processor board, what also will be needed is RAM, such as the 2Gb Kingston KVR667D2N5/2G
(about $US25) and a case such as the 4BAY Desktop Blk 250W ATX12V Mitx. Roydon suggests a 80 Gb disk, but compact flash memory, as used in many netbooks, is an alternative to a hard disk. One way to do this is with a Sata Compact Flash Adapter and a 4GB Memory Card. A DVD drive could also be fitted, but most office workers will not need this.

Also, as Petersham TAFE teach their students, it is feasible to retrofit an old PC case with a low power board (and optionally flash memory). But before doing this you should check the
efficiency of the existing power supply in the case, as it is likely to be much larger than needed for the low power board and also less efficient than a new one. To keep the workers happy, and the costs down, it might be worth fitting the components in a new large size PC case. This is likely to have a more efficient power supply than an old one. While most of the case will be empty space, the user will not be able to tell this from the outside and feel they are getting a full size computer, not a little toy one.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quicktop instant-on operating systems for green ICT

Splashtop, BlackTop and Windows PE are cut down operating systems being used to provide quick access to a few frequently used applications on desktop and laptop computers. The could be a much more energy efficient computers. The idea is that you can quickly browse the web, play a video or check your email without having to wait for the main operating system to boot. On some laptops, such as Dell's, a separate low power processor is used, which greatly increases battery life. If such applications prove popular, then the main computer and operating system could be left unused most of the time.

It may seem bizarre to have a computer with a powerful processor and hard disk left unused, but is much the same as is done with high performance motor vehicles. The four wheel drive mechanisms of most four wheel drive vehicles are not used, as they drive on sealed roads. However, the drivers still value the availability of the system. Similarly some car makers have introduced systems for shutting down cylinders in car engines, so for example an eight cylinder engine operates as a three cylinder engine. It would make far more financial and environmental sense to simply buy a two wheel drive car, with a small engine (my car has a 1 litre three cylinder engine for example). Buying an off road vehicle with a large engine and then drive it on suburban streets makes not practical sense. However, people still buy these vehicles and use them. So it the manufacturers try to make them as efficient as possible. In the same way it may make sense to provide notebook and desktop computers with instant on operating systems and processors, which are what is used most of the time.

It may be feasible to retrofit desktop computers with low power instant on functionality. This would consist of a small nettop PC which was inserted between the peripherals and the main PC. The screen, keyboard, mouse, printer and other devices would be plugged into the nettop and then than would be plugged into the main computer. Most of the time the user would be interacting with the nettop computer and operating system. On those rare occasions when they wanted to do something it was not capable of, the nettop would start up the main computer. In reality this would hardly ever happen. Also, of course, it would make more sense to use a shared central virtual computer, not have one on every desk. But in many cases it is not possible to convince the user, or their ICT staff to give up the desktop PC.

For offices, one workable arrangement might be to build the nettop computer into a VoIP telephone handset. This would then have perhiperals, inlcuding a screen, keyboard and mouse plugged into it. An optional desktop computer could also be connected.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

iPhone Netbook

According to Register Hardware, "OLO promises Foleo-style iPhone-Air laptop combo" (Tony Smith, 13th October 2008 10:50 GMT), company OLO is promising a netbook small notebook computer into which an iPhone fits. They are skeptical as to if this is a real product. It has some appeal. What might make more sense is a desktop iPhone PC.

Some months ago I went into the new Apple Store in Sydney and asked if I could plug a keyboard and screen into an iPhone, to make it a desktop computer. The staff looked at me sceptically and said they thought not. After some hunting around they found there was an adaptor for plugging an iPhone into a large screen. The iPhone also has a USB port and this should just need extra software to support a keyboard and mouse. What this would make possible is for that you could plug your iPhone into a charging cradle and then use it as a desktop computer with a large screen and keyboard. However, this would be hampered by the iPhone's limited memory and processing capacity. What might make more sense would be a low power low cost nettop computer which the iPhone would be plugged into.

A netbook could be similarly designed to slot in an iPhone, but it is not clear what advantage this would have. The netbook will have little extra battery power to recharge the iPhone and the iPhone touch screen will be little better than a netbook's pad. You might as well save all the trouble of a new mechanical design and link them with wireless.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Nettops the new desktop PC?

Intel have released a Dual-Core version of its Atom Processor and computer makers have started releasing small low power low cost desktop PCs based on it. Such devices already existed with Via processors, such as the Zonbu. AMD are following with their AMD UVC processors. But Intel's name will do most to popularise such products. Just as there has been a flood of small low cost "Netbook" notebook computers, I expect we will see a flood of small low cost Nettop desktop computers within a few months. These may replace most sales of desktop PCs within a year.

If you have fast Internet connection for access to storage and net applications and are not trying to do anything needing a lot of power (such as video editing or video games), then a Nettop should be more than adequate as a home or office computer. However, users may be less forgiving of a limited function and performance desktop PC, than they are a tiny notebook. When using a notebook you can see the advantage in portability, traded off for performance and storage. But a Nettop is going to look just like any other desktop computer (apart from the tiny little processor box).

Apart from low cost, one of the advantages of the Nettop/Netbook computers is low power use. But the

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