Acer AspireRevo nettop - First Look

We all know about netbooks: a cut-down laptop that offers a cheaper computing solution so you can check your email or surf the web on the go for little cost. Now it's the turn of the desktop computer to get a bit of net love with the nettop.

While there have been cut-down versions in the past, Acer is hoping the move to team up with Nvidia and use its latest low cost graphics chip, the ION, will mean that this model will still be able to pack a punch.

We've had two looks at the AspireRevo now, first at an Nvidia demo day and secondly at the launch of the computer at an Acer event. The diamond shaped computer is small, small enough to hide behind a monitor and surprisingly for a desktop model isn't big, boxy or beige.

Instead it comes in a gloss blue, with the option to mount it to a monitor via the included VESA brackets or perched on a desk with the accompanying stand.

Being diamond in shape and designed to sit on a point rather than square on your desk, there isn't a back as such for all the ports to sit. So instead they are scattered around. This has its pros and cons as you can imagine. The pros being that there is plenty of space to plug stuff in, the cons being that the four USBs all packed tightly in next to each other mean that sticking in anything larger than a standard USB cable will knock all of the sockets out. The other downside is that all these cables coming from all these directions mean it's a bit like an octopus.

One nice feature about the design is the power switch, which when mounted on the monitor is left poking out over the top (in theory). Conveniently there is also another USB socket here as well so plugging in a webcam is easy as pie. A small detail, but a good one.

So you've managed to connect it all up now what? Well there are two real options. You can either opt for a Windows Vista system or Linux (Ubuntu to be precise) or of course you could buy it and then install Windows 7, for which it would be perfect.

At £149.99 you get the Linux version (Ubuntu) with 1GB of RAM and an 8GB solid state drive (SSD). Those wanting a Windows Vista experience will be able to opt for a £249.99 price point and with it get 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive.

The computer will also come in a third option (£299.99) that includes a wireless game pad that looks like the Wii Remote. The remote, which has yet to be completely finalised will be available on its own for £49.99.

The included keyboard and mouse are unfortunately a wired option. The mouse is pretty standard, but the keyboard has been cut down to make it more compact, but with separated keys, has a nice responsive feel to it.

The first small form factor PC to offer the Nvidio ION platform, the new graphics chip promises to offer 10x faster graphic performance than comparable PCs. In our play the ION chip really makes a difference allowing you to view full HD video, play games and mess around with encoding or graphically heavy applications.

We fired up the computer and sat down for a game of Portal. All good, the game was responsive the graphics were at a respectable level. Then on to Spore, again another low end game but one that still has plenty of graphic elements and plenty going on. At the top graphics settings with every detail turned on it doesn't work. An ION powered machine isn't going to be a gaming rig. The game did run smoothly with settings at medium however.

Gaming is of course the app that is going to push the processor to work hardest, however we managed to have a play not only with viewing HD content - very smooth - but also encoding. Using encoding software we were able to get roughly 20 frames per second suggesting an almost real time encoding offering - compare this to an Atom powered machine without an ION graphics chip where its almost impossible to encode anything.

Finally we played with Cooliris a very "cool" product that allows you to view images from Google image search in a very graphical way - no problem here either.

Verdict

On both occasions our time was brief and we would hold judgement for recommending this as a desktop replacement until we actually get it in the office to do some real life testing.

What is most striking from our play with the new "nettop" is that this will be perfect for those keen to get a computer into their living room tucked away behind the TV. The Linux version is a rather cheap £149 while the Windows Vista version is more powerful, but not that much more expensive: £250 to turn your TV into a media server sounds a pretty good price to me.

It's disappointing that the initial units don't come with a wireless keyboard or mouse, but then Acer says they will (in time) be offering that - although it is likely to cost more than the £149 price mentioned.

Certainly one to watch.



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