What is it?

Nettop, stands for the word mishmash of interNET and deskTOP. These can be seen as the lite computer base station equivalent to the desktop computer, just as the netbook is the lite laptop or notebook.

They are traditionally low in power consumption, low in cost, low in noise, low in their overall size along with being low in processing power as compared to the desktop computer counterparts.

Just as with netbooks they have a small storage capacity, ideal for running just the main operating system and a few key applications whilst relying heavily on an internet connection for everything else.

What are the variations of the technology?

The majority of nettops, are from the usual suspects of ASUS and MSI and are all of the same ilk. These are powered by low voltage processor powered CPU’s by Intel, they all have an average size RAM offering, and low graphical abilities with storage ranging from small SSDs to hard drives in the 80GB size and beyond.

The operating systems are really the only variation from nettop to nettop, with the likes of Linux, Windows XP and even Vista basic being currently supplied as options. Although ASUS offer their Splashtop/Express Gate as an option in booting up, making the load time to a fully working OS only seconds .

Recently there have been some updates to the basic base station models, which include a faster processor and better graphics and a subsequent HDMI port with further models in the series that we’ll come to later.

Why should I care?

This range of computers have benefits in many areas, making them ideally placed as a second computer in the home, a main office computer for those who don’t really need high processing power or even in the education sector because of their overall usefulness.

For one, they pull much less power than a standard computer – up to 90% less in some cases, making them a greener alternative to the desktop computer. Their size can be just a little larger than an average paperback which can be 16 times smaller than a normal computer, making them ideally suited for even the most space stringent environments. The noise produced due to the design is barely audible, down to that of just 26 decibels with one manufacture quoting it’s quieter than a library.

What's a good example in practice?

ASUS produce in their Eee PC family range the Eee Box, which was the very first nettop around. MSI have their Wind Box, which closely followed on behind the ASUS product and is more or less of the same ilk in its setup and features.

Other companies such as Shuttle, HP and also Acer have started to announce and produce their own versions of nettop systems.

Is there a competing technology that I should be aware of?

The alternative is a much more powerful desktop computer that really won’t be used to its full extent by most, or the netbook which is becoming more and more common place today.

The average user will never push a standard computer to the maximum of its abilities, or even reach anywhere near the full use of its processing potential. It’s more likely web surfing, downloading files, listening to music and chatting over instant messaging that will be the common tasks of a PC suggesting the average computer is an excess and not needed.

Nettop systems seem an ideal solution for today’s common usage of a computer, with their low cost, low power CPU’s and low footprint meaning they're a greener alternative to powerful computers.

What is in store for the future?

Starting to appear are variations to the nettops, expanding on what is already here and building on the basic system itself. Some of the variations seen could quite easily be described as the next generation of these devices, just by what they offer on top of the original builds.

System builders ASUS and MSI now have nettops systems built into flat LCD displays which are also touch screen enabled, these more or less have the same feature sets of the nettops.

MSI have gone the route of branding these AIO or All In One PC’s, in which by the wording alone highlights what these are. ASUS have bundled theirs into the Eee PC family of computers, where the netbooks and nettops currently exist.

These ranges could be more suitable for the home, rather than the educational market or office where to all accounts there appears to be a well established market already for the basic nettop platforms.

As with netbooks, whenever there’s a new series of processors or greater improvements within low powered CPUs the range of nettops are refreshed. The earlier models aren’t really geared up for a heavy multimedia usage, whereas the next processors will address this factor even more.

Windows 7 Starter edition will perhaps drive the sales of netbooks much further when it arrives. It could very well do the same with the nettops for the same reasons – it will be cheap, more versatile than Windows XP and have been deliberately tuned for these types of computers.