I’ve been both baffled and intrigued by nettops for a while. Sure, it’s cool to stuff a fully functional computer into a box about the size of DVD drive. But the only reason I can see for needing your computer to be that small (often while packing high performance graphics and a low power processor) is that the nettops are intended for use in the living room, not the home office. And I personally prefer a device that has an optical disc drive, TV tuner, and faster processor in my Home Theater PCs.

Still, companies are continuing to pump out nettops, and indeed I should have a review of the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150 soon — and it really is a pretty nice machine (although it’d be nicer with a disc drive and TV tuner). But when Engadget posted a few photos of new set top boxes from Acer and Asus this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that they make a lot more sense as living room PCs.

The Acer Revo 2 and Asus set top box both run Windows Media center Embedded software and have the same Intel Atom CE4100 processor that’s powering the Boxee Box. They can pump out 1080p HD video through HDMI outputs. The Acer Revo 2 also has an optical drive and a hard drive, while the Asus is currently driveless.

Neither machine will be out until 2011, and there’s no word on the pricing yet. But there’s something compelling about a low power media-centric PC that doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe nettops aren’t just for the living room. What do you think? Do you have a nettop? What do you use it for? Or have you been thinking about getting one… and why?

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7 replies on “Are PC-like set top boxes the future (and past) of nettops?”

  1. A nettop computer is a netbook computer without the screen and keyboard and perhaps a little more space inside to help with heat dissipation. A very clever marketing idea to sell less for more…. Buy the “sister” netbook and a $25 cooling stand. Now you will havea much more versatile self-contained small form factor computer that will be available for other uses and/or software upgrades in the future. Or build yourself a “real” HTPC which needs the space of a desktop because of the heat generated and the need for inexpensive software and hardware upgrades. And if you read the reviews of these nettops carefully, you will find that heat is a problem for them as well. Of course a little “heat” problem might also be good for a manufacturer looking for repeat and/or upgrade sales.

    1. That’s not true at all. A nettop can be sold alongside a HD 30″ monitor. A netbook, by contrast, cannot. You’re stuck with a 9″ screen and a VGA out. I’ll have to check out the heat problem…

  2. I’ve been closely monitoring the nettop market. The reason is that when I had a desktop, moving from Canada to Korea was onerous. A nettop is good enough to run older games – I don’t care about being at the top. I’m still running Adobe Photoshop CS2, which started its life on a P4 1.6GHz, and from what I’ve heard buzzing is that the Atom and P4 are roughly the same. The harddisk is about the only thing missing, and these days, you can get an external one with about 2TB of storage for less than $200. So, there’s a very real possibility that I’ll be going for one with the Nvidia graphics giving it a bit more punch in the next 6 months.

  3. We run a small association (4 computers on a simple LAN) in a house using solar energy, where every watt is jealously guarded. Two of the computers are mainly used for writing articles, e-mail and a small database. Nettops are ideal in this situation

  4. Agreed. Try out http://www.Kylo.tv (tv based browser) and you will absolutely fall in love. It makes browsing on my TV so much easier and much more wife friendly. I really wish that Boxee would incorporate it into the Boxee Box as opposed to their built-in browser.

  5. A year ago I would have agreed with you Brad about HTPC’s needing an optical drive and TV tuners but things have changed a lot in the last 12 months.

    I have most the shows I want to watch stored on hard drive. If I miss a scheduled TV show I can watch it via the stations catchup service (although the experience varies depending upon the station – unfortunately there’s no Hulu or equivalent here in Australia), there’s an ever growing array of online TV channels and movies can be rented through iTunes (but I’ve yet to try this – mostly because Apple don’t make a Linux version of iTunes).

    My DVD collection is gathering dust and the only time I use my DVD is to play rented movies.

    My VCR broke down a couple of years ago but thanks to the internet I haven’t seen the need to replace it with a PVR.

    Physical media is a thing of the past it’s time to let go of your old way of video consumption and embrace the new decade of the 21st century where everything is online 🙂

    1. Well the problem is not everything is online, at least not yet. And most services won’t give you anything close to Blu-Ray quality. So I would disagree that physical media is a thing of the past but there is definitely a much lesser need for such features.For Nettops, I do agree that for most people they’re primarily for media consumption as low cost and low powered HTPC’s. Basically, for those with needs that can be met by them they are the greener way to go than more energy hungry traditional HTPC’s and you can add a optical drive if you need one or setup a NAS.Others though can use them for the same basic things you would use a netbook for but at home or the office. Being able to mount them behind the screen really frees up desk space for example and not everyone needs all that much power to do what they need to do.Those with Nvidia ION or similar enhancement can even handle some basic low level gaming. Won’t replace a dedicated console but for the occasional gamer who is satisfied with older games it can fit the bill.

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