Nettops: Just What Are They Good For?

When Netbooks first came out, their small size and excellent affordability made for a perfect niche in the laptop market space. Nettops tried to do the same thing, but in the desktop world, portability isn’t exactly important, and affordability is already achievable. You have to wonder: Just what are Nettops good for?


What Is a Nettop?

Before we get into what they’re good for, let’s spend a moment getting to know what a Nettop is. In short, a Nettop is little more than a Netbook minus the display, keyboard, and battery. Both Netbooks and Nettops share the same lightweight, power-efficient components, like Intel’s Atom and AMD’s Vision processors.

So what good is a Nettop if a Netbook already has all of the same components and can actually work without being plugged into the wall? Well, it primarily comes down to peripherals. Nettops almost always have more features, such as additional USB ports for use with external hard drives, printers, and other peripherals. Some even have new USB 3.0 ports for extremely high speed data transfer. Most current Nettops also feature HDMI, eSata, VGA, and Serial ports, and while Netbooks sometimes offer some of these features, none offer more than one or two of them.

Basically, a Nettop is a Netbook that functions as a desktop.


So Why Not Get a Desktop?

When Netbooks compete with other laptops, they have the advantage of being much cheaper. At one point, the Asus Eee 900 was available for just $169 while you’d struggle to find a full sized laptop for under $400. Nettops don’t have this benefit.

Most entry-level Nettops start around $300. This may seem fairly affordable, but a $300 desktop computer will likely outperform any similarly priced Nettop. So why bother getting a Nettop at all?

First of all, Nettops are small, and even though they aren’t meant to be portable, size still matters. The smallest Nettops aren’t any larger than your average Wi-Fi router, and even the larger Nettops don’t get any bigger than a Blu-Ray or DVD player. This makes them easy to tuck away out of site. Just try balancing a desktop on a bookshelf or mounting it to the wall – it doesn’t work all that well.

Another huge benefit of a Nettop is power efficiency. Because they share many of the same components as a Netbook, they need very little power to operate. Most Netbooks will use only 1 or 2 Watts when idling, and rarely more than 50 Watts at maximum. In comparison, it isn’t unusual for a desktop to use over 50 Watts at idle alone. For a situation in which the device will be on 24/7, a Nettop could save you hundreds of dollars per year.


Best Uses for a Nettop

Even though Nettops aren’t always the most affordable choice in terms of cost to performance, their size and power profile make them ideal for certain uses.

The super compact size works well for anyone who is looking for the basic computing needs of a desktop but doesn’t want the added clutter of a full-sized computer. Some Nettops, like the Asus EeeBox EB1012, actually come with a mounting plate that allows you to mount it to the back of a standard LCD monitor, taking up no more space than the monitor on your desk.

Because of their power efficiency, Nettops also make excellent media boxes. Using the HDMI port to connect a Nettop to your HDTV gives you a very flexible media experience, essentially making it an HTPC (Home Theatre PC). YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu can all be watched directly on your TV, and with Windows Media Center, you can even stream HD video from any other computer on your home network. Nettops like the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150 even include a wireless remote. Be careful, though. Not all Nettops are capable of HD playback. Stick with Nettops that feature Nvidia ION or AMD Vision technology.

Editor in Chief alaTest.com : Arie Struik

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