More often than not, the first accessory people purchase with their new desktop PC is a computer trolley. Though space consuming, this is a necessary evil to hold the different PC components together. Also, the matrix of wires running at the back of a desktop PC is an eyesore. In a world where space and electricity are getting expensive by the day, a smaller, power-efficient PC will make sense to many. Let’s look at the way the desktop PC has evolved into different space saving formats and understand what you’ll gain or lose if you plan on buying these.
Net-tops are tiny desktop PCs that came into existence after manufacturers found roaring success with netbooks. Their goal was to bring the best of what a netbook has to offer — price, power efficiency and size — onto a desk. They have petite dimensions and some can even be mounted at the back of an LCD monitor. These ones mostly have an Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, Wi-fi and bluetooth connectivity; basically the guts of a netbook.
Net-tops are just about powerful to surf the internet, use office productivity apps and other work that’s light on the resources. It can even playback standard-def movies, but forget about running that 3D modeling app or a 1080p HD movie on it. Gaming is also out of the question since it’s generally powered by Intel’s paltry on-board graphics. Also, be warned if you use CDs and DVDs on a regular basis; many of these net-tops do not sport an optical drive. But transferring of data between PCs is possible via a handful of USB ports on it. Thanks to the low-power components, they consume way less electricity than your typical desktop PC. For example, an Asus Eee Box B202 consumes just 20 watts of power under full load.
Upgradeability is only limited to RAM and the hard drive; much like laptops or netbooks. Also, many will have 2.5-inch laptop hard drives, which are more expensive than 3.5-inch desktop hard drives while upgrading. Therefore the bottom-line is – net-tops will make sense to people who have limited computing use. It’d also be a good download rig thanks to its low power consumption. Now that similarly powered netbooks sell for a little above Rs. 15,000, the ideal pricing for a Net-top (without a monitor) should be in the range of Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 12,000 at the most.
If we were to choose, we’d check out the Asus Eee Box B202 (without monitor) for Rs. 13,500. The only thing missing from it is a DVD drive. If you desperately need one, a Dell Zino has a DVD writer and a 17-inch LCD monitor for Rs. 16,000. One thing we didn’t like about the Zino is that you have to compulsorily buy a Dell LCD monitor with it.
HD-capable mini PCs
These are similar to net-tops, but with one extra functionality. Instead of Intel’s under-powered on-board graphics, they come with a more powerful GPU from either NVIDIA or ATI. They also have an HDMI port to connect to an LCD TV. These graphics chips aren’t as powerful to handle heavy-duty games with ease, but powerful enough to play back hi-def movies smoothly. This combination of a low-power processor like the Atom, with moderately powerful graphics is dubbed as ION by NVIDIA, while ATI calls it VISION Premium. These machines have slightly powerful processors and double the RAM (2GB). If you want to suck the life out of your internet connection, downloading HD movies and watching them on your LCD TV all the time, then such a PC will do wonders for you.
Since these PCs have power-efficient internals, using them as a 24/7 download rig will be eco and wallet friendly. Games from a couple of years ago should work smoothly on low or medium detail settings, but don’t expect to do hardcore gaming on this. Again, some of these HD-ready mini PCs won’t come with an optical drive. If you don’t care about this, then a Zotac MAG (without monitor) is available for Rs. 17,500, which is a sweet deal. A good alternative to the Zotac MAG is the Acer Aspire Revo. It is bundled with a comfortable wireless keyboard and mouse, webcam and stereo speakers; thus driving the price up to around Rs. 20,000.
Dell’s Zino HD starts from Rs. 20,900 and comes with an optical drive. You can even get the Zino HD configured with a Blu-ray reader/DVD writer drive. With ATI’s Radeon 4330 graphics and a blu-ray drive, it will cost you around Rs. 32,000. Again, like the Dell Zino, you have to compulsorily buy a Dell monitor with the Zino HD.
Another mention in this category is the Mac Mini. It comes with more powerful hardware than the ones mentioned above and runs Mac OS X. But no HDMI port, blu-ray support and a comparatively high price keep it from being recommended as a decent HTPC solution. But if you want the cheapest way to go Mac, then this is it.
NetOn’s are basically All-in-one PCs that bear the internals of a net-top. All the peripherals are built right into the LCD panel frame, which make it quite a space saver. They are supposed to be cheaper AIOs. This segment hasn’t become popular and there aren’t many models to choose from. Plus, you don’t get value for the price being demanded. NetOns like the MSI AP1900 or Asus EeeTop are sold at Rs. 30,000 and upwards. But the net-top-like internals will always limit the usage of the PC to comparatively lightweight tasks. Instead, one can pair a good net-top with a larger Full HD (1920 x 1080) LCD monitor for that price, whereas most NetOn’s will have just an HD-ready (1366 x 768 pixel) resolution. Also, there isn’t really a good NetOn worth recommending in the market currently. You’re better off with a NetTop + LCD monitor combination mentioned above.
All-in-ones or AIOs became popular with Apple’s iMac range of computers many years ago. Other makers followed suit and now you see a healthy range of such machines. All-in-one PCs have the internals of a laptop fitted into the LCD chassis. These have much better processing power than net-top/net-ons. They generally come in screen sizes of 20 inches and above, and have either a 1600 x 900 or a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, which calls for crisper image quality. Most have built-in optical drives at the side. Also, contained in them are fairly potent graphics chips for running full HD movies smoothly. However, they may not be too powerful to run modern games in their full glory.
Pricing starts at Rs. 50,000, in which you could build a powerful desktop PC these days. But All-in-ones have a certain style and flamboyance that no cabinet-monitor combination can supersede. Of the AIOs in the market, we liked the new iMac. Starting at Rs. 65,000, it is still expensive for the masses. But considering Macs, you now get more value for money than before. It has a sleek-n-sexy design, a stunning display and potent hardware. Plus, the Mac OS X makes using this machine a lot more fun and easy.
If you are not a Mac fanatic, then have a look at the Lenovo IdeaCentre A600. It’s not too far behind in terms of power when compared to the iMac. The best accessory with this PC is its multi-function remote. It acts as a media center remote, an air mouse (which lets you control the pointer by simply point-and-tilting the remote — no surface required) and a VOIP phone. You also get a wireless keyboard with a built-in touchpad at the side, which is great to entirely control the A600 from say, a couch. A newer model on the website also claims that its GPU has been upgraded from an ATI Radeon 3650 to a 4650. The latter is fairly powerful to run games at a fair pace. It sells for roughly Rs. 58,000.
Lastly, we’ve been seeing a lot of All-in-one PCs with touchscreen. In our experience, the touchscreen seems very gimmicky and we doubt whether it serves any practical purpose. Think about it, how many times are you going to stretch your hands and use the screen, when the same thing can be done faster with a keyboard and mouse? We feel spending money on such models is not worth it.
So, this is how our beloved desktop PC has morphed into various iterations. It is obvious that building a desktop PC is going to be cheaper, but then if small dimensions, energy efficiency or flaunt value intrigues you, then the PCs mentioned above could be worth your attention.
—-techtree.com(Rohan Naravane, Feb 09, 2010 )