From the Asus Eee 701 to the Samsung NC10, via the Eee Box and the MSI Wind Top, we've seen enough netbooks, nettops and touch screen all-in-ones powered by the tiny Intel Atom processor over the last 18 months to know its capabilities inside out. Performance-wise, one of these cheap, low power computers acts much like another.
That's given design teams room to play around with stylistic ideas from the joyful exuberance of the Acer Aspire One 10 to the coolly chic but ridiculously priced Sony Vaio P. None of them, though, has made any real effort to overcome the Atom's two main failings: it can't do HD video or games.
None of them, that is, until now.
ION in the soul
Acer's Revo is the first machine we've seen that uses NVIDIA's ION innards. Instead of coupling the Atom CPU to a video chip that's next to useless, it comes armed with a GeForce 9400 graphics card.
It's far from the world's best pixel pusher, but it is capable of decoding 1080p video at full speed and even getting 3D games like Call of Duty 4 running at a respectable lick.
The latter has to be run at low settings, but it's no worse than playing on a Wii, for example.
The only thing the ION platform can't help the Atom with is speeding up the Vista desktop, which is like computing through slurry. Fortunately, there's a free upgrade to the lither Windows 7 included in the box, ready for when Microsoft's sleeker OS launches later in the year.
Hot and bothered
So this runs rings around the similarly priced Eee Box from Asus for 3D and video. It's not game over, though, as the Revo lacks refinement in other important ways.
Compared to the Eee Box or the Mac Mini, the Revo is an aesthetic aberration. Its rhomboid ridges slant in exactly the wrong way to give it a firm centre of balance, and to make matters worse the flimsy stand is best left in the box.
And while the other small computers do their best to present a clean, unspoiled face to the world so they fit in with any living room décor, the Revo's facade is a mess of ports and colours.
Bizarrely, there's also a USB port mounted on one corner, which someone realised looked so odd they plugged it with a piece of white rubber. If you do manage to prise the bung out, though, it'll be lost behind the couch quicker than you can say 'external DVD drive'.
It's not just ugly, it's unnecessary – there are five other USB ports, which is going to be more than enough for anything the Revo is used for.
We could live with that – you can lie the Revo on its side and hide it behind an amp or something – if it wasn't for the noise. There's quite a high-pitched fan that kicks in on boot and doesn't really stop. Not ideal if you're using it as a media player.
What Acer has done, then, is come up with a tiny, cheap PC which addresses all the issues we had with the Eee Box, but introduced just enough new ones to give it the same overall problem. The small, cheap netbox concept has 101 potential uses, but it's not quite been perfected yet.
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