Apple's Mac Mini has had a surprisingly easy ride since its launch three years ago. Rather than being assaulted by an army of vicious small-form factor PCs, it's really only had to contend with handful of Shuttles. Until now.
The Asus Nova P22 is almost identical in size and shape to the Nintendo Wii – including a removable stand to keep it upright – but its aspirations are a bit more serious than WarioWare. It wants to be the centrepiece for your home network, and it's got the tools to do it.
The P22's design confirms that Asus is one of the few PC manufacturers with Apple's taste for form and function. It's available in two versions – black or orange/white – both of which are like a tasty meal at the Fat Duck compared to the usual burger and fries approach to PC design.
It's a little more expensive than the Mac Mini, but similar value for money. The Intel Core 2 Duo E6320 processor, for example, is the same speed as the Mac's, but has extra on-board memory.
That's important, because the relatively old graphics chip inside both machines doesn't have hardware support for hi-def playback – but the superior CPU in the Nova is up to the task.
Having said that, we'd avoid playing games on the Nova unless you're more a fan of stop-frame animation than interactive entertainment. And, like the Mac Mini, it's a so-called BYODKM (bring your own desktop, keyboard and mouse) machine, which ramps the price up if you don't have any spare peripherals.
Still, the P22's connectivity should help. It has built-in Bluetooth and Wireless-N, while HDMI is catered for with an adaptor. The 150GB hard drive might fill quickly with media files, but it's still almost twice the size of the Mini's.
The Nova is also capable of Dolby and DTS digital audio over optical S/PDIF. That's rarer than you'd think, but utterly essential for a full home-cinema experience.
The only things the Nova really lacks as an entertainment super-centre are a high-definition disc drive and a digital TV tuner. The latter can be solved with a cheap USB dongle, and the former – well, who cares at this price?
The problem with Vista
So why isn't the Nova set to redefine the digital home? Because Asus appears not to have learnt the real lesson of the Eee PC, and has shattered this machine's graceful facade with the lumbering boar that is Windows Vista.
Slow to start up, un-navigable even with the supplied remote, it refused to recognise the built-in Wi-Fi card even after a lengthy hunt for new drivers. That, frankly, is not acceptable. A lightweight, bespoke OS like the Eee's would have brought the price down too.
With the Eee PC Asus proved it could successfully make computing cheap and easy for the masses. Until the Nova is as simple and reliable to use as that, it will merely be the best of a bad bunch of Windows media PCs.
- Digital audio
- Digital TV card
- Graphics card
- Intel GMA 3000
- Operating system
- Windows Vista 32
- Optical drive
- Core 2 Duo E6320 @ 1.86GHz
- USB 2.0