If the example set by netbooks is anything to go by, there are going to be a lot of couriers turning up at Stuff Towers carrying nettops over the next few months. Up until now, of course, Asus has had the market to itself, with its all-in-one Eee Top.
Here's the first challenger, and it comes from the pioneers of small form-factor computer, Shuttle. Dubbed the X5000TA it costs £100 more than the Eee Top, despite the fact that most of the components inside are identical. It has the same low-power graphics processor, 160GB hard drive and 1GB of DDR2 RAM.
Pick up and go
Like the EeePC before it, the Eee Top was small, cheap and designed really as a second machine – like having a TV in the kitchen, but with the added bonus of the internet.
Shuttle's similarly sized system is portable, too. The X5000TA’s stand flips through 180 degrees to double as a carry handle, and the power supply is frankly tiny. It makes a lot of sense; you could easily move this from room to room if you wanted to, or just move it from the coffee table to somewhere safer when the party starts to get a bit out of hand.
We're not overly taken with the rest of the design, though. While the build quality is excellent, the large slab of plastic at the base only makes the screen look smaller than it actually is.
The big technical upgrade – and price justification – over the Eee Top is a dual-core Atom processor. This gives the X5000TA enough power to run Vista, and run it well. The desktop is sprightly and noticeably faster than a netbook, and multitasking is painless. It's not quite enough for HD video, but it's getting close.
Unfortunately this is tempered by the quality of the screen. The viewing angles are absolutely terrible, and not helped by the thick layer of touch-sensitive material.
That's not as good as it should be either; it has a rubbery texture and is slow to respond to double taps by fingers. To use it accurately at speed really needs the stylus, which is stowed in the back.
Which all really defeats the object of a nettop to us, turning it into something like a large PDA. As much as we like the computational kick the dual core chip gives the X5000TA, it's just not as friendly as its cheaper rival.