Nettops are the desktop cousins of netbooks - small cheap computers with not a lot of power. For basic web surfing and word processing, the Intel Atom processor provides just enough performance, and the absence of a graphics card is hardly missed if you don't play games.
ViewSonic is now selling a nettop with a little more reach, though, featuring a graphics card good enough for basic gaming, along with a dual-core processor. The mash-up of Intel Atom and nVidia 9400M GPU is known as Ion, and we've seen one such Ion nettop already from Acer, the Aspire Revo. ViewSonic's take on Ion doubles the processor cores with the Atom 330 dual core CPU, and builds it around a smaller box than Acer's. In fact, it's all packed into a slim white case the size of a paperback.
The ViewSonic VOT132 more closely resembles the Asus Eee Box in many respects. Like that svelte nettop, it can be laid flat or propped upright in its detachable stand, and has many ports scattered across its front and back edges.
There are two USB on the front, plus an SD/Sony MS card reader and audio ports, while the back edge has four more USB, DVI and HDMI digital video outputs, gigabit ethernet and a 3.5mm Toslink optical output. There's also a screw-on Wi-Fi antenna (802.11b/g card only for the UK market), and a DC input socket for the external power supply.
A little shorter in height and deeper perhaps than the Asus Eee Box, we can still see where ViewSonic's designer got the idea. The real differences lie inside, of course, and the combination of dual-core Atom 330 and nVidia 9400M suggests a pocket powerhouse - at least compared to the average netbook.
Like most ‘net' computers, the ViewSonic VOT132 has no optical drive; but one can be added easily in the shape of a matching unit that magnetically attaches below it - or alongside if you slip it into the vertical stand, which will also accomodate the extra drive. It's priced at £64.
ViewSonic sells the VOT132 for £325 with Windows 7 Home Premium, or £235 with no operating system. In our tests with WorldBench 6 and Windows 7, the ViewSonic VOT132 scored 39 points, the same result as a good single-core Atom netbook running Windows XP.
We tested the graphics capability using FEAR at Maximum quality settings. Where other PCs and laptops we've tested with the same nVidia 9400M chip have reached up to an average framerate of 14 frames per second in this test, the ViewSonic VOT132 showed an average of 8fps. We dropped the quality settings to Medium in order to hit the playable waters of 25fps, actually reaching 34fps; although even here, 29% of playback was still below the 25fps threshold.
Power consumption was quite low, idling at 18W and rising to 26W maximum when working hard. We were disappointed with noise levels here, as the ViewSonic VOT132 has a fast-revving fan whirring away most of the time it's booted. In this respect the ViewSonic VOT132 is the inferior of either the original Asus Eee Box, or the improved B204 version with its proper graphics card, which both stayed almost silent in use.
The concept of a nettop with more power is good, although we hoped the combination of dual-core Atom, 2GB of RAM and nVidia graphics chip would put a clearer gap between this and a regular netbook. As it was, better graphics can be found on the Asus Eee Box B204, with its ATI solution, at the same price. We liked the build quality and simple, understated styling of the ViewSonic, although we’d find this nettop just too noisy to earn a place on our desk. The starter model at £235 may well prove attractive for a variety of Linux installations.