Nvidia wants us to tell you that its GeForce 9400M graphics chip, aka Nvidia's Ion technology, pulls Asus' Eee Top ET2002 up from the depths of Nettop misery by imparting it with better-than-terrible graphics and video processing. We agree that the 9400 chip improves the ET2002's visual chops, but a Nettop by any other graphics chip is still a Nettop. Regardless of the Ion chip and a few unexpected extra features, the Eee Top ET2002 is too slow, and its $600 price tag is too high. This might be the most versatile Nettop we've reviewed, but we're still not sold on the sacrifices it makes to standard computing performance. You'd be happier in the long run with a more capable budget slim tower and a standalone LCD, which you can find for the same price as this Eee Top.
Aside from its hardware components, the Eee Top ET2002 includes the basic external features we expect in a low-cost all-in-one, along with a few surprises. The 20-inch (non-touch), 1,600 x 900 LCD, a built-in Webcam, and the DVD burner are all more or less standard features in a $600 budget all-in-one. We haven't seen an HDMI input in a sub-$1,000 all-in-one before, and we don't normally see a wireless mouse and keyboard set in lower end all-in-ones, either. Credit to Asus for adding them here.
The mouse and keyboard are decided Apple rip-offs, which is fine, but the keyboard's function key wouldn't toggle off. You'd be smart to swap in a set of your own. The HDMI input is more interesting. By allowing for HDMI in, Asus lets you connect game consoles, HD camcorders, and other HDMI-equipped external devices to the Eee Top ET2002. A clunky-but-functional menu system lets you swap between video sources. It's not as elegant as the one-button source toggle we've seen on higher-end all-in-ones from Sony and HP, but it's still a reasonably effective means to make the ET2002 more versatile as a digital entertainment hub.
That brings us to the meat of the ET2002, the idea that because it's an all-in-one with a respectable video chip it can work as a secondary digital media hub anywhere you can plug it in. While this is true, we don't believe it's the best solution for the job.
We can speak well enough of the capabilities of this system's Geforce 9400 chip. It played 720p video content from the Web with no hitches, and we were even able to dial up Unreal Tournament 3 up to reasonable image quality, at full native resolution, with a more or less smooth frame rate. Call of Duty 4, a more popular game Nvidia likes to cite as playable with Ion, was choppy at 1,600 x 900, and even when we dialed the resolution down, we found no setting smooth enough to allow for a satisfying multiplayer experience. No serious gamer would be happy with the Eee Top, but it could very well satisfy the more casual crowd. A recent influx of classic PC games to Steam and the various gaming download services has also made low-cost PC gaming more intriguing. World of Warcraft is also very playable on lower-end PCs.
Even if the Eee Top ET2002 can play more forgiving PC games, you could spend $450 on a Gateway SX2800-01 slim tower and enjoy a similar experience, or even gain a few extra frames per second by adding a half-height graphics card. It's also hard to argue with the Xbox 360, which for as low as $200 gives you a significantly better gaming experience and a robust library of games to choose from, not to mention video streaming from Netflix and Hulu, Microsoft's own Xbox 360 movie library, and the capability to work as a Windows Media Center Extender.
The Gateway also complicates the Eee Top's value for other kinds of digital entertainment. As you'll see in our benchmarks below, the Gateway is a much faster PC than the Asus in day-to-day applications. With cheap LCDs available for around $150, including those with multiple video inputs, you could set up the Gateway anywhere you could put this Asus all-in-one and get the same gaming and video experience, along with much faster computing performance, for the same price. It's great that Nvidia's chip gives a boost to video processing, but that won't save you from frustration when the Eee Top ET2002 takes close to 15 minutes to convert a CD-worth of MP3 files.
|Asus Eee Top ET2002||Averatec D1133 All-in-One|
|CPU||1.6Ghz Intel Atom 330||1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e|
|Memory||2GB 800Mhz DDR2 SDRAM||2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400||512MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||320GB, 5,400rpm||250GB, 5,400rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless|
|Display||20-inches, 1600x900||18.4-inches, 1980x945|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit)|
Ignoring Nettops' questionable value in the larger scheme of computers, we'll compare the Asus Eee Top ET2002 to the Averatec D1133 All-in-One. The Averatec is a lower-cost Nettop with a smaller screen and a smaller hard drive, but its AMD Athlon X2 is also much faster than the Intel Atom N330 chip in the Asus.
Unfortunately, we didn't test the Averatec's gaming capabilities before sending it back. We'd love to know how the ATI chip and its larger allotment of RAM stacked up to the Asus' Nvidia chip, especially because the Averatec's full-fledged AMD Athlon X2 chip is so much faster than the Asus' Atom CPU. We can say that the Averatec's LCD image was crisper, with seemingly better black levels. The Asus's screen's video quality is acceptable, but can look a bit washed out in darker movie scenes. The Asus can claim an edge in audio output though. Unlike the Averatec all-in-one, the Eee Top ET2002 gets loud enough to fill a room.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
Our performance tests illustrate our biggest disconnect with Nettops as a category. The Gateway at the top of all these charts is a slim tower PC with a full-fledged Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 CPU. The Averatec has a low-wattage AMD Athlon X2; the rest use some variation of Intel's Atom chips. The difference between the Atom-based systems, even the dual-core Atom N330 in this Asus, and the alternatives show vividly just how much performance you lose by opting for an Atom-based Nettop. Vendors love to point to the idea that Nettops offer affordable convenience in their self-contained designs. They can have it. We'd much rather trade an extra cable or two and a few extra minutes of setup time for a PC that performs like it was built this millennium.
With its video and gaming features covered, and its poor performance outed, there's little left to recommend the Eee Top ET2002. It has hard buttons dedicated to the LCD menu, and a display power control buried in a software menu, but no hard volume controls, a feature we especially look for in an all-in-one aimed at media consumption. Aside from the HDMI input, its connectivity options include a handful of USB 2.0 ports on the rear panel and the left side, a media card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, and an Ethernet input. eSATA, FireWire, and digital audio outputs are all sadly missing.
|Asus Eee Top ET2002||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||1.41|
|Sleep (10 percent)||2.16|
|Idle (25 percent)||21.51|
|Load (5 percent)||43|
|Annual energy cost||$10.50|
By virtue of its low-power CPU, we're not surprised to find the Eee Top ET2002 among the most energy-efficient PCs we've tested. At least you get something in exchange for its awful application performance.
Asus backs the Eee Top ET2002 with one year of parts-and-labor coverage, but that's the only element of its support that conforms to industry standards. Its non-toll-free phone support only operates from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, Monday to Friday. Its Web site technically offers live chat and various other resources, but to get to it you have to stumble through a wild goose chase of links. Livesupport.asus.com is ultimately what you're looking for.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Asus Eee Top ET2002
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.6GHz Intel Atom 330; 2GB 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics chip; 320GB 5,400rpm Seagate hard drive
Averatec D1133 All-In-One
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit); 1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3200; 250GB 5,400rpm Samsung hard drive
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 160GB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Atom 330; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4350; 640GB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive