Asus and its laptops have had some success in recent years, but we haven't seen too much from the Taiwanese vendor on the desktop side of things. Enter the Nova P22. This small form factor desktop makes a direct run at Apple's Mac Mini. It succeeds in that the $899 Nova P22 has better networking capability than the Mac Mini. Unfortunately, that's not enough. Unless you demand 802.11n Wi-Fi in a tiny desktop, Apple and other vendors offer better features for the price.
Like most Windows PCs that try to compete with Apple's tiny Mac Mini, the Asus Nova P22 is a little bigger. It weighs just more than four pounds, about a pound heavier than the Mac. When you lay the Nova flat, it measures 2.1 inches tall, just barely taller than the Mac Mini, and 9.8 inches wide (counting the plastic fin on one side with built-in pen holder), and 7.25 inches deep, making its overall volume larger (compared with the Mac Mini's 2x6x6 inch measurements).
It's larger than the Mac Mini, but the Asus Nova P22 gives you a bit more setup flexibility thanks to an included metal stand that lets you stand it upright. Otherwise, your customization options are limited, as Asus offers no upgrade options for this system. You can likely make upgrades yourself post-purchase, but getting inside the Nova P22 involves removing four screws hidden by stickers that indicate if they're removed, you void the system warranty. Once you're inside, you'll need to remove the DVD drive, and possibly other parts as well, to get at the memory slots. We like to return products we review in full working order, so we didn't drill all the way down.
|Asus Nova P22||Apple Mac Mini|
|CPU||1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Memory||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB (shared) Intel GMA 3000 graphics chip||64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip|
|Hard drives||160GB 5,400 rpm hard drive||120GB 5,400 rpm hard drive|
|Optical drive||Slot-loading, dual-layer DVD burner||Slot-loading, dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||802.11n wireless, Gigabit Ethernet||802.11b/g wireless, Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium||Mac OS X|
You'll see in our spec chart how the Nova P22 compares with the latest Apple Mac Mini we reviewed, which was the 2.0GHz base model. That basic Apple configuration gives you a faster CPU than the Asus system, but also a smaller hard drive. The Nova P22 has a more recent integrated 3D graphics chip from Intel, but we wouldn't use either for gaming. The Nova also has wide bandwidth 802.11n wireless networking, which can transmit larger files more quickly across a network, provided you have an 802.11n-capable wireless router. The Mac Mini only has 802.11b/g, which is adequate for most networking needs, unless you need to transmit at a long distance, or have a lot of systems on the same network.
As much as we like Nova P22's 802.11n Wi-Fi, we don't believe most of you will find that alone worth the $100 price increase over the Mac Mini. The Asus systems' larger hard drive and more recent graphics chip are also selling points. However, for $749 you can get the lower-end Mac Mini with the same CPU as the Nova P22, as well as an upgraded 160GB hard drive. Compared with that configuration, the Nova P22 essentially costs $150 more for a negligible graphics chip upgrade and faster Wi-Fi.
If you'd be willing to spend just $50 more than $899 for the Nova P22, you can get Hewlett Packard's new Pavilion SlimLine S3330f. The HP system includes a faster CPU, a full-fledged 3D card, and a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive, albeit in a slightly larger chassis. If you're single-minded about 802.11n Wi-Fi, we can offer no major alternative in the small desktop category. However, if you're interested in a small form factor desktop for home entertainment or general computing purposes, you have several better options to choose from.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
You can see from our performance charts that the Asus Nova P22 is not a strong performer compared with the Mac Mini, or any other desktop comparable by either size or price. The only system that came close is the eMachines T3642, a budget midtower PC with a single-core CPU that goes for $350, or less than half as much. We should point out, since both the eMachines and the Nova P22 are Vista systems with only 1GB of RAM, their Photoshop scores are significantly slower than either the Mac OS X-based Mac Mini, or any of the Vista 2GB systems. That laggard performance makes the lack of easy upgrading especially painful.
Aside from the aforementioned specs, the Mac Mini and the Asus Nova P22 are very similar. Each has a limited number of ports on the back side, including DVI only for video, a handful of USB inputs, and various audio inputs and outputs. Both also have built-in Bluetooth capability. However, the Nova P22 has a slight edge with a built-in speaker that outputs serviceable audio. The Nova P22 also has a docking station input on the underside, although we have no information on what a docking station might entail for this system. The Asus manual alludes only to "future upgrades."
The manual itself is simple and points out the basic external features of the Nova P22. The system has little in the way of digital help, although you do get a software upgrade utility. The default warranty provides you with two years of parts and labor coverage (provided you don't violate it by opening the case), and Asus also has a toll-free support line. Online resources are sparse, including only driver downloads and basic information.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple Mac Mini
Apple OS X; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip; 120GB 5,400rpm Hitachi hard drive
Asus Nova P22
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6320; 1GB DDR2 1,066Hz SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Intel GMA 3000 graphics chip; 160GB 5,400 rpm hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 4000+; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6100 graphics chip; 160GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion SlimLine S3200t
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4500; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive
Sony VAIO TP25
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M GT graphics chip; 500GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive