ViewSonic breaks from the pack with a fast nettop design. (July 24th, 2010)
We've witnessed desktops shrinking from the size of an entire room to just incidental additions to the back of a display. ViewSonic's PC Mini line is emblematic of that shift, and our VOT125 review unit measures about the size of a decent deli sandwich and seemingly almost as light. The VOT125 may be the holy grail of tiny computers in terms of size, but we'll find out if this nettop can deliver a suitable experience along with its tiny packaging.
Product Manufacturer: ViewSonic
Price: $679 (Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, 250GB drive)
- Fast for its very small size.
- DVI and HDMI, loads of expansion.
- No bloatware onboard.
- VESA mount for displays and walls.
- Price close to Mac mini and other rivals.
- Nettop caveats: no optical, no upgradability.
- No pack-in keyboard or mouse.
Design and hardware
The VOT125 doesn't even look or feel like a computer. When we first unboxed the unit, we had to admit having mouths slightly agape. Considering the VOT125 is about the size of a portable hard drive, it's hard to see how ViewSonic managed to fit 250GB of storage , a Intel CULV processor (Consumer Ultra Low Voltage) and 2GB of RAM inside. It very much feels like storage that happens to have several USB ports and video outputs on the case.
That said, the list of connectivity options for the VOT125 reads like that of a standard full sized desktop: four USB ports, audio in and out, a memory card reader, gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and both DVI and HDMI for video output. Not every nettop can include these, so we're thankful for them here.
For software, ViewSonic included Windows 7 Home Premium and trial copies of both Trend Micro security software and Microsoft Office. Unlike more mainstream manufacturers such as HP and Dell, ViewSonic doesn't load its computers with extra media software, games, or branded apps. We're glad the bloatware isn't here, as the extra software seems to only weigh down other computers.
Also included with the PC Mini line is a mounting bracket that allows users to connect the computer to the VESA mounts on the back of an LCD monitor, a TV or a wall. This bracket essentially turns any LCD monitor and ViewSonic PC Mini into an all-in-one computer. For users that aren't mounting their PC Mini to a VESA mount there is also a simple stand to prop the unit upright on a desk. We didn't have the chance to use the wall mount, but it's another option that you don't always see.
One caveat: like Apple's Mac mini, there's no included keyboard or mouse. That isn't a steep obstacle, as any keyboard or mouse will do, but the minimum price will creep slightly higher if you don't have a spare set of input devices handy.
Usability and performance
Our review model of the VOT125 is the higher end VOT125-04, which retails for $679 and is powered by a 1.3GHz Core 2 Duo SU7300. We tested the VOT125 under a variety of entertainment and productivity usage environments and each time the ViewSonic performed like a champ -- certainly compared to the Atom-based nettops it would normally fight. We ran several office application multitasking scenarios ,and every app ran without a hitch. For multimedia testing ,we played a variety of HD videos at high resolution while running other applications and again found no hiccups or slowdowns in the system.
Notably, there 's no dedicated graphics, so Intel's stock video is the only choice. Gaming isn't really an option on the PC as a result, but the choice of CULV means it can at least brute force its way through tasks that would choke a typical nettop.
While the VOT125 certainly performs well, its footprint does bring with it a few usability concerns. For many, these concerns will be non-issues, but for more than a few users may have to stop and carefully consider these points before making a purchasing decision. The VOT125, like other computers with its form factor, has no optical drive; this obviously saves on production costs and allows the unit to fit into exceptionally tight spaces. Unfortunately many home users and even business users still load software and media through optical disks and need to write data to CDs or DVDs on occasion; anyone buying a system in this class has to be aware of their usage habits before they commit.
Beyond the storage, the clearest concern is that of end user repairs and maintenance. With a unit as small and as integrated as the VOT125, a fix or a casual upgrade would be nearly impossible by anyone other than a professional worker. Again, this isn't unique to ViewSonic, but if you're the sort who prefers to upgrade constantly rather than replace the entire computer at once, be aware before you jump in.
For workers or even just casual workers, the VOT125 may succeed simply because of its design; it could used, almost literally, anywhere. We could see office users buying the VOT125 to mount to the back of LCD flat panels to free up desk space. Where it truly shines, though, is in its performance. Since the use of CULV chips makes it that much faster than an Atom nettop, we could see this unit also functioning as a home theater PC for streaming video. Through the DVI and HDMI, it even has enough flexibility to drive presentations and could be smaller than the projector it's attached to.
At $679, the VOT125 may prove a conflict in terms of price: it's very reasonably priced for what it is, but it will give reason to pause. Nettops now cost as little as $300 if you're willing to settle for an Atom chip, and many full-size desktops at a similar price will still easily outrun what ViewSonic's bringing to the table. We're still heavily inclined to this design, though; it delivers impressive computing performance in one of the smallest footprints possible. and serves as a great blend. About our only reservation would be for those buyers who might be willing to pay the $20 extra for the much faster Mac mini, although it can't mount on a wall.
While we can't vouch for the performance of the VOT125 editions with lesser processors, our system ran well and fit into its expected lifestyle very neatly; it's easily near the top of picks in its category, and in very compact PCs as a whole.