It might be hard to imagine that these extremely cheap little PCs are useful in any meaningful way. I mean, they’re vastly underpowered and cheap so there isn’t a lot they can do, right? What if I were to tell you that these little guys are not only useful, but capable of replacing several more expensive systems in the home? Here is a list of uses we’ve found for the nettop computer:
While pretty much any nettop currently on the market can fulfill this role, for this application the best nettop we tested was the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q series. It comes with a tiny keyboard and trackball you can use as a remote from your couch while the nettop takes about as much space as a small thin paperback book. I’ve successfully tested it at 1080p resolutions playing HD movies on loop for a solid week without a single issue. You can mount the system on the back of your TV using zip ties or velcro fairly easily without losing functionality with the bluetooth based wireless keyboard and trackball that fits in the palm of your hand.
Running free apps like Netflix and Boxee while having the ability to use Hulu Plus and other online video services make it a solid replacement for multiple media center options. You can even connect an external DVD drive to it for a pretty acceptable DVD player. I haven’t had the chance to try it with an external Blu-ray drive as of yet.
The MSI Wind, while not ready to go out of the box, is a promising system for this application as well, allowing you to fit it out with a hard drive of your choice and disk drive. It takes up a bit more space but makes up for it in features, including 7.1 surround sound and a guaranteed full HD experience.
Light Game Console
DosBox, web-based games, MUDs (yes, they’re still around), and other forms of non-system intensive gaming are possible on the nettop. Nvidia boasted its ION platform has being capable of powering nettops and giving them acceptable gaming performance. To some extent this is true, as they appear to do alright with Street Fighter IV on low to medium graphics settings and 720p resolution.
Home Server (Including NAS)
While a lot of people use older PCs as home servers, the idea of using one of these nettop systems as one shouldn’t be overlooked. The MSI Wind, for example, has become a popular space-saving alternative to a bulkier and higher-powered PC.
I’ve seen a nettop used as both a mail and IRC server as well with minimal issues. At somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 watts of power consumption while operating, this certainly makes for a quieter and cooler alternative.
It’s always important to consider alternatives when looking for a new machine to fulfill a certain role. You could spend money on a media center that doesn’t do much more than run a single media center environment, or you could spend a minimal amount for a system that can function as several things.