When Intel first introduced their Atom line of processors, they told us it was aimed at smaller, so-called MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices). Soon after that, Asus released the first netbook, and a new category of computers was born. But they weren’t really MIDs. In fact, the term MID hasn’t really caught on, and there are very few devices that are generally considered to be MIDs. Nokia’s internet tablet series for and Sony’s Mylo come to mind. But both predate the Atom processor.
Atom’s major advantage over other small, power-sipping CPUs is that it uses the same x86 instruction set as desktop CPUs. This means that Atom-based devices, if powerful enough, can run Windows. Intel probably thought this would be essential for MID adoption. But then Apple released what would prove to be a game-changing device.
More The end of the Atomic Age?
Remember my review of the world’s smallest ‘desktop’ PC, the Fit-PC2? I recommended it for use as a lightweight, energy efficient server, but apparently you can do much more exciting things with it. Matt Bunting, a University of Arizona electrical engineering senior, used it to power a very cool, spider-like robot. And it turns out Intel just bought two of them to show off the Atom’s potential. It uses other stock parts too, including a Logitech webcam.
More Fit-PC2 used to power amazing robot spider
A little over a year ago, I got myself the cheapest media center PC ever, on the form of an old refurbished office machine. It was fast enough to handle most of what I wanted it to do, but it was lightly too big for my AV setup, and decidedly beige. Ugh. But my main issue with it was that it was also making long hours. The Pentium 4 series of processors is notorious for its high power consumption, and I was starting to feel guilty.
I’ve had a couple of Atom based PCs in my home (a netbook and that really small PC I wrote about earlier), but found them to be slow, especially when it came to graphics. Intel’s ancient 945 chipset was a real bottleneck, and the newer US15W had terrible driver issues in Linux. That’s why I wanted to try nVidia’s Ion chipset. I decided that an ASRock Ion 330 would be the perfect little HTPC for me.
More ASRock’s ION nettop really rocks!
CompuLab just released a new version of their tiny Fit-PC2, called the Fit-PC2i. My guess is the ‘i’ stands for ‘internet’, because the most interesting new feature is a second gigabit ethernet port. This allows the device to be used as a router or firewall, so it’s not a feature that helps desktop users much. In fact, in order to fit (pun intended) the second RJ45 socket they’ve had to eliminate two USB ports from the back of the device, leaving just two full-size USB ports.
But there’s some good news too. According to the press release, the ‘i’ can be ordered with a 2GHz processor (although not currently listed on the website), and a 2GB memory model is also available. This is more important than you might think, because the RAM chips are soldered onto the motherboard and can not be replaced or upgraded. Also new is an RS232 port on the front of the device.
So, if you’re looking for a tiny little computer with an astonishingly low power consumption and two network connectors, look no further. Be advised though that the current state of the GMA500 graphics driver is still ‘a bloody mess‘, and you’ll need a display with a digital (DVI or HDMI) input.
As I wrote earlier, CompuLab was kind enough to send me a Fit-PC2, so I could find out if this tiny little PC is as great as it sounds on paper. The first unit I received failed before I could properly test it, but it was quickly replaced and I’ve been putting the replacement one through its paces all day today.
The Fit-PC2 is the world’s smallest fully functional desktop PC. It’s about 1/4 the volume of a Mac Mini, and it still has all the necessary connections and features to be used as a home or office computer. It’s also the most energy efficient PC I know of, using only six watt when idle and eight when playing full resolution HD video (1080p). Yes, it does that. But more about that later.
More Fit-PC2 review: The world’s smallest desktop PC
This blog has been doing quite well lately, and as a result of having visitor numbers I never imagined I would, people have been offering me stuff to review. I’ve declined most of these offers. I feel bad writing about things I wouldn’t normally get excited about. But when I saw this little machine pop up on Engadget, I couldn’t help myself. I just had to see if they’d send me a review unit. So I contacted Compulab, and sure enough they did.
More Fit-PC2 first impressions
At Computex, nVidia is keen to show off it Ion and Tegra product lines. Ion is a new chipset that turns Intel’s Atom processor into a multimedia powerhouse by adding a proper GPU. The first products are available and have been met with critical acclaim. But I find Tegra a much more interesting product. Not in the sense that I’m going to run to stores when the first Tegra-packing devices hit retail, but in the sense that I’m curious to see where this is going.
More Why am I still not excited about Tegra?
Last year, Intel’s Atom series of microprocessors did something that no other computer product had done before it. It was the first new, innovative product that was significantly slower than other recent offerings. To the surprise of pretty much the whole industry, Atom-powered netbooks caught on. For the first time, consumers were buying slower computers. Because they were fast enough for most common tasks. And because they were light, cheap and used very little energy.
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I’ve been fascinated by this new trend in computing. Every hardware manufacturer seems to be introducing low power components aimed at simple ‘internet PCs’. Not everyone needs their PC to be able to run Crysis at 60 fps. I think it’s great that manufacturers are recognizing this, but it really is a shame that most of these products don’t quite fit together just yet.
More Putting the low power computing puzzle together
I was about to write a post about how Intel’s Atom processor wasn’t quite fast enough to run Firefox 3. It used to be painfully slow on my netbook, until I found this great little trick. Apparently, Firefox grinds to a halt while trying to find ipv6 internet addresses that are unavailable on most networks.
Luckily, the author of Tech Explorer found out about it and wrote a post about how to disable this ‘feature’. It made Firefox about a hundred times more responsive.
Now if only Adobe would bring the Linux version of their Flash Player up to speed… Version ten is a major improvement, but still not being able to watch YouTube video’s fullscreen is a big bummer.