With entertainment and computing beginning to merge, for a number of years vendors have been focusing on PC design to make the boxes a more attractive fit in your living room. Acer has taken this trend one step further with its new Nettops, shrinking down the box so it can be mounted behind your LCD TV.
Acer has released two Nettop models to the Canadian market. The Veriton N260G is targeted at the commercial space while the Aspire Revo R3600 is designed for the consumer market. Both PCs feature a “one-liter chassis,” start at $399 and are available now through Acer’s reseller channel.
Frank Chang, Acer’s product marketing and business development for Canada, said the vendor first began working on the Nettop concept almost three years ago, when LCD TVs began proliferating. At the time, Acer had a “three-liter” desktop design but it wanted to shrink it down even further, as it looked at ways of bringing mainstream computing to the living room.
HDMI ports were added to connect to LCD TVs, but Chang said CPU design and fan size were limitations to shrinking the form factor. That changed when Intel’s Atom chipset came on the scene, with its lower thermal requirement. The final piece to fall into place was Nvidia’s Ion graphics processors (GPU), and Acer designed to change the traditional PC design dynamic by designing the chipset around the GPU, rather than vice-versa.
“It’s a brand new concept, but we didn’t really know how to take it mainstream,” said Chang. “It’s different from the traditional desktop. We had a lot of internal brainstorming on how to position it, and in the end we saw the best fit as a home entertainment fit.”
The consumer-focused R3600 is powered by a dual-core Intel Atom 330 processor and Nvidia’s Ion GPU, supporting 1080p HD movies and DirectX 10 games. It comes with a 160GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM, and runs Windows Vista Home Premium, and includes a wireless keyboard and mouse.
The commercial-focused M260G is powered by an Intel Atom processor with an Intel GN40 Express Chipset, 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator 4500M. It comes pre-loaded with Windows XP Professional and a recovery CD with Windows Vista Business.
Chang said Acer sees the consumer Nettop as a very versatile offering, functioning as either a home entertainment centre or a secondary desktop in the home. The commercial Nettop’s primary focus will be VARs who have clients that don’t require a lot of CPU power but are concerned about footprint.
For the moment, the Nettops will only be available through Acer’s Canadian channel partners, and Chang said they’re not planning to make them available through the mass retail channel at this time.
While a more entry-level version is debuting at Best Buy in the U.S. this month, the Canadian version is more maxed-out on the graphics side and requires a little more consumer hand-holding from the channel.
The challenge, said Chang, is that the R3600 is designed to favour the GPU over the CPU, but most software today is designed to favour the CPU over the GPU. Nvidia is working with software developers to develop Nvidia-Ion friendly versions of their applications, and Windows 7 is expected to take advantage of the souped-up GPU power as well. However, in the mean-time, the average consumer who takes the R3600 home may be challenged to get the best performance.
“The software part of the ecosystem needs to come up to speed writing software that will fully take advantage of it, or else it will be an extreme experience,” said Chang.
That does, however, create a window for the channel community to add its value by building a solution around the Nettop and helping their customers take advantage of its graphics power. And with both devices not available through retail, channel margins are protected as well.