Nvidia’s Ion chipset, which paired its own graphics chip with Intel’s Atom processor, was meant to usher in a new breed of entertainment netbooks, but it didn’t quite have the expected impact. After a return to the drawing board, Nvidia is back with the “next generation” Ion, inside the Asus EeeTop ET2010PNT all-in-one PC.
The new chipset is still branded Nvidia Ion, but it’s seen extensive changes under the hood, with the GT218 core replacing the GeForce 9400M of old. Built using a 40nm manufacturing process, GT218 promises greater power efficiency for the same graphical performance, and now boasts dedicated memory. Here, the GT218 is supplemented by 512MB of RAM.
Real-world benefits, alas, are minimal. The original Ion averaged 16fps in our Low quality Crysis test; this new version scored 21fps. It’s slightly better, but still isn’t enough for serious gaming. Media playback is the key, though, and here it performed better. The Asus motored through 720p clips flawlessly, although for the highest quality YouTube and iPlayer videos you’ll need to wait for a driver update. It fared less well with 1080p content, but since the screen can’t handle that resolution anyway, it’s a moot point.
The Ion chipset is partnered with Intel’s 1.66GHz Atom D510 processor and, despite its two cores, it returned a benchmark score of just 0.40. That isn’t significantly quicker than previous generations of desktop Atoms, and restricts the Asus to basic tasks. Compared to the Dell Inspiron One 19 Touch (PC Authority, August 2010), it’s way behind – despite an ageing Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5300 CPU, the Dell scored 1.19.
The rest of the specification is well rounded. There’s 2GB of DDR2 RAM, a 500GB hard disk and a DVD writer, alongside Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11bgn wireless. The specification is packed into an attractive chassis too. The glossy black plastic and impressive fit and finish mean it won’t look out of place in trendy living rooms.
Asus has given the new EeeTop an impressive screen: at 20in across and with a native resolution of 1600 x 900 it’s larger than the Dell’s panel, and its optical technology proved just as accurate and responsive as that of the Inspiron during our touchscreen tests.
It’s just a shame Asus hasn’t furnished its system with much software. A discreet dock at the top of the screen gives access to basic note-taking software and other applications already included with Windows 7, but there’s little to excite. The Intel Atom processor doesn’t help either; applications took an age to load, and with more than one open we found the OS became sluggish.
The picture itself also isn’t without issues. While detail is sharp and backlight bleed is avoided, the panel isn’t bright enough. As a result, colours end up looking dull and lifeless. The screen is glossy, too, which proved irritating during darker scenes in our test clips and 3D benchmarks.
Finally, the speakers have little bass, treble is merely average, and they’re not loud at all. At top volume we struggled to hear quiet moments of dialogue from a couple of feet away.
The final nail in the EeeTop’s coffin is its price. At $938 it offers few benefits aside from Nvidia Ion’s marginally improved performance. The Inspiron, with its brighter screen and stronger specification, is still a better bet if you’re searching for a budget touchscreen PC.