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The Best Nettops/Mini-PCs: Summer 2009 Edition

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 11/4/2009

The rise of the netbook proved that many people can get by with a PC far less powerful than most had previously thought. Now nettops are poised to provide desktop users with cheap, compact systems which meet the needs of the average user. But which nettops are the best of the bunch?

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    A Netbook for the Desk

    Netbooks have been incredibly popular thanks to their combination of portability and low price. While the performance of netbooks is well below that of a more traditional computer, netbooks are still capable of many of the most common tasks. This fact has been the driving force behind the popularity. Why buy an expensive ultraportable when a netbook can perform the same tasks for half the price?

    Nettops, however, aren't as portable, negating one major advantage that netbooks have. But nettops do solve the space problem many people have with current desktop computers. These thin, light computers can fit nearly anywhere. They're also silent and cool and, like netbooks, capable of many common tasks. This makes them perfect for dorm rooms, home offices, and other areas where space might be confined. So which nettops are the best?

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    Asus EeeBox

    The ASUS Eee Box is among the least expensive and best nettops Asus's Eee PCs have been the leader in the netbook field, and as it turns out they're also a leader in the nettop market. The predictably named EeeBox was one of the first nettops available and, despite some new competition, it remains one of the best.

    The performance is exactly what one would expect. A 1.6Ghz Atom processor is backed up by 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. This isn't going to blow anyone away, but its competitive with everything else in the market. What will blow users away are the non-performance features. The Asus EeeBox includes an extremely competent integrated wireless card and a decent keyboard and mouse. The EeeBox is also one of the better looking products out.

    And then there is the price. Usually available for $299, the EeeBox is one of the least expensive nettop packages. Add in a cheap 19 inch monitor and it is possible to have this slim nettop ready to go for well under $400 dollars. A more expensive version of the EeeBox, with Radeon 4350 graphics, is available at $359.99.

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    MSI Wind Nettop

    The basic MSI Wind Top is another good, inexpensive nettop Much like ASUS, MSI's Wind nettop shares both name and hardware with their more popular netbooks. MSI has been quite a bit less aggressive about promoting it's lowest-end nettop, which is a bit of a shame considering it is largely comparable to the Asus EeeBox.

    The performance is exactly the same as what is available from the EeeBox because the hardware is, as one might expect, the same basic netbook hardware guts found in most machines of this type. There are two main differences between the MSI Wind nettop and Asus Eeebox, however. One is the visual style. The MSI wind is bit less impressive, but it also looks far more at home on its side. Some users will find this preferable to the Eeebox, which tends to look awkward when not placed on its stand which, while attractive, is easy to tip over on a busy desktop.

    Another factor which makes the Wind interesting is the ease of upgrading. Users seem to be reporting that the MSI Wind nettop is a bit easier to work on than the Asus EeeBox. It should be noted, however, that the MSI Wind comes with no keyboard or mouse, so users who are looking for a basic nettop will likely prefer the better value of the EeeBox.

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    MSI Wind Top AE1900

    The MSI Wind Top AE1900 is among the best touch-screen nettops While conventional nettops have been around for almost as long as netbooks, a new bred of nettop is beginning to gain traction. Called all-in-one nettops, they integrate a touchscreen monitor with a power nettop in order to create a unique experience.

    The best of these is likely the MSI Wind Top AE1900. At $549.99 the MSI Wind Top AE1900 is more expensive than most nettops. The money isn't just for the touchscreen, however. The MSI Wind Top also includes a dual-core Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive. These performance enhancements make it a far more capable machine than most netbooks, although it is still handicapped by Intel GMA950 graphics. It also comes with Windows Vista Basic. Of course, Windows 7 will soon be available.

    There are other products in this category, but the MSI Wind Top AE1900 comes out on top thanks to its large screen and reasonable price. Some cheaper products are available, but they often come with smaller, less impressive screens The MSI Wind Top AE1900 is just the right size.