Giada Slim-N20

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I've put everything from a full-tower PC to a homemade embedded mini-ITX computer in our living room connected to our television. They've all done their jobs, but nothing has looked as sleek as the Slim-N20.

Giada's Slim-N20 is a Nettop computer designed with living-room entertainment in mind. Although it comes installed with a full operating system (mine came with Ubuntu 10.04 pre-installed), the lack of keyboard/mouse and inclusion of a remote control makes it clear this computer is meant for more than menial desktop chores. The Slim-N20 has its shortcomings, but it also has some awesome features hard to find elsewhere in the Nettop market.

Hardware

The specs for this little computer put it right in the middle of the pack when it comes to Nettop specs. My test model came with the following:

  • Intel Atom D510 (two cores, 1.66GHz).

  • NVIDIA GT218-ION (ION2, next-generation).

  • 4-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, MS, MS Pro).

  • Three USB 2.0 ports.

  • One eSATA port.

  • HDMI + VGA.

  • S/PDIF digital audio.

  • Gigabit Ethernet.

  • 320GB SATA2 hard drive.

  • 2GB DDR2 RAM.

  • 802.11n wireless networking.

  • Bluetooth.

In addition to the internals, this little PC shipped with an infrared remote (Windows Media Center-compatible, more on that later). It includes a solid metal stand, external power transformer, three-foot HDMI cable and DVD (although there's no DVD drive).

Figure 1. Giada Slim-N20 and Components

The connectors are arranged perfectly for a living-room PC, but if the computer is going to be used as a desktop workstation, a USB port or two on the front would have been nice. Figure 2 shows the connectors on the back of the unit: power, Ethernet, USB, S/PDIF and HDMI. The top of the N20 has a flip-open area concealing the analog audio in/out, combination eSATA/USB port and 4-in-1 card reader (Figure 3).

Figure 2. The back of the computer has most of its connections.

Figure 3. The analog audio, eSATA and card reader are a little difficult to get at, but if not needed, they're well hidden.

It's frivolous, but I think my favorite part about the hardware is the power button. It's turned on by squeezing the unit in the front, and the LED indicators are multifunctional. You can see hard drive activity by the coloration and blinking of the crescent shaped ring around the power button. Yes, I realize it's a silly thing, but I found it rather cool (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Maybe it's just the kid in me, but I really like this power/activity light.

Performance

The Giada Slim-N20 is touted as a media playback device and gaming unit. The Atom D510 CPU really makes this unit a tough sell for gaming, but with the ION2 graphics chipset, it performs moderately well on simple games. I'd consider it a Nettop computer that I could waste a few minutes gaming with, but I certainly wouldn't consider it a gaming machine.

The ION2 GPU does really do its job as an HD-decoding beast, however. My tests with 1080p video played without a stutter. I wasn't able to stream 1080p video very well over the 802.11n network, but I really wouldn't expect to be able to stream full HD over wireless anyway. The gigabit Ethernet port was able to keep up just fine with any network-shared video I threw at it, whether they were MKV files or H.264 MOV files. I've read others had problems with 1080p video on the N20, but perhaps because I was using XBMC Live, which is tweaked for the NVIDIA GPU, I had better luck.

I didn't do any hard-core benchmarking, because quite honestly, those numbers are easily accessible on the Web. I figured for this review, it would be more helpful to compare the N20 to other Nettop machines I've used. In short, it was great. Startup time from the internal 320GB SATA drive was impressive. I was able to use the system as a desktop machine without noticing it was a Nettop. The menus are responsive, programs start quickly, and most important, every bit of hardware worked out of the box. In comparison to the Acer Veriton I've been running as a second Linux desktop, the Giada Slim-N20 was much nicer.

______________________

Shawn Powers is an Associate Editor for Linux Journal. You might find him chatting on the IRC channel, or Twitter

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