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Acer AspireRevo review

Take one netbook CPU, sprinkle on a little Nvidia magic and then sit back and relax…

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Our Verdict

Quite possibly the best media box released so far, if only the blasted consoles didn't exist…

For

  • Nvidia Ion
  • Better Atom performance
  • Good 1080p video

Against

  • Slow performance on Windows

Amid the excitement and hype surrounding Nvidia's Ion, it's easy to lose sight of what's actually on offer from the green team's latest silicon. Is it a processor, a system-on-a-chip, or something entirely new and uncategorised?

Nope, nothing so far fetched: it's just an integrated graphics chipset. Admittedly it's quite a clever chipset and one that fills in some of the Atom's shortfalls to produce a brilliantly focused platform, but it's just a chipset all the same.

This is a chipset pitched against Intel's own 945GC offering – the one that's found itself working alongside the Atom in all those netbooks, as well as a few nettops. It's the weakest link in the Atom specification and therefore an easy target for Nvidia to go for.

Even so, Nvidia may be guilty of believing some of its own hype and tripping itself up by promising something it can't deliver on – gaming.

Before we get on to what Ion can't do, it's worth focusing on what it can; indeed, it's the Acer Aspire Revo's reason for existing. If you're looking for a low-powered but capable media centre, then you can stop searching – here's the hardware of your dreams.

This wonderfully styled system will take your 1080p content, throw it out to the screen of your choice and barely make a noise as it does so. It'll happily handle 7.1 audio, 1080p content and even make you a cup of tea while you enjoy the film. Okay, we lied about the tea, but you get the idea.

You're looking at less than 20 per cent CPU usage for the film bit, so you could theoretically do something more productive with the spare cycles.

Media mogul

Ion isn't just about video playback either, thanks to the modern wonder that is GP-GPU, this tiny box can turn its hand to other tricks too. Nvidia's been tub-thumping about CUDA for a long time, but it actually makes sense when it transforms a fairly lowly graphics engine into one that's capable of cleaning up your old videos, re-encoding them on the fly and, of course, decoding them to your screen as well. It's the best media player in the world then? Not quite…

There are a few things that hold Ion – and this rendition in particular – back from being leader of the pack, not all of which can be laid at Nvidia's door. One of the more annoying points is the inclusion of Windows Vista Premium.

This choice of OS forces the 2GB of RAM to its knees, calling on the system swapfile (on a slow 5,400rpm hard drive) far more than anyone would be comfortable with. It takes a good two minutes and 34 seconds just to get into Windows too – hardly a positive consumer experience. This has left us eyeing up the Linux rendition of the machine (even with its paltry 8GB SSD) with far more interest – it's only £150 for that model at the moment as well.

The Atom seems mismatched with the power on offer too – especially this single-core rendition. A dual-core chip would offer better system response, while a Core 2 Duo would shift things forward (albeit it at the expense of power consumption). Dropping to XP would be wise too, although this would mean Nvidia would be unable to show off the DX10 prowess of the Ion's graphics core – not that it's anything to crow about.

The biggest strike against Ion isn't so much the capabilities of the platform itself, but the direction it's being pushed in by the overzealous marketing. Apparently the Ion "makes games possible." It bloody doesn't, you know. This is the kind of bile-inducing nonsense that we've come to expect from the likes
of Intel and VIA, but not from one of the biggest graphics card manufacturers in the world.

Don't try and pull a fast one here – listing games that are out of date and calling them mainstream fools no one. This isn't a machine we'd want anyone to use for gaming – especially not on a screen capable of 1,080p movies.

Yes you can trick CoD4 into playing at the lowest settings at 800 x 600, but really would you want to? We certainly wouldn't. In fact, every game we tried on this machine looked awful and ran at postcard frame rates. It simply isn't a games machine.

Inconsoleable

This leads to a more worrying problem for the future of this platform – it's encroaching on territory that's already been claimed by the consoles. The PS3 rolls in at just under £300, has no problem playing games, manages HD media with aplomb and packs a Blu-ray drive into the bargain. The Xbox 360 is cheaper still and will happily run as a media extender to your main system.

Should you consider the Revo at all then? We'd say it's worth adding it to your shortlist (if you're the kind to make lists). The problem is that, beyond a few PC specific codecs and the ability to surf in an environment you're used to, can you really put forward a compelling reason to spend this much when you could nab a console for about the same price?

We can't, although maybe we could have our arms twisted for the £150 Linux spin. Watch this space.

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