You don't need booming sales figures to tell you that netbooks have taken over the world -- the mobile computing world, at least. Their screenless and battery-free brethren, however, have yet to find quite the same success. Nettops are great tiny little machines but in general they've been under-powered and, while people love eking out another hour or two of battery life on the road, few sadly care whether their desktop computers pull down 17 or 71 watts of juice. Still, it's hard to deny the appeal of a fully-functional computer that's half the size of a Wii -- especially when it can manage 1080p output over HDMI. Viewsonic's VOT132, with its Ion graphics and trick magnetic DVD drive, is tiny, efficient, and powerful. The perfect media PC? Read on to find out.
The VOT132 is a somewhat unceremonious name for a lovely little device, sporting a piano-like finish that will match your first-gen PS3 and a form-factor that plays nice with the most cramped of home entertainment setups. It is just a hair under an inch thick, extending 5.32- and 7.48-inches in the other dimensions, and weighs less than a pound. It's so light, in fact, that the weight of the HDMI cable we attached threatened to pull it right over, but that's easily fixed by attaching the thing to the back of your display. It's certainly small enough, and Viewsonic thoughtfully includes the mount right in the box.
However, using that mount sadly prevents the use of the other half of this duo: the VDD100 Super Multi DVD reader and writer. It matches the dimensions of the VOT132 and, using some small magnets, hangs right to it. This results in a flimsy bond, often sliding around a bit while we were connecting or disconnecting things, but given how well computers and magnets get along we're not sure we'd want them any stronger. Some sort of groove or the like to hold the two halves in place would have been lovely, though.
The DVD drive connects to via USB, using two ports to ensure it gets enough juice. That leaves two ports free on the back of the VOT132 and another two unoccupied on the front. On the back you also have DVI and HDMI outputs, Ethernet, and a 3.5mm audio output, while on the front there's another line-out plus a line-in and an MD/SD/MMC card reader. Vents on the top and bottom allow cooling and, while there is a fan in here, once the machine was tucked behind our HDTV we never heard it.
That fan is cooling a dual-core Intel Atom 330 processor running at the usual 1.6GHz. It's accompanied by an NVIDIA Ion graphics chipset, 2GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 320GB hard drive that comes with a refreshingly clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium. We didn't spot a single icon for trialware or other junk we didn't want. The final nicety is 802.11b/g/n WiFi accompanying the gigabit Ethernet connectivity, so feeding even high-bitrate content over the network is no problem. But could it play it?
We've tested Ion-based machines before and had mixed results. The VOT132 is no different in that regard, but in general we found it to be a solid performer. Within a few minutes we had it online and connected wirelessly to our Windows Home Server machine, from which we pulled a variety of clips at various resolutions. It had no problem at all sending 480p, 720p, and even 1080p content to our HDTV over HDMI, never dropping a frame or stuttering in the audio. DVDs also played back perfectly full-screen.
Flash-based content from the internet was a little less perfect. YouTube videos full-screen in HD looked great, but high-res Hulu clips stuttered a bit -- watchable, but hardly the silky experience at YouTube. We also pulled up the streaming versions of The Prisoner over at AMC's site and, though those episodes appeared to be the lowest-resolution footage of the bunch, they seemed to play the worst. Again it wasn't unwatchable, but it did mean Rover lost some of his characteristic fluidity.
General Windows performance was quite snappy. Again we were working with a perfectly clean install of the OS, so who knows how things will be once mired down with a few months of clutter, but all applications opened quickly, everything was snappy, and even simple 3D gaming was possible. If you're an MMO addict you'll find most games with lower-end visuals will be playable here -- just don't get too greedy with those sliders in the graphics options.
The VOT132, especially with the VDD100 drive, makes for an ideal machine to connect to your home entertainment center. It's small enough to fit, powerful enough to handle high-res content, and can even bear the burden of DVD playback duties. Flash streaming was a little hit-or-miss but overall was acceptable. Sadly, though, there is a catch: the price. The VOT132 hovers around the $450 mark at most places, about $20 cheaper than ASUS's new Eee Box EB1501. However, the Eee has a built-in DVD drive, while the VDD100 here will set you back about another $100, meaning you'll be spending close to $550 if you want optical support.
Mind you, that VDD100 is external, small enough to be portable, and can easily be connected your netbook when you're on the go. That's a distinct advantage, but in general we're not sure whether it's even needed. This little guy seems happiest playing back HD digital media, whether locally or from some sort of network-attached storage. That it easily mounts to your display is another bonus, and while it is something of a shame to hide that lovely black back there, once covered in fingerprints that may be the best place for it.