The Acer AspireRevo R3600 is the first nettop to ditch the traditional, and ageing, Intel D945G chipset in favour of a newer, trendier Nvidia ION package. This, we're promised, gives the R3600 the ability to run 3D games and play 'Full HD' 1080p video -- something most nettops can only dream of. The R3600 is available online for approximately £250.
The R3600 is tiny, as you might expect. It measures around 180mm2 and tips the scales at 750g. It sports a fairly intriguing design. Whereas most nettops sport a familiar rectangular, Apple Mac mini-esque look, the R3600's chassis takes the form of a parallelogram, and doesn't have a defined front, rear or sides.
The system can be sat either on its top -- a dark blue surface with AspireRevo livery -- or its bottom -- also dark blue, but less gaudy, with a simple Acer logo. If neither of those suits, you can sit the R3600 on its wobbly dedicated stand, or strap it directly to the rear of your TFT monitor using the bundled VESA mounting kit.
Whichever way you plonk it, you'll still have easy access to the machine's startling number of ports. We won't tell you what side each connector is on -- since right becomes left so easily -- but the R3600 packs a four-in-one memory card reader, headphone and mic jacks, D-Sub and HDMI video outputs, and Ethernet, eSATA and a whopping six USB ports -- not bad for such a small PC.
Acer's pairing of a 1.6GHz Intel Atom 230 CPU and 2GB of RAM might not raise any eyebrows, but the R3600 has an ace up its diminutive sleeve. It's the first nettop to ditch Intel's ageing D945G chipset -- a combination of chips that provides lacklustre graphics -- in favour of Nvidia's more modern ION chipset. It's essentially a rebadged Nvidia GeForce 9400 graphics processing unit, but it provides far more flexibility than its Intel counterpart, and promises 3D gaming and 1080p video playback.
The R3600's HDMI port is capable of piping 1080p video to an external display, along with 7.1-channel audio, so you won't need to attach a separate sound cable. Unfortunately, storage isn't the machine's strong point. Its 160GB hard drive is only large enough to accommodate around six uncompressed or ten compressed Blu-ray movies, although it's a slightly moot point, since the R3600 lacks any sort of optical drive. Those who want high-definition movie fun will have to buy an external drive, record content themselves using an HD camcorder, or look to the shadier side of the Internet.
Those who have content on existing PCs won't find it difficult to transfer data to the R3600. Acer has fitted the device with 1,000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet -- the fastest currently available -- as well as integrated high-speed 802.11n Wi-Fi. The latter comes in particularly useful, as it allows R3600 users to surf the Web without having to connect and configure an external Wi-Fi adaptor.
The R3600 ships with a wired USB optical mouse and keyboard. The mouse is adequate, but the keyboard has a very toy-like feel to it. It's not all bad news though. Although there's slightly too much travel in the keys, the keyboard's not particularly difficult to type quickly on, and the isolated key design aids accuracy. Interestingly, some versions of the R3600 ship with a Wii Remote-style, motion-sensing controller, although our review sample didn't include this.
The R3600's performance is a mixed bag. It's certainly the fastest nettop we've encountered, but that's not saying much. The bad news is that, because it uses a relatively pedestrian Atom 230 CPU, it can feel slightly sluggish by desktop standards, as its PCMark05 benchmark score of 1,960 indicates.
The good news, however, is that its Nvidia ION graphics make up for this. It scored a quite respectable 1,302 in 3DMark06 -- a damn sight better than the 600 or so you can expect from equivalent Intel-powered graphics. It copes well with 720p HD video, and even 1080p, without dropping frames.
The Acer AspireRevo R3600 is currently the best nettop on the market. Its core processing power is identical to that of its rivals, such as the Asus Eee Box, but its Nvidia ION chipset means it can be taken seriously as a media centre.
Edited by Charles Kloet