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Acer Aspire Revo R3600 - nVidia ION Nettop - Acer Aspire Revo R3600
Since we've touched upon specs, we should complete the picture. All the systems come with an Intel Atom 230 CPU. This is the single-core version (the 330 being dual-core) and it runs at the obligatory 1.6GHz. In the R3600 you also get 2GB of RAM, though a portion is used by the integrated graphics, leaving you with 1.7GB to play with. Storage isn't prolific, with just 160GB on offer, but it's more than enough for most needs and could be easily supplemented. Vitally, though, you get Draft-N Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet, so the networking bases are fully covered.
This just leaves nVidia's ION platform, the key component of which is the 9400M graphics chip - that seen in the new Apple MacBooks. This brings with it the vital feature of hardware video decoding support, making it possible to playback 1080p h.264, MPEG-4 and VC-1 encoded video. In our testing, performance was flawless. HD film trailers, encoded in h.264 with stereo audio, all played back with no dropped frames, with CPU utilisation hovering between 20 to 30 per cent.
To tax the system a little further we switched to a 1080p version of Elephant's Dream, encoded in MPEG-4 with 5.1 channel AC3 audio. Here the CPU utilisation varied more. In complex scenes it peaked at around 70 per cent, with lows of 30 per cent. No matter how taxing the scene, though, the Revo still didn't drop a frame - very impressive.
This seals the Revo's credentials as a living room media PC, particularly as it also remains very cool and quiet throughout. That it runs Windows Vista Home Premium is also a bonus in this respect, since you also benefit from Media Center. It's perhaps a little puzzling that there's no IR receiver on the Revo, though this functionality could be added.
Of course there is a more fundamental barrier to contend with first, that being the need for software capable of hardware acceleration. An excellent free option is Media Player Classic Home Cinema, but Acer also has you covered here, since it provides Cyberlink PowerDVD 9 pre-installed. This has the added bonus of integration with Media Center, in addition to very good DVD upscaling (should you connect a drive), though it can't handle a container like MKV. For that you'll need the aforementioned MPC Home Cinema.