Taking a step back then it's clear that the Zieo N500-HD has a lot going for it. For the price the specification is outstanding, it should be able to handle most things you throw at it, including DX10 games and HD content. Obviously there's no HD DVD or Blu-ray drive, but this is a cheap machine so that’s to be expected.
But the cheap, ugly, OEM chassis gives the impression that this is a rushed product made to get a Santa Rosa notebook out the door at a very competitive price. If you don't mind buying simply buying on spec then this isn't a problem, but one has to bear in mind you'll have to live with this machine for a good deal of time; and, given its looks, that could be difficult.
Perhaps the best function for this model, then, could be as a living room media notebook. Using the HDMI port to connect to a TV, the notebook could be hidden away safe in the knowledge that it can't be seen. The internal TV Tuner provides excellent Freeview TV service, and the improved Vista Media Center is very pleasant to use.
An exceedingly elegant Windows Media Center remote is included in the package, as is an in-built infra-red sensor – no giant box here! Plus, with Draft N wireless and Gigabit Ethernet streaming any content from Network Attached Storage should be a doddle. And, naturally, one could whip it out – the notebook that is – for some standard usage if it's absolutely necessary.
Excellent performance, generous specification and a great price: these are all good things. But the Zieo N500-HD won't win any beauty contests, and for a notebook this is always an important factor. If you can live with this, or have a use that has no need for beauty, then the Zieo offers superb value for money. But the lack of finesse, and cheap feel, means one can't wholeheartedly recommend this notebook without a hefty proviso, that you must see past its ugly exterior and see the inner beauty.