stolen from the desk of frodo.

So the new computer arrived today. In a fortuitous feat of good timing, the Brown Truck of Happiness came up the driveway right after I got the kids squared away for their naps, and I was able to spend my lunch break putting together the barebones kit I had ordered.

The new system is an nVidia ION box, and it’s tiny.  Here’s a shot of the desk post-rearranging:

nVidia ION 013

As you can see, it fits comfortably in front of the mouse pad with room to spare.

It’s fanless, and dead silent, except for the occasional read/write noises from the hard drive.  Graphics performance seems to be pretty damn good for such a small box–I got about 40fps in World of Warcraft at native resolution (1280×1024), and all detail medium/high.

This is definitely not a barebones kit for the first-time system builder.  Because the case is so small, everything is a super bitch to put together.  The case only has space for one hard drive and one optical drive, and you have to install the RAM before putting in the HD, because there’s no clearance left above the RAM chips once the hard drive is in.  The assembly was an exercise in routing cables.  The whole thing is sort of like a Chinese puzzle box–you almost have to make a diagram before putting in the components, because you have to follow a  certain order to get it all in on the first try.

Here’s the case with motherboard and hard drive installed.  As you can see, the mainboard is only barely bigger than a 3.5″ desktop HD.  I had to remove the power supply for HD installation to have enough space for my hands in that little case.

nVidia ION 003

Here’s a shot from the side, without the power supply or DVD toaster installed.  You can see there’s not a lot of space in that case even without the PSU in place.

nVidia ION 004

The CPU is an Intel Atom 230, the same chip that’s in most netbooks.  The case is a mini-ITX, and they make mITX boards with more powerful CPUs, but I’m not sure I’d want to try something with more heat output than the low-voltage Atom.  As you can see, the Atom’s heatsink has no fan on it–it’s passively cooled.  A more powerful processor would require a fan, which would make noise…and sit right up against the PSU, with no clearance left.

Here’s the case with all the components in it.  You can see what a tight fit everything is, and how little space remains between the top of the heat sink and the bottom of the power supply.  The power connectors for the SATA HD actually sit on top of the RAM modules.

nVidia ION 005

Here’s a shot taken during OS installation.  (I put XP Pro on it, which suits the Atom better than the bloated mess that is Vista.  The ION box feels just as responsive under XP as the Core 2 Duo system did under Vista.)  You can see the size difference between the old PC, and the new ION.  The old box (which will now be Robin’s gaming system) wasn’t exactly a hulking beast, but the new one is maybe a third its volume.

nVidia ION 007

All in all, that little ION rig is pretty neat: whisper-quiet, virtually no heat, and small enough to fit into a large-ish purse.  I measured the power draw at the wall, and it pulls 32 watts under load while playing World of Warcraft.

That said, if I worked for a company that had a hundred of those as user desktops, and I had to maintain that fleet, I’d take up custodial engineering instead.  That tiny little case takes up little space on the desk, and it’s neat to see that much capability in such a small form factor, but working on it isn’t much fun.


16 thoughts on “stolen from the desk of frodo.

  1. igli1969 says:

    Like the Sheriff in “Eureka” said, “I love it when you talk nerdy to me.”

  2. Kristopher says:

    Replace the HD with one of the new 128 or 256 gig solid state drives … insanely fast, almost zero power consumption, no heat, and dead silent.

    I have a 128g ss drive in my gaming box to hold the OS and program files, and have assigned “My Documents” to the terabyte conventional HD.

    Vista actually flies on the thing. Waking from sleep state takes less than a second.

  3. Laughingdog says:

    Is there a video card in there somewhere, or does it just do onboard graphics? If it’s the latter, that’s a pretty damn impressive frame rate for WoW.

  4. Wharf Rat says:

    aww, it’s so cute! Oddly enough, I think that thing is probably about the same size as the ancient Toshiba laptops that the significant other has recently become obsessed with…

  5. Ray Walters says:

    With regard to Vista’s bloat: Windows 7 overcomes this. It’s running amazingly well on my netbook, though installation was a bit of a chore for me without an optical drive. (Ended up having to install Vista first, since not even gparted would let me get the partitions in place for installation of the RTM)

  6. Dave says:

    Just curious where you ordered this system?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Tiger Direct.

      It’s a barebones kit only in name…comes with all the required parts for a full system. Case, PSU, 750GB HD, DVD-RW, 2GB RAM, and motherboard with ION chipset installed. Just put it all together, and fire it up. Not a bad little box for $299.

  7. brookes says:

    Hey marko, long time reader, first time caller. How , does this connect to the net.(phone wont let me put in a question mark). I could not figure it out based on tiger directs specs, or even see room in your pics. Thank you.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      I plugged in a Belkin USB WiFi adapter. You’re right, there’s no space for an internal wireless card.

      It does have a built-in LAN port, if you want to go the wired route and just plug in a network cable.

  8. JohnO says:

    OT Question. How satisfied are you with your satellite internet service? My brother lives in rural east Texas and satellite is one of the few possibilities available. How are your download speeds (can you watch streaming movies, for instance)?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Streaming video is mostly fine. The biggie is the download limit (on our plan 425MB/24 hours). The 3-6am period doesn’t count against your quota, so you need to schedule patches and torrents for that time slot.

      The lag is a bit of an issue if you play online games….700ms latency at a minimum, and usually around 1000ms. Forget FPS games, but WoW is fine, once you get used to the casting delay.

      All in all, it beats dial-up by a mile at comparable cost (between our two PCs we’d need two extra phone lines), and it’s mostly reliable. Still, as soon as we get DSL or cable around here, we’re junking satellite. For now, it works for what we need to do.

  9. Sigivald says:

    I’ve been thinking about one of those Atom 330 boards to put in an old Mac Cube chassis…

    The nice ones (like your Zotac) even have a built-in Mini-PCIE for a wireless card (I see yours has the slot, but no card)…

    Not sure it’s worth $189 to play around with, but it might be.

  10. Outside of price (there are no $299 laptops worth having), why this over a laptop?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      There’s no laptop in the sub-$500 price bracket that can play WoW tolerably well. Also, I do most of my work in the house, and I already have an iBook for those rare occasions where I need a computer on the road.

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