Novatech NBox Pro review

11 Jul 2008

A stylish, well-equipped home PC in a tiny box, but not quite the final word in tiny PC performance.

Price when reviewed: 
549(£645 inc VAT)
4

There's an awful lot to be said for buying a small form-factor PC. If you've got a big beige box on your desk and you're only using it for work and surfing the internet - rather than intensive gaming and video editing - then a computer that's been crammed into a chassis barely bigger than a hardback book is an ideal replacement that will do all the same things - and it'll occupy a fraction of the space.

Novatech's NBox Pro is one of a handful of small, relatively cheap PCs we've seen recently, although they've provided mixed results. The MSI Titan 700 coupled an incredibly low price with disastrous performance, while the Asus Nova, though better, still lacked in the power department. The best we've so , though, is the Transtec Senyo 610, which shoehorned huge amounts of performance into a tiny, ingenious chassis.

On first impressions, the Novatech falls into the Senyo's camp: the machined aluminium chassis and mottled grey lid exude more style than the Senyo's burgundy and silver case arrangement. It's a neat square that won plenty of admiring glances from the team the first time we pulled it out of its box.

It measures a tiny 170 x 170 x 58mm, which is only a little more than a Mac Mini, and it squeezes a decent array of connections in too, with four USB sockets (two front, two rear), a six-pin FireWire port, Gigabit Ethernet, 7-pin TV out, DVI and three 3,5mm audio connectors.

Inside, the Novatech exhibits almost as much ingenuity as the Senyo. The top layer of the chassis is almost entirely occupied by a slot-loading DVD writer and a 250GB Western Digital hard disk. Both are, understandably, mobile parts, like the Novatech's other components, to save on space and power. Unscrew these, and the rest of the NBox is laid bare: the pair of SODIMM slots are easy to access and, if you wanted to persevere, the Socket P processor could, potentially, be replaced too.

As with the Transtec, a handful of PCB risers are employed here to squeeze everything in, with connections for USB ports, the power button and several LEDs handled in this way. There aren't quite as many as in the Transtec - which is a slimmer machine, after all - but it's still impressive.

The list of components inside the small chassis is impressive, too. Processing power is supplied by a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 - a mobile part, which is smaller and uses less electricity than its desktop brethren. There's 2GB of RAM, too, which can be boosted to a maximum of 4GB if you're willing to replace the SODIMMS.

The Novatech also includes wireless internet and, impressively, it'll connect to newer draft-n networks, as well as the usual 802.11a, b and g. The 250GB hard disk dwarfs the 160GB of the Transtec, and it's easier to change if you run out of room - it's in the top of the chassis, here, unlike the Senyo, where it nestles in the bottom of the case.

For all the impressive parts and sensible design, though, the Novatech's performance lags behind that of the Senyo. While the Transtec machine - with its more powerful 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T8300 processor - powered to a score of 1.36 in our 2D benchmarks, the Novatech could only manage 0.91. It's a good result for such a small machine, and certainly enough to handle everyday work and web surfing, but it's still a significant drop on the Senyo.

Another area where the Novatech falls down is in its power usage. A draw of 26W at idle may be lower than the Transtec's 36W, but when pelting through our benchmarks the NBox rocketed to 56W - where the Senyo used a particularly frugal 36W. It's still far less than the power draw of any full-size PC in the same price bracket, but worth bearing in mind if ecological factors affect your decision.