Asus Nova P20 review

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Asus has been busy miniaturising recently. First it produced the Eee PC – which proved that laptops can be both ultraportable and ultra-cheap – and now we have the Nova. This diminutive desktop comes without a monitor, keyboard or mouse, positioning itself to be one of the first serious competitors to Apple’s Mac mini (web ID: 86246). Currently available only in Taiwan, it’s also likely to launch in the UK – and we’ve managed to get a sneaky look at one of the very first units in the UK.

Asus Nova P20 review

The Nova comes in both white and black, with a raised strip (black on the black version, bright orange on the white) running around the machine and culminating in a small perforated fin at the top of the case. Asus explains that this is a pen holder – a feature we can safely say we haven’t come across before on a mini-PC.

Part of the Nova’s appeal is its tiny footprint when standing vertically, but it’s also designed to be at home when used horizontally. Because of this dual design, the case isn’t symmetrical: on one side a speaker grille consumes the top third of the case, while the other side has rubber feet. This grille hides a set of speakers which, while not loud enough for gaming or movies, are fine for a spot of background music or for those with precious little space – clearly an important demographic for the Nova.

At the front there’s a slot-loading DVD writer, which helps to keep the design pleasingly sleek. There are no ports or connections here to clutter the looks, either, with just the touch-sensitive power and eject buttons and a small Asus logo gracing the front. It’s a similar story round the back, with DVI the only video output, and four USB ports. As with the Mac mini, the lack of PS/2 ports means that a keyboard and mouse will soon reduce this to two.

Moving to the inside of the case, it’s inevitably cramped. Since the chassis is smaller than many laptops, it’s forgivable that there isn’t room for any card-based upgrades, and that’s a largely academic point anyhow, since opening the case will immediately void the warranty. Careful consideration of the specification is therefore advisable before committing to buying one.

The components inside the Nova are commensurately modest; both the slot-loading DVD writer and 2.5in hard disk are laptop models, with the latter giving a serviceable 120GB of storage. Graphics processing is down to the integrated Intel X3000 chipset, which will struggle with anything more than old games at very low settings, but is perfectly adequate for anything else in the world of desktop applications. Our sample came fitted with the relatively budget Pentium E2160 dual-core CPU. Its heat output is low compared with more powerful cousins, and while the case can still get quite hot, we saw no problems during testing: three small fans on top of the case do a perfectly good job of removing hot air, and with barely a whisper, too – surprising given how small they are. Power consumption is also commendably low, hovering around 50W when pushed.

Even so, the Nova still achieved a respectable 0.74 in our application benchmarks. Typical office tasks were handled with ease and, likewise, media playback was no problem. Windows Media Center is included with the bundled Vista Home Premium, and Asus ships an MCE remote with the Nova, too. There’s no HDMI output, and you’d need to add a dual USB TV tuner to get it up to speed, but it’s otherwise a very viable option for media-centre duties.

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