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Asus Nova Lite PX24

No, it’s not the eagerly awaited desktop edition of the Eee PC just yet, but Asus’ newest mini-PC is nonetheless an impressive piece of kit. We were largely positive about the original Nova P20 six months ago, but the Nova Lite PX24 is something else – a stripped-down version for the low-cost PC generation.

The design remains broadly similar. It’s a hardback book-sized chassis which can lie down or stand upright, with a slot-loading DVD writer and touch-sensitive power and eject buttons. The front catches the eye thanks to a silver speaker grill – there is indeed a laptop-quality speaker set behind it for basic audio – and the bizarre little pen-holding fin from the P20 has thankfully been removed.

Set in stone
To save you prising open the chassis and voiding your warranty, we took a look inside – and it’s safe to say there’s zero scope for upgrades anyway. Every available nook is filled, a large portion of which by a substantial heatsink, cooled by a row of three tiny fans at one end. Asus claims an idle noise level of just 26dBA, which would be pretty much silent against background noise; in a quiet room we could just about hear a low hum from the Nova, but it’s certainly not a noisy system.

The presence of these fans gives away the fact that this is no ultra-low-power Atom machine, but it’s not necessarily the CPU that needs such intensive cooling. It’s more due to the fact that Asus has gone for the Media Center jugular by somehow cramming in a discrete mobile graphics chip.

Technically an ATI RV620LE, it’s essentially a cut-down Radeon HD 3450, meaning basic gaming ability, full 1080p video decoding and, best of all, the choice of fully functional HDMI or DVI outputs. We played a selection of HD video clips without a stutter, and while it didn’t manage playable framerates in our low 1,024 x 768 Crysis benchmark, it should be capable of trudging through older games, within reason.

Our sample had a 160GB hard disk, which is impressive enough, but Asus assures us the final retail version (due at the end of June) will boost that to an even more capacious 250GB. You get 802.11bg wireless networking along with Gigabit Ethernet, and a healthy four USB ports on the rear – although bear in mind with no PS/2 ports you’ll need to use two of them to add a keyboard and mouse.

The inclusion of Vista Home Premium gives you the full Windows Media Center module should you want to tuck the Nova away under your TV. A garish black and white Media Center remote somewhat spoils the aesthetic, but it’s solidly constructed and responsive in communicating with the IR port on the front of the PC. The HDMI 1.3 port can carry audio to your TV, but there’s also an optical S/PDIF output for digital speaker sets, as well as minijack outputs for up to 5.1 surround sound.

The trade-off
But that low price must mean compromises somewhere, and the most obvious is the use of a single-core 1.2GHz Celeron 220 processor. It’s by no means the slowest we’ve seen – MSI’s Titan 700 and Tranquil’s T2e Atom PC both use low-voltage CPUs and thus sit lower on the performance ladder – but a benchmark score of 0.44 is hardly going to set the world alight. There’s 2GB of memory to keep Vista ticking over, but we wouldn’t advise opening more than a couple of applications at once if you want to work smoothly.

And that graphics chip brings another inevitable side effect: while the original Nova P20 consumed just 50W at full load, the PX24 peaked at 92W, almost twice that. This only fell to 73W when idle, so while it’s significantly more economical than most full-sized PCs, it’s certainly not in the same green league as the 20W idle draw of the little MSI.

A few other issues niggled. The metal stand isn’t particularly high-tech, and it didn’t quite fit flush enough with our PC to stop it wobbling when touched. The lack of a TV tuner – or indeed any opportunity to add one without resorting to external USB add-ons – also limits its appeal as a dedicated Media Center device. And although Asus told us it has plans for an even cheaper version with a smaller hard disk and possibly a Linux install, there’s currently no option to buy the PX24 without Windows pre-installed.

But the Nova Lite PX24 has a lot going for it, not least its marriage of tiny dimensions with proper digital outputs and the ability to play intensive high definition video. It’s stylish and desirable, far more so than the less polished MSI, and for such a low price we’re impressed by how much Asus has crammed into it. Sure, it has its limitations, but as long as your needs aren’t too intensive the Nova Lite is a fine example of a mini-PC.

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