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Foxconn NetBox NT330i Nettop

How about a computer that’s about the size of a paperback book? There have been machines like that for a while, but they have mostly been niche-market stuff. Often underpowered, and overpriced.

How does this sound… a dual-core CPU, integrated video with hardware assist for video playback, a user-replaceable hard drive, and a user-accessible SODIMM memory slot? And still about the size of a paperback – smaller than a good number of wireless routers?

Then… add in gigabit Ethernet. Throw in WiFi. An SD card slot, and six USB slots. Sound good?

Well… take that, and add in DVI, and…. HDMI. And do it for about $199. (Newegg link) If you own any sort of HDTV… you should be drooling. And I mean drooling. This machine from Foxconn really hits it out of the park.

With Joel Goodman’s walkthrough, installing and configuring XBMC Live is within the grasp of just about anyone, and gives you a media center that is quite easy to use. As an example, it took about two minutes for my four-year-old to learn how to use it!

You don’t even have to buy a laptop hard drive for it if you don’t want to… boot it off of a flash drive, or an SD card, and have it play videos from your file server, a USB flash drive, a USB hard drive, a USB DVD drive… there are lots of options. And thanks to XBMC’s abstraction layer, you can have media coming from different sources, all transparently to the user.

Normally I’m a little dubious of the low-cost manufacturers like Foxconn, but this was so tempting that I couldn’t resist. Upon receiving it, one of my first actions was to open it up and look for aluminum electrolytic capacitors – the place where manufacturers like to cut corners, spelling the early demise of their products. To my pleasure, I found none – only organic polymer and ceramic capacitors. Very cool!

It does have one fan, which (because of size constraints) is of the “squirrel cage” variety. For any given air volume, small fans will be louder than large fans, you can’t get around it. This fan does make a little noise when the unit is hot and the fan is spun up, but unless your ear is right next to the computer, the room would have to be awfully quiet for it to be of any concern.

This thing is just so nice… it’s been a long, long time since a computer has made me feel giddy like this.

Update 1: Less than one month from purchase, the HDMI port died on this. I hate to say it… but I should have trusted my gut about Foxconn. I’ve contacted them for an RMA, and will update again after the process is over.

Update 2: It turns out that the problem wasn’t in the machine… it was in the TV!

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