Review: a weekend with the Fit PC 2

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The Fit PC 2 is an inch thick, about 4 inches each way, and pipes 1080p video through an HDMI port. Though a perfectly usable PC with a 160GB hard drive, Atom Z CPU and a gig of RAM, it's so small that it makes even netbooks look bulky.There's also WiFi, gigabit ethernet, a remote control sensor, a MiniSD card slot and 6 USB ports. Out back are headphone and mic sockets and an antenna screw.

Performance is similar to other nettop PCs: good enough to use as a main machine for casual desktop users, but slow with several apps open, and inappropriate for demanding applications such as video editing.

In fact, the CPU and chipset combo is the same as found in Sony's Vaio P, and the same pros and cons apply. Like other Poulsbo machines, it does full-screen HD video in H.264, MPEG2 and WMV9 formats, but is limited on other fronts.

Its special sauce is that high-def video and audio, making it suitable for use as a home theater PC. To those who've spent years playing with tiny computers, to finally get something that "just works" on that front is a eureka moment.

Web-embedded video, however, remains choppy at HD resolution, since Flash doesn't take advantage of the chipset. Gaming, too, is mostly a bust. MAME and other emulators works fine, but modern-era titles, even casual ones, were unplayable -- if they ran at all. Gamers might get better results from an alternative driver set. There's no OpenGL in any case.

Videos at 10 mbits/s run perfectly. However, Quicktime movie trailers at 1080p, which range a little higher, occasionally troubled the Fit PC.

Connected to a 1080p display with a full complement of peripherals, however, it's surprising how capable an Atom-based system is. Though a plain-jane black box, it fills the imagination with ideas: with a drive upgrade, it'd make a good home server/HTPC combo. It runs off 12DC, so is OK for cars. It would make a neat motel PC, for those who want big screens and their own movie collection while traveling. If only TV sets had them built-in.

Opened up, the innards look similar to Via's Pico-ITX motherboards, but more cleverly tailored to the form in which it must fit: the RAM is soldered in and the SATA header is contrived so that a 2.5" drive slides neatly behind the USB and ethernet port housing. As a result, it's even smaller than the Artigo A1000, which can't do HD video. It also has a PCIe slot, occupied by the WiFi unit in most configurations.

HDMI is the only video output. A DVI adapter is provided, but the analog pins (i.e. VGA) will be dark. The included hard drive is a Samsung 5400RPM model with an 8MB cache: easy to replace without voiding the warranty. That the Fit PC 2 is so small makes the power brick--about the size of a pack of cigarettes--a consideration. A 12V DC wallwart would do the trick for cable haters.

A Fit PC 2 with a 1.6GHz CPU and 160GB hard drive is $359, or $399 with Windows pre-installed. A basic, diskless model is $255, with a 1.1GHz CPU.

+ Smaller and cheaper than a Mac Mini, but still a usable desktop PC.
+ Extremely low power consumption.
+ 6 USB ports makes it easy to hook up to a full set of desktop gear.
+ Fanless, but as a result feels quite hot to touch.

- No optical drive, obviously!
- MiniSD and mini USB means SD cards and thumbdrives are a pain to use.
- No audio through HDMI
- Can't upgrade the RAM.

Product Page [Fit PC]

About Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.
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