Giada Slim-N20: Style Over substance

Compact PCs can be excellent, inexpensive living-room media hubs, but they generally fit into their minuscule frames by leaving features on the cutting-room floor. The Giada Slim-N20 is no exception. Unfortunately, this low-powered nettop struggles to live up to its price tag (US$450, as of November 1, 2010).

This compact desktop PC packs a dual-core 1.66GHz Intel Atom D510 processor and 2GB of DDR2 RAM into a slim chassis. Alas, the Slim-N20 ultimately lags in performance: It earned a paltry score of 42 in our WorldBench 6 test suite–below average for a category that’s already fairly underpowered.

Competitors in the category fared better. The $300 eMachines ER1402-05, equipped with a 1.7GHz Athlon II Neo K125 processor, delivered a WorldBench 6 score of 62. The category-leading Viewsonic VOT530, which carries a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T6600, earned a comparatively impressive WorldBench 6 score of 90.

NVidia’s Ion 2 graphics chipset is paired with the Slim-N20’s processor, but the combination does little to impress. Our test 1080p media clips stuttered visibly at higher resolutions. Users can rule out higher-end PC gaming entirely (as expected for the category). On our Call of Duty and Dirt 2 tests, the Slim-N20 failed to produce playable frame rates, and on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark it puttered along at a meager 15 frames per second.

Performance isn’t necessarily everything, however. The Slim-N20 offers whisper-quiet operation and reduced power consumption; its case feels cool to the touch even after long hours of constant use.

In fact, excellent case design is one of the Slim-N20’s more compelling traits. The little tyke sports the requisite array of input/output options, with a combo eSATA/USB 2.0 port, a 5.1 audio output, and a multiformat card reader up top. A pair of USB ports and HDMI and VGA outputs on the rear complete a package that should handle the basic needs of any entry-level entertainment enthusiast.

That said, the Slim-N20 demands that users be advanced enough to keep their media on network storage or removable memory, once the 320GB hard drive is full. That’s a fairly meager capacity, but standard for machines in the category. The case makes room for a gigabit ethernet jack, but it omits an optical drive–despite shipping with a DVD software bundle.

Our review unit lacked a bundled keyboard or mouse, but did include a remote control and a detachable stand handy for keeping a low profile in your living room. Slim-N20 owners can also minimize cable clutter thanks to 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth support.

The Giada Slim-N20 is a poor choice for playing PC games or watching movies, despite its makers’ pitching it as a platform to do just that. Mediocre performance is understandable at its price tag, but the aforementioned competitors offer the same sleek style–and better performance–for less.

Unless the slim chassis and glossy white finish are a must-have for you, the Giada Slim-N20 is tough to recommend; savvy shoppers can certainly find a compact PC that’s stronger, faster, and cheaper. If you have a bit more room in your budget and size isn’t a limiting factor, take a look at the budget desktop category for larger systems with a superior price-to-performance ratio.

PC World (US)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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