Asus Nova P22 – long on looks, short on true media PC features

Asus’s advertises its new US$900 Nova P22 as a “multimedia computer”–a term I associate with 1992 and CD-ROM drives–and the PC does come with a remote control and Windows Vista with Windows Media Center.

But it lacks many features that true Media Center PCs offer, and its small size leaves little space for upgrading its internal components.

The petite and attractive Nova P22 is about the size of a hardback novel, weighs 3.9 pounds, and comes in white with orange trim or in all black. A set of small, built-in speakers plays laptop-quality sound. Touch-sensitive buttons control the power and the DVD drive, but they may be too sensitive; I often found myself turning the PC off accidentally by brushing the power button. It did run very quietly, though.

The system’s quiet operation helps it fit into a living room setting. Nearly all other Media Center PCs have TV tuners, and some have CableCard slots for receiving scrambled HDTV programming. But the Nova P22 lacks a tuner card and can’t accommodate one except via external USB, which would increase its overall size. I couldn’t find a way to get the cover off, but the PC is too small to accept an extra card anyway. It has only a DVI connector–no HDMI port–so if you want to connect it to a TV, you’ll need a DVI-to-HDMI adapter. It does have an optical port for sending high-quality audio to a receiver, though.

The PC carries a 160GB hard drive–impressive for a laptop, but woefully inadequate for a media-centric PC. With its 1.86-GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 1GB of RAM, the Nova P22 managed a PC WorldBench 6 score of 66. But because it relies on integrated graphics–again, with no upgrade path–it’s unsuitable for gaming. The system’s integrated Wi-Fi-N and Bluetooth let you download movies and audio, and play media files hosted on other PCs around your house.

The Nova P22 comes without a monitor, mouse, or keyboard; the only standard input device is the mediocre white plastic Media Center remote, which, like most Media Center remotes, feels pretty cheap. You can connect your own keyboard, mouse, and other USB input devices, because the computer has four USB ports on the back. It also has a laptop-like docking connector to “allow future capabilities expansion,” according to the thin manual.

The Nova P22 is a good-looking machine, and its size suits it for space-constrained settings. But for $900, you can get a far more capable, true Media Center PC, albeit bigger and less stylish.

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