Introducing the Fit PC 2 – the world’s smallest practical PC?

REVISED 3 JULY 2009

We've looked at tiny low-power nettop computers before, the smallest to date being the Linutop 2. Now we have the CompuLab Fit PC 2; even smaller, and crucially, more powerful.

Where the Linutop 2 used a slow AMD Geode processor and was only available with Linux preinstalled, the Fit PC 2 comes equipped with a faster CPU, a choice of operating systems and the promise of 1080p high-definition video playback capability. This should make the package a more enticing proposition than the Linutop, which proved too sluggish for even everyday light office duties.

In component make-up, the Fit PC 2 is actually surprisingly close to the Dell Mini 10 netbook we reviewed recently. This 1.6GHz mini laptop features the latest Z530 version of the Intel Atom processor, along with a new Intel integrated graphics chipset. And like that laptop, the Fit PC offers an HDMI digital video output, enabling a sharp picture when connected to an external monitor or TV screen.

The Fit PC 2, a product of an Israeli engineering consulting company, is a remarkably small computer at roughly 4.5in square and 1in high. Or put another way, it would take less space in your CD rack than one double album. If it wasn't for the need to plug in a screen, keyboard, mouse and power supply, you could call it a pocket PC.

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Like the Linutop, there's no internal fan to keep the Fit PC 2 cool, making it nearly silent in use. Put your ear up close, though, and you might just hear the whirr of an internal hard drive which the Fit PC 2 uses for storage rather than a solid-state disk. This means storage capacity won't be a problem - it usually sells with a 160GB 2.5in notebook drive, although there's an option to buy diskless and fit your own hard disk. There's a screw-down hatch on one side which lets you easily slid in a new hard drive.

You can adjust amount of video RAM in BIOS, to either 128MB or 256MB, although this eats into available system RAM. Less customisable is the total RAM quota, since 1GB is soldered straight to the motherboard with no opportunity for expansion.

Unlike the Linutop, the Fit PC 2 does get noticeable hot. Even with the low thermal design power (TDP) of the Atom, its sole reliance on the lightweight aluminium casing to dissipate heat leaves you with a little box that feels rather like a room radiator.

While the Fit PC 2 never got too hot to touch, you nevertheless wouldn't want to keep your hand on top for long when it's working for a living. We'd have liked to have seen a little added heatsinking to help vent unwanted heat from this laudably fanless design.

NEXT PAGE: Model pricing, video playback reality and real-world benchmark results >>

The Fit PC 2 is neatly finished in a black paint over the custom-cast alloy case, and features an SD Card slot and two mini-USB sockets on its front panel. Also here is a soft-touch power switch, plus an infrared receiver window. With the help of an extra remote handset (not included), you could use the Fit PC 2 as a modest media centre PC. Meanwhile in a business setting, we can imagine the Fit PC 2 being attached directly to the rear of a monitor.

Prices for the Fit PC 2 start at £241 for a diskless version, then £293 or £333 for Ubuntu 8.04 or Windows XP Home versions, ready-filled with an 160GB hard drive. These Fit PC 2 models are all using the slower 1.1GHz Z510 Atom processor. For the 1.6GHz version that we tested, prices are £286, £339 and £373 respectively for the no-disk/Linux/Windows options.

CompuLab Fit PC 2

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Our Fit PC 2 sample had been set up to dual-boot Microsoft Windows XP Home and Linux Ubuntu 8.04. While the Fit PC 2's chipset boasts HD capability, we found smooth playback was available only under limited circumstances.

Under Linux, the MPlayer app could make use of the GMA 500 graphics chip to smoothly play 1080p video. In the Ubuntu OS we also found the other popular open-source video player, VideoLan Client (VLC), already installed. This gave choppy, unwatchable playback of video, suggesting it wasn't taking advantage of the Intel GMA 500 for hardware acceleration of video decoding, specifically of MPEG-2, AVC and VC-1 high-definition content.

Under Windows XP, a codec for Windows Media Player has now been added which allows full-screen playback of 1920x1080 high-definition video. We found this to work well enough to give essentially undisturbed playback of rich HD video. But beware that any other video playback program such as QuickTime or VLC will not necessarily benefit from GPU decoding of video.

As with the Dell Mini 10, we were unable to log any 3D benchmarks for the Fit PC 2 as the machine wouldn't run the test. Running the WorldBench 6 test in Windows XP, we recorded a score of 33, a typical figure for a humble Atom-equipped PC.

In use, the Fit PC 2 felt snappy on either OS, and quite up to general office production and internet browsing and networking duties.

Our measured power consumption figures - while very low at 7W idling and 11W under load - were not quite down to the ‘5-9W (full load)' figures claimed of this nevertheless highly economical-to-run miniature computer.

The distributor has since informed us that the advertised figures reflect the Fit PC 2's raw consumption and do not include the losses from the small external power adaptor. Most switch-mode power supplies (SMPS) this run at around 60-80% efficiency. To get a true measure of the PC's consumption, we'd nevertheless highlight the real-world composite system figure of 7-11W - which remains a truly neglible draw.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

OUR VERDICT

The Fit PC 2 could earn credentials as a baby media PC when it becomes less fussy about HD video playback on either of its recommended OS platforms. Until then, even as it stands the Fit PC 2 is neat solution as a low-maintenance midget computer. While prices start relatively low, by the time you spec up the Fit PC with the 1.6GHz processor and Windows XP, the price is becomes somewhat less competitive. If you’re on a budget, you’ll get a better deal by simply buying any Dell Mini 10 laptop, up to and including the top spec version at £349. That way, you’ll even get a free 10in screen, keyboard, webcam, Bluetooth and battery pack included in the package. If on the other hand you need something to tuck behind a desktop LCD display, or just fancy a cute-sized personal computer little bigger than a packet of 20 cigarettes, the Fit PC 2 presents itself as a great solution.

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