The Pegatron Cape 7 is an Ion-powered nettop - a compact, low-power PC for basic office and home use
That is, it’s a low-power compact PC combining an Intel Atom netbook processor with an nVidia graphics chipset. The result is a mini PC with some modest potential for taking on recent Windows games, as well as one able to play high-definition video smoothly.
Despite rumours of a revised Ion 2 platform, current Ion nettops on sale are still using the same chips as when the technology first appeared early last year. Inside this example is a single-core Atom 230 processor, clocked at the familiar 1.6GHz speed, supported by the nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor.
Note that Ion only works with older first-generation Intel Atom chips. It’s been speculated that Intel’s new Pinetrail-series Atom processors, which offer scant improvements over their predecessors, were introduced expressly to lock out nVidia with its Ion graphics upgrade programme.
The Cape 7 is made by Pegatron, a subsidiary of the original netbook maker Asus. It comes in a package that is paradoxically both sleek and untidy.
The gloss white plastic case is itself only 20mm thick. There’s a mounting bracket in the packing box, with which you can strap this little PC on to the back of a monitor. You can lay it flat on the desk, or perch it upright on a little screw-on pillar stand.
A flimsy front hatch flips open to reveal two USB 2.0 and audio ports on the front, with another four USB at the back, along with DVI, ethernet and audio out. Power comes from a little laptop-style power supply unit.
The ‘untidy’ reference is down to the mass of wires that must sprout from the front and back, the moment you actually plug it in to get it working for its living. Because of the relative small size of the PC, these can be seen to dwarf it and leave it looking a little messy.
One wire you can cut though is the ethernet cable. There’s no intrinsic wireless connectivity, but a little USB dongle in the box provides 11n networking – with a commensurate reduction in available USB ports thereafter of course.
Build quality is quite tidy, and the unit is mostly quiet in use, a fan revving a little louder when it’s stressed by some daily workloads.
Power consumption, a compelling draw for such baby PCs, was low at 18W idle, rising to 29W under load. If you want to get even greener, the most mains-miserly PC we’ve measured to date has been the 12W-idle Apple Mac mini, despite being fitted with a full-bore 2.53GHz dual-core processor.
You will get hardware acceleration of desktop effects, but note that webpage Flash content will still slow your computer as full GPU acceleration of Adobe Flash is not available to any Linux operating system.
In the lab, the Pegatron Cape 7 showed the same performance as most netbooks, logging a lowly 36 points in the WorldBench 6 real-world speed test.
The Pegatron Cape 7 did feel a little brisker than most netbooks in use, though, helped here no doubt by the more capable graphics processor.
In our standard graphics test, the Pegatron Cape 7 was even less impressive. It averaged only 9 frames per second in FEAR at maximum quality settings. Even after we’d dropped every detail option to absolute minimum, this only rose to 37fps – with 37% of gameplay still below the 25fps cut-off for smooth action.
A more recent game fared no better. STALKER: Call of Pripyat played at only 8fps in our laptop-level test of 1280x720 resolution and Medium detail settings.
High-definition video playback is possible with the Pegatron Cape 7 though, providing your chosen HD film can be played by an app that can use Microsoft DirectX Video Acceleration (DxVA).
Windows Media Player, included with Windows 7, can play many recent MPEG-4 videos, while CyberLink PowerDVD is also a handy program to have available for hardware-accelerated video playback.
See also: Group test: what's the best desktop PC?
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