Net-tops are essentially a new kind of desktop system that leverage the kind of hardware that was developed for the netbook market. They are in effect, a new kind of very-small-form-factor desktop. The Acer Aspire Revo is typical of this class of hardware.
Such net-tops tend to be based on the Intel Atom processor, which runs in the 1.2 GHz to 1.8 GHz range. It’s most commonly a single core chip, but the higher end models are dual-core. It’s a startlingly capable processor for use in an Asterisk appliance.
Net-tops can often be stuffed with up to 4 GB or memory and include a small internal hard drive. By small I mean physically a 1.8″ or 2.5″ drive form factor, with storage capacity typically in the 80-160 GB range. That’s more than adequate for any Asterisk system.
Of course, using a hard drive in the system takes it out of the running of my personal definition of an “Asterisk Appliance.” I accept that your definition might not be a rigid as my own, or…budget be damned…you may elect to replace the hard drive with a solid state disk.
In truth, these little net-tops are likely the most capable of systems being considered in my little overview. With list prices in the $300-400 range they are also at the top of the price range that I was considering, but that’s only if you look at list prices. Refurbished offers on the Acer Aspire Revo can often be found around $180. Here’s just one recent example from Tiger Direct.
The Acer Aspire Revo was actually brought to my attention by Ward Mundy of Nerd Vittles fame. On a recent VUC guest appearance Ward indicated that the little Acer net-top was a very good platform for his PBX-In-A-Flash and Incredible PBX distributions. Both of these are “heavier” distributions than I might consider for an true appliance, but they do highlight the considerable capabilities of the hardware platform.
My own experience with net-tops involves a slightly more expensive device called the FIT-PC2. This little box is essentially an industrial version of a net-top. With a 1.6 GHz Atom,1 GB of memory and a 160 GB SATA hard drive the Fit-PC2 runs cool and draws only 10 watts, even under full load when playing an HD movie trailer.
I have had a FIT-PC2 loaded with various software packages, including Astlinux v0.70. It can easily handle all the calling needs of a small office.
As you might surmise, the FIT-PC2 is is the second generation of industrial net-top from CompuLab. For those who are more cost-conscious their original FIT-PC model has been renamed the FIT-PC Slim and can be purchased for under $200. The FIT-PC Slim shares the same 500 MHz AMD Geode LX CPU as the embedded PC systems considered previously, but comes in a nice compact little package.
Unlike most of the embedded PC boards the FIT-PC Slim includes an IDE interface and a small hard disk, making it more like a small PC than a real embedded system.