Gigabyte Booktop M1022: Merging Netbooks and Nettopsby Jarred Walton on August 27, 2009 1:00 AM EST
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Gigabyte M1022 Overview
The pictures pretty much tell the story when it comes to the design of the M1022.
The ports are located in good positions -- having the audio jacks on the front instead of the side is an improvement over other netbooks in our opinion. The left side doesn't have any standard ports, since it serves as the interface to the docking station. That leaves all three USB ports accessible on the right side, along with the power jack, Ethernet port, and ExpressCard slot. When docked, that means you have access to six USB ports, and you can leave your keyboard and mouse connected to the docking station. Gigabyte includes two power adapters as well, so you won't have to worry about juggling between the docking station and the netbook when you're going on the road.
As is customary for current netbooks and laptops, the M1022 comes with a glossy exterior and LCD. The white chassis definitely helps to hide fingerprints, so we actually like the glossy coating in this case. The LCD on the other hand merely rates as "okay" -- contrast ratio is noticeably lower than on the ASUS 1005HA. The default maximum brightness is much higher, but using the EeeCTL utility on the 1005HA you can end up at a slightly higher ~250 nits. Given the choice between a 1000:1 contrast ratio and a ~250:1 ratio, the ASUS LCD is the clear winner.
In terms of chassis design, we prefer the Gigabyte M1022 over the ASUS 1005HA in other areas. As mentioned already, we like the touchpad on the M1022, and having the buttons on the sides of the touchpad allows them to be larger and more accessible than the tiny buttons on other netbooks. Looking at the bottom of the chassis, we find another area where we prefer the M1022. Gigabyte includes three panels that allow easy access to the memory slot, mini-PCI slots (one is occupied by the 802.11n WiFi/Bluetooth card), and the hard drive bay. If you are interested in upgrading to an SSD or adding a second mini-PCI card, it will be much easier to accomplish on the M1022.
We still aren't sold on the concept of adding an expensive SSD to a netbook, but the Booktop M1022 is designed as a hybrid system that can switch between netbook and nettop roles -- hence the name Booktop. Having better hard drive performance would definitely be useful at times. What would really help to improve the M1022 as a nettop replacement would be to use a different processor. We wish someone would put a dual-core Atom into a netbook, as the added performance would definitely be appreciated when the M1022 is resting in the docking station. Unfortunately, the word is that Intel does not allow the use of the Atom 300 series parts in netbooks/laptops -- presumably because it might cut into the market for their other mobile CPUs, though that's speculation rather than fact. It would also be interesting to see NVIDIA's Ion platform used to enable better handling of HD video and graphics, but Intel is certainly not going to condone such a product.
There are a few other areas where we're left wanting. We would really like to have a digital video output on the docking station. We were still able to run 1920x1200 and 2048x1152 LCDs using the VGA output, but text wasn't quite as sharp compared to digital outputs. It's still better than the Acer Aspire One with analog output to a high-res display, but one of the prime advantages of LCDs is their ability to display crisp text. The docking station also has at least one serious flaw: the integrated 100Mb Ethernet only transferred at ~6.5Mbps (800kB/s) during testing. We're not sure what sort of interface the docking station uses, but the Ethernet needs to be fully functional to be useful -- we didn't have any issues with the Ethernet port on the netbook. Video and audio output through the docking station didn't have any problems, and the USB ports also work properly, but the Ethernet port runs about as fast as 10Mb Ethernet -- or a USB 1.1 Ethernet adapter. It's fast enough for web surfing, but it's slower than even the wireless networking for transferring files between computers.
Overall, the Booktop M1022 is an interesting alternative to other netbooks. Gigabyte is right in stating that the major differentiating factor is the inclusion of a docking station. However, in a desktop Intel's Atom processor leaves us wanting. Yes, you will have one of the "greenest" computers on the planet if you use such a system as your desktop, but there's no getting around the fact that computers using Intel Atom chips are nowhere near as fast as most desktop systems. If you are already in the market for a nettop, the M1022 is a reasonable alternative that also gets you a decent netbook. However, most nettops provide some extra features that you might end up missing -- like the digital video output and a dual-core Atom processor.