We all know that the global economy is tanking and many consumers are unable to purchase the things that they would typically buy. One of the items that has seen the lowest sales levels in years are notebooks. Despite slow notebook sales consumers are flocking to netbook computers in droves thanks to the portability and low price the machines offer.
In fact, the latest figures from DisplaySearch show that netbooks accounted for a full 20% of the notebooks shipped for Q1 2009. The netbook category is booming and today we are going to look at one of the more odd entries into the category. The OCZ Neutrino is billed as a DIY netbook. The amount of DIY that the machine requires is likely nowhere near as much as your average PC enthusiast is used to undertaking.
Haters will point out that the sales price of the Neutrino is more than buying a standard netbook when you figure in the cost of the components that the machine doesn't include. However, OCZ is very clear on who exactly the Neutrino is designed for. Is the OCZ Neutrino for you? That really depends on what you expect and what sort of gear you have laying around your home. For the right user the OCZ Neutrino may be the perfect netbook. Read on for all the details.
Specifications, Availability, and Pricing
Netbooks sell in several price ranges; the cheapest of them would be the new Dell Mini 10v at about $199 and some machines can run into the $500 range. The OCZ Neutrino can be had online at Newegg for $289.99 with free shipping. Look at the specifications list below closely; for that price you get everything you expect in a netbook bar RAM, OS and a hard drive or SSD.
OCZ sent my test machine along with 2GB of RAM and a 60GB Apex Series SSD for testing.
Here is the external box that the Neutrino ships in. Behold its box-like nature and print telling about the machine in side.
Open the outer box and you get your first glimpse of the snazzy instruction manual and foam keeping the Neutrino safe from the dastardly UPS man and his tendency to kick things to your door.
Pull out the foam protection and you can see the bubble wrapped black Neutrino in all its glory.
Inside the little box beside the netbook are the power adapter and the 4-cell 2200mAh battery.
The OCZ Neutrino Up Close
Once the Neutrino is extracted from its wrapping you get a nice view of the glossy black finish of the machine.
Here is the back of the Neutrino; the only things here are the Kensington lock port and the VGA output.
Thanks to the black color of the Neutrino, it's hard to see what's on the right side of the machine. The Ethernet port, power port, a USB port and the memory card reader are on the right side of the machine.
The front edge of the netbook has the mic and headphone ports and you can see the activity lights on the left side of the machine.
On the left side of the machine is another USB port and something that many netbooks are missing -- a 34mm PCI Express slot.
This shot is of the bottom of the Neutrino before the cover was removed to install the SSD and RAM.
This is a shot of the screen; note that the screen uses a matte finish and glare is much less of an issue than with netbooks and notebooks using glossy screens.
The keyboard of the machine is good for a netbook. The spacing is as expected and the right shift key is where it belongs.
This is the screen with the protective scratch coating removed. The matte finish is great at reducing glare.
The innards of the Neutrino are bare when you take it right out of the box. The machine includes no RAM and no storage drive. You can also see in this pic a space for a SIM card.
Benchmarks - iTunes Encoding, Movie Encoding & Battery Life
As is true with many netbooks and notebooks, the number of benchmarks that we can run on the machines is limited due to the low-resolution screen and lack of a discrete GPU. For the OCZ Neutrino I will be using our iTunes encoding test, our movie encoding test and getting numbers for the battery life via Battery Eater Pro v2.
We are still trying to settle on a test regime that works well for all notebooks regardless of the screen and hardware as well as netbooks. If different tests are used on different netbooks, it will be noted on the included charts. The first test up is our iTunes encoding test.
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
Developer Homepage: http://www.apple.com
Product Homepage: http://www.apple.com/itunes
For our iTunes encoding test I took 12 MP3 tracks from the old school Stone Temple Pilots album and converted them to AAC using iTunes 220.127.116.11.
It took the OCZ Neutrino 8 minutes and 26 seconds to convert the entire album form MP3 to AAC. Check out the chart below to see how the Neutrino compares to the other netbooks I have tested.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9
Developer Homepage: http://www.microsoft.com
Product Homepage: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/encoder/default.mspx
For our movie encoding test I used Windows Media Encoder to encode the Microsoft Wonder of Flight video from 1080p resolution to a resolution suitable for streaming over the Internet. It took the OCZ Neutrino 17 minutes and 20 seconds to encode the entire film.
Battery Eater Pro
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.70
Developer Homepage: http://batteryeater.com/development.html
Product Homepage: http://batteryeater.com
Battery Eater is a testing tool intended to reveal the potential of a notebook battery pack. Battery Eater can measure the minimum operation time of a notebook (when all power-saving options are disabled) under conditions close to the maximum workload (Classic mode).
You should be aware, though, that such conditions rarely occur during an ordinary use of a notebook and should be regarded as reflecting the minimum time the notebook can work on its battery. Battery Eater will show a result closest to the maximum possible in the "Idle" and in the "Reader's Test" mode (when all power-saving options are fully enabled).
Over the last several reviews I have been using both Mobile Mark 2007 and real world usage to get the battery life from the notebooks and netbooks I have tested. The problem with those two methods are that Mobile Mark often refuses to run on netbooks and the real world method leaves too much variance between platforms for my liking. Starting with this review and moving forward I will be using Battery Eater Pro v2 for all battery life testing. The benchmark puts much more of a strain on the battery than you are likely to do in real use, so your battery life will vary.
I ran Battery Eater Pro v2 on the Neutrino with the screen on max brightness and then ran the test again with the screen turned to half brightness. On full brightness the battery lasted for 1 hour and 2 minutes. With the screen at half brightness the battery lasted for 1 hour and 28 minutes.
Hands on Use
The first thing to do out of the box is install RAM, a storage drive and an OS. For my testing OCZ sent along 2GB of RAM and a 60GB Apex SSD. Installing the RAM into the machine is a snap, literally. You simply snap the RAM into the slot after taking the bottom panel off the netbook. Installing the SSD was equally as easy and the entire hardware installation was done in about 10 minutes.
Above shows the Neutrino geared up with both the RAM and SSD installed.
After installing the hardware the next step is installing the OS. OCZ provides clear and easy to follow instructions on how to install the hardware in the manual included with the netbook. However, when it comes time to install the OS you are on your own. This is likely because there are so many OS choices and being able to go into the detail needed for each would be impossible.
For my test unit I installed Windows XP Pro. You will need an external optical drive to install the OS. Once all the installation and setup was complete, installing the drivers from the included CD is straight forward, assuming you have an available optical drive.
After the machine was all ready to use I set about using the Neutrino as I would any other notebook or netbook. The keyboard is smallish and takes some getting used to. This is not limited to the Neutrino and it is something that all netbooks suffer from. The keyboard is spaced well for a netbook and offers good typing feel. The keys are clicky and not spongy feeling at all. The right shift key is well sized and placed correctly, unlike the ASUS Eee 1002HA I reviewed a while back.
The screen of the netbook is very good. The matte finish is much more glare resistant than glossy screens and offers good color reproduction. The little netbook is great for streaming video from Hulu. The onboard sound system is impressive for a netbook with plenty of volume, though it has little bass. This is again indicative of netbooks and notebooks as a whole and not limited to the Neutrino alone. The volume levels from the Neutrino are much better than many notebooks I have tested and I could easily hear audio from streamed movies and music without straining.
The little machine is a bit plain in the looks department, but it is a decent looking machine in all black. The fact that it has a 34mm PCI Express slot is fantastic. That is something that the vast majority of other netbooks lack.
The track pad is placed below the shift key and offers dual buttons underneath the track pad surface. If you are using the netbook in a dark room the all-black color makes it very difficult to find the mouse buttons on the machine. Otherwise, the track pad is decent and what you expect to find on a netbook.
The real issue for many users with the OCZ Neutrino is that if you don't happen to have RAM, an SSD or HDD and an OS around, adding these components to the Neutrino quickly runs the price up to what you could get a fully ready to run netbook for.
I mentioned before that OCZ was specific about the type of user the Neutrino should appeal to. OCZ is going after the enthusiast that has storage, RAM and the OS lying around. For the user with all of these components in place the Neutrino offers decent value. You can also add an SSD to the Neutrino for less than you can typically buy a netbook sporting a SSD for. This could be the perfect machine for the netbook user looking to explore alternative OS'.
The OCZ Neutrino is a nice netbook; it's not the best in the field, but it is far from the worst. In fact, I would say that it is as good as 90% of the netbooks on the market today performance wise. The only real question mark in any users mind should be if they already have the storage, OS and RAM needed to complete the system lying around. If you lack any of these items, you will likely be better off simply buying a netbook that is ready to run elsewhere.
However, if you have these things lying around or have your eyes on a massive SSD and don't want to pay a huge premium, the Neutrino represents a very good value position in the netbook market. For the right user the OCZ Neutrino is a great little netbook and if you aren't worried about the cost, once complete the Neutrino will go toe to toe with any netbook performance wise.
What the Neutrino really needs to step up several notches is a larger battery offering more run time. The tiny 4-cell battery is at the bottom of the heap for battery life.
PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.
United States: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com
United Kingdom: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.co.uk
Australia: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com.au
Canada: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.ca
Deutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf Amazon.de