Giada D2301 Mini PC Review

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Posted 23 Jun, 2011 2:44 pm

Giada’s D2301 mini PC debuted late last year in December and in early 2011 it started to show up online in retail stores in Amercia with pricing starting at $480. It stood out to me as it’s quite uncommon to find Nvidia ION 2 paired with Intel’s Core i series of processors where Intel Atom is mostly favored.  Giada have launched many nettops onto the market but this seems to be the most powerful in the same small form factor.

Giada lent me a loan unit which I was able to test for several days before I had to abruptly return it. I would have liked a little more time for testing on Linux and looking into upgrade-ability but here are my thoughts on what I was able to do with it.

Giada D2301 Specs

For my particular review model:

  • Intel Core i5-430UM processor (1.2GHz dual-core)
  • Next-generation Nvidia ION graphics (ION 2)
  • Western Digital 500GB HDD (5400RPM, SATA II 2.5-inch)
  • 2GB of DDR3 RAM
  • DVD-RW drive
  • Bluetooth
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi (Atheros AR9002WB)
  • Gigabit LAN (Realtek)
  • HD audio
  • HDMI, DVI video outputs
  • 4x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0 ports
  • Multi-card reader
  • e-SATA
  • Optical S/PDIF, line-out, mic and headphone jacks

Available options with other models

  • Intel Core i3 / i5 and i7 processors
  • Blu-ray drive
  • Digital TV tuner (ATSC / DVB-T / ISDB-T / DMB-T/H)
  • 2GB / 4GB / 8GB of RAM (two DIMM slots)
  • 250GB / 320GB / 500GB / 1TB HDD
  • Gray / Black colors

Contents

  • Antenna
  • Remote control (batteries not included)
  • HDMI cable
  • Power cable / AC adapter

Whatever model you get, you will still need your own operating system and keyboard to get this mini PC working.

This is the same remote that ships on other Giada nettops. I tested it when I reviewed the Giada N20 and it works great.

Hardware

The Giada D2301 is a step up from your typical Atom powered nettop as it’s powered by first-gen Intel Core i3 / i5 and i7 processors together with next-gen Nvidia ION graphics. RAM and storage options will vary country to country but my particular model comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB HDD. Power consumption is rated at 40W. Connectivity is not a problem with USB 3.0, e-SATA, HDMI and DVI ports, among other ports. I had no issues getting a dual monitor setup going.

Design

The design reminds me of the optical drive-laden ASUS Eee Box series which sports the same curved sides and smooth metallic casing. On the front is a slot-driven optical drive. In my case a DVD burner but there’s an optional Blu-ray drive.

Underneath that is a flap that folds open to reveal a multi-card reader, USB 3.0 (blue), headphone and microphone jacks and a tiny reset pinhole. To the right of that are some status indicators followed by the power button which sits beside a green light. Spacing between USB ports is enough that you shouldn’t have trouble even with large dongles. I’ve had problems in the past with other nettops trying to cram in fat Wi-Fi dongles.

On the back there are the following ports: 4x USB 2.0 ports, RJ45 Ethernet (Gigabit), 1x e-SATA, line-out, optical S/PDIF, DVI and HDMI. On the end is a removable antenna that’s included in the box and beside that is an air vent where most of the noise originates from.

On the bottom are rubber feet, which are removable. There’s no stand so it cannot be placed vertically. I would have really liked that feature to save even more space.

You can remove the chassis to access the insides – several screws off the back plate and four behind the feet on the bottom. I wasn’t able to get shots of the inside unfortunately as I wasn’t allowed to open up this demo unit.

Noise & Heat

If you’re looking for a really quiet, yet decently powered mini PC this Giada D2301 probably isn’t what you’re looking for. It certainly satisfies with performance but noise leaves a lot to be desired despite the “silent operation” of under 26dB. On first boot it starts quiet enough but once the device warms up the noise level ramps up. I can’t measure how loud it is but I moved it as far away from my desktop as I could within about 10 minutes of first using it. It is definitely louder than my custom built desktop tower PC with quiet parts (Zalman, minimum-speed fans, quiet PSU). If you place this within a cabinet or drawer of some sort, noise shouldn’t be an issue.

As far as heat is concerened, air pushing out the back remains cool while the chassis remains cold to the touch.

After 30 minutes of pushing CPU performance over 40% (which required 4 1080p HD videos playing) noise level remained although temperature of the air at the back was a tad warmer, still erring towards cool while the chassis didn’t feel cold anymore.

Performance

This is actually the first time I’ve ever used something with an Intel Core i processor. I’ve spent pretty much most of my time reviewing Atom powered devices up until now. While with Atom powered nettops, even the dual-core variety with next-gen Nvidia ION graphics (like this one) you can feel the performance hit even with the Windows 7 UI but there’s no such issue with the Giada D2301, not even minor slow downs across the desktop.

It’ll handle any sort of video thrown at it from 1080p HD video that you’ve downloaded or Flash content over on YouTube. 1080p HD YouTube videos purred along at 15% windowed and 22% full screen except they didn’t play completely smoothly which is odd since the hardware is more than capable. I didn’t get to check what version of Flash was installed. A 1080p H.264 encoded video trailer with a 8,759 Kbps bitrate had a rough average of 7% CPU usage.

Regarding video transcoding, I converted a 2-minute 1080p HD M2TS video sample from my video recorder to a couple of video formats in 720p through CyberLink PowerDirector 8 (utilizes GPU) and the results I got were: 4:37 for H.264 (2:18 per min) and 3:22 (1:41 per min) for MPEG-2. As a frame of reference, my several years old mid-range desktop PC with an Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 processor and Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS graphics performed almost twice as fast: 2:25 for H.264 (2:25 per min) and 2:00m for MPEG-2 (1:00 per min).

When it comes to games, performance is okay with 3D titles from mid-late 2010. Half-life 2 Episode 2 (2007) was playable at my native 1920 x 1200 resolution with high details but not silky smooth until I scaled down to 1680 x 1050 and reduced detail levels. Company of Heroes (2006), the least demanding of the three games I tested was very playable at native resolution, max details but I prefered the slightly smoother framerates I got from lowering details to mid-level. World in Conflict (2007) was the most brutal, completely unplayable at native resolution, high details forcing me right down to 1280 x 720, medium details for 30FPS in low action scenes.

Benchmarks

Windows 7 WEI score of 4.8 which is due to the processor:

CrystalMark 2004R3:

Summary

The Giada D2301 fits in somewhere between low powered and lower performing Atom and AMD Fusion powered nettops and more expensive and powerful Mini PCs with pricing at under $500 for the base model. The design is pleasing, it’s easily upgradeable, there’s all the ports you’d expect and you can get some decent gaming done with Nvidia ION 2 graphics. My only gripes are noise level and no ability to stand it vertically to save more space. I can’t tell you how good the price is because I can’t find anything similar at this size on the market although Dell’s Zino HD seems good on value but I’ve never tested its performance. Definitely something to consider if you want something nettop sized but with more performance.

Buy the Giada D2031 at Newegg or Amazon.com.

Giada D2301 Product page at Giada.com.

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