The Acer Aspire Revo: A Parallelogram Nettop

The Revo beside a can of Lychee drink for a size comparisionAt long last after some delays I have finally received my new nettop and can now start properly experimenting with a device so quiet it can be used in the living room without the interruptions of noisy fans and overheating hardware. If you haven't heard of nettops then that might all be about to change. These are the desktop equivalent of netbooks. Small, with restricted power but good enough for internet surfing and doing your email. They typically use less electricity than their full size counterparts, and can be quite cheap to purchase if you avoid the Windows versions. The arrival of the Nvidia ION platform to these devices has meant that many new options have become possible such as building media centers or set top boxes.

One of the first nettops to be marketed was the EEE Box by Asus who also pioneered the netbook market. This class of devices typically have much less processing power than their desktop siblings so consequently can run much quieter and often are much smaller often resembling slightly resembling games consoles. This quietness and small form factor makes then an idea candidate for use as a living room device that can do things like store your music collection and pipe podcasts straight from the Internet onto your TV, the Boxee software is ideal for this. The NVidia ION platform is interesting here, as it aims to compensate for the low processing power of the device by using the graphics processor to handle such tasks as decompressing video files (if supported by the player application – one notable piece of software that does not currently support hardware decompression at the moment is Adobe Flash), a task which if done in software can be very processor intensive, but in hardware can be done much more efficiently which should avoid noisy fan activity. It also supports High Definition video formats.

One of the first systems to offer the NVidia ION platform is the Acer Aspire Revo, a small unit measuring just 18x18x3cm that features a lot of connectivity. You can can connect it to your TV through the HDMI socket which will deliver pictures at proper high definition resolutions. It also has six USB sockets, a VGA socket, an SD card reader and wireless and wired network connectivity. Once strange thing about the system though is that there is no line out socket, sound only goes through the HDMI connection or the headphones socket, which is something that might limit potential uses for the machine. I went for the Linux version, which is sold with 1GB of RAM and an 8GB solid state disc for £149 (about US $245) here in the UK. Interestingly the machine that turned up actually had a 160GB non solid state hard disc, which was unexpected but a bonus. You also get a mouse and keyboard as well. You can also get a Windows Vista version for an additional £100, but I'm not sure you would want to run that on such a platform.

It is difficult to track down hardware sometimes that comes with Linux, and when it does (with the notable exception of Dell) it tends to be a version that is difficult to upgrade and not fantastic to use (I think many of you will know what I'm referring to, if you don't it's Xandros), so I wasn't sure what I was going to get with this, but that wasn't a problem as I intended to install Ubuntu on it and use it as a Boxee box. To add to the confusion the Acer UK website (as at the time of writing) says the Linux version of the box comes with Ubuntu, but then goes on to say it comes with Linpus Linux. When it arrived it didn't have either.

Instead it came with a version of Splashtop Linux, which is meant as a restricted fast boot distribution that you would use just to do things like quickly check the Internet, make a Skype call etc. It did have Flash Player installed in the version of Firefox used, which was a pleasant surprise. However, none of this resulted in any sound through the HDMI connection to my TV for some reason so it was not a lot of use really, which is a shame. So there did not appear to be a proper operating system on it, maybe Acer were expecting that it would be bought by enthusiasts that would customise the machine to their own requirements? This may well have a lot of truth to it, but it is a shame that Ubuntu isn't supplied on such machines as a default as it could deliver a first class experience to users and allow them to make full use of the the capabilities of the machine.

The other surprise was something called the “Acer Aspire Revo Build system” which was also supplied. I should mention here that the unit didn't come with much in the way of printed documentation other than a quick start guide and one or two other bits, but no information about what was on the machine. However there was documentation in PDF format on the actual machine which explained that this was “a simple highly integrated GUI based utility to help you quick install the Microsoft Windows operating system” and went on to ask you for a Windows product key (I know, a product key, if you are mainly using free software you might have forgotten about these!). When I came to installing Ubuntu on the machine later on I noticed that there were partitions already set up, two of 2GB and one of 4GB in size and the rest was unpartitioned. This made me wonder if the Windows Vista installation files were on the disc? It would also look like the design was not adjusted for the larger disc. Fortunately this is all quite easy to sort out.

I have now installed Ubuntu and Boxee on the unit and removed all of the software that was there before. This proved to be not quite as straightforward a task as I would have hoped (as anybody following me on twitter might have noticed), probably due to how new the hardware designs are. However it can be done and I'll detail the steps needed in my next blog post. The machine itself though is excellent, it is well designed, in the shape of a parallelogram which gives it a fun and unusual look and astonishingly quiet, even when the unit is working hard. The plastic stand it comes with could be better, however it does come with a mounting bracket so you could bolt it on to the back of your TV making it an ideal unit to deliver the sound and video of the web to your living room.

Comments

Thanks for the heads up on this - I'll be interested to read your description of Ubunto install. I've been looking at ways of conifiguring a set top/nettop box with either boxee or Moovida/Elisa.

I just ordered the Windows model (they don't sell the Linux one here, I wonder why :(). Thanks for providing the instructions. Hopefully it I manage to get Ubuntu, and perhaps Boxee too, up and running without much hassle. :)

Since I moved onto Ubuntu I have had my share of fights with hardware. It has been refreshing to see that manufacturers are slowly taking it as a serious alternative. It's most excellent operating system for many purposes as long as it works on your hardware.

I think it's quite amazing that you can pick up a "mini" computer such as this and yet have enough power for most mundane purposes. I just fear "real" computers might become extinct due to these minis, cloud computing and whatnot. It's probably more realistic to presume that the PC market will be split in two even further as it's now: consumer market (mundane tasks, Linux is OK) and gamer market (Win7,8,9... pretty much needed for DirectX support). Latter market is of course affected quite heavily due to game consoles.

Another interesting thing to notice is that game consoles become more and more like PCs as time goes on. You can sort of treat a nettop such as this as a low-grade game console. If I remember correctly Acer has designed some sort of Wii-like controller for Revo even.

Hi Liam. Interesting article. I've been thinking that I need something to pipe BBC iPlayer content through to my living room TV for some time. At the moment I use the web browser on the Wii but the quality of the tv shows is pretty poor. I think the Wii has some kind of hardware limitation that means Flash7 is the maximum it can cope with.

So, I've been looking into options. Mac Mini seemed to be one option although it is very expensive in comparison to the Revo! Do you know how Linux copes with Flash these days? I have Ubuntu a few years ago and flash playback seemed quite jerky. Not sure if it was the hardware or the software though.

Or does Boxee have iPlayer in it anyway?

Hi Guy, Boxee has iPlayer in it anyway! Plus Flash support has improved greatly in Linux over the past few years, Flash 10 is now available for this platform so you can enjoy Flash based content including YouTube, iPlayer, 4 On Demand and Demand 5.

Hi Liam

Nice post. Really informative.

I'm lookind for a way to create a jukebox of DVDs for my children - to avoid the "where's the Star Wars/X-Men/Toy Story?'* DVD type questions (* delete as appropriate). I was thinking of ripping all their DVDs to a NAS box in my study and the Revo seems to fit the bill as a front end in the living room. In your opinion would this work?

I'm concerned that DRM protected DVDs cant be ripped and played back over my internal network.

Martyn

Hi Martyn, it is technically possible I think, try the Ubuntu Wiki as a source for possible answers. You should make sure that it is legal to do this though in your jurisdiction.

This stupid device has been like a long pracical joke to me.

1) it comes with 'linux'. a flavour of linux with so little functionality that it doesnt't even play vidoes

2) I find a how-to explaining how to install Ubuntu and get the sound and video working. This actually works but then wierd shit starts happening - firefox starts to crash and freeze the whole system. i was led to believe that linux was fairly crash proof so this must be the shitty pc.

3) i eventually get sound and video working but when i set the movie player to full screen - the box freezes again. eventually i work out that the system only freezes in full hd resolution, setting the res lower results in stability. this seems absurd in a small form pc that purports to handle hd video (it does have hdmi for fx sake)

4) eventually, i get vlc working with sound in hd fullscreen.(must remember not to launch any other program in this resolution) so I go to bed after about 6 hours of joyless time-suckage.

5) today, i think i will watch a move on my new htpc. ubntu launches then freezes at startup. recovery console goes so far then freezes.

6 i think i might take this pointless time vampire out the back and smash it to pieces with a hammer.

(i was originally going to purchse the vista version from PC world, but the unhelpful cluelessness of their 'staff' got in the way, despite being directed to 2 stores (which meant clueless unhelpfullness x 2))

Oh dear uc, you sound to be having a terrible time! Might be worth checking that the device is adequately ventilated, if PCs get too warm unpredictable things can happen. Also make sure you are using the latest NVidia graphics drivers, only certain video formats get hardware accelerated too so make sure your HD movie is in one of these formats to make sure the unit is operating efficiently. If all else fails it might be worth taking it back and swapping it for another unit - maybe you have got a bad one.

Liam,

I'm in the U.S. They dont sell the Revo here yet, so I'm thinking about buying one from Taiwan. The voltage and plug should work fine (after doing some researching). I'll probably be buying the linux model to save some money. I was wondering if you ever attempted to install windows vista or 7 on your revo. I noticed on the acer.co.uk support site they had a model of BIOS specifically for linux. I'm wondering if this BIOS is what is preloaded on the linux model of the Revo and if it limits you to just using linux.

Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

Question about the lack of Flash support. I'm interested in the Aspire Revo, but the lack of Flash support is a big turn off. I primarily want the system to download and watch HD movies, etc, but I also want the ability to toss on a good Youtube flick now and then. In your opinion, will this eventually be corrected by Adobe in a future Flash update? Or is this a problem that's likely to stick around for a while?

Thanks!

Hi there, I wonder if anyone can help me with a few questions I have regarding Acer Revo R3600?
I bought this machine a couple of days ago on the recommendation of my son, who, I thought was quite computer savvy...anyway.. maybe not! Now I am stuck trying to work this out for myself.

I would like to install ubutu but I am not quite sure how to go about it. My knowledge of computers in general is very very basic so excuse my ignorance.

From what I understand, I need to download the ubutu file to disc obviously on another PC, I need an external USB DVD re-writer that hooks up to the Acer, I load disc then follow the instructions from the ubutu website on how to install it ?

If anyone could advise me on whether I am on the right tracks with this, I would be very grateful.

Thank you

If you have a 1GB+ USB stick or SD card, this should do what you need:
http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/linux/create-a-bootable-ubuntu-usb-flash-...

Either manually download the version of Ubuntu you want, and use that ISO with the program mentioned in the link above. Or you can even pick the Ubuntu distro and version (the current v9.04 recommended) and it'll download it for you!

If you've never done it before, here's an installation guide:
https://help.ubuntu.com/9.04/installation-guide/i386/index.html

Just a few question as i bought myself one and planning to run Ubuntu on it ...

1. I can't get Ethernet to work, Wireless Lan kind of works albeit somewhat unstable, keeps on dropping connections ... but i can't get the LAN to work which is strange as the splashtop version did LAN without any problems ...

2. I have installed the NVIDIA drivers and they worked on reboot, however when i stopped the machine and then boot it hangs during the boot process - Loading hardware drivers ... and nothing moves forward

I am using the latest stable Ubuntu Release 9.04 and nvidia-glx-180 package ...

help, ideas would be appreciated

thanks

Hello Liam,

After reading your post, I believe you can help me out on this. Recently I have purchased a Aspire Revo R3600. While I was setting up the machine my house experience a power outage. Afterward my machine cannot continue on the setup. I restart my computer and it just come up with the same "Windows Error Report" screen, giving me the same options again and again. None of the options could help me on continuing the setup. Is there a way to fix my problem, such as resetting the entire machine to its factory setting? Thanks a lot in advance!

Hi Leo, I haven't tried Windows on the Revo (being an Ubuntu fan!), but if you are only part way through the set up it is probably easier to start over (if you can), otherwise I think there is a recovery option, at least there was on XP, that you could use to get any files off the machine you might want to keep so you can reinstall. Always worth searching the Microsoft support website (http://support.microsoft.com/) as well to see if there is any help too. See my blog post above for instructions on how to boot from a device other than the built in hard disc.

Hi, I have purchased 2 of these, one of them has a very quiet fan but the other has a high fan sound, is this considerd a hardware fault or can i reduce the fan speed or do something from the software, please help so that I can return the noisy fan one back to retailer, and do you think that I deserve a swap or normaly it will go back to Acer for repair, i bought them about a week ago, many thanks.

The noisy fan could be due to a number of factors, so worth checking these out before returning it to the shop, first check:

  • Does the Revo have adequate ventilation? Check the vents aren't blocked and there is some free space around the unit. Also a canned compressed air can be used to clean the vents.
  • Is a piece of software causing the CPU to run at high capacity and therefore run the fan? The fan might get noisy if the CPU is working hard, you can monitor CPU load by System Monitor (in the Administration menu) in Ubuntu or Task Manager on Windows

If neither of these are the case then take it back to the shop and exchange it, possibly could be a unit that will get worse. If you only bought it a week ago then hopefully the shop will just swap it.

I've followed all of this (thanks!!) and have a Boxee installation on top of Ubuntu 9.04, all playing over my HDMI cable into a 1920 x 1080 Sharp TV. Boxee will not play HD Video and I'm now lost as to what to do next.

The boxee screen just goes black and I get sound only; any pointers appreciated.

I just bought an aspire revo with vista and a wireless mouse and keyboard and am all excited to fire it up and try it out, but the peripherals don't seem to connect. So now I'm stuck looking at the first screen with no way to move the mouse. Short of going out and finding a usb mouse, does anyone have any ideas on how to get it going?

Ohhh you fell for it as we. Ok here is the solution(you will kick yourself). Open up your mouse, and where you pu the batteries, there is a small usb dongle you can pull out. That fits into the top of yuor Aspire and away ya go!!!..

Got me and all that one!!!!

First you need to remove the a small usb plug from your mouse, its located in the next to were the batteries install on the bottom of the mouse
Next you will need to turn the mouse on with its power switch
Make sure also that you have the batteries in your keyboard
Then turn on your acer Revo

Bammm! all should be working :)

If not i would consider that you may have a faulty set

Greets, me bruddas.

I have one of these fun little boxes on my desk right now. I also have a 2GB DDR2 stick I'd like to stick in 'er. But how to do this? The documentation is a little , uh, lean on these issues. Any hints?

"2g ddr2 800mhz 9600 200pin" = ram

^This is what it will take^

Up to 4 gigs of ram total if you have the windows (vista or 7) 32 bit version
There are only two slots on your motherboard, so you will need two 2gig sticks.
To replace the the two 1gig sticks already in your acer

There is also a video on youtube that tells you who to open up your acer
Pretty good video :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ayQOyTEWRw

If you have one of the latest Windows releases (Vista, Win 7) you can easily increase system memory by using something called ReadyBoost. Just insert a flash drive of any size in one of the USB ports. When the machine detects the new drive, you'll be prompted to format or otherwise modify the drive. Click on the tab that says "ReadyBoost" and select as much memory as you want. Click "Apply" and the amount of memory you selected should now be available as system memory. Needless to say, this is a great feature, especially in a machine like the Revo where the out-of-the-box versions come with a scant 1-2 GB of memory -- really not enough to drive the OS properly. For all the grief the folks in Redmond take (most of it well earned), they occasionally get something right!

I just picked one of the R1600s up from local retailer, and for some reason my CPU temp is running hot, around 70C (monitoring using CoreTemp in Windows XP). I shutdown, and a few hours later booted up into the BIOS config, and went to PC Health, left it on for about 45 min, and now CPU is at 49C/System at 58C. Is anyone else having a heat problem with this? can please email me at mo-han(dot)mi-sc(at)gm-ail(dot)com with no dashes and appropriate symbols.

When I wanted to print an email, "MS Office Home & Student 2007" popped up and said, "Enter your 25- Character Product key.", so I did, but " it is not correct." What to do? I called US Service Telephone #, MS service phone #, but I failed to get the solution. Of course, I checked MS web as well. No hope, so I am writing this. Thank you for any comments.

My Revo unit worked fine until a month ago. I just use it for Netflicks. It's started to freeze. There are a lot of junk programs with Acer. Which programs can i safety delete to free up memoryand or processing?

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