Meerkat Ion NetTop Review

Recent comments

Who's new

  • rhpot1991

Meerkat Ion NetTop Review

Submitted by rhpot1991 on Mon, 11/02/2009 - 02:40

This is my first review, and I suck at English, so things may get a bit rough. Anyways, here goes!

System76 makes what could be the perfect MythTV frontend, the Meerkat Ion NetTop.

This tiny little box packs a ton of power, it can offload nearly all video rendering to the Ion's GPU. This gives us seamless HD playback on a low powered, low cost box starting at $350.

Below are a few shots of the inside of the case. The case itself is an AOpen S135 Case. The board is a Zotac Ion D series micro itx motherboard.

The following image shows you where the hard drive and optical drive would sit in the case. I decided to remove the hard drive and use a usb stick in its place. I went without an optical drive when ordering, for the time being I am using a USB DVD drive. The case will hold a full sized hard drive, but it can only hold a slim optical drive.

In the following images you can get an idea of the size of the power brick compared to the case. The power supply itself weights in at 84 watts, I already told you this was a low powered system right?

Enough with the tour, why exactly is this the perfect MythTV frontend? Lets start with the obvious, the form factor. At 2.36" tall, 8.66" wide, and 12.40" deep the case is considerably smaller than most AV components you may have sitting around your TV. The case itself can lay flat, or sit up on its side, and even comes with a stand for doing so. The case itself is a sleek black color and is a fairly sturdy build (with the exception of the plastic front USB panel). The following image demonstrates how well the Meerkat Ion can blend in with your other TV equipment.

Now I know we have all seen small form factor frontends in the past, but what is it that really makes this one stand out from the rest? The answer is VDPAU, which allows offloading of video rendering to the GPU. This allows us to play back HD video without worrying about our low powered CPU being able to handle it. On most 1080i content I see CPU usage in the teens, this video was not even playable on my previous frontend.

At this point I've pointed out the best feature of the Meerkat Ion, lets look at everything else it has to offer:
CPU: Dual Core Atom 330 1.60 GHz FSB 533 MHz L2 1M with Hyper-Threading
RAM: 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB. I would recommend going with more than the minumum 1GB if you are planning on utilizing VDPAU.
Hard Drive: A number of different sizes are available, take your pick, then move it into your Master Backend and use a USB Drive instead.
Optical Drive: This is optional, I choose to do without one because I wasn't all that happy with DVD support in MythTV 0.21. That said, DVD support is much improved in MythTV 0.22, so you will most likely want one at some point.
WiFi: Comes with 802.11 A/G/N, they also offer an upgrade to an Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100, no idea if this is worth the money or not. I use a wired connection so I can't speak much for the wireless here other than it can connect to my router.

To round out the specs lets have a look at the available connections:
Front Panel
- 2x USB 2.0
- Microphone In
- Headphone Out

Rear Panel
- PS2 (keyboard)
- HDMI (more on this later)
- 6x USB 2.0
- S/PDIF, Optical & Coaxial Out
- 10/100/1000 Ethernet
- Audio I/O

Now I bring you to the best part, it all just works. Go ahead and download Mythbuntu 9.10, or Ubuntu Karmic if you would like. VDPAU is simple to enable in MythTV, just select the "VDPAU Normal" playback profile and everything will be ready to go. HDMI audio is just as easy, just select "Alsa:hdmi" in MythTV's audio setup, then run alsamixer and verify that all of the IEC958 outputs are unmuted. Within minutes you will be enjoying full HD video and sound without any of the resource worries associated with HD playback in the past.

As a bonus for actually getting to the end of my review I have a coupon to offer any of you considering purchasing the Meerkat Ion. System76 has been kind enough to give the Mythbuntu developers a $10 off coupon, at checkout use coupon code mythbuntu-meerkat.

That about sums everything up, feel free to email me with any questions or leave a comment below.

UPDATE: I was asked about power usage, so I put a kill-a-watt to the test.
Idle: 24 watts
Playing 1080p MKV content: 28 watts
Playing 1080i HDHR content: 30 watts
Playing 1080i HDPVR content: 32 watts

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 01/25/2010 - 10:50

I like your review, I am thinking about purchasing a couple of these for frontends on all my TV's in the house.

How has it been holding up for you? Does it support 1080p rendering? Can you do an updated review on how you like it thus far?



Tue, 02/09/2010 - 00:22

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Well I can tell you that this box can handle 1080i from both the HDHR and HDPVR (which is h.264, and can be rather intensive video to display). As far as 1080p, it should be able to handle it just fine, but my power line ethernet adapters cannot, so I have no way of testing it currently. If I ever get around to testing this I will add an update.

As far as how I like it, I love it. If you are looking for a frontend setup, hands down the greatest choice for a MythTV frontend. It makes me sad that my Master Backend/Frontend combo is in an Antec Fusion case (even though they are nice). I'd love to tuck that away into a box with more room and throw another Ion box in its place.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 01/31/2010 - 23:04

Have you checked the peak memory use when using it as a mythtv fe?
Is 2Gb enough?

Has anyone added a USB tuner to create a mythtv/dvr?


Well this is not official word, but I can throw out some knowledge based on experience. I only run 2gb of ram in my master backend, so you should be good with 2gb in a frontend only setup, even with onboard video. I went with 4gb and it looks like I dedicated 1gb to video through the BIOS. With VDPAU you want at least 512mb of video memory, so 2gb should leave you plenty to spare.

As far as running a Backend from this, you could most likely get away with it, especially with something like a HDHR. However, I wouldn't recommend it, the atom processor just isn't going to be powerful enough for commflagging and other backend tasks. As a secondary backend, now that might work.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 02/04/2010 - 18:51

Thanks for spending the time to write this review, it was great to read.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 02/07/2010 - 00:36

I see your box has no fan, whereas the Meerkats I got as mythtv front ends have fans.

Talking to System76 it may be possible to run fanless -- just wondering how you've got on without a fan?


Mon, 02/08/2010 - 21:41

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hmmmm, that is a good question, are your boxes the Ion model and not the original Meerkat? I know that the Zotec boards are supposed to come with an option fan. I haven't had any heat issues, but it might be good to have the fan around if I ever need it.

My boxes are the Ion model.

I've removed the fans from mine, the GPU temperature (as reported by the Nvidia X server settings tool) gets up to about 90 degrees when playing video.

The machine has cut-outs that will shut it down if it does get too toasty.

By the way, the Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100 upgrade is worth the money if you are planning on streaming over wifi (I am, went for the basic card originally, happily found the intel card for sale at a reasonable price just up the road from me).

Only remaining issue I have is getting the hdmi sound working.

The solution to my hdmi sound problem was to set the AudioOutputDevice in the mythtv general setup to:


as opposed to:


One day, I'll understand sound stuff...

I can't claim to understand "sound stuff" either, but I did learn that the "0,3" is "Sound Card 0, Device 3"; the first sound card is numbered 0, though the first device on that sound card is 1, not 0. So that sets whatever plughw is to use the HDMI output (which is Device 3 on the NVidia sound card). Thanks for pointing me in the right direction; my System76 Meerkat ION is now happily producing both video and sound, running Mythbuntu 11.10!

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 09:55

oh and about the channels, i would STRONGLY prefer hd-support,seeing as my local channels may be going digital soon.. Great review, thanks!

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 09/12/2010 - 11:25

I was really happy to find this review as I am researching this box. Thanks so much for taking the time to put it out there. And on a Drupal site no less! Cheers!

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 17:37

What's the power consumption at the wall? Say when idle and when watching a HD video?

Any chance you have power consumption info when you setup the system with the hard drive?