ASUS Eee Box Preview & Intel's Atom Benchmarkedby Anand Lal Shimpi on June 3, 2008 12:00 AM EST
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The Internet today is far more functional than it ever was and we’re finally at the point where being able to access the net in places like your living room, bathroom or kitchen is actually pretty useful. Recipes are no longer stored in cookbooks, they are in emails or websites. There’s a website or forum for virtually everything, not to mention the utility of sites like Wikipedia and imdb.
The problem is that a kitchen PC that could be used to check emails, look up recipes or chat with someone while cooking wasn’t really feasible when decent PCs would set you back at least $1500. As PC prices fell however, the possibility of putting a PC in nearly every room of your house increased tremendously. We’ve already established that there’s utility in such a PC-filled household, but what was left is someone to provide the hardware to make it happen.
When the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was started it didn’t take long before regular computer users took notice and also wanted access to a $100 - $200 PC. It wasn’t just the end users that realized there was a need for such a machine, some of the manufacturers did too.
Before the release of the ASUS Eee PC I had dinner with ASUS’ CEO, Jonney Shih and we began talking about what was necessary to build a truly lightweight, yet functional PC. Jonney isn't your typical CEO, he's still quite an engineer at heart and enjoys discussing everything from market direction to the microprocessor architectures necessary to make that direction happen. The conversation started about the OLPC project but quickly lead to what it would take to build such a thing for the mainstream consumer market. We discussed what was possible, but little did I realize that ASUS had already begun working on such a thing.
The Eee PC was ASUS’ first attempt at a cheap machine for the masses, unfortunately as a notebook it’s a tough sell for most. The keyboard is cramped and the screen is too small to be productive on. People either loved or hated the Eee PC, but the system generated enough interest and was selling well enough that ASUS went ahead with plans to build a desktop equivalent.
Since they called the notebook the Eee PC, the desktop had to have a different name and thus it was called the Eee Box.
The Eee Box is effectively a headless notebook with no keyboard/mouse. In fact, the new version of the Eee PC features the exact same hardware configuration as the Eee Box - just in notebook form. Using notebook components in a “desktop” PC is nothing new, Apple does it all the time with the majority of its machines. The iMac uses a mobile CPU, as does the Apple TV, despite neither one being a notebook.
Stylistically, ASUS did a tremendous job with the Eee Box. The system we have here is an early prototype, the final version will be available with a solid white or black finish (the random pixel pattern on our system won’t make it to production). The machine is extremely sleek measuring 17.7 cm x 22.1 cm x 2.7 cm (6.97" x 8.7" x 1.06").
Without a keyboard or display to complain about and an even lower price tag ($269 or $299 depending on configuration), we set off to see if the Eee Box would have more universal appeal than the Eee PC.
There have been rumors a plenty about the standard configurations that the Eee Box would be available in and we’re finally able to give you the exact specs of the three North American models:
|ASUS Eee Box||Linux||Intel Atom 1.6GHz||1GB||80GB 2.5" 5400RPM||$269|
|ASUS Eee Box||Windows XP||Intel Atom 1.6GHz||1GB||80GB 2.5" 5400RPM||$299|
|ASUS Eee Box||Linux||Intel Atom 1.6GHz||2GB||160GB 2.5" 5400RPM||$299|
The base Eee Box configuration will retail for $269 and feature a 80GB SATA HDD, 1GB of memory and ship with Linux.
The same configuration with Windows XP will run you $299, or for the same amount of money you can purchase a 160GB/2GB system also with Linux. Microsoft won't allow PCs to be sold with > 80GB HDDs preloaded with Windows XP and thus the top end configuration is only available with Linux. Given our experience with the Eee Box under Vista vs. XP (which we'll get to shortly), we think that this is the perfect example of Microsoft dropping the ball and easily losing ground to open source solutions here.
All three machines will ship with the same Intel Atom processor running at 1.60GHz on ASUS’ own 945G based motherboard.
Availability is planned for July in North America although machines will first be available in Asia before then.
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LuxZg - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkGood idea about mounting it behind screen as a PVR, but there are two problems. First, Atom CPU is too slow for encoding, as is clearly shown by even slow lame (MP3) encoding. So you have to record in "raw" format, and for that - 80GB disk is too small (in my opinion).
That's why I've told it's no good as media PC :( If you want something "a bit better than PVR", than rather look at devices that are made for it - like Neuros OSD (if it's available "in the shops near you" :) )
One potential workaround is if you do have some kind of server or "always-on" PC. Than you can record to it via network. But kinda kills the purpose of having low power, small device for this "always on" things, if you have to have second device to use as storage :/
mczak - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkIt's too slow for encoding, but if you're really only interested in DVB-T (or -S, -C for that matter), you don't need any encoding as it's already mpeg-2 (and I've never seen a pvr which would transcode this to something more efficient like h.264, it's just stored as is with zero cpu overhead).
PrinceGaz - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkI've got an AverMedia DVB-T stick and the included software gives a choice of recording in either native format which has negligible CPU overhead compared with simply watching TV with it as it is simply saving the relevant parts of the TS to disk, or transcoding it to MPEG4 AVC but which requires roughly 30% total CPU on my Athlon 64 X2 5000+ equivalent (so that would be too much for a 1.6GHz Atom).
Not that most people would want to use that MP4 transcoding mode anyway as AverMedia have bizarelly decided to impose an unalterable fixed 320x240 resolution at 2Mbps total bitrate on it, so the only advantage is that it roughly halves the filesize for the highest bitrate channels (like BBC1 in the UK) and provides only a slight reduction on many other channels (like ITV4 which is transmitted at only a little over 2Mbps anyway). Going down from between 720x576 (BBC1) or 544x576 (ITV4) to 320x240 is a major sacrifice for what is a relatively small reduction in filesize. I could understand them including an MP4 AVC mode at that resolution and about 500kbps (including audio) to allow lots of recording with minimal disk space usage, or at 640x480 and about 1.2Mbps for near native quality with a very useful filesize reduction, but not their fixed 320x240 at 2Mbps which is utter madness. The Atom CPU would still be incapable of any of those modes of course, and the 640x480 mode would probably push my Athlon 64 X2 near its limit even if the codec they use is multi-threaded, which is the only reason I can see for the MP4 AVC transcoding mode being fixed at 320x240 in their software.
But if that Asus PC was combined with a USB DVB stick, there's no reason at all why it couldn't be used as a very effective HTPC for SDTV recording/time-shifting/viewing. You could store around 100 hours of as broadcast DVB-T programmes on the 160GB HD, which is enough for most people.
eeebox - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkYea was wondering about the encoding side as the Hauppage site has a grid of all their tuners with 1 column saying Hardware encoding? which the WinTV-Nova-T stick (DVB-T) and none of the other USB sticks have, but if it'll just take the MPEG-2 and write it to the HDD then that's fine. Someone over on eeeuser says that stick works fine for watching TV on his eeepc but didn't mention anything about recording.
I'll be getting the stick anyway tomorrow as it's not too expensive and see what it's like on my eee. If the eeebox doesn't like it i'll just use it as a portable TV with my eeepc.
Cheers for the reply.
mczak - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkForgot to mention, in fact it would easily be fast enough for recording even DVB-S2 full hd h.264 streams - just not fast enough to watch them...
planetgenova - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkIt doesn't say how long the clip was for the DivX encoding test, but I'm guessing encoding is painful with this thing. Good quality, SD DivX encoding is a fairly lengthy process even on a high end machine. I would think that encoding a movie or recorded TV show would take an eternity on this thing, especially if you're talking about H.264.
LuxZg - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkAnand, you wrote: "If you do have the funds to spend more, the cheapest consumer Dell PC - the Inspiron 530s will give you more than 2x the performance of the Eee Box but at a 40% higher cost. The Inspiron 530s also can’t compete in terms of form factor or power consumption"
But wait a second, Eee Box is 269-299$ depending of configuration. Where do you shop for computers?! I've just specced computer with E2180, 2x 1GB od DDR800, G31 Gigabyte MBO, case, 300W PSU, SATA DVD-RW/RAM drive, 250GB SATA HDD (7200rpm) - and all this costs under 370$ in Croatia, meaning in US it's just the price for which ASUS will be selling Eee Box. And as much as I can see, this is at very least 3x performance, 3x storage, and altogether much more than 3x more usefull than Eee Box since it can run any app at descent speed (including HD video, encoding and rendering) and has a lot of things Eee Box lacks (audio outputs, optical drive, etc).
So just to make sure, I've picked some newegg prices out of the blue:
E2180 - 69$
1GB DDR800 - 23$ (x2)
G31 MBO - 50$
SATA DVDRW - 24$
250 GB SATAII drive - 55$
case + PSU (300w) - 55$ (smaller one with H3.7"xW12.2"xD16.9") or 25$ for midi tower
299$ (274$ for midi tower)
Ok, my setup would be more like 70W idle, and 100W under load, which is 5x more power consumption, but it pays off in effectivness and use. And you can always upgrade if you feel like it, or you have it intended for something else (just add more storage, Blueray, TV tuner etc to make server, PVR, media center or similar). With Eee Box you can't do it :/ So overall, with current price, I'd rather build my own CHEAP CUSTOM PC FOR SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY than buy Eee Box. Though it is small and cute, it's use beyond surfing, mailing, and some stereo-music listening is.. almost zero..
It CAN NOT be used (effectively):
- as media player of any kind (as it lacks everything - power, storage, optical disc, surround outputs; meaning you can't play DVDs, audio CDs, can't stream media cos streaming+decoding would kill CPU, storage is too small for anything but DivX/Xvid, and outputs are severly lacking for anything but stereo sound+monitor)
- as home server (as it lacks storage and expansion options.. and USB disk is not an option for home server like mentioned in comments above, as it's slower, and more costly than plugging few more drives in cheap custom computer as I've described above)
It CAN be used as a PC that you'll use ONLY to access Internet with, and perhaps in stores like feelingshorter said in point 4 because those "store PCs" are better of without optical drive (less chance of people poking them and braking something) and being as small as possible is good as you can hide them in drawer or something. But even for those limited uses, I'd still make it an option only if space/design is important, and if you have space to place/hide a standard smaller PC case or even midi tower, than it's always better to pick the common PC.
This Eee Box should have been cheaper. Much cheaper. And competely fanless. Now than we could be talking about more use out of it. But so far, it's a failure :/
AssBall - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkSo you build a big, heavy, loud, powerhungry web surfing machine...
Good luck getting Newegg to ship all that for free. Oh, and go ahead and add Windows for 100$. Also add a wireless card, an SD card reader and bluetooth.
Total costs aren't looking so comparable anymore are they? Not to mention The eee works right out of the box and is supported by a single technical line and single warranty.
sprockkets - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkNow I want to see how Via's chip compares.
Gigabyte is planning to release this chip on a mini itx board. The Asus pc would be almost perfect, if it had an optical drive though.
zmower - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - linkThere's a line in this article that says Atom is inorder processor. Issiah is out of order processor. Enough said?