Final Words

ASUS has done surprisingly well with the Eee Box. The machine actually performs very well and is priced low enough that it stands in a league of its own without spending at least another $100.

What we’re most surprised by is the form factor and style of the Eee Box, in its final shipping form this is going to be a simple black or white box that looks like something you’d expect to find in a modern home. With the Eee PC you could get something much faster but you do sacrifice form factor.

The performance aspect of the Eee Box is entirely due to Intel, whose Atom processor delivers as promised. At 1.6GHz the Intel Atom offers somewhere around the performance of a 800MHz - 1.2GHz Pentium M depending on the task at hand. What's even more impressive is that the Atom will offer this sort of performance in handheld devices before the end of the year and in high end smartphones by 2009/2010.

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.

Where the Eee Box falls short is in its connectivity and in its use of the Atom processor. This thing absolutely needs HD video decode acceleration and a HDMI output, given the popularity of hacked Apple TVs for streaming content around the house this would be the perfect replacement (especially if you could turn it into a Hackintosh...). The Atom processor gives the Eee Box extremely desireable thermals and very low power consumption (the whole system uses less power than some energy efficient lightbulbs), unfortunately ASUS didn't capitalize on that and refrained from passively cooling the machine. The Apple TV is passively cooled and we see no reason that the Eee Box couldn't be as well. While fan speed can be adjusted, we'd much prefer a system that didn't make any noise at all.

Much like the Eee PC, the Eee Box is going to be very much a love it or hate it machine. Where the Eee Box differs from its sibling is that the complaints of a cramped keyboard and small screen don't apply here, not to mention the lower overall cost. If you've got a spare monitor, the Eee Box isn't a bad way of putting it to good use. It's a great entry-level PC for parents or children, or a secondary/tertiary computer for use around the house. It's cheap enough where it could easily be a good kitchen PC, but the kicker is that you'll need a display.

With the second generation of Eee PCs debuting at Computex this year, we're also seeing competing devices from other companies. It's very likely that the Eee Box will incite a similar response from ASUS' competitors while solidifying ASUS' position as a leader in doing something innovative in the low cost PC market. What Apple does for the high end, ASUS is set on doing for the low end and it's that sort of balance that we need in the industry.

General Usage Performance of the Atom w/ PCMark Vantage
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  • LuxZg - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Good 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 :/
    Reply
  • mczak - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    It'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). Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I'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.
    Reply
  • eeebox - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Yea 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.
    Reply
  • mczak - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Forgot 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... Reply
  • planetgenova - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    It 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. Reply
  • LuxZg - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Anand, 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 :/
    Reply
  • AssBall - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    So 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.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Now 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.

    Reply
  • zmower - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    There's a line in this article that says Atom is inorder processor. Issiah is out of order processor. Enough said? Reply

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