I've been working on a few major projects lately and each time I'm nearing completion of one, something even more tempting comes my way.

I've got part 2 of the HTPC build process coming along, despite serious advances in hardware acceleration and mature platforms like AMD's 780G there's unfortunately no perfect HTPC setup at this point. I'll explain more in the article.

Hothead sent over a couple review copies of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, both Jarred and I have finished the game and it's just a matter of writing the review up.

Then there's OCZ's nia, the gaming input device that uses your facial muscles to control in-game actions like jumping and shooting. I would be working on all of these things except that today an early sample of ASUS' Eee Box arrived at my doorstep:

The Eee Box is the desktop brother of the Eee PC.

Like its mobile counterpart, the Eee Box is designed to be a low cost desktop that won't break speed records, but should be fast enough for basic tasks.

Opening the Eee Box

The machine I received features a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor paired with an Intel 945G chipset, 1GB of DDR2-667 memory (a single SO-DIMM module is installed) and a 160GB Seagate Momentus 5400.4 2.5" SATA hard drive. There is no optical drive but the machine has built in Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n wireless. Bluetooth is also built in so you can setup the machine to only have two wires coming out of it (DC power and DVI out to your monitor).

At the top we have the Intel 945GMCH, the sliver of a CPU in the middle is the Atom, to the left of it is a standard Core 2 Duo E7200 and to the right is the 802.11n card. Above the 802.11n card is the sole SATA/power ports on the motherboard.

ASUS will be shipping three models of the Eee Box and unfortunately I don't have pricing or availability information on any of them at this point. I expect to have more details by the time the review is complete. I do have some early impressions though:

  1. My sample shipped with Windows XP, and the Atom processor is surprisingly quick. I haven't tried putting Vista on it yet but so far this thing is more than sufficient for web surfing, email and basic office work. And yes, YouTube/Hulu work just fine on it.
  2. I'm extremely impressed with the size and design of the machine, ASUS did a tremendous job here. It feels fairly well built and comes in a form factor that's quite similar to the Apple TV. Ever since the release of the Mac mini I've yet to see a PC maker really come close to introducing a competitor, but ASUS has finally done it with this thing.
  3. There's no optical drive but the machine is fairly well connected thanks to integrated Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n and Bluetooth.
  4. The system isn't passively cooled although I suspect it could be. Unfortunately the fan is fairly noisy for the size of the system, at least in this early machine. I've already passed along the feedback to ASUS so we'll see if any changes can be made before the thing ships.
  5. Like most modern ASUS motherboards, the Eee Box can boot into Express Gate (splashtop) which gives you instant access to IM (via Pidgin), Skype, a web browser or a photo browser.
  6. While the Eee Box is fast enough to decode DivX/Xvid, it doesn't have the horsepower to do full 1080p H.264. I've found that low bitrate 720p H.264 is possible but with CPU utilization at around 90%. I would've preferred if ASUS had used the mobile Atom processor as its chipset has full H.264 decode acceleration, although I get the impression that it's not quite ready.
  7. It all comes down to price. At the right price, the Eee Box could be a very good machine to have in rooms around the house. What would you all pay for something like this?

I'm working on performance testing now and I'll keep you posted on how this thing stacks up. I don't have any VIA C7 based platforms in my lab so my first performance comparisons will unfortunately only be to Intel CPUs.

On a side note, after using Windows XP all day on this thing I've completely forgotten how light the OS feels compared to Vista.



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