ECS' Newest EZ-Buddie: Ultimate Convergenceby Kris Kubicki & Wesley Fink on January 24, 2004 11:20 AM EST
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Just a SFF?At heart, the newest EZ-Buddie exhibits all the SFF characteristics. It requires the additional purchase of CPU and memory. Hard drive implementation was still to be decided during CES 2004, although we had every indication that the unit would either ship with a hard drive or ECS would provide a total solution installation package with each unit. If you're wondering why this might matter, it will make more sense when we get into the software later. As with most SFF's, video is provided by Intel's 865G solution, but AGP/PCI upgrades are feasible.
At first glace, this doesn't sound very impressive (or even much of an improvement over the existing D414-1 EZ-Buddies). It is the additional features that separate the newest EZ-Buddie from the rest of the crowd. The major advantages of this unit come in the form of software innovations, cooling options, price and multimedia features.
Multimedia features look excellent. The EZ-Buddie will ship with an independent radio tuner, so the machine does not even need to be running to play a radio signal. Optional speakers, remote control, video and audio controls on the face of the EZ-Buddie all seemed fairly intuitive. Below, you can see slots for USB and some Flash Card reading abilities. On the other side of the front bezel, there are more card reader interfaces.
Even though we saw a pre-production sample, the thermal capabilities of the unit were quite good. Perhaps the most unique feature in the EZ-Buddie was the four internal heatpipes. We have seen heatpipes on SFF machines before - Shuttle's ICE cooling system comes to mind. This design, however, more closely mimics Zalman's TNN fanless case by attempting to sink additional CPU heat out to the rear of the unit. Unfortunately, ECS only had a standard fan and not an automatic or smart fan for exhaust, so the cooling fan was a bit noisy. ECS did assure us that this would be replaced by a much quieter fan with smart control before production units were released.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the newest EZ-Buddie is the software itself. We already mentioned that the radio was actually controlled independently and is not dependant on the rest of the PC. Other multimedia functions, including VCD/DVD, CD. MP3 and TV tuner (with possible capture?), will all be handled by an embedded Linux OS. The EZ-Buddie will be ready to go straight out of the box. Rebooting the machine into Windows will allow EZ-Buddie to function as a normal XP PC.
Below, you can see the white interchangeable face plate for the EZ-Buddie. Perhaps since it works for cell phones, the interchangeable faceplates might work for SFF PCs.