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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  • rhangman - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    As a comparison the BOXD945GCLF is around $70 AUD uses the 945GC chipset, a 1.6GHz Atom 230. Basically the same hardware, but in a mini-ITX form factor (possibly actually 17.1mm x 17.1mm as earlier Intel boards). For Lame encoding it is supposed to be twice as slow as the earlier Celeron 220, which was supposed to be twice as fast as a 1.5GHz C7, which in terms of Lame encoding might make this thing comparable to a C7. Have to wait for full benchmarks I guess. Actually have a D201GLY2 and 2 1.5GHz C7's here, just no Atom.

    At least maybe this could be cooled passively. My D201GLY2 came with passive cooling, just hit 80C sitting in BIOS without fans, so it only really worked in a case with some serious fans (not possible in slim ITX cases).

    For a small mac-mini-ish PC, AOpen have some mini PC's that run faster CPU's than the Mac, with DDR2 800 RAM, etc. and about the same size with Optical drive. If you want something really small Via should be releasing an updated Pico-ITX board when the Nano's start rolling out.
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  • nubie - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    I should think that if you used a proper passive cooler (maybe an HR-05 NB cooler?) the Conroe-L would be fine.

    I know mine (Celeron 430) doesn't really start going above ambient until 3ghz, but I am using a scythe infinity :) (with fan)

    The Atom does sound neat with the "low power usage", too bad this one has a fan, maybe it is the NB producing the heat?

    I like the idea of the Atom, perhaps the dual-core Atom's will up the ante and allow proper decoding.
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  • rhangman - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    Something like the HR-05 would be way too big. In a case big enough to to use it a 120mm fan would probably do or just screw a 50mm fan on the stock heatsink. I needed something much lower profile. Still tempted to buy a BOXD945GCLF, don't really have a use for it right now though. Reply
  • UltraWide - Saturday, May 31, 2008 - link

    Unless it has enough power to play 1080i/p content, it is not so useful as a HTPC, might be better off just getting a Mac Mini with a real CPU... Reply
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