Asus Eee Box: Atom on the Desktop

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Asus offers a desktop PC that is designed for the world of Web 2.0 and green computing for under 210 GBP.

Mention Intel’s Atom processor and thoughts of sub-notebook computers come to mind. After all, manufacturers such as Asus, MSI, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and others have launched successful product lines consisting of mini-notebooks that leverage what the Atom is all about – very low power usage and cost.

Asus has experienced that success first hand with its popular line of Eee sub-notebooks, which have proven capable little devices that run Web applications quite well.

With that in mind, Asus has designed the Eee Box, which aims to bring that same level of low-cost functionality to the desktop. Asus cuts a lot of corners with the Eee Box to keep prices down and to keep the unit really small. You won’t find any optical drives, discrete graphics or many ports, but that all works to Asus advantage in this case by creating a diminutive system that offers extremely low power consumption and heat production. The end result is a unit that measures just 8.5-inches x 7-inches x 1-inch, which is thinner than a Mac Mini and smaller than most any other PC on the market. Asus bundles in a vertical stand and a wall mount, which further reduces the systems desktop foot print. The unit is also small enough that it could be mounted on the back of an LCD display.

The Eee box features a 1.6Ghz Atom processor (with hyper threading), Intel’s 945 chipset with integrated Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator and 1Gbyte of DDR2 Memory. The unit also features built-in Wi-Fi connectivity (Ralink 802.11n), a DVI port, four USB 2.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet and headphone/microphone/speaker jacks. Purchasers will also find a DVI to D-Sub adaptor included to allow the use of older or low-end monitors. Storage is handled by a removable 80 GB Seagate hard disk. Asus uses a 2.5” drive that runs at 4,200 RPM to keep things as inexpensive as possible.

Solution providers can choose between Windows XP and Linux as the included OS. The unit consumes only 20 watts and is virtually silent. The Eee Box retails for $319.00 (as tested) and includes a 1 year warranty. For an extra $30, purchasers can upgrade to a 160Gbyte Sata II hard disk drive. For most users, storage capacity won’t be all that important. All Eee box systems come with a keyboard and mouse.

In a business environment, the Eee box’s ideal role will be for running web based applications. The unit is inexpensive enough and powerful enough to bring a plethora of Web 2.0 and Ajax applications to any user on the corporate LAN. The unit is ideal for placement in a common area, such as a waiting room, reception or meeting room, or on a receptionist’s desks, all locations where Web-powered applications, such as directories, browser sessions or webmail are commonly used.

For an company that has successfully transitioned over to hosted applications and software as a service solutions, the Eee Box could prove to be an economical way to deploy those products to new users.

That is not to say that the Eee Box isn’t capable of running traditional applications such as MS Office, the simple fact of the matter is the Eee Box won’t offer the snappy performance some users have got used to on newer systems powered by higher end processors.

For the Linux crowd, Asus has incorporated their ExpressGate technology into the Eee box. ExpressGate is an embedded Linux OS that boots from the motherboard and brings up a fully functioning OS with embedded applications (such as FireFox and Skype) in a matter of seconds.

Those going the Windows XP route will find the unit takes some time to boot up, around 45 seconds. Luckily, you won’t find a lot of fillers on the system, just basically Windows XP and the needed drivers pre-installed. That helps to reduce the initial setup time, since solution providers are often required to uninstall all of those assorted add-on applications before delivering the system to a customer.

For added functionality, solution providers may want to throw some open-source applications on the system, such as OpenOffice, Firefox and a few others. Once booted the system proves to be rather snappy and browsing the Web was pretty quick (especially with Firefox).

Setting up the wireless networking proved to be very easy, as well as setting up various peripherals and the display. The unit supports display resolutions up to 1600×1200, so most widescreen LCD displays will work quite well. Those looking to run high-definition videos will appreciate the high resolution offered, but the simple fact is that the Eee Box isn’t really capable of running anything above 720p smoothly. That’s most likely due to the low performance of the integrated Intel GMA video.

For solution providers, the Asus Eee Box proves to be a great PC for the education and Web 2.0 markets. All a solution provider has to do is add a display and the system is good to go and be distributed to the masses that are looking to spend as little as possible on a PC and only need to perform the basics.