Computex 2008: Asus Eee Box & PC, and Xonar HDAV1.3 a/v combo card

The Silent Front
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June 3, 2008 by Mike Chin

During a recent trip to the SF Bay Area for the annual Electronics and the Environment summit, I visited Asus in Fremont, and managed to obtain detailed previews of some products currently being unveiled at Computex.

EEE BOX

Asus has dozens of new developments on many fronts. One of the most interesting is their new Eee Box. The name makes it obvious that the new product is related to the Eee PC laptop that Asus introduced successfully late last year. The diminutive size and low power consumption are the main ways in which the two products are similar. The big difference is that the Eee Box is a desktop PC.


A paperback book next to the Eee Box emphasizes its tiny size. There is an I/O panel hidden behind a hinged door that covers most of the front panel.

The back panel.

Asus Eee Box B202 Specifications
OS Linux - System / Hardware Compatible w/ Windows XP
Processor Intel Atom N270 (1.6 GHz, FSB 533)
Memory DDRII 512 MB / 1 GB / 2 GB (see US configs below)
Storage 80 GB / 120 GB / 160 GB / 250 GB (see US configs below)
Chipset 945GSE + ICH7M
VGA On-board Intel GMA 950, 1600 x 1200 max resolution
Networking 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN, 802.11n WLAN, Bluetooth optional
SD/MMC/MS slot SD, SDHC, Mini SD, (Micro SD through adapter) ; MMC, MMC plus, MMC4.x, RS MMC, RSMMC4.x (MMC mobile through adapter);MS,MS PRO
Audio Azalia ALC888 Audio Chip
Front Ports USB x 2, Card Reader x 1, Headphone-out jack (WO/SPDIF) x 1, MIC x 1
Rear Ports USB 2.0 x 2, Gigabit LAN x 1, DVI out x 1, Line-Out (L/R) with S/PDIF x 1, WiFi antenna
Accessories 19VDC, 4.74A, 65W power adapter
Mouse (optional)
Keyboard (optional)
VESA mount (optional)
WiFi antenna
Stand
Dimensions 8.5” x 7” x 1”
Weight Net: 2.2 lbs; Gross: 6.6 lbs.
US Configurations and MSRP: $269 1GB memory + 80GB HDD Linux edition
$299 1GB memory + 80GB HDD XP edition
$299 2GB memory + 160GB HDD Linux edition
Availability For US, mid-July. For Canada, a French Linux version will be available the following month.

The Intel Atom processor is at the heart of this new wee box. Full details are not yet available, but the prototypes are reportedly drawing only 20W at full load, as measured at the AC outlet. This would suggest typical idle power of under 15W, which makes it a real contender for the title of lowest energy consuming desktop PC.

The Apple Mac Mini and the very similar AOpen Mini PC are the obvious competitors. The Eee PC is deeper and wider, and lacks an optical drive, but its "thickness" is considerably less, at just 1", compared to about double that for its Apple and AOpen competitors. Pricing is also much lower: The Mac Mini starts at $600, while a AOpen Mini PC 945 or 965 chipset barebones (no CPU, RAM or hard drive) starts at around $300. In essence, the Asus is about half the price, although admittedly, its Atom is not the equal of the Core 2 Duo processors that the mini competitors can accommodate.

A brief demo of Eee Box did not reveal any glitches with web browsing and other general PC operations, but because the 945 chipset does not provide hardware H.264/MPEG-2/VC1 decode acceleration, the Atom processor by itself was not fully up to delivering HD playback. It may be possible with a faster version of the Atom processor in the future, but even if it were, without a HDMI 1.3 output, the Eee Box would not be ideal for a HTPC.

Interestingly, a "Splashtop OS" is embedded in the Eee Box. The option to enter this embedded Linux OS comes before Windows begins to load. It takes just 20 seconds to get to the Splashtop web browser, Skype client, IM client (Pidgin) or photo browser. The Splashtop is the same one found in some recent Asus motherboards. It's probably very useful for the kind of casual, general purpose role the Eee PC would likely play for most users.

The prototype Eee Box could not be described as quiet, as it's cooled by a small fan that runs at a constant high speed. Asus states that they're working to improve its acoustics before the first production run. The engineering target is something like 25 dBA@1m, which is quite good for a mainstream production PC. Given its low power profile, cooling the Eee Box more quietly should not be that big a challenge, despite the tight confines.


Note vents on the top; the cooling flow does make use of convection, as the intake vents are at the bottom.

A mounting adapter to affix the Eee PC on the back of any standard LCD monitor is also provided. It will probably become the most popular installation option. Here it is on the back of a 17" LCD monitor.

More Asus EEE news overleaf



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