Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC

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EXPRESS GATE

This Linux mini-OS is a feature we've seen on Asus motherboards before, including the P5E3 Premium, the M3A78 Pro and M3N78 Pro. In fact, its featured on at least half a dozen Asus board models, but it's the first time we've seen it in a full system. In the Eee Box, this instant-on mini OS is an excellent fit. It's promoted as being accessible in 5 seconds after turn on; this is about right. Once you're set up a profile in Express Gate, we were connected to the web via Wifi through our wireless router in about 15 seconds. This is quicker than with any PC running any conventional OS, about as quick as accessing the web with a Windows PC out of S3 sleep mode.


The Express Gate desktop is accessed in under 5 seconds.

Four application are provided: A web browser, an image browser/manager with direct upload to Flickr if you have an account there, "Pigdin" instant messaging, and Skype Internet phone. For many users, the web browser is probably most important; through it, you can access web mail, web-based apps, web-media videos, photo collections, etc. All the apps were intuitive and easy enough to use, especially for checking email or visiting web sites. One function is conspicuously absent: A media player to play videos and music. It would not be a surprise to see this added in future, as Express Gate can be updated like a real operation system or BIOS.

BIOS

Express Gate can be enabled or disabled in the BIOS, which is spartan with hardly any adjustments or tweaks. Remember, this is no enthusiast system but a complete plug-and-play system. The Hardware Monitoring section has only one line, to turn the automatic fan control (Q-fan) on or off. The latter option is definitely not recommended: The internal fan shifts to full speed and stays there. It's noisy, measuring some 37 dBA@1m.

Booting into Windows XP (Home) was brisk enough, taking about 30 seconds from Express Gate, and about 5 seconds more from turn on. It was a relief to discover that there was no clutter of superfluous trial software, unlike typical systems from suppliers like Dell or HP.

TESTING METHODOLOGY

Equipment

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our main test procedure is designed to determine gauge the overall user experience while using the PC in typical functions, measured the system power consumption at various states, and to test the integrated graphics' proficiency at playing back high definition videos, an important function in the role of a home entertainment hub, which Asus says the Eee Box is good for. An external DVD player would have to be added to complete the latter role, but many people are collecting movies and video clips in digital form for playback from a home server on the network.

We use a variety of H.264/VC-1 clips encoded for playback on the PC. The clips are played with PowerDVD 7 and a CPU usage graph is created by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate mean and peak CPU usage. High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated graphics subsystem. If the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the board's IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is inadequate to decompress the clip properly.

Finally, an Asus MK241H 24" widescreen LCD monitor with 1920x1200 native resolution was also used. The Eee Box had no trouble with this setting, even though the initial spec sheet indicated that 1600x1200 is the highest display resolution.

Video Test Suite


720p | 25fps | ~5.7mbps
Dark Knight: Dark Knight Trailer 3 is encoded in H.264 with Apple Quicktime.


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
Rush Hour: Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1 is encoded in H.264 with Apple Quicktime.


1080p | 24fps | ~7.5mbps
Coral Reef: Coral Reef Adventure trailer is encoded in VC-1 using the WMV3 codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, "HD WMV").



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