Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC

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MP3 SOUND RECORDING

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

The recording of the Eee Box was made with the unit at idle, and the microphone 1m away, first on a table in the hemi-anechoic chamber, and then mounted on the back of an LCD monitor, and the microphone 1m away from the front of the monitor. It starts with the room ambient, followed by the product's noise. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

Unfortunately, at this time, we have no comparable sound files of system recordings made in the anechoic chamber with our new microphone.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Eee Box vs. SqueezeBox

My personal ideal use for the Eee Box puts it on the back of a good LCD monitor in an open wall cabinet in the living room. It will have several main functions:

  • Convenient web/email PC - no more going downstairs or waiting for a laptop to power up and connect on wifi.

  • Slideshow machine for displaying digital photos so that all those thousands of photos get some appreciation on a nice big high resolution screen instead being lost forever or viewed only online. The Google Photos Screensaver for Windows might be just about perfect for this application.

  • Music control PC to access the uncompressed CD-quality music files on my network and output it through SPDIF into my high end DAC for playback through my home audio system. This would be in combination with a good wireless media keyboard/mouse, to replace the more limited menu / control of a Squeezebox, which has been in use since our review back in 2005.

Hence, the absence of HDMI, 1080-resolution video playback or more elaborate audio outputs are moot for me. The very low power consumption, low noise, wifi and back-of-monitor mounting are perfect.

The Eee Box is an interesting expansion of the Asus Eee line (even though the choice of moniker is most unfortunate, imo). It is a perfectly capable PC for most users, performing all the routine functions we ask of our PCs with no disappointments. No one expects it to be a workstation or gaming rig, and in those functions the Eee Box would fail. Unfortunately, the B202 doesn't quite live up to the billing of home entertainment hub. It cannot handle video with higher resolution than 720p, which means it will fail to play many BluRay movies. The absence of a DVD drive also limits it somewhat, but external DVD players are plentiful these days, and so many users are collecting movies as digital files rather than on plastic disks.

The energy efficiency of the Eee Box is a very positive point. Through most tasks, it draws less than 20W, and the most demanding thing the typical user will ask of it, playback of 720p video, will only draw 22W. This is exceptionally low power demand, better than just about any PC we can think of.

The ease with which the Eee Box can be mounted on the back of an LCD monitor is welcome. On the back of our 19" Gateway or 24" Asus monitor, and with just a bit of cable management, the box became essentially invisible and well-nigh inaudible, making possible an unobtrusive, elegant, always-on web/email box in the living room.

It's probably not cheaper than a similarly equipped DIY box with an Intel D945GCLF Atom mini-ITX board, but it might be quieter and it's more elegant than any of the mini-ITX enclosures currently available. It's probably also significantly more energy efficient except, perhaps, if you opt for a very high efficiency AC/DC adapter with a PicoPSU.

We know that a dual-core Atom is coming. Will there be an Eee Box with a dual-core Atom? Probably. Will it play 1080 resolution clips? We don't know, but many people won't care. They already have a big screen 40"+ 1080i high resolution LCD or plasma TV for movies, but they don't have a cute, perfectly functional mini-PC that hangs quietly on the back of a monitor in the living room or kitchen. Is $350* a good price for such a machine? It probably depends on your needs, wants and budget, but some people will find it irresistible.

PROS

* Very low power consumption
* Very quiet
* Good enough performance
* Built in wifi
* SPDIF out
* Stylish, small & mounts on back of monitor
CONS

* Can't play 1080 video
* Fairly slow CPU
* No HDMI
* No DVD / BluRay drive

Our thanks to Asus for the Eee Box sample.

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*An aside about the price of such machines: NCIX, an online store based in Vancouver, had a major promotion of the Eee Box when it was first released for sale here. They offered a free 22" Asus monitor for the first 10 buyers of the Eee Box; this was most likely an Asus-sponsored promotion. I had a go at the lineup, but it was well over 15 persons long when I showed late, and almost everyone seemed to be there for the Eee Box + monitor deal. It was interesting to chat with those waiting. One geeky pundit suggested that the Eee Box was actually ideal for those who would never know to buy one unless advised by one of their geeky friends, of the type who were mostly in the lineup. The ordinary low-end Dell, HP, Apple or Lenovo buyer would feel too insecure about buying a non-standard PC like the Eee Box when for the most part, it's precisely all they need: A small, quiet, energy efficient box for email, web, photo sharing, the odd youtube/facebook video.

The big PC system brands have not ignored the small box trend. Dell is now offering the Studio Hybrid, a wee box with optical drive only marginally bigger than the Eee Box; it starts at $499 with keyboard and mouse but runs an Intel C2Duo CPU that can easily play BlueRay. The HP Pavilion Slimline s3500t is similar to Dell's offering but just a bit bigger and starts at the same price. Neither brand has any Atom-based low power PCs as of yet, although both offer mini laptops: Dell's Atom-powered Inspiron Mini 9 and HP's VIA C7-M based 2133.

Articles of Related Interest
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Apple's 24" iMac: There's more to High End than Performance
Shuttle's Smallest Yet: XPC X100
Asus P3-P5G33 Barebone Slim PC
Intel D945GCLF m-ITX: Atom For The Desktop
Albatron KI690-AM2: A Mini-ITX Powerhouse

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Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.



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