Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC

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Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC

Post by MikeC » Mon Sep 08, 2008 1:47 pm


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Post by BillyBuerger » Mon Sep 08, 2008 2:29 pm

I picked up a couple of those mini-optical SPDIF connectors for my old laptop's PCMCIA Sound Blaster. The connector has metal connectors on the sides for normal headphones and such, but also an LED at the back which the adapter focuses on. Allowing it to do double-duty. It's a good way to save on space.

Image

If you're wondering why I have this open and why the connector looks kinda ugly, it's because the headphone cord got pulled out accidentally at bad angles too many times. And this was to replace the onboard sound on the laptop that had the same thing happen to it's headphone jack. =(

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Post by autoboy » Mon Sep 08, 2008 2:36 pm

Anyone know if this little guy can handle a 1080i mpeg2 video from a OTA broadcast? Nearly all my content is 480i, 720p, and 1080i mpeg2 from OTA and cable broadcasts, yet nobody seems to test this on these systems because mpeg2 is considered "easy." Yes, mpeg2 is pretty easy for modern systems but this thing has a processor equivalent to a 800mhz Pentium M so it is very questionable whether it could handle it.

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Post by kittle » Mon Sep 08, 2008 3:03 pm

very nice looking setup.

If it had a CD/DVD drive id pick one up for my brother for the holidays.

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Post by MikeC » Mon Sep 08, 2008 3:55 pm

autoboy wrote:Anyone know if this little guy can handle a 1080i mpeg2 video from a OTA broadcast? Nearly all my content is 480i, 720p, and 1080i mpeg2 from OTA and cable broadcasts, yet nobody seems to test this on these systems because mpeg2 is considered "easy." Yes, mpeg2 is pretty easy for modern systems but this thing has a processor equivalent to a 800mhz Pentium M so it is very questionable whether it could handle it.
Post links to some of these 1080i files. I'll try them out. My guess is that they should be no problem. It does 720p OK, so....

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Post by Jokoto » Mon Sep 08, 2008 4:34 pm

I was surprised that it couldn't do 1080p. People have reported the Eee 901 (with an Intel Diamondville N270) is up for the task - at least with a good decoder and when the power profile is correct - on power save (800 MHz) it skips, but on "high" (default, 1.6 GHz) or "super performance" (1.8 GHz) it's fine. Use CoreAVC if you can. I have an Intel Atom-equipped Eee now, the newest 900A, but I haven't had the time to install anything in it yet (it's a linux version, and the default distro has some bugs this time. Will probably switch to Kubuntu like I did on my 701 4G).

One error I noticed: "If the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the board's IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is adequate to decompress the clip properly." Should probably be "inadequate" instead.

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Lower power consumption vs D945GCLF

Post by Bicster » Mon Sep 08, 2008 5:18 pm

My understanding is that the D945GCLF uses the 945GC chipset.

The B202 uses the 945GSE chipset, which is a mobile chipset with much lower power consumption.

I wish I could buy a mini-ITX board with that chipset!

Nevertheless, the following statement in the article appears to be in error:
More importantly, the same relatively inefficient 945G chipset, which was first used on the Mac Mini, is also used here, along with the pedestrian Intel GMA 950 video chip.
Thanks for the excellent review. Can you tell me if there is a BIOS option to power the PC back up once power is restored from a power failure? If so, I can think of several embedded applications where I may use these machines.

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Post by bsoft » Mon Sep 08, 2008 6:19 pm

This arrangement is quite common in notebooks, such as the MacBook Pro.
BillyBuerger wrote:I picked up a couple of those mini-optical SPDIF connectors for my old laptop's PCMCIA Sound Blaster. The connector has metal connectors on the sides for normal headphones and such, but also an LED at the back which the adapter focuses on. Allowing it to do double-duty. It's a good way to save on space.

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Re: Lower power consumption vs D945GCLF

Post by MikeC » Mon Sep 08, 2008 8:39 pm

Bicster wrote:My understanding is that the D945GCLF uses the 945GC chipset.

The B202 uses the 945GSE chipset, which is a mobile chipset with much lower power consumption.

I wish I could buy a mini-ITX board with that chipset!

Nevertheless, the following statement in the article appears to be in error:
More importantly, the same relatively inefficient 945G chipset, which was first used on the Mac Mini, is also used here, along with the pedestrian Intel GMA 950 video chip.
Thanks for the excellent review. Can you tell me if there is a BIOS option to power the PC back up once power is restored from a power failure? If so, I can think of several embedded applications where I may use these machines.
You're right! Bad miss. Not sure why I was so blind about that. In any case, thanks for the catch. I've made a number of changes here and there to reflect this info. For those who've already read the whole piece and don't want to scour just for the changes...
The basic technology inside is essentially the same as what Intel put into its Atom-based mini-ITX board, the D945GCLF which we reviewed last week. The CPU is a mobile variant, although how much less power that would draw is questionable, as the "desktop" Atom 230 maxes out at 4W. The Intel board uses the relatively inefficient 945GC chipset, which was first used on the Mac Mini. Apparently, the chipset in the Eee Box is the 945GSE Express, designed for mobile PCs, but still equipped with the same Intel GMA 950 video chip. Being a mobile chipset, the 945GSE Express may have lower power requirements than the 945GC, which is promising.
The Eee Box idled at just 16W. It drew 6W more when running two instances of Prime95 or playing hi def video clips. Power consumption increased to 25W when the IGP was stressed with ATITool while Prime95 was running.

These numbers are very modest, especially in comparison to those obtained with the Intel D945GCLF mini-ITX board reviewed last week. That system drew 27W in idle, 31~33W playing video, and 28W at full tilt; all this with a PSU that's one of the most efficient we've tested at low loads. That the Eee Box lowers power consumption by over 10W at all states is excellent. What these numbers suggest is that the 945GSE Express chipset used in the Eee Box is considerably more efficient than the 945GC of the Intel mini-ITX board.

A summary page at Intel of the 945GSE Mobile Express chipset states that the maximum TDP of the chipset itself is just 6W. On the same page, under the heading "Valid Processor Combinations", one combination is listed: The Atom N270 and 945GSE Express Chipset with 82801GBM I/O Controller Hub (ICH7M), with a "System TDP" of just 11.8W. This explains why the Eee Box is so much more energy efficient than the Intel D945GCLF.

It even suggests that there may be room for further reduction of power with a more efficient AC/DC adapter: If the total TDP of the system is only 11.8W, and the AC power measured is 25W, then the power supply is working at less than 50% efficiency. Alas, it may not be quite so simple. The PSU is also supplying power for the wifi and the hard drive, and perhaps a bit to the USB keyboard and mouse as well.

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Post by jessekopelman » Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:11 am

I'm not sure why you think this is sleeker looking than a Mac Mini. The Mini's hidden WiFi antenna gives it the win, in my book. But such things are subjective . . .

I'm also surprised you make such a big deal about the mini-SPDIF adapter and analog/digital 3.5mm jack. As others have noted, these things are nothing new. Indeed, dual analog/digital 3.5mm jacks have been around for years and have been heavily used by Apple. The Airport Express has one, as does the Mac Mini.

I think this would have been more compelling at the original prices. But given the apparent demand vs. parts availability, you can hardly blame Asus for upping the price.

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Post by Monkeh16 » Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:37 am

jessekopelman wrote:I'm also surprised you make such a big deal about the mini-SPDIF adapter and analog/digital 3.5mm jack. As others have noted, these things are nothing new. Indeed, dual analog/digital 3.5mm jacks have been around for years and have been heavily used by Apple. The Airport Express has one, as does the Mac Mini.
They're also common on laptops.

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Post by gb115b » Tue Sep 09, 2008 2:13 am

its a shame companies aren't using Poulsbo chipsets...as they're lower power consumption and can alledgedly handle 1080p as the graphics chip (from Power VR) has hardware acceleration (though i think you need powerDVD for it to work)

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Post by oDii » Tue Sep 09, 2008 3:57 am

I can answer a question you pose in the review:
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.
No. Unless the application being used to decode was multithreaded, you'll notice no difference to performance in that regard.

I have a D945GCLF2 so can personally vouch for this.

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Post by Jokoto » Tue Sep 09, 2008 6:44 am

oDii wrote:No. Unless the application being used to decode was multithreaded, you'll notice no difference to performance in that regard.
As far as I know, CoreAVC is the only multithreaded decoder. That's part of the reason it's the fastest. The Atom's Hyper-threading might already be of some help with it as well.

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Re: Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC

Post by jpeavy1 » Tue Sep 09, 2008 11:30 am

MikeC wrote:<URL snipped because I can't post it for some reason> Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC
Hey Mike,

Good review, man. Thanks.

I was really interested in the Eee Box as a perfectly silent, no moving parts PC for my office.

With the chipset only pulling 11.8 watts TDP is a fan really necessary?

What about swapping the HDD for solid-state, either SSD or CompactFlash? In fact I'm surprised a solid-state alternative isn't being sold by Asus.

TIA,
-jp

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Post by MikeC » Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:18 pm

jessekopelman wrote:I'm not sure why you think this is sleeker looking than a Mac Mini. The Mini's hidden WiFi antenna gives it the win, in my book. But such things are subjective . . .

I'm also surprised you make such a big deal about the mini-SPDIF adapter and analog/digital 3.5mm jack. As others have noted, these things are nothing new. Indeed, dual analog/digital 3.5mm jacks have been around for years and have been heavily used by Apple. The Airport Express has one, as does the Mac Mini.

I think this would have been more compelling at the original prices. But given the apparent demand vs. parts availability, you can hardly blame Asus for upping the price.
You're right, looks are always subjective. My bias is for thin stuff, and the minimac is not thin, it's too symmetrical & blocky and the optical drive forces you to keep it visible where all those cables in back make a mess. I love that it can be installed on the back if the monitor. All small PCs should have this feature.

My guess is the price will drop quickly -- like it always does -- to below $300. To me it's far more desirable than the Eee PC whose screen and keyboard are laughable.

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Post by Mats » Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:37 pm

The visible antenna only looks bad until you connect all the cables, and after that it doesn't matter:
Image

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Re: Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC

Post by MikeC » Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:52 pm

jpeavy1 wrote:Hey Mike,

Good review, man. Thanks.

I was really interested in the Eee Box as a perfectly silent, no moving parts PC for my office.

With the chipset only pulling 11.8 watts TDP is a fan really necessary?

What about swapping the HDD for solid-state, either SSD or CompactFlash? In fact I'm surprised a solid-state alternative isn't being sold by Asus.

TIA,
-jp
You're welcome.

The fan -- it's needed. I think it might be safe to slow it down even more, but on the back of the monitor, it's about as quiet as a typical iMac, which makes is very quiet. My impression of the HDD is that it's well chosen -- very quiet, quieter than the fan. SSD would kick the price up too much, imo.

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Post by Jokoto » Tue Sep 09, 2008 1:33 pm

MikeC wrote:My guess is the price will drop quickly -- like it always does -- to below $300. To me it's far more desirable than the Eee PC whose screen and keyboard are laughable.
The screen was indeed too small on the original Eee PC. All of the newer models have 8.9" or 10" screens though and they are very capable devices for mobile use. I own a 701 4G and the new 900A (Atom-based), and the bigger screen alone makes it a whole different machine. The only remaining issue for some is the keyboard - but a smaller keyboard is the price you have to pay for a small, mobile device. For me it's enough and I would not want a full-size laptop.

These small nettop computers are a great choice for many applications where a normal more power-hungry desktop computer would just go to waste. Netbooks, or sub-notebooks, are a bit similar - they're not exactly desktop replacements but unbeatable in portability, while the Eee Box triumphs in having a smaller footprint and budget requirements.

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Post by Saribro » Tue Sep 09, 2008 2:16 pm

Jokoto wrote:As far as I know, CoreAVC is the only multithreaded decoder. That's part of the reason it's the fastest. The Atom's Hyper-threading might already be of some help with it as well.
DivX H.264 decoder is also multithreaded, but still in beta.

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Post by Davideo2006 » Tue Sep 09, 2008 3:23 pm

Thanks for a great review!

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Post by MikeC » Tue Sep 09, 2008 11:04 pm

MikeC wrote:
autoboy wrote:Anyone know if this little guy can handle a 1080i mpeg2 video from a OTA broadcast? Nearly all my content is 480i, 720p, and 1080i mpeg2 from OTA and cable broadcasts, yet nobody seems to test this on these systems because mpeg2 is considered "easy." Yes, mpeg2 is pretty easy for modern systems but this thing has a processor equivalent to a 800mhz Pentium M so it is very questionable whether it could handle it.
Post links to some of these 1080i files. I'll try them out. My guess is that they should be no problem. It does 720p OK, so....
Thanks for sending the 1080i clip -- very good quality, btw. Where do you download these?

The Eee Box had no trouble playing this -- w/o multitasking.

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Post by jessekopelman » Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:55 am

gb115b wrote:its a shame companies aren't using Poulsbo chipsets...as they're lower power consumption and can alledgedly handle 1080p as the graphics chip (from Power VR) has hardware acceleration (though i think you need powerDVD for it to work)
I'm pretty sure it's not lack of desire but a price and/or availability issue. Remember, Intel's intended purpose for Poulsbo is handhelds. Given how many so-called MIDS are supposedly in the pipeline, I doubt there's any production to spare. Even the Atoms themselves are in extreme demand -- I hear some nettop makers have had to switch back to Pentium M variants due to availability issues. Anyway, the Intel roadmap is to eventually embed a derivative of the VR chip as one of the cores in their CPU, making NB selection a moot point.

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Post by floffe » Wed Sep 10, 2008 5:17 am

MikeC wrote:Thanks for sending the 1080i clip -- very good quality, btw. Where do you download these?
From what he posted above, I'd guess he records them from OTA HDTV broadcasts. And by "record", I mean "save to disk" since these broadcasts are already encoded in MPEG2. Such an inefficient codec makes sharing stuff rather inefficient, though, so I doubt these are widespread in distribution (see DVD-rips often being ~1GB compared to the 4.5+GB of the MPEG2 original).

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Post by autoboy » Wed Sep 10, 2008 10:09 am

MikeC wrote: Thanks for sending the 1080i clip -- very good quality, btw. Where do you download these?

The Eee Box had no trouble playing this -- w/o multitasking.
They are direct from the cable provider. That clip was a direct feed from HBO "The Wicker Man" recorded on my R5000 using SageTV. It was what was on when I went to grab a file small enough to send you. I tried to get a scene with some panning but I was late for work and that is what I ended up with. The R5000 can pull the 1080i mpeg2 stream over USB from a modified cable box without re-encoding it to something else. Hence, the really nice quality. With an R5000 I can get all the channels I subscribe to.

I also use the HD Homerun for unencrypted QAM cable recording but I only get my local HD channels using this. Still, with these 3 HD tuners I can record all the TV I really want. The premium channels tend to rebroadcast often so having one R5000 is not an issue if you have locals from another source. All these recordings are 15-19 mbps mpeg 720p/1080i straight from the cable provider. They are not really portable because of their size but I would like to buy a Eee PC 1000 and use that as a portable media player. Since most of my content is in mpeg2 i wanted to know if it could play the files without stutter. I don't really torrent any files so Divx and h.264 is not really an issue for me.

There are a lot of people that use a QAM tuner to record cable TV in its native format. I always wonder why more people aren't concerned with HD mpeg2 playback on devices like this.

The new Happauge HD-PVR will make h.264 more of an issue for people like me, but for now, if this Eee PC can play 1080i mpeg2, that is good enough for me and I think I will pick up a Eee 1000 with the 80GB harddrive.

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Post by MikeC » Wed Sep 10, 2008 10:30 am

autoboy -- you should be clear, the eee box is the nettop, the eee pc is the laptop.

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Post by jessekopelman » Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:15 pm

I think the en vogue term for the Eee PC and its ilk is netbook. It's getting hard to keep up with this stuff. I'm not even sure where the cutoff between laptop and notebook is, let alone notebook and netbook . . .

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Post by autoboy » Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:44 pm

I was under the impression that they used the same components. Both are using the same mobile 945GSE chipset. I am sorry if I was unclear. I am looking to buy the Eee 1000 netbook.

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Post by MikeC » Wed Sep 10, 2008 2:17 pm

autoboy wrote:I was under the impression that they used the same components. Both are using the same mobile 945GSE chipset. I am sorry if I was unclear. I am looking to buy the Eee 1000 netbook.
ah ok. yes they are using the same mobile 945GSE chipset.

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Post by Jokoto » Fri Sep 12, 2008 7:38 am

Here's a video showing the Eee 901 playing 1080p video. (It was a response to a video from VIA comparing one of their processors to the Atom, and they had the Atom mistakenly running a bit slower than it should have been.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVf3PtNF-j0

It's the Robotica clip (1080p) from Microsoft's WMV HD Content Showcase - could you test it on the Eee Box too?

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