What do you do with this thing?

With most hardware we review it’s very clear what you’d use it for. The GeForce 9800 GTX is a card you’d buy if you want to game and a Core 2 Quad Q9300 is your ticket to faster video encode times, but what would you do with a really cheap desktop PC?

Inevitably the Eee Box will be rejected by many who have no need for it, but if you've ever wanted a PC in your home where it didn't make sense to put a $1000 machine the Eee Box is a potential candidate. The Eee Box, much like the Eee PC, falls into a class of computing devices that are designed to be cheap and “fast enough”. ASUS managed to fulfill both of these requirements with the Eee Box and honestly, it’s tough to get much better at $270.

The Eee Box is a great way to repurpose an old monitor, with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse it can be a very clean kitchen PC, 3rd or 4th computer in the house. At the same time, it's quick and functional enough to be a good introductory computer for a relative or child. You don't really make any software sacrifices since it can run the same stuff as a modern day desktop, you just give up some expansion and performance but for a first computer those aren't major concerns.

We suspect that if you have to ask where you'd use the Eee Box then it's definitely not for you. But those who end up buying it will have had a need for it before ASUS ever thought about making it. We're honestly curious: for those of you who are interested in one of these things, leave a comment and let us know how you'd use it.


(I know I’m getting a little tacky with the page headers)

The Eee Box uses the desktop implementation of the Intel Atom processor which signifies two things: 1) it uses a desktop chipset, in this case the 945G, and 2) the Atom’s FSB is fused to run in GTL mode and not the lower power CMOS mode.

By using the 945G chipset instead of Poulsbo (the mobile Atom chipset), we lose support for one key feature: hardware H.264/MPEG-2/VC1 decode acceleration. Modern desktop chipsets from AMD and NVIDIA both support full decode of all three of these formats, but nothing from Intel. The Intel G45 chipset is supposed to change things but it is neither available nor cheap enough to be used in something like the Eee Box (the same goes for the AMD/NVIDIA offerings).

Without hardware decode assist for any of the HD video codecs the Eee Box’s Atom processor is left to do all decoding on its own, and unfortunately it’s not fast enough to decode any high bitrate HD video. In our testing we found that the 1.6GHz Atom was fast enough to decode a 4.5Mbps 720p H.264 stream at around 90% CPU utilization; anything more complex and we started seeing dropped frames. 1080p HD movies are completely out of the question. The CPU is fast enough to play 720p XviD/DivX however.

Processing power issues aside, the Eee Box simply lacks the appropriate outputs to make this a viable HTPC. There’s a single DVI output on the back of the Box and a single analog audio output as well; without support for HDMI or digital audio the Eee Box can hardly be considered for any HTPC applications.

What we would really like to see is full hardware decode acceleration in addition to HDMI 1.3 out in a future version of the Eee Box, with that the Eee Box could easily function as a HTPC terminal streaming high definition content over the network. In its current incarnation however, you’ll have to skip the Eee Box if you’re looking for a new HTPC.

Linux Even When You Choose Windows Performance & Power Consumption
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  • mauriceh - Monday, September 15, 2008 - link

    I am at a ASUS dealer in Canada.
    So far all we have had available is the model with XP , 80Gb, 1GB RAM.
    DEALER Wholesale on this unit is $349, and there is a kickback of $20 a unit if you buy 100 pieces.
    Further ASUS can not tell us of ANY ETA for the Linux model.

    It looks VERY much like M$ are throwing some weight against this.
  • yuhong - Sunday, June 15, 2008 - link

    I wonder exactly what was the bottleneck that made Vista feel so slow on this system.
  • Rza79 - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    It would have been great if you would have included results without Hyperthreading. Then i can get a better understanding in how the Atom performs in single threaded applications and how efficient Hyperthreading is.
    It would be meaningful to include a Via C7 1.6Ghz because then i could know how the Atom performs compared to the C7 (and Nano since Via released comparisons between them).
  • hermunn - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I miss having a Linux / FreeBSD computer on my own, and I really want something like the EeeBox. I will use it for text editing (emacs + LaTeX), web and email. My girlfriend hogs my old TiBook, and I would love to restrict the use of Windows as much as possible. My current employer (college) use Office and has supplied me with a Windows XP computer. I do not enjoy it. A Linux computer will allow me to do research (emacs + LaTeX for the win) in a safe environment. It will also be the base configuration for my small (tiny) programming projects.

    Why something like an EeeBox? First of all, I want a Linux box that is quiet and cheap, and the EeeBox is more then powerful enough for my needs (LaTeX, web, email, Singular, ..). I will buy an EeeBox if they manage to make the final version quiet, and nothing clearly better is available.

    I imagine a small but significant number of geeks who see one and two uses for the EeeBox as a third or fourth computer, and a horde of computer literates who see the EeeBox as a nice first Linux computer. The hardware is designed to be 100% compatible with Linux, and the distribution will be focused on usability. A less steep learning curve than most other ways into the Linux world.
  • pmonti80 - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Anand you say that EEE Box can't play better than 720p at 4.5mbps but wich codec where you using?. Core AVC codec is know to be very efficient and it would be interesting to know if buying this codec would be enough to make Atom a CPU to watch HD content.
  • pmonti80 - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    A benchmark of a 1.6Ghz VIA C7 would be interesting too.
  • JimmiG - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I could easily find a third PC useful. I would set it up in the kitchen or living room or another convenient location, with a ~15" LCD and compact mouse and keyboard. It would be used for email, web browsing and maybe music (a simple analog cable to the amplifier aux in would be enough for me). However the next generation EeePC would also fill this function while taking up less space and being portable. Another option is the very stylish, but still somewhat overpriced (for the specs), Mac Mini. I think the Eee Box can be thought of as a cheaper Mini.

    With wireless networking, I could make the any one of those little machines access e.g. my mp3 or photo collection from the main rig.

    For it to be useful, there are some requirements:
    1. Fast boot times - if it takes minutes to boot, I might as well walk to my main PC or borrow my gf's.

    2. Near-silent operation. One reason to use such a PC instead of my main rig when just browsing the net etc. would be noise levels. My main PC is not extremely noisy, but it's far from silent. I'd prefer a passively cooled mini-pc with a 16GB or bigger solid state drive, to be able to lazily browse the web in peace and quiet.

    3. It needs wireless networking that works out of the box. It needs to be able to detect and use anything I might think of plugging into it, like cameras, mp3 players, input peripherals, printers (also networked) etc. There needs to be support for all the video formats and web functionality, and programs preinstalled for all common tasks.. and so on. It shouldn't feel like I'm using a PC.. It should be like using any other piece of consumer electronics.. turn it on and start using it.

    In my experience, MacOS is most likely to accomplish this, followed by Linux, then XP/Vista. XP is pretty "bare bones" when it comes to such functionality, requiring drivers and third party apps to do anything useful.. Vista Basic isn't much better. Linux distros tend to come bundled with pretty much everything you need. But the OS also needs to be "polished" and "work".. Not like the latest version of Ubuntu for example.. Very user friendly and polished.. until it was time to try and get online using my USB wlan dongle...no amount of friendly dialog boxes or big helpfiles would allow me get online... How useful is a computer if you can't even get online? It was the usual Linux routine of reading "howto's" and forums, then entering cryptic commands and editing textfiles, most of the time not understanding a thing of what you're doing. For the hobbyist, that's OK - but on a PC bordering on “consumer electronics”, it's not acceptable and it's Linux distro needs to be more polished and refined than that.
  • Truxy - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    A small office of 25 PCs I consult for has been waiting for something just like this to come along for a while now. There's a room so small that is intermittantly used all day, with 3 full sized PCs that take up too much of the available space and cause way too much heat. We dabbled in using some shuttle PCs but it didn't work out (power supplies were blowing too often).

    I'll be ordering two to test drive ASAP and hopefully order more soon after.
  • ATWindsor - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I guess this is a pretty stupid question, but how does the monitor-mount work? Does one have to remove sthe existing foot of the monitor? Or can one just attach the computer on the back of a normal monitor?

    And to bad its not fanless.
  • autoboy - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I'm still waiting on the results for mpeg2 1080i decoding...

    The 945 has hardware acceleration for mpeg2 (VLD + iDCT + MC) so it should be more capable as a slim player for people who use mpeg2 more often than h.264. I use an HDHR to record my programs and an R5000 so everything is in mpeg2 720p or 1080i (or 480i SD but we know that works fine. Any chance we can add that to the benchmarks?

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