Asus was among the first to market with its miniaturised, Atom-powered nettop PCs, but Acer’s Aspire Revo R3600 was the one that stole our hearts.
Unlike previous nettops, which were essentially netbooks in PC clothing, it added a dash of potency via Nvidia’s Ion chipset. Now, Asus has gone one better, adding a dual-core Atom, Windows 7 Home Premium and a DVD writer for good measure.
Visually, it’s a cut above its predecessors. Gone are the boring, angular lines of the original; the EB1501 has been redesigned completely.
A silver base holds the EeeBox up at a jaunty angle, giving easy access to two USB ports, a memory card reader, microphone and headphone sockets and, most novel of all, a slot-loading DVD writer. For those tempted to adopt the EeeBox as a basic do-it-all PC, or even give it pride of place in their lounge as a media centre, the optical drive is a crucial addition.
And there’s no doubt that, on paper at least, the EB1501 is a great candidate for these applications. The dual-core Atom 330 processor is backed up by 2GB of memory, and the 250GB hard disk is generous too. But, even with that dual-core processor, the EeeBox struggles.
It isn’t that Windows 7 is unusably sluggish, but it can’t compare to the way Windows feels running on more capable dual-core processors. Our subjective qualms were borne out by mediocre benchmark results: the Asus is unarguably faster than the Acer Aspire Revo R3600, which managed a lowly 0.29, but a score of 0.39 is still unimpressive.
Forgive the EeeBox’s sluggish performance, though, and it has plenty to offer as a compact media-centre PC. The array of connections at the front of the unit are supplemented at the rear by four USB ports, eSATA, Gigabit Ethernet and both VGA and HDMI ports.
Wireless networking in the form of 802.11n comes as standard too. One major issue, however, is that the Atheros chipset proved incompatible with the WPA2 encryption on our Labs network, an annoyance that forced us to drop back to WPA encryption.
Nvidia’s Ion comes dashing to the rescue in the graphics department. The Atom processor limits its ultimate potential, but 17fps in our Low Crysis benchmark is still respectable, and two frames faster than the Revo. That might leave Crysis in
an unplayable state, but it hints that less demanding titles are a viable proposition.
Ion brings more than just gaming to the table: in tandem with the HDMI port at the rear of the EB1501, Full HD video enters the realms of possibility. We tried several 1080p clips, and all played without a trace of stutter, with CPU usage reaching no higher than 20% during playback.
And, thanks to the arrival of Adobe’s Flash 10.1 pre-release, the Nvidia Ion can now also power high-definition Flash content available on the web. Where videos on YouTube HD, Vimeo HD and even iPlayer HD are unwatchable without GPU acceleration, the beta of Flash 10.1 makes all the difference.
On YouTube, 720p clips play smoothly in a window, with only the odd stutter colouring the experience in full-screen mode. Push the limits by playing one of the recently added 1080p clips, and things get much choppier.
But given Ion’s capabilities with offline 1080p media, performance may well improve here once Flash 10.1 leaves its beta status behind.
Warts and all, the latest EeeBox is a device that’s just about as cute as a desktop PC can get. But it’s just a touch too expensive, notwithstanding the optical drive and faster wireless.
Asus EeeBox PC EB1501
It’s impressive to see a dual-core Atom, DVD writer and Nvidia Ion in such a tiny PC, but the price is a touch too high
• Vendor: Asus
• CPU model/brand: Intel Atom 330
• CPU speed: 1.6Ghz
• Memory capacity: 2GB
• RAM type: DDR2
• HD capacity: 250GB
• Graphics: Nvidia Ion
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