We've just got our hands on the brand-new Asus Eee Box B206 -- the lastest ultra-compact, ultra-low power desktop computer from Asus. It comes with no monitor, keyboard or mouse, but its Intel Atom-powered 1.6GHz CPU, dedicated ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card, 160GB hard disk and 1GB of RAM comes for a pathetic £309 and it wants to be your new media centre.
Looks-wise, the B206 is the doppelganger of the original Eee Box, which we scored a 'very good' 7.4 out of ten last year. And many of the specs -- CPU and RAM, crucially -- are identical. Yet this new model costs £100 more? What the dilly-o?
There are reasons. Calm thyself. The issues with last year's Eee Box were its lack of dedicated graphics and no support for full HD video content, plus the hard drive was a measly 80GB. Asus has upped that to 160GB in this model and added ATI's dedicated graphics chipset, and it did indeed handle 720p HD video nicely, outputted over a single HDMI socket.
Well, it did as long as it was 720p DivX or Xvid HD -- some H.264 720p decoding via VLC or QuickTime was poor, and 1080p video was a joke, and not one that earned it a single laugh. But it's an improvement. Our full review will give you the full benchmark result next week.
Asus added its Eee Cinema media centre software to this Eee, as seen on the Eee Top last year. It's got a modern, attractive interface not dissimilar to Windows Media Centre, and it's perfect for use with the bundled remote control and an HD Ready TV (we had it hooked up to a gorgeous 1080p Loewe). Check out our screenshots over the page.
Once again the Eee Box has positioned itself in an unusual cranny, between a media centre and a cheap desktop. Except it's not quite as good a media centre as something like the Popcorn Hour, and it doesn't quite have the horsepower of a cheap, full-sized desktop. It won't handle Vista, for example -- hence the Eee Cinema software.
But man, it's cheap, it runs on only 20W of power, has four USB 2.0 sockets, will handle some HD content, looks gorgeous and can be nailed to the back of your HDTV. And because it runs Windows XP, it'll support a bag of video formats the Apple TV can't, while letting you browse the Web from your sofa. So stop your whining and we'll stop ours.
It's on sale now for £309. Check out our massive gallery over the next few pages.