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Video: Demo of touch-screen Asus Eee Top

The Atom-powered all-in-one desktop is unlike anything else in its category. It will ship beginning in March.

Asus stopped by to show us the touch interface of its upcoming Eee Top, the Atom-powered all-in-one desktop. Check out the video above. It will start shipping in early March.

The Eee Top is interesting for many reasons, but most certainly because, at least for now, it's the cheapest all-in-one desktop PC on the market. At $599 it comes in at almost half the price of the all-in-ones available from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, Lenovo, Sony, and Apple.

Though it's certainly fancy with its 16-inch touch screen, custom Asus Easy Mode menu, and MacBook-esque tile keyboard (with pop-out stylus), the low price is achieved by what's not included: No Vista, no superfast Intel processor. It's a Nettop at its core, running Windows XP with an Atom processor.

As a result, the Eee Top is sort of a strange hybrid in terms of what machines it competes with. It's a Nettop, but the only one that comes with a monitor built in. (See Shuttle's X27 Mini, and Asus' ownEee Box.)

On the other hand, it's a touch-screen living room or kitchen PC, which would place it in the same category as HP's TouchSmart, except it's much cheaper ($599 versus $1,299) and much less sophisticated in terms of styling, design, and software.

Asus would tell you it has no competitors with this PC, and it's right--for now. In the coming months, expect there to be a whole host of affordable, Atom-based all-in-one desktops, some at prices cheaper than the Eee Top. This new wave of Atom-based desktops could do for all-in-ones what Netbooks did for ultraportable notebooks: bring down the cost and make the form factor accessible to a much wider audience.

"It will sub-segment the all-in-one category, which has primarily been premium products, all around $1,000 or more," said Richard Shim, PC analyst for IDC. "This will help to democratize that category."

About 1.9 million all-in-ones were shipped in the U.S. during 2008, out of 31.5 million desktops, according to IDC. That's just 5.9 percent. But as the price drops, all-in-ones will take up a greater share of the category. IDC expects all-in-ones to jump to 8.3 percent by the end of 2009, 9.8 percent by 2010, and 11.4 percent by 2011.

"It'll essentially slow the decline in growth, but it's not going to lead to a big boost in overall share for desktop category," Shim added.