We also appreciate Essentio's wireless keyboard, complete with a built-in trackball. It's not the best trackball we've ever used, but it will certainly serve for couch-bound navigation. The system also includes a basic mouse, as well as an easy-to-use remote control that requires no external receiver. The Asus-made remote design is more akin to Apple's tiny remote than the standard, clunky Windows Media Center remote control, and while it might be missing a few buttons (there's no number pad, for example) it navigates Media Center with no trouble. And with no receiver it keeps the system free from clutter.
That pared-down aesthetic may be why we like the Essentio so much for the living room. It also has no TV tuner, which some of you may miss, but we much prefer to let the cable companies and their dedicated hardware handle TV reception and recording, especially if it means we don't need to mess with an IR blaster. We also find there's more than enough content available from the likes of the iTunes store, Hulu.com, NetFlix's online service, and other direct download and streaming sources.
Asus also chose well in the software included with the system. A Corel photo-managing application mimics Apple's iPhoto and other similar programs for organizing and treating digital images for display. And the Asus Intelligence suite of mini applications may be the best organized of all such software that provides system information and help with troubleshooting. We just wish it would minimize by default when you open up a new program.
And for the exterior of the Essentio, you get a relatively simple allotment of ports and inputs. The front features two USB 2.0 ports, a media card reader, and a pair of audio jacks. The rear includes four more USB inputs, 7.1 analog audio jacks, and an optical S/PDIF input. There's no FireWire or external SATA, so you'll have to use the USB 2.0 inputs to connect all external storage and imaging devices.
Asus backs the Essentio with one year of parts-and-labor coverage, a standard coverage plan. The phone support is less robust, requiring a toll call and with limited hours (9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pacific Time). You might be better off trying the online help features first, where you'll find a collection of FAQs, driver downloads, and a user forum.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.2GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E2200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X3500 integrated graphics; 640GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Acer Aspire X3200
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz AMD Phenom X3 8400; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8200 integrated graphics chip; 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Dell Inspiron 530-115B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz AMD Phenom X3 8450; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive.
HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics chip; 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.