CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Nettops like the $475 Asus Eee Box PC EB1501 aren't meant for getting work done. Instead, they promise an end-around to the closed environment of your cable box, opening up your living room to the near-infinite amount of content available via various online video sources. With its clean, understated design, the Asus Eee Box EB1501 not only looks the part of a living-room component, but it also has the technical chops to play almost any kind of content, including most 1080p video sources. We could almost recommend this system if it wasn't caught between new, more affordable Web-enabled Blu-ray players, and more capable slim-tower PCs that cost just a little bit more.
The Asus Eee Box PC EB1501 is the second-generation Nettop from Asus and is the first we've seen from the vendor with Nvidia's Ion chipset. While the Ion chipset brings an assortment of underlying technologies to low-power Netbooks and Nettops, the most relevant piece of graphics hardware is its Nvidia GeForce 9400M chip, a budget 3D chip designed to provide basic video and 3D graphics capabilities, including, according to Nvidia, support for high-definition video playback at 1080p.
We've seen a few GeForce 9400M-based desktops that can play 1080p content smoothly, namely Apple's most recent Mac Minis. This Asus system has its limitations--it plays 1080p QuickTime files with noticeable choppiness--but, unlike the Dell Inspiron Zino HD and the Acer Aspire Revo R1600 (the $199 model), it can at least play 1080p files in Windows Media Player and from YouTube smoothly. QuickTime is a major file type to-be-sure, and iTunes-based video in particular will give this system trouble. Still, until Apple has its way with the rest of the Internet, Flash-based sites like YouTube and Amazon Video on Demand, and Microsoft Silverlight-powered Netflix.com will hold as much weight as iTunes, if not more, and this Asus handled all of their content with no trouble.
Despite its general suitability to online video, the Eee Box EB1501 is caught in an uncomfortable middle ground in terms of its price. New Blu-ray players from Sony and LG offer wireless network connections and built-in support for a variety of online media services, Netflix and YouTube among them. While those devices don't offer the full breadth of content available via the Web, they supplement the services they do support with Blu-ray playback and cost between $250 to $275. On the other end of the price spectrum, Gateway's $550 slim tower SX2840-01 is a significantly faster computer than the Asus, and will play anything you throw at it, including QuickTime 1080p. It's a bit larger than the Asus and it lacks Wi-Fi; however, we suspect the enthusiasts most willing to stick a PC in the living room would be willing to make those trade-offs in exchange for smooth HD playback regardless of file format.
Thus we find the Eee Box EB1501's primary appeal comes with its design, which would look at home next to any TV or AV component. The system is meant to stand upright. When it is attached to its stand, it measures 10.25 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide by 10 inches deep. You can remove the single screw anchoring the Eee Box to its stand, and it gets a smaller profile: 1.5 inches tall by 7.75 inches wide by 7.625 inches deep. In addition to its tiny dimensions, the Eee Box's mostly white plastic exterior and slot-loading DVD burner give it a clean, muted appearance. It might disappear entirely next to a large screen, if not for a white LED illuminating the power button.
|Asus Eee Box EB1501||Dell Inspiron Zino HD|
|CPU||1.6GHz Intel Atom N330||1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e|
|Memory||1GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||64MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chip||256MB ATI Radeon HD 3200|
|Hard drives||250GB 5,400 rpm||320GB, 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
In contrast with the Eee Box, the Dell Inspiron Zino HD is a bit larger, likely to accommodate higher-end options Dell makes available via its online configuration tools. As a fixed-configuration system, the Eee Box needs no extra leeway for more RAM or a dedicated graphics chip. In terms of pure capabilities, the Asus and the Dell Zino configuration we reviewed are very similar. The Dell has a slightly larger hard drive, more system and graphics memory, and, in general, fares better than the Asus system in day-to-day applications. Arguably, the Asus merits a premium for its bundled wireless mouse and keyboard set. Given their similar price and the minimal differences between their specs, we find the Asus a fair deal in relation to the Dell.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
We suspect few people would look into a PC like the Eee Box for day-to-day productivity, and from the massive performance difference above, you can see how we'd point to the Gateway SX2840-01 if application speed is of concern. But even when you consider simple media-oriented tasks like converting audio files, possibly while watching a video file to pass the time, the Eee Box still isn't a very impressive performer for its price. It finishes about 10 minutes ahead of the Dell on our multitasking test, but in more likely situations--such as our standalone iTunes conversion test--it even comes in behind the $199 Acer Aspire Revo.
Even though you can't get inside the Eee Box easily, Asus includes a fair amount of connectivity options. You could add a TV tuner via one of its many USB ports, for example. In addition to the HDMI output, you also get a standard VGA jack, as well as an S/PDIF digital audio out jack on the back, and microphone and line-out jacks on the front of the case. Rounding out the Asus' adequate but not remarkable inputs are an eSATA jack on its back and a media card slot on its front.
|Asus Eee Box EB1501||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||79.68972|
|Energy Star compliant||Yes|
|Annual power consumption cost||$9.04|
Nettop PC power consumption is almost an oxymoron. As with the Acer Aspire Revo and other Nettop's we've seen, the Asus will be almost imperceptible on your power bill. What's probably more interesting is that despite their slow, low power parts, no Nettop has managed to unseat the 2.26GHz Mac Mini in terms of power efficiency.
Unlike Asus' other desktops, at least the Eee Box shows up on Asus' support Web site. However, even though the company acknowledges the existence of this system, doesn't mean its support resources for it are worth much. True, you get an industry-standard yearlong parts-and-labor warranty, but the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT weekday phone support hours are severely lacking, and the maze of online help is useless.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Acer Aspire Revo
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 160GB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive
Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz)
Mac OS X 10.6.2; 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M; 160GB, 7,200rpm Fujitsu hard drive
Asus Eee Box EB1501
Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Atom N330; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chip; 200GB 5,400rpm Seagate hard drive
Dell Inspiron Zino HD
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e; 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics chip; 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive