Asus Eee Box review: Asus Eee Box

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MSRP: $299.00

The Good Small design may have some aesthetic appeal; Draft N wireless; pre-Windows ExpressGate lets you browse and do other basics seconds after turning on the power.

The Bad Terrible performance and features compared with standard budget desktops; cheap laptop will offer similar capability, space savings, and portability.

The Bottom Line Despite a few useful features, the Asus Eee Box is a novelty at best. It can't come close to the same performance and robustness of even the most basic standard budget PC, and a low-end laptop can do everything it can do and more. The appeal of Asus' Eee PC does not carry over to the Eee Box.

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5.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 3
  • Support 6

We completely understand the appeal of low-cost, small-scale laptops, but we're puzzled by the level of the interest in similarly conceived desktops. We expressed our bewilderment in our recent Dell Studio Hybrid review, and we find the new Asus Eee Box similarly confounding. For $350, Asus' little PC gives you significantly less performance and capability than standard budget desktops in the same price range. And because it still needs peripherals, we reject most claims to significant space-savings. Aesthetes, the environmentally superconscious, and those in cramped living situations may find something to like. We'll even admit that Asus includes a few interesting features, but its negatives far outweigh its positives. A true budget desktop or a low-end laptop would be a much better solution for most of the problems systems like this purport to solve.

The idea of the Eee Box is similar to Asus's successful Eee PC laptop. For a low price, the Eee Box will provide you with a tiny, basic Windows XP-based computer for Web browsing, word processing, and other general computing activities. Its size, affordability, and pared-down configuration lend the Eee Box an air of approachability and ease of use, making the case for the Eee Box as a desktop for novices or those in need of a second PC.

The Asus Eee Box on its side with the stand removed.

On its included support stand, the Asus Eee Box measures 8.25 inches tall by 4 inches wide by 9.25 inches deep. Unscrew the base and lay the unit down flat and its dimensions change to 1.75 inches tall by 7 inches wide by 8.75 inches deep. In either configuration, the Eee Box is roughly as small as the Apple Mac Mini in overall volume. Laying flat, the Mac Mini is taller, but it has a smaller footprint.

Unlike the Mac Mini, according to Asus, the Eee Box comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard. The input devices were not ready in time for this review, so we can't comment on them. Even if they're only half-baked, we applaud Asus for including them in the box. Wireless peripherals help preserve the sparse design these small PCs strive for. Of course, you also have to connect the unit to the wall for power, as well as to some kind of display. This configuration takes up much less space than a typical midtower PC, but if your goal is saving space, we find laptops, even cheap ones such as Asus' Eee PC, far more flexible because of their portability and their freedom from peripheral hardware.

If you're not looking for space flexibility, you might instead be interested in the Eee Box as a small media PC. It would certainly disappear next to the rest of your living room hardware because of its small size. While the Eee Box lacks an optical drive of any kind, we found that it handled 480p, DVD-quality video easily. Asus suggested that it would also play 720p video, but in our testing, we found it unwatchably choppy. You could use the Eee Box to play audio, photo slide shows, or lower-resolution video, but a cheap laptop can do all of those things and more. If you're serious about buying a small computer as a home theater PC, you'll need a higher-end system such as the Dell Studio Hybrid.

  Asus Eee Box eMachines T5274
Price $350 $400
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E2180
Memory 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 32MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated chip 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated chip
Hard drives 80GB, 5,400rpm 320GB 7,200rpm
Optical drive NA dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, Draft N wireless Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows XP Home SP3 Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit)

We'll also risk belaboring the obvious here and point out that the Eee Box is embarrassingly underfeatured compared with budget midtower desktops in the same price range. The recent eMachines T5274 costs just $50 more and its CPU, hard drive, and memory all outclass the Eee Box in a significant way. Throw in the fact that you can upgrade the eMachines with a graphics card and other peripherals, and the gap between the two is plain. Perhaps this disparity doesn't need spelling out. After all, it's long been understood that small form factor desktops and all-in-ones typically require trade-offs to achieve their unique designs. With such a wide chasm in performance and capability between the Eee Box and its competition, it seems worth noting again.

To hammer the point even further, look at how the Eee Box performed on our benchmarks.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Eee Box

Apple iTunes encoding test (in second)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Eee Box

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
eMachines T5274
Asus Eee Box

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering a single CPU  
ZT Affinity 7221Xa
Gateway GT5692
Dell Studio Hybrid
eMachines T5274
Asus Eee Box

If it's not clear, we recommend against the Eee Box. Still, it does a few things that some of you may appreciate. The first is that Asus includes a Draft N wireless adapter, which gives you a lot of range and provides ample bandwidth for transferring or streaming files. With only an 80GB hard drive, chances are you won't be storing a lot of data on this system. You can also pop the hard drive out from the bottom of the unit for upgrading or servicing, another useful feature that's not common in these tiny PCs.

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