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Asus EeeBox PC EB1501 review: Asus EeeBox PC EB1501

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Design

At least from a design perspective the EeeBox tries. The small form factor case is rounded at the sides, but it's not designed to sit Mac Mini-style on one side. Instead it mounts via a Philips head screw onto a solid base. This gives it a somewhat art deco feel, almost as if it were a statuette rather than a working PC. Asus refers to it as a "ballerina-inspired" design, and we almost get what it's aiming for there. Although we've never seen a black or white plastic rectangular ballerina. Perhaps ballet's changed radically recently, and we failed to notice.

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6.7

Asus EeeBox PC EB1501

The Good

Interesting design. Includes HDMI output. Optical drive. Quiet operation.

The Bad

Ordinary performance. Average keyboard and mouse ruin the style. 1080p video still doesn't work well.

The Bottom Line

We've yet to be truly bowled over by any nettop PC, and while this one is not the be all and end all of systems, if you yearn for a full keyboard and external monitor presence, it's a fair option.

It's not that great an illusion, however, if you plug in the ordinary black plastic keyboard and mouse alongside it. If you were looking at the EB1501 as a living room system, spending a little more on wireless peripherals would make an awful lot of sense, at least aesthetically speaking.

Features

The EB1501 sits on the Nvidia Ion platform, which should give it a boost above the first generation of Atom-powered nettops. The inclusion of an Intel Atom N330 Dual Core can't hurt matters either. While some other aspects of the EB1501's feature list aren't that impressive — 250GB SATA hard drive, 2GB of DDR2-800 RAM — it does stand out in connectivity options. On the networking front, it has gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi. On the visual front, VGA and HDMI video output. Six USB 2.0 ports in total, with two at the front for easy access, right next to the multi-card reader. Finally, an optical DVD-Multi burner for backup and video playback options. In features terms for a nettop, Asus has rather solidly stacked the deck here.

Performance

From a straight up benchmark numbers perspective, the EB1501 performed much as we'd expect an Atom-powered system to run, with a PCMark05 score of 2357 and a 3DMark06 score of 1402. You won't be playing Crysis at full resolution on this critter, but basic web surfing and the odd game of Peggle aren't likely to cause too many problems.

There's a word to describe the cabled mouse and keyboard that ship with the EB1501, and that word is ordinary. They're neither terribly impressive or impressively terrible, just middle of the road clacking and clicking plastic units. It's in sharp contrast to the system itself, which is impressively quiet, as the best micro systems should strive to be.

One of the key claims of the Ion platform is that it'll make Atom-based systems HD-ready, although what "HD Ready" is can mean different things to different vendors. Asus isn't leaving much room for doubt. It proclaims on the EB1501's product page that it will allow you to "Experience reality with Full HD". That to our minds should mean 1080p.

There's no Blu-ray drive in the EB1501, so we headed to YouTube to check the unit's ability to handle 1080p material, using the Muppets Studio clip of Beaker singing (or is it singeing?) Kansas' Dust In The Wind. The standard 360p version played back just fine. Likewise, the 720p "HD" version played once fully cached without a problem. We can't say the same of the 1080p version, which was more akin to watching a PowerPoint presentation than anything else. In other words, don't believe the hype. We've yet to hit an Ion-powered system that passes the 1080p test, no matter what a vendor says it's capable of.

Atom processor systems aren't designed to be in workhorses. Our complaint about them previously has always been that the gap between the price of a nettop and a straight desktop PC hasn't been wide enough to make the nettop really worth buying. At an asking price of AU$599, and with its admittedly living-room-friendly design, we're a little more inclined to give the EB1501 a bit of a break. It's not the be all and end all of systems, and clearly much of what it does could still be covered by a similarly powered netbook, but if you yearn for a full keyboard and external monitor presence, it's a fair option.