Asus Essentio review: Asus Essentio

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The Good Large hard drive; HDMI video output; 802.11n wireless networking; attractive, simple design; plays 1080p HD video.

The Bad Slower performance than less expensive slim tower PCs.

The Bottom Line The Asus Essentio is perhaps the best conceived of the recent round of living-room-friendly slim tower desktops. It's just powerful enough, and it comes with the right mix of features to allow it to do what living room PCs do best, without overreaching.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 5
  • Support 6

Unlike the other slim tower PCs we've reviewed this month, the Asus Essentio is the most unabashed about its intentions toward your living room. The combination of the small, high-gloss case, the HDMI video output, and the built-in wireless networking give you few reasons not to stick this little PC next to your television. At $649 you'll have to accept some sacrifices, namely to performance. But because the Asus Essentio does what it's supposed to do with only a few hiccups, we recommend it for anyone looking for a trim PC to put in the living room.

We've reviewed a number of slim tower PCs similar to the Essentio recently, HP's Pavilion Slimline s3500f, the Dell Inspiron 530s, and both the Acer Aspire X3200 and the Acer X1200. The Asus Essentio is more expensive than all of them, asking $70 more than the HP, its closest competition.

And to a certain extent, the Essentio can't offer as much as those systems. It's the only one out of that entire list with a more or less closed chassis. All of the others provide internal access like standard PCs, giving you the option to make upgrades to the memory, hard-drive storage, and expansion cards down the road. We suspect you could get inside the Asus Essentio (a warranty sticker on the back warns you from trying), but with no obvious access point, doing so runs the risk of putting the long-term integrity of the system in jeopardy. Some of you may find the closed chassis limiting, but we didn't mind it since Asus chose the components so wisely.

  Asus Essentio HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f
Price $649 $580
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Penium Dual Core E2200 2.8GHz AMD Athlon X2 5400+
Memory 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 128MB (shared) Intel GMA 3500 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150 SE
Hard drives 640GB, 7,200rpm 500GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n 802.11b/g and 10/100 Ethernet
Video outputs VGA; HDMI VGA
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

Unlike those competing systems, the Essentio provides us with almost everything we'd look for in a budget-priced home entertainment PC. The HDMI video and VGA video outputs let you connect this system to a wide variety of home displays from HD televisions to old CRT monitors. The roomy 640GB hard drive gives you plenty of local storage for your digital media. Finally, the high-speed, long-range 802.11n wireless networking adapter welcomes large data files, like streamed HD movies, and without the need to string extra networking cable around your home.

The other slim tower PCs share some of those features. The two $450 Acers have HDMI outputs, for example, and the HP system also comes with Wi-Fi and a large 500GB hard drive. But none except the Essentio has all three. The trade-off is that the Asus system loses a step on our performance benchmarks.

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

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Dell Inspiron 530
Acer Aspire X3200
Gateway GT5692
HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f
Asus Essentio

Given its low-end, non-Core 2 Duo Intel CPU, we're not surprised by the Essentio's unimpressive test results. Its Photoshop scores are decent, but it trails behind the less-expensive HP system on our iTunes encoding test, as well as our multitasking and Cinebench rendering tests. None of these systems are suitable for gaming, and if you're in need of serious digital media editing you're looking in the wrong product category. There's no arguing, though, that of its peers, the Asus Essentio is not as fast.

We're actually OK with that, because as mentioned, the Essentio does things those systems can't. We admit we were concerned whether the slower performance would hinder HD video playback, but after watching a full-screen, 1080p trailer for Transporter 3, our fears were allayed. Playback was smooth and clear, with no hitches or dropped frames.

Instead, our one complaint about the video output is that getting the proper resolution and aspect ratio can be a challenge. The system won't support a 30-inch computer LCD and its 2,560x1,536 resolution over HDMI, instead defaulting to 1,280x800. That's fine, as our hunch is that most potential buyers would be more likely to connect the Essentio to, at most, a 24-inch LCD, whose native 1,920x1,200 resolution it can handle.

We had better luck connecting it via HDMI to a 32-inch LCD TV, where it was able to achieve the 1,920x1,080 resolution necessary for true 1080p playback. The problem there, however, was that Intel's graphics drivers don't adjust automatically for the television's aspect ratio, resulting in overscan, wherein the Windows desktops appears too large for the TV screen and you lose the edges. We compensated via Intel's software and its clunky-yet-effective manual aspect ratio settings. Ultimately you can make the Essentio work on a full-size television, but it takes some tweaking to get it right.

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