At a Glance
- Clever, compact design
- Low price
- No optical drive
- Lackluster performance
Well-designed, ultra-small desktop serves as a viable option for basic computing, but don’t expect much in the way of performance.
The PC just shrank further: With a smaller footprint and a slimmer profile than the average notebook’s, Asus’s Eee Box requires little space on your desk. The Box starts at just $350 (computer only; no monitor included), making it a great value for anyone looking for a basic home PC for managing photos, sending e-mail, surfing the Web, and performing other common tasks. But this machine isn’t for everyone: Its modest components–including Intel’s new, miniaturized, power-efficient Atom processor–earned an unimpressive performance score.
The Eee Box–the desktop sibling to Asus’s Eee PC notebook–comes equipped with Windows XP Home, a 1.6-GHz N270 Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 5400-rpm, 80GB, 2.5-inch SATA-150 hard drive. The Eee Box also has an integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics card with shared video memory.
Though the Eee Box will do fine for getting online and for word processing, it is not a robust unit by any measure, scoring just 36 on our PC WorldBench 6 tests. By comparison, the Dell Studio Hybrid, a compact desktop based on more-typical and more-powerful notebook components, achieved a WorldBench score of 78, more than double that of the Eee Box. The Box’s gaming performance is weak, too: It mustered no more than a paltry 4 frames per second in any of our tests.
In some ways, though, performance is not the point of the Eee Box: The system is clearly designed to be a basic, power-saving network-attached device that can stay on around the clock. According to Asus, the Box draws just 15 to 20 watts of power, which is less than what most notebooks consume. And the Eee Box can do plenty with what it has. For example, 720p high-definiton video played smoothly on the Eee Box (though I found 1080p video playback a little choppy).
The Eee Box doesn’t have an optical drive, but it does have four USB ports, so you can easily add an external drive. The unit also has gigabit ethernet and built-in draft-n Wi-Fi.
Our test unit came with Windows XP Home; a Linux version should ship later this year. The Eee Box starts up into ExpressGate, a pre-Windows interface that lets you boot into Windows, enter the BIOS, or use a simplified Linux-based environment that comes with a Web browser, instant messaging client, and Skype–all of which help make online access quick and easy. The ExpressGate preboot does not support CD or video playback.
With its white, boxy, angular design, the Eee Box recalls Apple’s Airport Extreme or Nintendo’s Wii. It includes a screw-on stand, as well as a VESA mount for attaching the system to the back of a monitor. And, unlike some ultracompact desktops, the Box includes a user-replaceable hard drive. It ships with a basic matching keyboard and mouse, but no display option.
The Eee Box is a great value that’s geared toward students, as well as home and small-office users. That the system comes with Windows XP Home, Microsoft Works, and Sun StarOffice only sweetens the deal.