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Asus Eee Box B202 Desktop System Evaluation
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Date: Aug 04, 2008
Section:Systems
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications


Asus certainly made a splash this year with their line of ultra-light, ultra-affordable Eee PC notebooks and they've been fleshing out the product line ever since with a wealth of new offerings, as the company continues to milk the product's successful brand name recognition for all it's worth.  Since their initial release we've seen a number of different notebook-based Eee PC products come to market, including machines pre-loaded with either Windows XP or Linux operating systems.  In addition, Asus has even brought out larger models, with the 10" display and near full size keyboard of the Eee PC 1000 series of notebooks, not to mention larger storage options and systems based on the new Intel Atom processor. 

And the end-user and modder community following that the Eee PC product line has garnered is something straight out of a business management text book case study.  How a company was able to create such a buzz and following behind a product line is something to observe and a success story that competitors will envy for product launches to come.  For starters, it's obviously safe to say that Asus put plenty of engineering resources behind their Eee PC project and you almost have to wonder, are they done yet?  Not quite.  In the realm of small form-factor, low cost computing, there's another market niche' that, believe it or not, the Eee product line has yet to bring out an offering for -- the low cost desktop. 

Today marks the introduction of the $349 Asus Eee Box but we've had a unit in house for the better part of a month now.  Just what does $349 buy you in terms of capabilities and features, in an absolutely tiny footprint?  You're about to find out.

   

Asus Eee Box B202
Features and Specifications

Processor: Intel Atom N270 (1.6 GHz, FSB 533)

Memory: DDRII-400 512 MB / 1 GB

Storage: 80 GB

Chipset: 945GSE + ICH7M

VGA: On-board Intel GMA 950

Networking: 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN, 802.11n WLAN

SD/MMC/MS slot: SD, SDHC, Mini SD, (Micro SD through adapter) ; MMC, MMC plus, MMC4.x, RS MMC, RSMMC4.x (MMC mobile through adapter);MS,MS PRO

Audio: Azalia ALC888 Audio Chip

Front Ports:
USB x 2
Card Reader x 1
Headphone-out jack (WO/SPDIF) x 1
MIC x 1

Rear Ports:
USB 2.0 x 2
Gigabit LAN x 1
DVI out x 1
Line-Out (L/R) with S/PDIF x 1
WiFi antenna

Accessories:
19Vdc, 4.74A, 65W power adaptor
Mouse
Keyboard
VESA mount
WiFi antenna
Stand

Dimensions: 8.5" x 7" x 1"
Net Weight: 2.2 lbs.
Gross Weight: 6.6 lbs.

OS: Windows XP Home Edition

Bundled Software:  StarOffice and MS Works

Configuration and MSRP:
$349 1GB memory, 80GB HDD, Windows XP


The Asus Eee Box is built around Intel's new Atom N270 processor, and as you can imagine, it just sips power.  We'll have more detail on this later but you'll note that the processor is clocked at a healthy 1.6GHz with a 533MHz FSB.  Our system came configured with 1GB of DDR2-400 system memory, though higher densities, as well as 512MB configurations, will be available too.  The Eee Box is also based on the Intel 945GSE Express mobile chipset with integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics and an ICH7 companion Southbridge I/O controller hub for enabling its SATA, USB and Gig-E LAN connections.  You'll also notice the machine is equipped with Realtek's ALC888 Azalia HD audio CODEC, but does only come with a single stereo audio output jack, though it also offers a combination S/PDIF output to any standard audio amplifier for a wider range of high fidelity stereo output.



 

  

Asus bundles the US configuration of the Eee Box with a USB keyboard and mouse, so the only thing you'll need is a monitor with DVI input, to be up and running, though a standard VGA connection can also be driven with a DVI-to-VGA adapter.  The Eee Box kit comes with a detailed User's Manual, a Quick Start Guide, a warranty card, and a couple of DVDs - one with the System Recovery image and the other a Support CD that contains a number of useful tools for reconfiguring or restoring the Eee Box, including a utility to create a bootable thumb drive with the factory OS image.  In addition to these items, Asus also included a 65W power adapter as well as a Vesa 100 adapter plate that actually allows you to mount the Eee Box on the backside of an LCD screen.
 

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A Closer Look and The Eee Box BIOS


There's no question, the Asus Eee Box is a sleek small form-factor PC that is both diminutive and stylish all at the same time.  With its clean, white construction, this machine is small enough and stylish enough for counter-top placement, or perhaps within the confines of a home theater setup.
 

 

 

The front side of the system is concealed with a trim cover door that opens to offer access to the power button, HD activity indicator light (both of these shine through the door), an SD/MMC flash card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone jack and microphone jack.  On the back side of the system is the 802.11n WiFi screw terminal (antenna not mounted here), power jack, DVI output, two more USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port and the system's stereo / S/PIF line output jack.  Though the Eee Box's casing is plastic, the system has a firm, sturdy feel and it seems to be made of quality materials.  The front trim door did feel a little flimsy, however.

 

 

Though we didn't venture into a full tear-down of the Eee Box, we did pull the system's top cover off, as well as pull its hard drive, in order to show you a couple of its upgrade options.  Getting inside the Eee Box is fairly simple task, if you're delicate enough with a standard flat-head screw driver in order to pull off the top side skin. For storage options, the Eee Box we tested came equipped with a standard 2.5" low power Seagate 80GB mobile hard drive.  You could conceivably upgrade any Eee Box with a larger hard drive just by pulling a couple of screws and sliding out the drive bay.  Also you can see the system uses standard notebook SODIMM modules and as such you also could upgrade the system with higher density DDR2 modules, versus the 2x512MB configuration we tested.  On a side note, as you can see in the close-up shot, the Eee Box comes standard with 400MHz memory.  Finally, as you can see with the system sitting next to an iPod Nano, the Eee Box about the smallest full function PC we've ever seen to date.

Upon re-assembly of the system, we powered it back up and dove into its BIOS menu options to have a look around.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not with Asus' long lineage of overclocking features, the Eee Box is fairly "tweakable" here.


   

   


The Emulation Type menu could come in handy if you're interested in working with external USB storage devices as bootable volumes.  This will allow you to set device types as either standard FDD drives or Hard Disk type drives.  In terms of system memory, you can see the Eee Box also supports DDR2-533 memory as well, with both 400MHz and 533MHz options available.  In fact, perhaps the best upgrade option you could look at for the Eee Box would be a 2GB SODIMM DDR2-533 kit.  In addition, you have the option of adjustable memory timings as well.  Also, in the Eee Box BIOS you're presented with options for overclocking not only the system's Atom CPU but also the Intel GMA 950 graphics core of the chipset...

 
Intel's Atom, jacked to 1.75GHz

At the BIOS menu's most aggressive setting, the Atom N270 processor is overclocked in the Eee Box from its stock 1.6GHz to 1.75GHz and system memory is set to 584MHz from it's stock 400MHz DDR2 clock speed.  An interesting notable here is that we never heard fan speeds kick up at these settings and our Eee Box was fully stable for a full benchmark run with PCMark 05.

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SANDRA Testing


Test Methodology:  Before we jump right into the benchmark comparisons, we'd like to explain a few things about our test setup.  We tested the Asus Eee Box as it came configured out of the box.  Windows XP SP2 Home Edition was installed as shipped from the factory as well, so all we did was load up our benchmarking software, executed a disk clean-up and then defragged the hard drive, rebooted and ran our tests.  We've provided additional benchmark reference numbers in the following pages from our recent
VIA Nano L1200 articles, only as a frame of reference.
 

Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks
SiSoft Sandra XII SP2C


We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA XII, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA XII suite with the Asus Eee Box (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth).  All of the scores reported below were taken with the system's default clock speeds of 1.6GHz, with 1GB of DDR2-400 system memory.
 

 
CPU Test
 
Mutlimedia Test
 
Memory Bandwidth Test


With a crazy low power consumption of just 2.5 watts, it's a wonder the Eee Box's Atom processor can even keep pace with the likes of the AMD Turion 64 ML-37 (35 watts) processor listed in the SANDRA reference numbers, but it's not too far off actually.  In the SANDRA Multimedia test, you can see the Eee Box and its Atom processor is actually able to outpace the AMD Sempron 2800+ (1.6GHz), the Pentium 4 at 2GHz and the Athlon XP 1600+ (1.4GHz) -- an impressive feat to be sure.  Finally, in terms of memory bandwidth, you'll note that this is not the Eee Box's strong suit but it does fall in line with a similarly configured Intel 945GMS notebook platform with PC2-4300 memory.
 
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PCMark 05 and LAME MT Performance


For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU, Memory, Graphics and HDD performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark05 suite.   Since the Eee Box is pre-configured with Windows XP, we were unable to run our current standard PCMark Vantage test suite for WIndows Vista.  However, the following tests should at least give you a simple baseline.

 Futuremark PCMark 05
 Synthetic Benchmarks

"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression.  The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing." - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.



Asus Eee Box - Stock Speed


Asus Eee Box - Maximum Overclock

First, with respect to these performance metrics, a good watermark might be a Core Duo T2400 (1.83GHz) CPU score that we've historically seen around the 4200 mark, with a DDR2-667 based memory score of around 2800.  Obviously the Eee Box and its ultra low power Atom processor at 2.5W, is going to clock in quite a bit lower than a true mobile dual core notebook platform.

Finally, we've also provided you a quick-take look at performance with our Eee Box overclocked to 1.75GHz.  With a little over a 9% clock speed increase, we pulled down an incremental 9.5% increase in PCMark05 CPU benchmark performance and our graphics and memory score perked up a bit as well.

 LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
 Converting a large WAV audio file to MP3

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.  In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.

Here the Eee Box posts slightly better scores in multi-threaded mode versus the Atom 230 reference system but slightly slower single threaded scores as well.  The VIA Nano reference system does chalk up a considerably faster time, especially since it can only run in single threaded mode.  Then again, it also consumes orders of magnitude more power at 18W versus the 2.5W Atom N270 powering the Eee Box.

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HD Video Tests

We're sure many of you are wondering just how well the Asus Eee Box might be able to double as an HTPC (Home Theater PC).  After all, it does have HD Audio output with an available S/PDIF port, an 80GB internal hard drive with the ability to expand via USB 2.0 connections and DVI output, which can utilized as a source for many HD TVs as well as computer monitors.  So we fired up some HD digital video content to see how the Eee Box might handle the load.

HD Video Playback Tests
720p and 1080p WMV HD Performance

The first clip we played was Fighter Pilot - Operation Red Flag, from the Microsoft WMV HD showcase site.  This clip is rendered in full 720p resolution and is fairly hearty workload for any integrated graphics-based system.


Fighter Pilot - Operation Red Flag - 720p WMV HD - Courtesy Microsoft


37% CPU utilization, playable

The Eee Box had no problem with playback of this clip and actually gave smooth, repeatable results in full screen mode as well.  We were seeing an average CPU utilization of about 35 - 50% with some higher spikes occasionally.

Next we took things up a notch and pulled up Journey Into Amazing Caves, an IMAX targeted film in full 1080p HD resolution.  This test would place significantly more workload on the system's CPU and graphics pipeline.


Journey Into Amazing Caves - 1080p WMV HD - Courtesy Microsoft


60%+ CPU utilization, not playable

Unfortunately, though the Eee Box was only oscillating with a CPU utilization of 60 - 70%, the playback experience of Amazing Caves was not up to par.  We witnessed many dropped frames and lots of stopping and starting.  Intel's GMA950 graphics core just isn't equipped to handle full 1080p HD content without a strong processor backing it up, since it offloads most of the processing to the CPU.

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Power Consumption and Synopsis

We have one final data point we'd like to cover before bringing this article to a close. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power the new Asus Eee Box consumed while idling and running under load.
 
 

Power Characteristics
Processors and Platforms

 
Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption here at the outlet.  In this test, we're showing you a ramp-up of power from idle on the desktop to full CPU load.


As the above graph illustrates, the Eee Box is absolutely miserly on power consumption, with only a slightly heavier draw than an Eee PC 900 system.  At a peak power consumption of only 22.3 Watts, it's hard not to be impressed with what the Eee Box can deliver in terms of its capabilities and performance per watt profile.  Note that our Atom and Nano reference systems consume significantly more power due to their standard full sized components, specifically hard drives, motherboards and system memory.

Boot and Application Load Times and  Performance Summary:  In terms of its general performance profile, the Asus Eee Box delivered more than we expected for its size, power consumption and price tag.  The machine provided a fluid experience in all but our full 1080p digital video playback test but held up to 720p playback with good quality.  System boot time was easily as fast as a standard entry-level desktop or notebook system, with application load times that felt snappy and responsive throughout testing.  We have a good test drive demo of the Eee Box in our Eee Box video spotlight, so be sure to check that out as well.


If Asus was looking to make another splash with the Eee Box, as they did with the Eee PC mini notebook, we think they've likely succeeded.  The Eee Box delivers a lot of functionality for its $349 price tag that also includes a keyboard and mouse (expected availability is August 11).  Though future upgrades of the system are really limited to only system memory or hard drive capacity, it's our humble opinion that the base value of the Eee Box is strong out of the gate and the consumer gets what they paid for and then some.  We were impressed with the system's responsiveness and capability to deliver fluid internet experience whether tethered to a wall over a Gig-E link or with its integrated 802.11n WiFi adapter.  Digital video playback was somewhat of a mixed bag however, with the system showing capability up through standard DV content and 720p HD content but falling flat at full 1080p playback.

In some respects, when we think about what the capabilities of a $349 desktop system should be like, we can't help but be impressed what Asus has achieved and the overall value of the Eee Box.  What's more impressive though is the Eee Box's absolutely tiny form-factor and completely miserly power consumption.  The original Eee PC notebook cultivated quite an enthusiastic following in the marketplace and we think the Eee Box is likely to as well.  When you stop to think of the numerous embedded applications for a computer this size (kiosk, digital signage, car computer, etc), the market acceptance of the Eee Box should by all rights be just as impressive as previous generation Eee PC products.

 



  • Tiny Footprint
  • Ultra Low Power Consumption
  • Nicely stylish
  • Ultra Quiet
  • Performs well for the price
  • Can't handle 1080p digital video
  • Slightly flimsy front door cover

 



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