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ASUS S-presso Deluxe (S1-P111)
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Date: Jun 02, 2005
Section:Systems
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction to the S-presso Deluxe

With the advent of the mini-PC, a completely new industry has been born.  Well, maybe it isn't so new anymore, but what started out almost as a novelty has matured into a major craze in the enthusiast market.  Today's mini-PCs come in a broad range of flavors with a wide variety of features.  Sitting high atop the list of unique mini-PCs is ASUS' latest offering, the S-press Deluxe (S1-P111) mini-barebones PC. 

As the "deluxe" name implies, the S-presso Deluxe is the most feature laden of two models ASUS is offering.  The standard model follows a more typical mini-PC approach, while the Deluxe brings some unique options not commonly found in other offerings.  The main selling point of the S-presso Deluxe is its InstantON option, allowing users to power up the unit in a matter of seconds to access MP3 files, Music CDs, TV, Radio, DVDs and more.  Clearly, ASUS wanted to deliver something different and as you will see, the S-presso Deluxe was not born from the typical mini-PC mold.

With the goal being an innovative system that can be the centerpiece of your home entertainment needs, the S-presso Deluxe has a lot of features to help it live up to expectations.  Today, we're going to assess all of the features of the S-presso Deluxe in detail, from general construction to installation and overall usability.  In the end, we hope to paint a clear picture of what the ASUS S-presso has to offer and see just how it might fit into your multimedia PC game plan.

Specifications of the S-presso Deluxe (S1-P111) from ASUS
Eye Catching Style
Chassis Dimension(inches): 9.5W x 7.1H x 13D

Material: SECC, ABS

Motherboard Model: P4P8T

CPU Support Socket: 478

Chipset North Bridge: Intel 865G

Chipset South Bridge: ICH 5

IDE Interface: ATA 100

S-ATA: Yes

Expansion Slots: AGP x 1, PCI x 1

Graphics Chipset: Intel Extreme Graphics Integrated

Audio: 6 Channel

Drive Bays: 5.25"/3.5"/Slim: 1/1/0

Front Panel: USB 2.0: 2

MIC/Headphone: 1/1

S/PDIF: Optical Out

 

Rear Panel: USB 2.0 4

Line-in/Line-out/MIC: Yes

S/PDIF: Optical Out

Serial Port: N/A

Parallel Port: 1

VGA: D-SUB x 1

TV-out: N/A

LAN RJ45 Connector: Yes

Memory Card Reader: 7-in-1

Power Supply: 220W (PFC)

Key Features:
Tool-less Design
ASUS Instant On
ASUS Home Theater
LED Touch Panel
Remote Control
TV Tuner Card


When we opened the package, we found a complete collection of hardware, software, manuals and other documentation included with the S-presso Deluxe.  The bundle included a series of installation CDs including the InstantON software, InterVideo's Home Theater 2 and a Drivers/Setup disk.  Additionally, ASUS provided superb documentation with a Software User's Guide, Hardware User's Guide and Quick Setup diagram.  The S-presso Deluxe also came with a full-sized remote control as well as the batteries to power it.  A copper-base heat pipe CPU cooler is included to marry up to a socket 478 Pentium 4, which doubles as a case fan in an effort to control system noise.  Lastly, was the cabling to support a number of the unit's features including FM Antenna, power cord, video-in, SATA, etc.

    

    

As we can see, ASUS supported the S-presso Deluxe with a solid compliment of periphery, leaving the user with little to desire.  More so, some models will be offered with a DVD-ROM and Hard drive as well as an optional TV-Tuner, which was included with our review sample.

Next, we're going to take an in depth look at the S-presso Deluxe itself, then we'll see the unit in action and touch on all of the features it brings to the table.

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A Closer Look at the S-presso Deluxe - Outside
The ASUS S-presso Deluxe (S1-P111) Up Close - Outside
Its Got Style

On the outside, the S-presso Deluxe was designed to be eye-catching in a number of ways.  The outer shell is dark blue and comes with a carry handle molded into the top.  The appearance is slick and modern, although the entire shell is plastic, cheapening the feel somewhat.  The front of the case sports the unit's touch sensitive panel that let's you access all of the InstantON features.  The only buttons to be found are the Power and CD-ROM eject buttons.  The remaining features are touch sensitive that sense when contact has been made, a very cool feature for sure, which we'll explorer further in our InstantON segment.  When the system has booted into Windows, the on-screen display can be configured as a marquee, scrolling CPU and System temps and Fan speeds across the screen.  Additionally, a temperature gauge is also present, when booted into Windows, reporting the temperature of the CPU in real-time.

    

The S-presso Deluxe comes equipped with a 7-in-1 card reader integrated into the front left of the unit.  Additionally, the lower part of the panel provides access to a Microphone and Headphone port as well as 2 USB ports.  This offers simple accessibility when looking to connect a Digi-cam, Video Camera, MP3 player or other device.  When not in use, the Card Reader and aforementioned inputs are concealed by doors that blend nicely with the overall face of the unit, giving it a clean look.

    

The rear of the S-presso Deluxe sports an additional four USB 2.0 ports, Line-In, Line-Out, and Microphone ports along with Optical SPDIF outputs.  The unit supports PS/2 mouse and keyboard connections and has a standard Parallel port and VGA output driven by the unit's integrated graphics.

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A Closer Look at the S-presso Deluxe - Inside
The ASUS S-presso Deluxe (S1-P111) Up Close - Inside
Its Got Style

To open the S-presso Deluxe, ASUS came up with a unique hinged design that we found difficult to work with.  In order to open the S-presso, the front panel must first be removed.  When doing this, we found a series of coiled springs used to sense the touch panel, which conducted to the circuit board behind it.  When we took the door off, one of the springs inadvertently fell off.  This wasn't a major problem, but if you do not put the correct end on, the sensor it is attached to will not function.  Once the front panel is removed, a screw at the rear of the unit needs to be loosened, then the shell slides forward about a half inch so the hinged mechanism can move freely.  We found the sliding part very difficult, having to tap the handle forward several times to get it to budge.  Even after doing the process several times, it never got any easier and we suspect a number of users will find this frustrating.

    

Once the unit was opened, the inner components are exposed and easily accessed.  At the core of the unit was ASUS' P4P8T micro-ATX motherboard which is driven by the Intel I865G Chipset.  Supporting older Socket 478 Pentium 4 processors and DDR1, the S-presso Deluxe is a little behind the performance times, but is still a generally powerful system.  With one AGP and one PCI slot, there is little room for growth, especially if the PCI slot is occupied by the optional TV-Tuner, a WinFast TV2000 XP Expert.  Two DIMM slots are provided for a maximum of 2GB of PC3200 memory while the integrated graphics is powered by Intel's Extreme Graphics capable of accessing 32MB of shared-memory.

    

Powering the S-presso Deluxe is a 220w PSU that is held in place with a simple retention clip.  The PSU needs to be removed in order to mount the custom CPU cooler, which was a simple, painless task.  User's looking to install a power hungry GeForce 6800 may be pushing their luck if it's an ultra, but our standard ASUS V9999 GeForce 6800 GE seemed to be perfectly happy during our benchmarking phase and was listed as an approved card for the S-presso.  Nonetheless, power is something to consider if a power-hungry after market card is going to be installed.

Overall, the S-presso Deluxe is a potent little unit that suffers from some construction issues as well as a few feature issues.  For one, the system lacks a TV-Out option, a common staple in mini-PCs and something that was expected with this type of machine.  Additionally, with the integrated TV tuner installed, there is no room for a sound card.  While the integrated audio was OK for average PC speakers, the output was lacking when connected to a stereo receiver input.  With ASUS pushing the S-presso Deluxe as a centerpiece for your home entertainment needs, these two issue become majors strikes against an otherwise impressive mini-PC, making us wonder just how much of a "centerpiece" it can truly be.  On a more positive note, we found the assembly of the system components to be a smooth process.

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ASUS S-presso Deluxe BIOS Options
BIOS Menu Options
Overview

The AMI BIOS driving the S-presso Deluxe's yielded few surprises.  The system was not designed for overclocking, therefore, the BIOS menu was devoid of any such options.  Nonetheless, the system was still relatively flexible with performance options, allowing for a fair degree of control.

    

There was a fair amount of memory options, including voltage adjustment from 2.6 to 2.7 volts.  The frequency was adjustable from SPD, 266, 333 and 400MHz.  From a timings standpoint, the CAS latency ranged from 2, 2.5 and 3 as we would expect. 

    

The integrated video could be set to access system memory in increments of 1, 4, 8, 16 and 32MB while the Aperture setting peaked at 256MB.

    

The hardware monitor feature offered insight into the current state of critical system temperatures, Fan speeds and voltages.  The Smart-Q fan option allowed for automatic system fan throttling based on load, which did a great job of minimizing system fan noise.  When it came down to using the S-presso Deluxe, there is no doubt that this is one of the quietest mini-PCs to come along in a while.

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InstantON Part I - Setup
InterVideo InstantON Part I - Setup
Something New

InstantON is a small, Linux based OS developed by InterVideo to work in conjunction with the S-presso Deluxe's hardware.  Setup takes only a moment with a simple boot CD, but can be time consuming due to poor installation instructions.  The user manual instructs the user to install InstantON before installing Windows XP, or any other OS, but there is a catch. With InstantON installed first, Windows XP can no longer install on drive "C", which is essential for proper Windows installations. ASUS makes light of the potential pitfall, instructing the user to continue with their Windows installation and simply reassign the Windows Partition drive letter when the installation completes. Here lies a major flaw in that logic. For one, we don't think that is a good solution, reassigning the drive letter of the boot partition is just bad practice. Secondly, those instructions will only work if the boot partition was set for FAT32. When using NTFS, Windows does not permit drive letter reassignment of the boot partition. Furthermore, as many of you know, with any partition over 30GB, Windows automatically formats the partition with NTFS and does not give the option for FAT32. Therefore, while ASUS' instructions are correct "technically", it is lacking in detail. Ultimately, we suspect that most users will exceed that 30GB threshold and follow these instructions only to find they cannot reassign the drive letter as instructed.

    

After testing various scenarios for our own information, we planned things out a little differently. Using our 120GB hard drive, we installed Windows XP first and chose to manually size the partition, leaving 225MB of extra hard drive space at the end. InstantON only needs 200MB but we didn't want to split hairs here.  After completing the Windows installation, we followed the instructions to install InstantON and everything worked properly moving forward.  We should also note that the second set of instructions states that InstantON can be installed on a hard drive with Windows already in place as long as the Windows partition doesn't take up the entire drive.  So our installation method basically takes from this and avoids any drive letter issues as outlined in their primary installation instructions.

Perhaps ASUS needs to revisit these instructions and simply tell the user to make sure they leave 200MB of unpartitioned space on their drive so InstantON can install after Windows has been installed on the hard drive. Sadly, we suspect their cavalier approach to the matter is going to cost them a lot of technical support time and their customers a lot of frustration.

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InstantON Part II - Features
InterVideo InstantON Part II - Features
Breaking it Down

From a feature perspective, we found InstantON to offer a complete, stable experience.  The OS consisted of the following components; TV, Radio, Music, MP3, DVD, VCD and Photo.  By simply pressing the Power on the remote or touching the InstantON power on the front of the S-presso, we were up and running in 10-15 seconds.  From here, we simply touched the Mode option to cycle through each of the functions.  Additionally, channels and volume could be adjusted by simply touching the appropriate area on the display.

By default, the TV tuner component loads when the system launches.  The Tuner component worked beautifully, automatically scanning for channels the first time the system was launched.  We also like the amount of configurability built into the OS, allowing for a significant amount of control over picture quality, audio settings, channel programming and more.  The image quality was pretty good overall for an analog tuner and as you can see below, the touch screen displayed the current channel status at all times.

The FM Radio tuner was simple to use, with a large, easy to read display.  The software allowed for the saving of station presets and also provided a decent amount of control over the software's behavior. The touch panel reported the station as well, so a video screen is not necessary at all times.

The Music and MP3 modules were separate choices on the menu but appeared to be the same interface.  This was one of the strong points of the S-presso Deluxe, allowing for simple playback of standard audio CDs and well as accessing an MP3 library on any of the system's drives.  The only thing missing was that artist and song information did not appear on the display, which we thought would be a nice touch.

Analog TV
FM Radio
Music/MP3
DVD

DVD playback was also excellent, with all the features we would expect from a typical software DVD player.  Image quality was very good and, like the TV component, was quite configurable.  The menu choices rivaled that of WinDVD, allowing for complete control over the DVD playback options, probably more so than a stand-alone DVD player.  Rounding out the InstantON was the ability to access Photos and VCDs as well, although we couldn't get the Photo module to work.

Overall, we found the InstantON software quite complete with a broad range of features and options.  The user interface was very intuitive, leaving us with few instances where we needed to access the user's manual to clarify a feature.  Another major strong point of InstantON is the system can be powered on and controlled completely with the Remote Control included in the package.   Conversely, while the features and function of the InstantON software was impressive, it only works with the integrated video.  This is a severe limitation in our opinion, since the lack of a TV-out option would require an AGP card be installed.  Again, for a product being peddled as the centerpiece of your home entertainment, it severely limits the user's ability to tap the unit's fullest potential.

On the upside, if an AGP card is installed and you want to output to a TV, ASUS included their own flavor of InterVideo's Home Theater 2 software which functions within Windows.  Next, we'll do an overview of Home Theater's feature set.

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ASUS/InterVideo Home Theater 2
ASUS/InterVideo Home Theater
A Media Center Feel

Handling the multimedia experience from within Windows, ASUS included a rebranded version of InterVideo's Home Theater 2.  This is a very complete media center software package, sporting many quality features.  Installation of the software was quick and easy, as was its initial setup.  Home Theater 2 covered many of the same functions of the InstantON software, marrying up well to the Remote Control.  Like InstantON, the functions also display information related to their functions on the front panel display, although the touch sensors did not function from within Windows.

    

Home Theater offered a brief setup script that walked us through configuring the key components of the software.  After configuring such features as TV source input, audio quality and programming a few favorite channels, we were ready to go.

    

As with InstantON, image quality was decent with the TV-Tuner, although it is not a replacement for an analog TV.  The remote control worked flawlessly, giving us virtually instant response times to our commands. The DVD and Radio components also lived up to expectation, performing quite well, however, management of a large MP3 collection can be a bit unwieldy with the Music component.

    

Home Theater 2 is an excellent alternative to Window Media Center 2005, especially when all of this comes included in the package.  While Media Center 2005 is a bit slicker and more functional in our opinion, the included TV-Tuner is not compatible with the Microsoft OS, so Home Theater is the best solution.

From a performance standpoint, the software delivered well on features and functionality. The interface was easy to read and worked well with the Remote Control included with the S-presso.  The software could be configured to run with Windows so it is the default interface when Windows loads.  This is especially useful when a video card is installed and the unit is connected to a television.

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Benchmarking - HH Test Bed and SANDRA
HotHardware Test Bed
Covering The Bases

System 1:
Intel Pentium 4-C 2.4GHz
S-press Deluxe w/P4P8T micro-ATX
Intel 865G Chipset
2X256MB Kingston PC3500
NVIDIA GeForce 6800
Onboard 10/1000 Ethernet
Onboard Audio
Western Digital 120GB 7200RPM
Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel Chipset Drivers v6.3.0.1007
NVIDIA ForceWare v71.84
DirectX 9.0c
System 2:
Intel Pentium 4-C 2.4GHz
ABIT AI7 865 Motherboard
Intel 865PE Chipset
2X256MB Kingston PC3500
NVIDIA GeForce 6800
Onboard 10/1000 Ethernet
Onboard Audio
Western Digital 120GB 7200RPM
Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel Chipset Drivers v6.3.0.1007
NVIDIA ForceWare v71.84
DirectX 9.0c

SiSoft Sandra 2004

S-presso - CPU
S-presso - Multimedia
S-presso - Memory

AI7 - CPU

AI7 - Multimedia

AI7 - Memory

We typically like to run a few common tests with SiSoft SANDRA to get an idea of how a particular motherboard performs.  As a frame of reference, we included the results from another 865PE based board in Abit's AI7.  Overall, the S-presso virtually equalled the CPU and Multimedia performance of the reference board, showing its performance was on-par with what we should expect.  Memory performance didn't yield any surprises either, so we'll move along to some more comprehensive testing.

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Benchmarking - PCMark04 and 3DMark05
FutureMark PCMark04
More Synthetic CPU & Memory Benchmarks

Continuing our synthetic testing, we loading up FutureMark's PCMark04 to broaden the scope of system performance.  In this and all future test, we've included the results with integrated graphics as well as with an ASUS V9999 GeForce 6800 GE vide card installed.

The biggest performance deltas we have to compare is with the Graphics module and Total score.  Naturally, performance with integrated graphics was very low, therefore affecting the total score.  Interestingly, the S-presso Deluxe managed the best CPU results with integrated graphics, while memory performance favored the reference Abit board.  With a GeForce 6800 installed, graphics performance between to two test beds was within 10 points of one another.

3DMark05 - CPU Testing Module
DirectX Gaming Performance

With 3DMark05, we focused on the CPU test, as we are really here to assess the motherboard's performance, more so than graphics performance.

The integrated Intel Graphics of the 865G chipset is not capable of running 3DMark05.  With the GeForce 6800 test card in place, both boards were close in performance, with the edge favoring the AI7 by 50 3DMarks.

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Benchmarking - Video Encoding Tests

Another way to assess a processor's performance is to run a series of video-encoding tests.  Video encoding is extremely CPU and Memory bandwidth intensive and has proven to be a good method for gauging overall CPU performance.  In the next two segments we ran a series of common encoding tasks and timed the complete process.  During the first test, we utilized XMPEG to encode a 110MB MPEG to AVI.  The second test used Windows Media Encoder 9 to convert a 416MB AVI to a WMV file.

XMPEG 5.03 & Windows Media Encoder 9
Digital Video Encoding

With Windows Media Encoder, the S-presso gave its best performance with integrated graphics, completing the test in 3:37.  Second was the Abit AI7 while we saw the slowest results with the S-presso and the 6800, taking full 10 seconds longer to complete.

With XMPEG, the scores were more in-line with what we would expect.  The S-presso turned out the best overall score with the GeForce 6800, trailed by the AI7.  Overall, however, we're talking a matter of three seconds between the three scenarios.

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Benchmarking - Doom 3 and Half-Life 2
Benchmarking with Doom 3 and Half-Life 2
Low-Res Gaming Test

Another way to measure CPU performance is to run a series of gaming benchmarks with low resolution settings.  When we reduce rendering resolution and effects detail on the graphics card, it drops the demand on the graphics subsystem tremendously, essentially taking it out of the equation.  This, in turn, means the overall scores are more representative of CPU and Memory performance, which is our focus in this review.

Like 3DMark05, the integrated graphics of the S-presso was not up to the task with Doom3.  Surprisingly, Half-Life did run, but as you can see, it was nothing to brag about.  With the GeForce 6800 in place, the two systems were close, with the S-presso falling a step behind in each case.  With Doom3, there was a 2 FPS differential while Half-Life 2 was closer to 4.5 FPS in favor of the AI7.  Overall, these differences would not be noticeable in real life usage.

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Benchmarking - Content Creation & Business Winstone
Business & Content Creation Winstone
Real-World Application Performance

PC Magazine's Winstone Test Suite is an excellent benchmarking tool for testing the CPU, memory, and overall system performance in business and professional applications.  Content Creation Winstone focuses on common media intensive tasks, while Business Winstone assesses general workstation application performance.  Below is a breakdown of each package's software complement that is used to issue an overall score when complete.

       Content Creation 2004 v1.0.1        Business Winstone 2004 v1.0.1
  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 7.5b
  • Steinberg WaveLab 4.0f
  • Microsoft Access 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft FrontPage 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Norton Antivirus Professional Edition 2003
  • WinZip 8.1

Rounding out the benchmarks, we saw an interesting picture with the Winstone test suite.  Like we saw on a couple of occassions earlier, the S-presso managed its best score with Content Creation with integrated graphics.  In fact, it was the best score of the three scenarios, topping out at 21 points.  The score slipped a fraction with the 6800 installed while the AI7 lagged by 1.5 points.  Conversely, Business Winstone was the complete opposite, with the S-presso adding 1.2 points to its score with the 6800 installed.  The AI7 topped this test at 19.2, a full 1.4 points over the S-presso's best score.

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Final Thoughts

When drawing conclusions on a relatively unique piece of equipment, we needed to break things up a bit when collecting our thoughts on the S-presso Deluxe.  As we reported, the S-presso Deluxe comes with a number of unique features, but is not without its problems.  To try to keep things organized, we'll break things down into categories for clarity.

Construction:  The S-presso is a slick looking machine, with its dark blue color and novel illuminated touch panel.  The touch panel was an impressive feature that worked nicely.  We did find the all plastic construction to take away from the overall impressions of the S-presso's case, cheapening the feel.  We also didn't care too much for the method for opening the case.  We continually struggled with the sliding hinged mechanism, having to literally hit the handle forward several times to get it to move.  What the design did deliver on was an extremely quiet experience.  Even under heavy load with the system sitting three feet away on our test bench, the S-presso Deluxe was exceptionally quiet.

Setup:  Our biggest issue with the setup of the InstantON software was the poor instructions.  We think a lot of users are going to be in for some headaches if they actually follow the steps to the "T".  In our experience, we recommend leaving a small amount of unpartitioned space on the drive for InstantON, but installing Windows first.  This follows along the lines of their second set of instructions regarding installing to a hard drive with Windows already present.  We do not believe instructing the user to simply reassign the drive letter of the Windows partition should ever be considered a viable option.  On an up note, hardware installation was a breeze, thanks to easy access provided by the cases unique design.

Features:  There is no arguing the S-presso has a lot of features, but they seem to work against each other where it counts.  First, there is the lack of a TV-Out on a system pushed as a home theater centerpiece.  Yes, you can add an AGP card, which will add TV-Out with the right card, but this kills the InstantON feature.  Yes, you can use the Home Theater 2 software, but then why buy the Deluxe model if you are going to negate the InstantON features with the installation of a video card?  The other alternative is to leave the system with its integrated graphics and run the entire experience through a monitor.  It just doesn't quite add up to us.  On the plus side, being able to power on a computer system with a remote control is an awesome feature.

Performance:  When comparing the performance of the S-presso to a similarly equipped comparison board, the performance was on-par with what we should expect.  The performance deltas between the two were close throughout our testing.  Overall, user's would be hard pressed to notice the slight variations in real-world usage.

In summary, we were both impressed and frustrated with the S-presso Deluxe.  The unit seemed to have so much potential, yet we felt our hands were tied whenever we tried to take full advantage of its features.  On the one hand, you can have a deluxe multimedia PC that supports InstantON but is limited to standard VGA video with integrated graphics.  On the other hand, you can add an AGP card with TV-Out support and essentially disable many of the deluxe features you bought the unit for in the first place, namely InstantON.  The obvious solution would be to simply add TV-out to the machine, opening things up and allowing the S-presso Deluxe to truly fit the model of a home theater centerpiece.  Instead, with the potential difficulties in setup coupled with the aforementioned design flaws, the S-presso Deluxe is more of a proof-of-concept that is somewhat limited. 

We give the ASUS S-presso Deluxe a Hot Hardware Heat Meter rating of...

 

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