The times of big, ugly and dust swirling home computers are gone. Oh well, u might see them at my employer. if you dare. The ION technology teammig with the Intel Atom CPU`s a new style of home computers invaded our livingrooms. With dimmensons that are expected, with performance which is tollerable. Got one and will be a pleasure to share some of my experience with this baby.

First steps

taking out of the box and choosing the future place for the device. Either to get it with the stand (looks fancy), mount in vesa mode to the TV (looks invisible) or just lay it on the shelf (looks okay). Connecting the few cables should not be a problem. For video (and audio) the HDMI will be the pick No1, the rest of the cables is not a huge list (power, LAN, keyboard/mouse dongle)

You may wanna consider what OS to run on the device. I`ve choosed Windows 7 Ultimate, 32bit. Installing the 64bit doesn`t make a difference, the performance ain`t  any better. As mentioned in chapter Stability, please start with BIOS. Afterwards you find out, that the version “w/o OS” contains a 100MB partition with some Unix clone UI. The application starts quite fast (15 sec after pushing the power button) but is quite user unfrendly . Allows basic stuff (Youtube, pictures, music, simple games)

I strongly suggest to get rid of that partition and reach for a mature OS – Windows or Unix (your choice). The following is for Windows users. Create a system partition (if using Windows 7 make it a 50GB) This has more advantages – you have plenty of room for system apps and on the other hand mirroring such a quite small partition is quite easy

Installing Windows

The standard way of installing Windows gets suprising at the moment of identifying network componetns. Althoug Windows is able to correcty recognize the WLAN and accually start using it (if a WiFi is possible in the area), but not able to find the LAN – the driver for the realtek based chip is found on the instalation CD.

First you want to get running well after the succesful W7 instalation is the screen. I strongly suggest to visit the web of N-Vidia and look for the ION2 GPU drivers. The latest when writing this can be found in HERE .Depends on the screen connected to the device, in my case a full HD resolution is set (1900×1080 and 32 bit colors). Its maybe time again to reach for the instalation CD found in the box. Installing NM-10 drivers for the CPU bridges and the USB3 drivers and you are actually done with the instalation CD. Run Windows Update before installing anything futher and test it after few reboots. You might already figured out that you need to adjust the fonts and icons. When using the LCD TV as a screen, that’s just the penalty to pay. Balance it so u acctually see what you are doing and to keep a decent mass of  desktop size

The further step (and very important) is to install the newest Flash drivers – you wanna watch youtube vids in HD flawless I hope. We finisth the instalation of AV soft and of course our pack of favoirite apps for documents, browsing, fun & photos. All you need a home computer for

Multimedia & Accessories

The actual and main purpose of the device is the combination of HW + LCD TV acting as a Multimedia centre. This is why this device was chosen. There are many possibilities, including Microsoft`s Media Center. After testing it for some time, i`ve decided for an open source solution called XBMC. More information about the app is found on their homepage

A bit dissapointing is the human interface. Means remote, keyboard & mouse. The remote is packed with buttons, has a very nice grip. Bottons glow in the dark. That would be about it of the list of Pros. There is no delivered app to mount (bind) the keys. A pity. Although i did not give up yet

The keyboard and mouse from the box are not bad. Rather tiny, but not bad. However a big minus – the mouse tail is really long. yes, unfortunetlly bothe mouse & keyb are wired, which goes against the huge possibilities of the device as a HTPC. Threw both away and started tu use the Trust Wireless entertainment keyboard. That is something, that such a great device deserves, includes a keyboard and a trackball. Wicked

The device has altogether 6 USB ports (if u installed the NEC drivers the 2 in front are high speed USB 3.0), the rest is in the back. The DVD drive is fine, however I would suggest playing movies from the hadrdrive. Makes sometimes scary noises. Nothing is perfect, right?

XBMC

As mentioned before, the multimedia interface is powered by XBMC The latest version (Dharma – 10.1) is absolutly stable. Downloading it and using with the default theme “Confluence” for over than 250 hours playing movies and audio w/o single freeze. Default settings may be used for most of the situation. There are several, what i have encountered as important to have taken care of

  • weather plug in – for those of you who live in Europe and use Celsius. Suprisingly, this is not found in Weather. The path is Settings ->Appearance -> International. Choose Europe
  • HD video acceleration by GPU – Go to System ->Video -> Playback -> Allow HW Acceleration (DXVA2). Prerequisite to this are of course the actual GPU drivers

No codecs or other 3rd party players are required. of course you might want to install either Media player or VLC to run videos inside Windows and not to start the Media center (XBMC) for a video covering your little nephew riding a bike for the first time. You might wanna consider installing Winamp or other well known audio player. While XBMC plays music in a very nice coat, the possibilities to make playlists are very limited

Stability

As mentioned, device is beeing run with a 32 bit version of Windows 7 – Ultimate. A big mistake of me was to install the OS prior installing the newest BIOS version. That resulted to BSOD with a uknown error code. Tried to use the OS built in solution of recovery, was unsuccesful. A clean instalation helped. My advice is to instal the newest version of BIOS (current version is 0302) and then instal the OS + SP + patches. Currently the actuual instalation is running 4 months (almost verey day) with zero errors. That means with no reboots, no freezes, no hold-ups.

Somehow connected to the stability is the fact, that the device does not get hot. Around the powerbutton, where the CPU is located is it warm, but still can keep a hand on the cover. The CPU health gets ca 45 C of the CPU after several hoursof using W7 and XBMC

Noise level

Not many people live in a sound-isulated unit. Neither do I. To be honest, didn`t have the equipment to test the noise level of the device. But in between of sounds of doves on the roof, fridge and gas heater somewhere at the other end of the flat you can`t really say “that box is noisy” Accually u can`t even say you hear it, cos you don`t. Not from 2 meters when u sit on the couch. Of course the build in DVD drive is noticable. On the other hand, the hard drive isn`t. When playing movies from the HDD, there is abslolutely not a squeek

Tied somehow together is the fact how is the cooling. To be honest, I have no clue if its active or passive. But I would vote for the passive one, because as well with a ear on the device no sounds of a fan are noticable. Watch your ear though, the top of the device can get more that warm after hours of playing HD movies

Performance

Let`s see this computer as a SUV. You get a way better space in a station wagon. You get a better performance in a sport car and a better mileage in a compact. What makes this computer perfect for a home computer is its high versatility, low power consumption & space requrements. The design is everybody`s decision, I would be happier for a piano black surface. Well, I never get what I want

The buyer has to have in mind what was this machine choosed for. If the main focus lies in HD movies (and actually media player), internet surfing and documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) and the other activities are somehow not that frequent (high-res photo enhancement, video cutting & games) the little Asus proves a perfect buy

To see the computer in action, I`ve decided to try systemtic and as well practical tests. tested in Sandra 2011, Aida 32  and various other situation and simulation. The reference to the EeeBox were these systems:

  • IBM T42 – AMD Pentium m 725 (1,6Ghz), 2GB DDR, ATI9600 64MB, WD 60GB IDE, XP
  • Desktop 1 – MA74GM-S2H, AMD A64 X2 4450+ EE 2GB DDR2 800Mhz, SGT 160GB SATA/300, XP
  • Desktop 2 – MA69GM-S2H, AMD A64 X2 4000+ EE, 2GB DDR2 800Mhz, WD 320GB SATA II, Vista

Both reference desktops had their onboard graphics chip equiped (no stand-alone GPU installed) – that meets my requirements for a home computer

The app tests show a very good graphics performance (compared to on-board GPU`s), also the storage performance is very nice. As expected, the CPU is the weakest link in the performance chain. The synthetic results (Aida32) show very decent level of multimedia power of the EeeBox

Some of facts about the little Eeebox suited for unpatient people. The computer does not support hibernation. A pity, because it would be accessible litterarry in seconds. Good news is, that the startup (since pushing the button to W7 w/o activity is 53 seconds. With Avira Antivirus. Great score, I`d say

Conclusion

If you don`t mind that its a bit more expensive, it will prove itself as a great and versatile home device. With a aftermarket wireless mouse & keyboard you will encounter a new generation of home computer

Pro & Cons

+ compact dimension

+ low power consumption

+ 6 USB ports (2 USB 3.0 High-speed)

+ flawless HD movies (Matroska) and youtube video playback

+ stability & noise level

– limited functionality of remote (no SW included)

– wired keyboard and mouse in the package

– small HDD

– no Blueray drive

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