To say we’ve been looking forward to this one would be verging on understatement of the year. Asus’ Eee Box takes the principles laid down by its Eee notebook range – usability and a ridiculously low price – and applies them to the desktop. Exciting, n’est pas?
It may be tiny and cheap, but the Eee box is still well designed and eschews frippery and extras in favour of only the basic computing needs. But is it another bold statement of technological minimalism or the Oxfam relief of laptops, just enough to sustain your daily needs while you pray for something better?
Simple but striking
From the outside, the Eee Box is lovely. Narrower but taller than a Wii, it’s arguably more graceful even than its Mac Mini rival, and perches on a simple wire stand. It’s simple – there are no garish logos or lighting – and only essential connections defile its trim lines.
Around the back there’s an ethernet port, a DVI out for video and an analogue/optical TOS link for sound. There are two USB ports – for keyboard and mouse – and an antenna for boosting the Wireless N signal.
Underneath the front flap, there are two more USB sockets, audio out and mic in jacks and a multi card reader that’s good for MMC and Memory Sticks.
There is, you will notice, no DVD drive. On the whole, we’re comfortable with this – it doesn’t stop netbooks being ace, and the only real drawback in this day of downloadable software is that you can’t easily back up photos and files.
Eee PC innards
Inside the case, it’s identical to Eee 901. A single core Intel Atom processor couples with a gigabyte of memory and an 80GB hard drive for as basic a computer as you can realistically get away with these days.
You won’t be playing games more complex than Minesweeper, but you will be able to word process, surf the web, listen to music and watch video without too much in the way of noticeable slowdown.
Then there’s the price: less than 200 quid. For about £30 more you can get a ‘proper’ PC with a rudimentary dual core processor and a disc drive, but it won’t be as good looking, as quiet and as energy efficient as the Eee Box. And it’ll be a giant plastic monstrosity of hubristic underachievement.
Right now, though, the Eee Box doesn’t quite live up to the dream. Unlike the Eee PC, it doesn’t come with everything you need pre-installed. There’s no office suite or antivirus software, for example.
There are also two operating systems – Windows XP and Asus’ own Express Gate. Booting takes you into Express Gate in a very convenient six seconds, but once there you’re limited to web browsing and messaging, and we had problems accessing the hard drive without continuing into Windows.
Windows XP is as friendly as ever, but we have serious concerns about how the Atom chip will cope after, say, a couple of months of antivirus updates and software installs. We suspect that the normal course of Windows slowdown will destroy the machine’s performance completely.
Worse, the graphics output is limited to 1280x800 in Windows, which we hope can be upped with a driver patch.
We like the Eee Box, but we’d recommend waiting for the Xandros version – the same lightweight but fully featured operating system as the netbooks – which will arrive later in the year. Or holding out to see how the better specced Dell Studio performs.