Do discrete graphics and an HDMI port turn Asus' miniature marvel into the ultimate media centre?
There's still nothing quite like last year's EeeBox B202 in the desktop world. MSI has announced a competitor – the Wind Box UC100 – which has yet to arrive on shop shelves, and all other tiny PCs are either much slower and badly designed, or in a different financial league.
The B202's genius was to pack the internal gubbins from one of its EeePC netbooks into a shiny shell that's almost exactly the size of a bisected Nintendo Wii. At less than £250 it delivered just enough to do all the basic day-to-day stuff you need a PC for.
Even before it has a true competitor, though, Asus has released two minor revisions to the EeeBox. If that sounds alarm bells for veteran shoppers of the netbook wars, don't run for your foxhole just yet.
All the good bits
There are two new revisions to the EeeBox, the B204 (£320) and the B206 (£305). The only difference between the two is that the more expensive one supports the emergency UPS battery back-up.
The bulk of the technology inside is the same as the B202, but there are a few key differences, which justify the price rise.
All of these are intended to make it more suitable as a media centre. So long as you can overlook the fact that the EeeBox doesn't come with an optical drive, its size, style and silent operation make it a safe bet for putting in the lounge by your PC. Plus, it only draws a tenth of the power of a normal PC.
In the box you get a Microsoft remote control for quickly navigating through your media libraries and – if you have a USB TV tuner – Freeview channels.
The rubbish Intel graphics chip has been thrown out in favour of a slightly less rubbish AMD Radeon HD3450, which claims to give it a bit more decoding power for HD video.
It also means there's an HDMI out, for easy connection to an LCD TV and to round things off Asus has also included Bluetooth for hooking up a wireless keyboard, which is a cinch.
There's also Wireless-N for streaming movies from the net and an adaptor for digital audio out, so you can plug it straight into your sound system, too.
The problem, though, is that despite these considerable improvements, the EeeBox still doesn't cut it as an online video player. It can play 720p files, but only just. Getting anything like playable frame-rates involved a lot of messing around with decoder settings and a variety of different players on every video we tried – and it was still far from smooth.
Don't get us wrong, the EeeBox is still superb and every part of this revision is welcome – just don't expect it to be of the same calibre as the Mac Mini or Dell Studio Hybrid machines.
If you need a cheap second PC for SD video and casual desktop work, the EeeBox is sharply designed and simply brilliant for the price. For anything more, you'll have to splash out.
Asus EeeBox B204 review
An even better value budget desktop, but still only capable of basic tasks