As likeable as Asus' previous versions of the EeeBox and Acer's Revo have been, there's never quite been a compelling case for inviting a 'netbox' into your home. They make for a commendable experiment in small form-factor computing, but aren’t quite useful enough to pick in favour of something like the Mac Mini.
There's more ports on the front of the EeeBox 1501 than there are on Acer's Revo, but a slimmer, more rounded design makes it look much more attractive. It may not rival the Mac Mini in appearance, but the front mounted USB ports and card reader are exceptionally useful.
Unlike previous netboxes, though, the 1501 does have a DVD drive, and it's this that makes all the difference.
The optical option makes it a lot more practical for sitting by the TV. Along with Windows 7's excellent new media player controls, it's a versatile set-top box that can also surf the web and play games for not a lot more than a decent Freeview box and DVD player. And it's got HDMI built in as standard, unlike the Mac Mini.
You can play games on it, too. The processing power of the dual-core Atom and the Nvidia graphics isn't just for fluid playback of 1080p movies, we got Far Cry 2 up and running at a playable whack too – albeit with most of the image settings turned down low.
An Xbox or PS3 it's not, but add in a USB TV tuner and the 250GB hard drive gives you a lot more versatility than a mere console.
Not even an extra processing core can cover up the Atom's biggest weakness, though. With no support for out-of-order processing, it's not a lot better at general desktop tasks than the CPU found in most netbooks, and has the same slightly stilted feeling when opening a new app or trying to multitask more than a couple of windows – though some of that may be down to the slow laptop hard-drive.
Practically, it's not an issue, though, because that's not what the 1501 is for. The silent-running machine comes equipped with a VESA mount for putting behind the TV and in doing so has found the netbox niche. As a low-cost, all-in-one media centre the only thing that it lacks is an option for a Blu-ray drive. With that, it would be close to perfect.