Asus has performed a minor miracle in the laptop market with its Eee PC, so it stands to reason that it would try the same trick in the desktop arena. The Eee Box is its great white desktop hope (it's also available in black), and on first impressions, it's hugely exciting. It's tiny, attractive, requires little power to run, and most importantly it costs just £199. It'll be available at the beginning of September.
The Eee Box is one of the most visually striking PCs we've ever come across. It's certainly not as audacious as a Dell XPS, for example, but its diminutive size and almost impossible slimness make it very likeable. It's far smaller than a Mac Mini, and can best be described as a netbook without a screen.
As with all good small form-factor PCs, you can position the Eee Box either vertically or horizontally, flat against a table. The former is probably the most aesthetically pleasing option, paticularly as Asus supplies a very attractive stand, which you screw on to the bottom. The base of the stand is shaped like a hollow, aluminium ring, which fans of contemporary styling should appreciate. Asus also includes a second stand, which can be used to attach the Eee Box to the back of a VESA-compatible monitor -- a nice touch.
The front of the Eee Box looks pretty minimalist -- there isn't even a power button, just a blue LED. Look closer, however, and you'll see the front is actually a flap that opens up to reveal a host of ports. There's an SD card reader, two USB ports, and mic and headphone jacks. The rear of the Eee Box is a little more cluttered, thanks to a line-out jack, an Ethernet port, two more USBs, a DVI video output and a protruding aerial for the Wi-Fi adaptor. There's also an AC power inlet -- the power adaptor is of the external laptop brick variety.
The Eee Box has much in common with an Eee PC 901. It uses the same Intel Atom N270 CPU, clocked at 1.6GHz, the same 1GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM, all sat on the same Intel 945 chipset. While this was pretty impressive in a netbook, it's not exactly awe-inspiring inside a desktop PC.
The most obvious use for the Eee Box is as a Media Center. That being the case, you'll probably be a tad disappointed to learn it only comes with an 80GB hard drive. That offers enough space to store around 100 standard-definition DivX movies, or 20,000 MP3s -- not accounting for other applications and files. The Eee Box is too small to accommodate an optical drive, but additional storage can be added via a USB hard drive.
Graphics isn't the Eee Box's strong point either, but we weren't expecting much in this department. It uses the integrated graphics adaptor found on the Intel 945 chipset. Combined with the Intel N270 CPU, this is quick enough to run 720p high-definition video, but 1080p 'Full HD' videos are a bridge too far. They'll either refuse to play, or be too jerky to tolerate.
It's worth noting that the Eee Box doesn't ship with a Media Center operating system -- just regular Windows XP Home. You can always add your own third-party Media Center-style user interface (such as Media Portal) to make navigating multimedia files a little easier. While you're at it, you might want to consider buying a Media Center remote -- with an accompanying infrared receiver -- since the Eee Box doesn't come with one.