The Eee Top is a strange departure from traditional Eee-branded products. This low-power, low-cost, all-in-one desktop PC features a touch-sensitive display, setting it apart from its most obvious rivals. It's on sale now for the bargain basement price of £400, but is it simply a gimmick, or does it warrant attention?
It's easy to see where Asus got the inspiration for the Eee Top. It's the spitting image of the Apple iMac, but that's neither a bad thing nor a surprise given the fact that Asus makes iMac hardware on Apple's behalf.
Like Apple's seminal all-in-one, the Eee Top has a gorgeous glossy white chassis. It tries to be a little different, though, thanks to a clear Perspex base, which emits an eerie blue LED light while the PC is switched on. The level of brightness can be adjusted through software, which is just as well -- our neighbours were starting to think we were growing exotic plants.
Just below the screen, there's the almost obligatory speaker grille, buttons for adjusting the screen brightness and volume, a power button and a button that instantly switches off the screen's backlight. What this is for, we have no idea. Surely using Alt-Tab is a better way to hide the fact you're using Facebook during work hours.
On the left side of the Eee Top, you'll find a couple of easily-accessible USB ports and an MMC, SD, MS PRO memory card reader. Round the rear, there are four additional USB ports, an Ethernet port, plus three distinct audio jacks for connecting surround sound speakers, headphones or a microphone.
The rear-mounted stand allows users to adjust the angle of the screen, but while this is useful, it can cause problems. The mechanism for adjusting the angle of the screen can pull the power cord from the AC power inlet, instantly switching the computer off and deleting your unsaved work in the process.
The Eee Top's main method of input is its touch-sensitive screen, but it also comes with a USB keyboard. Again, this looks and feels very much like the keyboard on an Apple iMac. It even has an extra USB tucked away at the right side to replace the one it uses for its own connection -- just like the iMac. One important difference, however, is the stylus hidden in a spring-loaded cavity on the right side.
Though it's a desktop, the Eee Top much in common with Eee PC netbooks. It's powered by an Intel Atom N270 CPU running at 1.6GHz, 1GB of RAM, and runs off an Intel 945GSE chipset. It even has the same 1.3-megapixel webcam above the screen and a digital array mic.
But that's where the similarities end, because the Eee Top is a desktop through and through. Its content can be manipulated using the mouse and keyboard, just like an ordinary keyboard -- but its 15.6-inch, 1,366x768-pixel, touch-sensitive display lets you manipulate content with your fingers, or with the aforementioned stylus.
It's largely quite effective, but the main drawback to the system is the fact that it uses Windows XP, which really wasn't designed for touch input -- especially with your fingers. Luckily, Asus ships every Eee Top with Windows XP in Large Fonts mode, which increases the size of icons and text to make prodding a little more accurate.
In addition to this, Asus has included a separate graphical user interface that sits on top of Windows XP. Easy Mode, as it's known, looks like the interface used on the Linux version of the Eee PC netbook. It has large and easy-to-touch icons, which are grouped into four distinct categories: Communication, which includes Skype, eMail and memo software; Fun, which has the Eee Cinema media software, games and more; Work, which has StarSuite productivity software; and Tools, which lets you adjust system settings. Unfortunately it's not possible to add new applications to any of the categories -- you're stuck with the ones Asus has supplied.
Unlike the Eee PC netbook, the Eee Top has a relatively large hard drive. A 160GB Seagate ST9160821AS is supplied, which will provide enough storage for a couple of hundred DivX movies, around 50,000 MP3s, or around a million JPEG images. This is of the standard 2.5-inch laptop variety, so it's entirely possible to upgrade it yourself to something as large as 320GB.
The Eee Top lacks an optical disc drive, so it's not possible to burn a data backup CD. Asus doesn't supply the free online storage you get with Eee PC netbooks, either, so sooner or later, you're going to have to buy a USB hard drive or network-attached storage device to back yourself up.
Speaking of networks, the Eee Top comes with a Gigabit Ethernet adaptor, so you can connect it to a high-speed wired network without much fuss. It also comes with an 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi adaptor, so you can link it up to your existing wireless network at home.
The Eee Top's software pack includes StarOffice, Adobe Reader 8.0, a 90-day trial of Norton Internet Security, and Skype. Asus has also provided some interesting software of its own. Among our favourites are Eee Memo, a sticky-notes reminder software with a slick touch-and-drag interface, and Eee Cinema, a Media Center-type application that places your multimedia files literally at your fingertips.
The Eee Top performs almost identically to the Eee PC 901, 1000H or the S101, which is hardly a surprise given the fact it uses the same components. It racked up 1,525 in PCMark 2005, so it isn't particularly fast, but it's plenty quick enough to play 720p video, surf the Web and run games that don't require 3D hardware acceleration.
The Eee Top can be a little slow to launch some applications, and it does get sluggish when you're multitasking, but it's rarely frustrating. So long as you keep your expectations low and don't start editing HD video on the thing, it'll serve you well.
The Eee Top is gorgeous to look at, easy and fun to use, and is also affordable. If you're looking for a second PC for multimedia, Web surfing or general tinkering, we'd definitely recommend it.
Edited by Marian Smith