Asus EeeBox EB1501 ION Mini-PC

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The newest Asus EeeBox, the EB1501, has the makings of an excellent media extender. It sports a dual core Atom CPU, Nvidia ION graphics, a slot-loading DVD burner, and a wireless keyboard, mouse and remote control.

Asus EeeBox PC EB1501 ION Mini-PC

December 14, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product Asus EeeBox PC EB1501
Manufacturer ASUS
MSRP US$499

The original EeeBox was
a simple, small, energy efficient and very quiet machine that was perfectly
suited for general purpose computing, but didn’t have enough horsepower for
high definition video. With only a single core Atom processor and Intel GMA
950 graphics, it couldn’t handle 1080p content, and lacked the all important
HDMI connector. In addition, it lacked an optical so it could only play DVDs
streamed over a network, or ripped.


The Q100 and box.

The latest EeeBox is a more refined, complete package. As pictured on the box
exterior, Asus is positioning the EB1501 as media PC that would
fit right at home in your living room. It has a more elegant, contoured design
and the way it mounts on its silver oval platform raises the front up at an
angle, as if raising its nose with confidence. Looks aside,
the EB1501 seems to have all the makings of an excellent media externder. A
dual core Atom processor gives it a performance boost without requiring too
much extra energy and Nvidia ION graphics gives it far better video playback
capability as well as a HDMI port. It also has a slot-loading DVD burner, which
is rare for a system of its size, and rounding out the package is the inclusion
of a wireless mouse, keyboard, and remote control.


Package contents.


AC adapter.

Specifications: Asus EeeBox PC EB1501
(from the product
web page
)
OSGenuine Windows® 7 Home
Premium
CPUIntel® Atom™ N330
Dual Core
Memory2 x So-DIMM Slots, DDR2-800
2G
(UP to 4G)
StorageSATA 2.5” 250GB
Optical DriveSlim Slot-in Super Multi
DVD-RW
ChipsetNVIDIA® ION™
GraphicsNVIDIA® ION™
LAN10/100/1000 Mbps
Wireless802.11b/g/n
Front I/O port* Slot-in Super Multi DVD-RW
* Card Reader x 1
* USB 2.0 x 2
* Headphone-out jack x 1
* MIC x 1
Rear I/O port* Wi-Fi antenna x 1 (built-in)
* USB 2.0 x 4
* D-Sub x 1
* HDMI out x 1
* eSATA x1
* Audio out (S/PDIF out) jack x1
* Giga Lan x 1
Power Supply 19Vdc, 3.42A, 65W Power
Adapter
Dimension1.5 L (193mm x 193mm x 39mm)
Weight1.2kg
Accessories* Quick Start Guide
* Power Adapter(65W)+ Power Cord
* Stylish Stand
* S/PDIF adapter
* Warranty Card x 1 (Option)
* VESA-Mount Kit
* Remote Controller x 1 (Option)
* Wired/Wireless KB+ Mouse(Option)
ColorNoble White & Modern
Black

PHYSICAL DETAILS


Flat on its side, the EB1501 is only 39mm tall, or about the width of a good
length hardcover novel.


There are two main vents on the rear half of each side as well a series
of small slits at the back.


The rear ports include 4 x USB, VGA, HDMI, gigabit ethernet, and eSATA
as a surprising bonus.


On its silvery oval stand.


When turned on, the power LED shines a pleasant, unobtrusive white.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Device listing:


Our EB1501 sample uses a Hitachi 8x slot loading DVD burner, a Seagate
Momentus 5400.6 hard drive and an Atheros WiFi adapter.


According to CPU-Z, the system memory consists of 2 x 1GB sticks of
high latency DDR2-800.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our first test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress
CPUs we use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which
produces higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use ATITool
or FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Our second test procedure is to run the system through a video test suite featuring
a variety of high definition clips. During playback, a CPU usage graph is created
by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the average CPU usage.
High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability. If the video (and/or
audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the IGP (in conjunction with the processor)
is inadequate to decompress the clip properly. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.

H.264/VC-1 Test Clips

H.264 and VC-1 are codecs commonly used in high definition movie videos on
the web (like Quicktime movie trailers and the like) and also in Blu-ray discs.
To play these clips, we use Cyberlink PowerDVD with hardware acceleration turned
on, naturally.


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
1080p H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 2c
is a 1080p clip encoded in H.264
inside an Apple Quicktime container.

1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the "WMV-HD" moniker.

x264/MKV Video Test Clips

MKV (Matroska) is a very popular online multimedia container
used for high definition content, usually using x264 (a free, open source
H.264 encoder) for video. The clips were taken from two longer videos
— the most demanding one minute portions were used. To play them
we use Media Player Classic Home Cinema, configured in the most suitable
manner depending on the GPU. For Intel/ATI graphics the player is configured
to use DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration), for Nvidia graphics we use CoreAVC
to enable CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) support, and for
those that support neither, CoreAVC is used with default settings, which
renders using CPU power alone.


720p | 24fps | ~11mbps

x264 720p: Undead Battle is a 720p x264 clip encoded
from the Blu-ray version of a major motion picture. It features
a battle with undead warriors.


1080p | 24fps | ~14mbps

x264 1080p: Spaceship is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from
the Blu-ray version of an animated short film. It features a hapless
robot trying to repair a lamp on a spaceship.

Flash Video Test Clip

Many users watch media online in Adobe’s Flash format on
sites like Hulu and YouTube. Now that the latest 10.1 beta version of
Flash supports GPU acceleration, only slower systems like those powered
by a single core Atom without a proper IGP struggle with Flash in HD.
Our test clip is a HD movie trailer from YouTube played in Firefox.


1280×544 | 25fps | ~2mbps

Flash HD: Iron
Man Trailer #1
is the first trailer from the feature film
of the same name. It’s a YouTube HD video, though technically
it is not quite 720p.

TEST RESULTS

System Power Draw

Test Results: System Power
Test State
Asus EB1501
Lenovo Q110
Idle
20W
17W
CPU Load
27W
20W
CPU + GPU
Load
39W
31W

The EB1501 uses only 3W more power when idle than the Lenovo Q110, but 7W
more on full CPU load, and 8W more when the GPU is added to the mix. This is
not surprising given the Eee Box has to power a second Atom processor core,
an extra stick of memory, WiFi adapter and optical drive. Still, its energy
demands are far lower than even a low-end mainstream desktop, which would be
lucky to idle at below 40W.

Video Playback – CPU vs. GPU

To see how much difference video hardware acceleration makes, we played our
test suite with hardware acceleration both on and off. Our H.264 and WMV-HD
clips were played in PowerDVD, so we simply ticked and unticked the video acceleration
option in the configuration menu. Our x264 clips were tested using CoreAVC to
decode them using CPU power alone, and then we configured it to use Nvidia’s
CUDA technology to utilize the GPU. Our Flash test clip was played with Flash
10.0 which does not support GPU acceleration, and then with the 10.1 Beta version
which does.

Test Results: Video Playback
Test State
GPU Accel.
No GPU Accel.
Avg.
CPU
System Power
Avg. CPU
System Power
Rush Hour
(1080p H.264)
13%
25W
60%
27W
Coral Reef
(WMV-HD)
29%
27W
33%
27W
Undead Battle
(720p x264)
18%
26W
49%
26W
Spaceship
(1080p x264)
18%
28W
65%
28W
Iron Man
(720p Flash)
26%
24W
60%
26W
Grey boxes indicate test failure.

Most of the clips, except for the WMV-HD video played smoothly using CPU power
alone, though with high CPU usage — above 60% in most cases. However, with
the GPU assisting, CPU utilization dipped below 30%, and H.264 and Flash playback
used slightly less power. Ultimately, GPU acceleration really wasn’t needed
to play through most of our video test suite as a dual core Atom at 1.6GHz is
powerful enough on its own. However, taking advantage of ION’s decoding capabilities
frees CPU resources for other tasks and ION gives you that all important HDMI
port, which Atom systems with Intel’s antiquated GMA 950 graphics lack.

We should also note that according to Cyberlink’s Blu-ray Advisor, the system
is fully capable of Blu-ray disc playback, only lacking an optical drive with
Blu-ray support.

Subjective Experience

The biggest peeve we have with complete systems is the amount of pre-installed
software. The EB1501 was not horrific bad in this regard, but they did take a good chunk of time to uninstall due to the relatively slow processor and hard drive. There are some useful but essential
things (especially for entry level users) like Flash Player, Adobe Reader, ArcSoft
TotalMedia Theater, and Microsoft Works. However, also present were some applications
we could definitely live without like Asus’ WebStorage, Update, and Eee Manager
applications, as well as Adobe Air and trial versions of Microsoft Office and
worst of all, Trend Micro Internet Security. Like most security software, Trend
Micro gets in the way than it helps. For example it warned us of
"suspicious activity" when we tried to connect to a password-protected
router. If you follow all its advice, the only safe activity is playing Solitaire.

In general use, the system is reasonably snappy and we’d have no problem using
on a day-to-day basis. About the only complaint we had was the boot-up time,
even after we stripped most of the software off. It took about 63 seconds from
the time we pushed the power button to when the desktop appeared and the system
was responsive to our commands. By comparison, the mCubed
HFX Micro S13
, which also sports a dual core Atom CPU and notebook hard
drive, booted into XP (albeit a lighter OS) in about 40 seconds.

The included keyboard, mouse and remote had pretty good range — we tested
them at 6 meters (20 feet) away and all three functioned without any problems
from that distance. The remote was directional, so it would only work
if pointed it within 30° to either side of the receiver. It was a relatively
simple, Media Center remote without any fancy bells and whistles. The mouse
had a comfortable, rounded shape, but if you have large hands, it is a
bit small. The keyboard had a nice feel and good, responsive keys,
but it was a little cramped and we had to arch our fingers more than usual to
type with speed. All three accessories use a pair of AA batteries, which are supplied.

Thermals & Acoustics

Thermals & Acoustics
Test State
Temperatures
System Noise
CPU
HDD
GPU
@1m
@0.6m (VESA)
@0.6m
Idle
41°C
30°C
47°C
21~22 dBA
22 dBA
24 dBA
x264 Playback
50°C
33°C
53°C
CPU Load
62°C
31°C
55°C
CPU + GPU Load
73°C
33°C
68°C
23 dBA
24 dBA
25 dBA
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

The EB1501 stayed relatively cool until we used Prime95 to put the CPU on full
load. Still with CPU and GPU temperatures of 62°C and 55°C respectively,
it wasn’t much of a concern. The addition of a GPU load heated up the CPU and
GPU by another 12°C. The system’s fan, stayed at almost a constant 3050rpm
speed throughout testing, only picking up the pace when the GPU temperature
surpassed 60°C. Even then, it only increased the system’s noise level by
1~2 dBA.

The noise generated by the system was broadband, sounding like a low, soft
hiss, rather pleasant compared to most SFFs. It measured about 24 dBA@0.6m from
a 45° angle, and 2 dBA less when VESA-mounted, measured from directly in
front of the monitor. Overall, it’s a suitably quiet nettop, and its unlikely
you’ll ever experience the fan spin much faster than its idle speed — we had
to do a complete CPU and GPU torture test to accomplish that.


EB1501 idle @0.6m.


EB1501 idle, VESA-mounted @0.6m.

SpeedFan Support


SpeedFan correlations.

Surprisingly, we found that the EB1501’s fan could be controlled using SpeedFan.
In the Advanced configuration menu, look for chip "IT8720F" and change
PWM 1 mode to "Software controlled" to enable control using the Speed01
setting. With SpeedFan you can drop the fan speed all the way to zero, or ramp
it up to its maximum speed of 5200rpm, though caution obviously should be taken.
We suggest keeping the fan spinning fast enough to keep temperatures lower than
what we recorded at full load.

Audio Recordings

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

Comparable System sound files:

FINAL THOUGHTS

The new EB1501 is an impressive ultra-SFF system.
With a dual core Atom processor and ION graphics under the hood, it can play
any video you throw at it, whether its high definition Flash streamed from your
favorite internet media provider, or ripped Blu-ray content (or even actual
Blu-ray discs if you use an external BD-ROM drive). It has an optical drive,
which is rare on this type of system, a moderately sized hard drive, S/PDIF
via an adapter, WiFi, gigabit ethernet and even eSATA. In addition, a wireless
mouse, keyboard, and a MCE remote control are included in the package so all
you really need is a monitor or TV to have the system up and running. It has
a very elegant look, but the white version might compliment the silver stand better.

General operation is adequate speed-wise — Windows 7 runs well on it, usually
very responsive unless you’re installing or uninstalling programs. The internals
don’t get particularly warm, and it’s also a pretty quiet machine. However,
if you’re unhappy with the noise level you can mount it behind a monitor to help block a bit more noise, and/or use SpeedFan to slow the system’s fan.

Atom + ION System Comparisons
Product
Asus EeeBox PC EB1501
Lenovo IdeaCentre Q110
Acer Aspire Revo AR3610-U9012
CPU
Atom 330
Atom 230
(single core)
Atom 330
Chipset
Nvidia ION
Nvidia ION
Nvidia ION
RAM
2GB
2GB
2GB
HDD
250GB
250GB
160GB
ODD
DVD-RW
no
no
WiFi
802.11n
no
802.11n
Card Reader
yes
no
yes
Additional Ports
eSATA, S/PDIF (via adapter)
no
eSATA
Accessories
wireless keyboard, mouse, and remote
none
wireless keyboard and mouse, USB speakers
Operating System
Windows 7 Home Premium
Windows Vista Home Premium
Windows 7 Home Premium
Market $
DEC 09
$499
$399
$330

The only downside we can see is the $499 asking price. Its a bargain if you
compare it to the super-slim, but loud Lenovo Q110,
but its value is more questionable when pitted against a the Acer Aspire Revo AR3610. The Revo — about the same size and with the same hardware inside but a smaller hard drive and no an optical drive, S/PDIF, or remote control — can be had for $170 less, although it must be said that we have no hands-on experience of its acoustics. The Revo is the better value for a general purpose machine, but for a media PC, there’s no question the EB1501 is much more complete package. About the only things that would improve the Asus in this regard is a Blu-ray drive and perhaps a wireless keyboard/trackpad combo rather than a separate keyboard and mouse. All in all, Asus has created an appealing super-small media PC package in the EB1501.

Asus EeeBox PC EB1501
PROS

* Small, VESA mountable
* Superb video playback capability
* Features: optical drive, eSATA, S/PDIF, 802.11n
* Reasonably quiet; fan control available via SpeedFan
* Wireless mouse, keyboard and remote included

CONS

* pricey
* no Blu-ray drive

Our thanks to Asus
for the EB1501 sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Lenovo
IdeaCentre Q110: Tiny ION Nettop

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q100: World’s Thinnest,
Smallest Nettop

Lenovo’s
All-in-one: IdeaCentre A600

Gateway EC1803h: Netbook
or Ultra-portable?

mCubed HFX Micro S13 system: Atom
330, Silenced

Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based
mini PC

* * *

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