Asus Eee-Box EB1501P "Intel Atom nettop" review

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Dec 04, 2010
2:38 PM EDT
I went on a hype and bought this Asus EB1501P netttop to replace as my full time home pc.

It might sound stupid to replace a full-size quadcore pc. This nettop is marketed as a home theater companion, not a full blown desktop, but it is reasonable for my purpose. You have to excuse my ignorance on the performance expectation since its my first time buying and using an Intel Atom pc. My current mobo and gpu got RMA'ed and both still have issues. If I upgrade I have to buy new architectures, so almost a complete rebuild. The tower has 6 fans and make noises. I needed a small and quiet pc with enough power to occasionally play older 3D games. I don't need so much power to "encode videos" because I have a 2TB hdd on a usb dock.

The Asus EB1501P isn't much bigger than a Linksys router and still have an optical slot. It has one fan, but is relatively quiet and only spin at half speed at all time since the machine always stay cool. I immediately swapped out the 2.5" Seagate 5400rpm hdd for a WD Scorpio 7200rpm. Installing my customized Ubuntu (1gb iso) took about 8minutes and boot in 20seconds (minus POST screen). Ubuntu seems to detect all hardwares, except the infrared sensor to use the included remote control. Even the HDMI audio works (or maybe because I installed "alsa-firmware-loaders" package).

Normal tasks: The desktop experience is mostly painless for documenting and web browsing. It's not up for high res video encoding, but using ffmpeg to encode DVD to XVID at mobile res gets 25-40fps. I found out the Atom D525 cpu actually has two threads per core, a total of four. But this Asus comes with a single channel 2gb ram, not dual channel. I do think this bogs down a tiny performance.

Video playback/gaming: The NVidia ION 2 is actually a Geforce GT218 and will depend on the CPU to aid with performance. It can manage 2D graphic apps like Stellarium with ease. Without hardware acceleration, it can only play videos up to 720p smoothly. To play 1080p contents smoothly, you have to install SMPlayer which comes with VDPAU, then enable VDPAU in the settings. VLC do not have VDPAU yet, but is a future prospect. Adobe Flash Player 10.2 onward will support VDPAU.

3D games performance will struggle, unless you play at lowest settings and not higher than 720p res. From what I gathered, the ION 2 is weaker than an integrated Geforce 9400 (found in Mac Mini older model), which is the minimum required for me to play Half Life 2 with low settings. ION 2 should manage older games that are "not frame rates demanded" like World of Warcraft.

In conclusion: Buy a Mac Mini instead, it makes more sense. The Asus is $500 as of now, after upgrades of hdd and ram, it will be at least $600. The Mac Mini is $700, it uses a few more watts (85w vs 65w), it has Core 2 Duo and GeForce 320M so will be powerful enough for low-end 3D tasks/gaming. Lastly it can legally run Mac. However, if you don't intend to play games, this Asus will surfice because all other experiences beside gaming were positive for me.

Acer also have a similar spec nettop model at lower price. Because of leveraging and Microsoft tax, my guess is these will not get that much cheaper unless you buy used or weaker specs. You can see this leveraging with laptop and netbook, the up to date models are still going to be at least $500, no matter how long you wait for price to go down.

Nettops are just getting popular now due to popularity of netbook. It would be better wait for the specs to raise a bit before buying, maybe 2ghz+. For example AMD is releasing its Bobcat and Bulldozer cpu next year and should have an answer for the Intel Atom.

Long story short I returned the Asus to Amazon for 85% refund. I don't want to drop $700 for the Mac Mini, but I'm waiting for this nettop category to develop.

Dec 04, 2010
5:36 PM EDT
Yeah with arm & the amd-bobcat on the rise it will be nice to see what happens in the coming year. Of course I don't think the nettop is supposed to be for gaming or (heavy) multimedia but rather just a simple web machine capable of the regular ole chat, web, docs and the occassional game of minesweeper. Wait did I say that last part out loud ?

Dec 06, 2010
3:46 PM EDT
You should have looked at the Dell Studio. It's an Intel GPU, but I think I paid around $450. Oops, discontinued... But, there's the Zino...

Dec 07, 2010
2:12 PM EDT
Web = video and other "heavy" uses. That's the problem with the "nettop." It needs to offload video to a GPU or some other hardware accelerator.

Dec 07, 2010
2:17 PM EDT
My Eee PC 901 has Intel-accelerated video, with a decent framerate in glxgears.

I'd rather watch video on it, than build a kernel.

Dec 07, 2010
4:48 PM EDT
HTPC use is always going to require hardware acceleration. Otherwise, forget 1080p. The real trick is a small footprint & decent video connection (VGA or Digital, but usually not HDMI though) for handling output withot overscan or underscan. One other big plus is optical audio out.

The Dell Studio Hybrid I mentioned had all that, but was discontinued. The Zino looks promising, but might be a fail in terms of audio. It's an AMD/ATI solution. but relatively inexpenasive.


Dec 07, 2010
5:20 PM EDT
The question for HTPC boxes, I believe, is: "Can you get audio over HDMI?"

Dec 07, 2010
10:59 PM EDT
I spent $300 on a barebones dual core atom system with 2gb of ram and a 160gb hd, I had a 2TB external for my video storage, I have to say I like it so far, the only problem is that is has a hard time with full screen flash, but I think that is a flash problem more than anything. It has the intel video so no demanding gaming, but we got it for video. It can also take a slimline optical drive if we ever want to replace our DVD player.

Dec 08, 2010
12:28 AM EDT
You should wait for Flash 10.2 to come out (beta?) which might perform better with VDPAU, which did make a huge difference for h.264 1080p.

@JaseP Thanks for the Zino recommendation, I looked at the options at Dell site and its very enticing, especially the most expensive option with quad core, 6gb ram, hd5450, 7200rpm hdd. Though ordering from Dell site always remember to add $50-70 to the final price because of shipping and tax.

Dec 08, 2010
10:01 AM EDT

The answer is "sometimes." It depends on the drivers.

@theboomboomcars: There is a Flash beta that gives hardware support in Linux. That plus the new patch to the kernel scheduler, might just make these Atom boxes shine.

@tmx: You're welcome. If you get one, let us know how it works out.

Dec 08, 2010
10:07 AM EDT
@JaseP, it would be nice to see a shine from accelerated Flash + cgroups, but after seeing how conflicting assumptions can wipe out what should have been a good thing, I'll believe it when I see (or hear) it.

Dec 08, 2010
10:16 AM EDT
JaseP and tmx I'll look into it.

Dec 26, 2010
5:30 PM EDT
I ditched the idea of buying a nettop, instead built a miniITX desktop, AMD based because they're affordable (I felt). A miniITX desktop is bigger than a nettop, so this is no longer relevant to this thread, I just want to share my experience, though I fear this might sound like another Phoronix article without purpose.

My miniITX tower consisted of; AMD 3.2ghz six-core cpu Asus M4A88-I miniITX mobo (mine was open-box) 2x2gb DDR3 1333mhz Lian Li miniITX case All bought from NewEgg for a total of $495 after shipping. I will reuse cdrom, harddrive and powersupply (fullsize ATX) from my old computer. Spec screenshot: (if you get 403 error, press enter on the address bar)

Almost everything works with a vanilla Ubuntu 10.04 install. Notes on some of the intergrated hardwares from the Asus mobo w/ AMD 880G chipset: AMD HDMI audio: Works out of the box w/ Ubuntu 10.04.

ATI HD4250 gpu: The linux open source driver can display 1080p on my Sharp Aquos tv correctly. With the proprietary ATI driver, you'll need to adjust the overscan setting.

Realtek RT2870 WLAN: Ubuntu still has not fix this infamous problem. The RT2870 has conflict with RT2800USB so it won't connect. To fix this, you have to add "blacklist rt2800usb" to the file: /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf.

Of course, I can't run full 3.2ghz with my AMD hexacore cpu in such a small ITX case with stock heatsink. The cpu is rated 125watt, this miniITX board is meant for 95watt cpu only. The case has a 140mm input fan and my power supply's 120mm fan as output. I lowered the cpu from 3.2ghz @ 1.3v to 2ghz @ 1v. I use the linux app "XSensors" to monitor voltage, temp and fan speed. The entire desktop output 60-90w and the cpu temp stay between 40-60*C. At 3.2ghz prolonged it will boil water, it would be possible at that speed with water cooling or placed in a bigger case with better third-party heatsink.

In conclusion, the Asus M4A88 mobo w/ AMD 880G chipset is very compatible with Ubuntu, beside a small fix required to get the WLAN working. If coupled with a decent cpu, it will aid the integrated ATI gpu to get decent frame rates for older 3D games, but it won't suffice for newer 3D games anyhow (the mobo have a PCI-E 16X slot for gpu and you can overclock the internal gpu). This mobo is available in different sizes, not just miniITX, so should be a consideration for those looking to build a powerful AMD linux pc.

PS. That Lian Li case was a pain to work with, I don't recommend it for first time builder. Take a look at Silverstone miniITX cases as well. PPS. I am not affiliated with ASUSTek Computer Inc -nor- NewEgg.

Dec 26, 2010
8:19 PM EDT
That looks like a BEAUTIFUL system, and I certainly would put a liquid cooler in place to deal with that CPU.

That CPU, however, cost more than my entire last quad-core bare-bones kit, since I already had a DVD drive.

Still, Bob WANT!

Jan 02, 2011
3:14 AM EDT
I manage to run it 3.2ghz @ 1.2v without problems. The way the case is designed, the psu fan is right on top of the cpu fan. I flipped over the cpu fan can so it suck heats upward to the psu fan, instead of the usual blowing downward (where the two fans would fought each other for air).

I tested encoding videos using all 6 cores, it stays below 60*C. Normal use @ high-40*C to low-50*C.

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