When ASUS announced its Eee Box B202 back in May, there were going to be three models:
- the base model running Linux version with 1 GB of RAM and a 80 GB hard disk for $269,
- a Windows XP Home version with the same 1 GB of RAM and 80 GB of disk for $299 and
- a Linux version with 2 GB of RAM and 160 GB of disk for $299
Four months later only one of these three versions is available and it’s neither the cheapest nor the best equipped of the three anounced configurations: Only the Windows version hit the stores, at $50 more than previously announced (it’s around $350).
Meanwhile the Linux versions are nowhere to be be found, though rumour has it that they will become available later this year.
Considering that ASUS shipped it trailblazing Eee PC notebook with Linux first, before following it with a Windows version, this turn of events with their desktop is somewhat surprizing. Low prices are a major reason why their machines are attractive, but every Windows machine shipped means royalty payments to Microsoft, which is why the XP version was going to be $30 more expensive than the base model (Linux is royalty-free). By opting for only shipping XP, ASUS is also preventing its customers from buying a 160 GB version, as Microsoft refuses to let OEMs ship XP with machines with more than 80 GB of disk space.
To get a 160 GB Eee Box with 2 GB of RAM and Linux (the configuration I was interested in) you would have to buy an 80 GB model with 1 GB of RAM and XP, only to discard the 80 GB drive, the 1 GB SIMM and Windows XP (which you’ve all paid for) and then install a separately purchased 160 GB drive and 2 GB SIMM and a (free) copy of Linux.
When the Eee PC was launched, I was very excited by the prospect of low-energy, low cost computing, but wanted to wait for the desktop as I would use them mostly as unattended servers and had no need for an LCD screen. Like many other potential ASUS customers, I will keep on waiting now.
I currently use a set of four machines to process external spam feeds for the SURBL Multi JP blacklist. Since these machines are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week I would like to minimize power usage and Intel’s Atom processors with a TDP of less than 5W sounded like a very attractive upgrade path for me. I use some older machines with sub-1 GHz clock speeds that draw relatively little power, but these old motherboards have some drawbacks. First of all they are limited to a maximum of between 256 and 512 MB of RAM, while Atom boards support up to 2 GB. Secondly, their motherboards are 7 to 10 years old and they won’t work forever.
I had a look at Intel’s Atom 230-based Mini-ITX desktop board, which can be found for under $70 and fits existing ATX-based machines like my ancient eMachine eTowers. At first glance that looked attractive. However, even though the CPU is efficient, the Northbridge support chip of the Intel 945GC Express Chipset on that board burns about five times more power than the Atom CPU itself. The Eee Box sounds like a much better choice in the long term, as it uses an Atom 270 with the much more efficient Mobile Intel 945GSE Express Chipset. The catch is, you can’t currently buy an Eee Box without paying the “Microsoft tax”, i.e. a Windows XP license that you pay for whether you have a use for it or not.
The decision by ASUS to push back on the Linux version makes no sense to me. I suspect Microsoft made ASUS an offer they found hard to refuse, in order to establish the Eee Box as a Windows-only machine. It will cost ASUS sales and it won’t make Microsoft any more popular. It’s not good for the planet either if people buy power-hungry desktop hardware instead of one of the more economical computers available.