The Asus Eee Box B204 is an incredibly compact and surprisingly capable performer, but it's better suited to day-to-day productivity applications than more demanding tasks. The onboard Wi-Fi and battery are welcome additions, but it's a pity that the new ATI graphics chip doesn't do more to boost HD video performance.
Tiny; runs cool and quiet; onboard battery, Wi-Fi and HDMI.
HD video performance disappointing.
Laptops may be the obvious choice if you need to deploy PCs in an office where space is at a premium, but they're comparatively expensive and aren't ergonomically suited for long periods of use.
A better option is a compact desktop PC that can be used with a standard desktop monitor/keyboard set-up, and the new Asus Eee Box B204 is about as compact as they come.
The diminutive dimensions are largely the result of its Intel Atom processor. This energy-efficient chip requires very little cooling, so the case doesn't need to contain elaborate heat sinks or large fans.
As a result, the B204 isn't much larger than a DVD case and, when stood upright on the supplied plinth, takes up less desk space than a telephone. Alternatively, the supplied VESA-compatible mount allows the Eee Box to be tucked away behind a display where it takes up no desk space at all.
The Atom processor is designed more for frugal operation than sheer performance, and draws only around 20W under load, which is very low for a desktop processor. The Eee Box B204 is supplied with Windows XP rather than Vista, but it can run Microsoft Office and other productivity applications very well.
Despite supporting Hyper-Threading, the processor doesn't cope well with running several applications at once, though, so the Eee Box B204 is very much a PC for less-demanding users. It's small size also means there isn't room for an internal optical drive, but there is a 160GB hard disk, and USB ports front and rear make it easy to connect external drives.
Unusually, a single gigabit Ethernet port is complemented by onboard 802.11n, which makes the Eee Box B204 ideal for use where there's a power point but no nearby network cable. Actually, it doesn't even need a power point as this model also packs a built-in battery.
It only lasts for around 20 minutes, but that's enough to act as an emergency uninterruptible power supply, or to smooth out an erratic mains supply. The battery also means that the Eee Box B204 can be unplugged and moved elsewhere without the need to shut down Windows first, making it ideal for hot-deskers.
The previous Eee Box B202 made do with barely adequate integrated graphics, but this new model has a ATI Radeon HD 3400 chip with an HDMI port. This doesn't do much for 3D graphics performance, but it does mean that the Eee Box B204 can be plugged into a HD Ready display for HD video playback. You'll need an inexpensive HDMI-to-DVI converter for other displays, as there's no other video output.
The ATI graphics chip isn't quite enough to compensate for the comparatively puny Intel Atom processor, though. While 720p video plays perfectly well, 1080p video is too jerky to be viable.
The B204 is one of two new Eee Box models. The B206 has an identical specification but lacks an internal battery. It costs £10 less.