Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

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Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby Johnmcl7 » 09 Jul 2008, 03:19

Device: Asus PX24 Novalite
Supplier: Asus
Cost: £299 (inc VAT)

The Asus PX24 is a slightly different attempt at producing a home media PC in that Asus have opted for low power consumption parts yet its 3450HD based graphics card gives it capability to playback HD footage. Thanks to Pete and Asus I have been sent one of these little devices to review for the forum, a big thanks to both from Techpond. Let's start with the box:

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Handholding the box here to give some idea of its size, it's pretty small especially after taking it out of its much bigger packing box. Opening the box and the PX24 itself is sitting securely in polystyrene packaging:

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Underneath the PX24 and its packaging is a cardboard box packed with accessories which are detailed further on. Finally the PX24 itself:

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First impressions after taking it out of the cloth bag it was in was it is small, I was unsure from the pictures I'd looked at before receiving this unit as to how small it actually was as it's difficult to tell. As you'd expect from Asus it's a classy looking device which from the front doesn't look like a PC at all and fits in well with other home entertainment equipment. When I initially shared some of these pictures the first question was the same as mysef, how big is it? I've taken a series of shots with the PX24 against the main current consoles as most people are familiar with their size.

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As these pictures hopefully show the PX24 is just a little larger than the Wii but quite a bit smaller than either the 360 or PS3 which makes it very small indeed. In terms of weight it's again slightly more than the Wii but given Nintendo's console is very small and light, the PX24 is a very neat little device. While we're looking at the size the PX24 uses a small external power adapter:

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Onto the PX24 itself, first the front:

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The front of the PX24 has been kept very simple, the left side is covered by the slot loading DVD-RAM drive with the eject button right beside it. At the other other side is the infrared receiver and power button which glows red when the machine is powered and white when up and running. Both the eject and power buttons are touch sensitive, no clumsy buttons to clutter up the clean front.

On the left there's not much to see as it houses the intake vents for the cooling system, round to the back is more interesting:

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There's a generous selection of ports, at the left is the input for the power adapter, then four USB2.0 ports, three 3.5mm inputs, an hdmi output, DVI-I output (which can be used for VGA output with a supplied adapter) and finally a LAN port. As this is a media box it's great to have an hdmi port for convenience as it can carry both audio and video yet the PX24 still has DVI and VGA to cover all the bases. The network port may seem redundant when the device already has wireless but it is definitely useful for a reliable connection cabled to the router. Rather cunningly one of the 3.5mm jacks can be used with the supplied adapter to output audio via a standard optical digital cable same as on the PS3/360. The main omission is firewire which would be convenient for a large external hard drive.

On the right hand side there are a trio of cooling fans which are responsible for venting the hot air out:

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There's not much on the top or bottom of the case, on the top there is a speaker as can be seen in some of the above pictures and on the underside there are the serial numbers and COA.

Inside the PX24

These are the specs:

Intel Celeron 220 @ 1.2Ghz processor
2GB DDR2 RAM
160GB 5400rpm 2.5in hard drive
ATI 3450HD based graphics card
Slot loading DVD multi optical drive
Onboard gigabit ethernet
Atheros onboard wifi
Realtek HD audio

While Celerons generally don't have a very good name from some poor processors a while back, the choice of a Celeron here is fairly sound – the processor uses less power which in turn means lower energy bills particularly if the machine is going to be left powered up 24/7 and quieter operation. The PX24 can then rely on its graphics card to give it HD capability without a beefy Core 2 Duo processor. This is the information CPU-Z provided on the Celeron 220:

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This particular Celeron is a single core version based on the Core microarchitecture running a 533Mhz FSB and supports 64 bit. This processor is aimed at mini-itx PCs and has a very low TDP at just 19W allowing it to be passively cooled if necessary.

Onto the graphics card, this is a screenshot from GPU-Z:

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As far as I can tell this is a stock 3450 in terms of its clockspeed and stream processors, the most relevant aspect here is that this graphics card supports ATI's UVD or Universal Video Decode. As the name implies this system allows the graphics card to carry out all the decoding and take the strain off the processor. I'll cover whether this works or not further below. For those interested, this is a screengrab of the Windows Experience Index results:

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While I was tempted to rip the cover off the PX24 and see exactly how this curious combination of hardware is actually mounted, I didn't want to pull apart the warranty sticker from Asus own machine.

The wireless network card worked fine as it detected the home network without issue, Atheros wireless cards generally have a very good reputation. There is no bluetooth with the PX24 although these days that's a minor concern, USB BT dongles can now be picked up very cheaply and are incredibly small.

Accessories

The PX24 box is packed with quite a variety of accessories as shown here:

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Working left to right starting at the PX24 there is:

Cloth
Optical adapter – used in one of the rear 3.5mm audio ports to convert to an optical digital out
DVI-VGA adapter
Stand
Power supply
Recovery CDs (a rare sight these days, definitely welcome)
Manual and drivers CD
Windows Media remote control
Manual and warranty card

Software

The PX24 is preloaded with Windows Vista Home Premium which is the obvious choice for a media focussed PC such as this. The machine has Norton and Cyberlink PowerDVD preinstalled however that's pretty much it, there's not really anything else apart from a custom wallpaper and a couple of Asus utilities:

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[/b][/u]Powering the PX24 up[/b][/u]

To begin with I gave the PX24 a simple setup, VGA to a 720p TV and a 3.5mm cable to audio, after holding the touch sensitive power button briefly the PX24 came quietly to life and booted to Windows. As promised it is very quiet in operation, if you go near it and the room is quiet you can hear the fans faintly however even when they occasionally speed up briefly the fan noise is never noticeable nor intrusive. The TV came up at the correct resolution of 1360x760, no settings needing changed. I have a wireless keyboard/mouse device which was the obvious choice for the PX24, plugged in its little dongle and started working away with the PX24.

Next up was to change to hdmi with another 720p TV, initially there were a few snags here however you just need to be careful to only hook up one output and make sure it is all connected properly before powering the Asus up. With this in mind, all went fine – the TV detected the Asus correctly and the resolution worked fine at 1360x760.

Finally and again over hdmi this time the PX24 was hooked up to a 1080p TV and the audio plugged in via optical digital to a 5.1 surround system. The resolution this time was set to 1440x900 and was easily set to the full resolution of 1920x1080, likewise the audio wasn't quite picked up properly but after changing a few settings was working correctly with the external audio system.

The onboard speaker also worked quite well, while it's not powerful enough when using the PX24 as a media PC and sitting back, while sitting at a desk the audio is clear enough and certainly useful if connecting to a monitor with no speakers.

Time for HD

Asus recommend in the instruction manual to use PowerDVD which I assume is because it is set up to take advantage of the UVD support in the graphics card. I tried it with a variety of HD WMVs, a few 720p video, some converted HDV footage from my own camcorder at 1440x1080 and finally some sample 1080p clips from the Microsoft website. The result in all cases was actually quite impressive as I did have my doubts over the UVD being able to provide the decode assist required. However I was clearly wrong as even the 1080p videos played smoothly from start to finish.

I also tried the popular VLC media player with mkv files which are popular for HDV, unfortunately VLC as far as I can establish doesn't work with UVD which seemed clear from the skipping playback. I did try a few ways to enhance performance, I'd already removed Norton which had been misbehaving, aero was off as well as some unnecessary background programs. There's a small Asus utility which sits in the system tray allowing the system to be changed between silent mode and turbo mode, changing to the latter seemed to help slightly although looking at the processor and graphics card I couldn't see what it was actually doing. While mkv is not a format used for legal distribution I suspect it is something that will be of interest to people, I'm still working on finding a solution to this as I'm sure there is one – having seen how perfectly the PX24 plays back the wmvs I'm determined to get it doing the same with mkvs or similar.

Windows Media Centre

Windows Media Centre comes with Vista Home Premium and provides an interface to the media on the PC while sitting back on the couch. First a couple of pictures of the Asus Windows Media remote control:

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There's a fairly standard array of buttons, the one to the top left that's cut off slightly is the power button and the two covered by my hand are the volume buttons. The underside of the remote is angled to let your hand sit comfortably over the main navigation buttons:

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The top half of the remote lights up when any button is pressed:

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Holding down the large green button with the Windows icon on it fires up the Windows Media Centre interface:

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The interface consists of relatively large icons which are categorised in a column and then you move left and right to select specific items. The large black directional buttons are used to navigate, ok to select, the back arrow to go back and the i button to bring up an options list much like a right click. You have access to pictures, videos, DVD, music as well as some other common tasks such as DVD burning and syncronising with a portable mp3 player. I've taken a handful of photos to give an idea of the interface (can't screenshot irritatingly):



As you can hopefully see from the pictures the interface is quite simple to navigate and use sitting back from the TV with the remote control. One comment on this thread which is very much valid is whether a parent could use this system and while unfortunately my Mum was not availble to try it I'm confident she would be able to use this.

Media Centre only really gives access to media and while this does give you the bulk of the machine's functionality given this is a media machine there are a few other functions it would be great to add to a similar interface. For example I'd like to be able to choose my own program shortcuts so I could choose Iplayer or PowerDVD and it would be handy to have access to simple control panel functions. It may be possible to extend Windows Media Centre and I'm sure there is a standalone program which will offer this which is something I'll definitely be looking into if I purchase the PX24. However I think it would be great if the PX24 could ship with something like that out of the box as that would make it much easier for the everyday user to take advantage of.

Alternatives

Picking out rivals for the PX24 is quite a difficult job as it sits squarely between the lower powered more budget orientated small form machines and the more expensive machines with a Core Duo platform. A good machine to start with is Apple's Mac Mini, like the PX24 it's a very small and stylish machine which offers very similar hardware and capabilities. It boasts a more powerful Core 2 Duo 1.83Ghz/2.00Ghz processor and a firewire port however by the time you spec it up with 2GB ram and a 160GB HD (both of which are relatively standard options) the price is up to 520 pounds and still without a DVD burner. Even if you fit the components yourself the machine is still more expensive than the PX24's 299 pounds price tag and the advantage of the processor is weakened by the lack of the dedicated graphics card.

Apple also have another product which I initially liked the idea of which is the Apple TV - this is a small device with a low power Pentium-m 1Ghz Dothan and a dedicated Geforce 7300 which seemed ideal for a low power device as I was wanting. However Apple have designed this to work as a media extender rather than a standalone device which to my knowledge means Windows XP cannot be installed on it although it's not something I've checked in a while. The device also lacks an optical drive although this isn't quite as big an issue.

At the other end there are devices such as MSI's Titan 700 which is a VIA based PC even smaller than the PX24, it's also cheaper and should be lower in power consumption. This comes at the cost of lower performance with this type of machine struggling to decode 720p avi which means they are relatively useless for media.

Sitting in the Asus stable is the EEE Box which is basically a desktop PC based on the same concept as the highly successful EEE PC laptop - the EEE Box is very small and cheap, undercutting the PX24 by around a hundred pounds. Its Atom processor is better than the via based systems and can decode 720p streams but with no decode assist it can't match the PX24's 1080p abilities. It also lacks an optical drive (I believe) and the PX24's variety of ports leaving it as an alternative PC but not really as a media PC.

Conclusion

My time with this particular PX24 is unfortunately at an end as it's time for the little machine to return home to Asus. Starting off with the good points I really like the PX24's small size, quiet running, strong design and variety of ports. I think the price is reasonable for what you are getting make for a superb little media PC capable of HD playback.

My main complaint with the PX24 is really the more limited usability out of the box as a media PC hooked up to a TV - while Windows Media Centre works extremely well for using any of the media functions, it's more tricky to do anything outside of that. I'd really like to see Asus provide a similar interface for the rest of the PC as well as provide a small combined wireless keyboard/mouse which could combine with the function of a remote. It would only need to be around the size of a Microsoft chatpad as I found I never needed to type a lot of text, it would save having to use a full size keyboard and mouse. A minor niggle I had is that a USB port and SD/MS card reader on the front would have been handy but not really of any concern.

At the moment I am seriously considering buying a PX24 if possible, my younger brother (who I'm hoping is going to add some of his comments here) is very keen on picking one up as he's wanted something a bit more powerful and flexible than the C400 that's in place at the moment. Last week admittedly I was still looking around for newer 12 inch laptops that would be suitable as a media PC however what has put me off this idea is how neat and tidy the PX24 is. I've been using it in a few different rooms and it's just been a case of slotting it in a gap, nicking an hdmi cable and powering up. The laptop solution even with a dock is a lot more clumsy and as many people know my cabling is somewhat of a disaster.

A big thanks again to Pete and Asus for loaning me the PX24, I'm going to be genuinely sorry to see it go.
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby Bryn » 09 Jul 2008, 04:48

Small is indeed fun.

Great review John, thanks Pete + Asus.
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby matt » 09 Jul 2008, 07:54

Will finish reading tonight, so far I am very jealous!
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby BinnsY » 09 Jul 2008, 08:45

Does look very nice, but I have to wonder if a 1.6Ghz Atom would have been a better choice of CPU?
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby EviL Ras » 09 Jul 2008, 10:19

Great review! And great that techpond is getting stuff to review now!
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby Johnmcl7 » 09 Jul 2008, 11:34

BinnsY wrote:Does look very nice, but I have to wonder if a 1.6Ghz Atom would have been a better choice of CPU?


I would imagine that would have bumped the price up and also been a bit more difficult to produce as it's a desktop chipset this is using.

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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby peted76 » 09 Jul 2008, 14:43

I'm quite impressed with what I've read about this little machine, I guess if the price is right then it's one of the few viable PC's to help bring PC's into the living room?
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby matt » 09 Jul 2008, 18:26

You have had the same complaint as me with the Meivo John, media playback is fine using the media player but to use the asus for pc based activities can cause problems from distance due to the high resolution screens.

A friend of mine got around the keyboard mouse combo buy using a wireless keyboard with a built in touchpad much the same shape as 13-15" notebook keypad. If this were to be bundled with the machine or an upgrade option it would definitely increase all round usability. I'll have a google see if I can find it.

edit: something like this:

http://www.ebuyer.com/product/119977/sh ... ct_reviews


or this:
http://arstechnica.com/journals/thumbs. ... 10/21/5697

or this:
http://alpinero.com/blog/?p=24
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby Johnmcl7 » 09 Jul 2008, 18:45

This is the one I've been using (non-media version):

http://www.ebuyer.com/product/106486

It does the job fine although it's bigger than it needs as I found the text entry I was going was fairly basic which meant something smaller would have done the job. I did find this was essential in using the PC, some sort of mini-keyboard and trackball with media buttons would be ideal and Asus definitely have the capability to produce it.

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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby matt » 09 Jul 2008, 18:49

yep, one of them good find. The logitech option was £100+ :shock:
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby cheesem0nster » 09 Jul 2008, 19:38

Nice review John, it certainly does look a nice piece of kit.
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby DaveG » 09 Jul 2008, 21:59

Great review John, thanks for posting.
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby peted76 » 09 Jul 2008, 23:58

John,
Would you say the inclusion of a blu-ray drive within this machine would do to it?
e.g Bluray drive would add on £100/£150 to the price.
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby matt » 10 Jul 2008, 00:07

how updatabale are the pc based blue ray drives, compared to a ps3 for example?

I imagine that would be an obvious comparison depending on the price point as both would offer similar media / network playback?
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Re: Asus PX24 - ultra small and quiet HD machine

Postby BinnsY » 10 Jul 2008, 11:15

In all honesty I dont know, my Blu-Ray drive just plays everything I have thrown at it.

As I understand it the updates will only ever affect special features and enhcnaed menus anyway so the films will always play fine on any drive.

I think a blu-ray drive would be a fantastic addition to something like this, but have to wonder if it would have enough oomph to play it. I know it manages the windows media clips john said, but they dont seem to chuck as much data around as an actual blu-ray disc.
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