Asus Eee Top ET2203 Review

Asus Eee Top ET2203
MSRP $799.99
“If you're in the market for a clutter-free PC that won't empty your wallet in the name of fashion, Asus' ET2203 strikes an ideal midpoint between style, performance and practicality.”
Pros
  • Attractive chassis
  • Solid build quality
  • Sharp 22-inch display
  • Excellent desktop performance
  • Surprisingly good sound quality
  • Wireless peripherals included
Cons
  • Child-sized peripherals
  • Flimsy tray-loading DVD drive
  • Weak gaming performance

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Introduction

Who needs touch anyway? While most of Asus’ previous Eee Tops have focused on bringing touch screens to the mainstream, the ET2003 abandons finger-centric aspirations and makes a stab at a more traditional all-in-one, ala Apple’s iMac. Although it can’t quite nail Apple’s design sensibilities, the $900 price point, which puts it $300 below the cheapest iMac, may make it a compelling choice for budget all-in-one buyers.

Features

The ET2003 we received for review came with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor clocked at 2.2GHz, 4GB of DDR2 RAM, a 500GB SATA drive spinning at 5400 RPM, and ATI’s Radeon HD 4570 with 256MB of dedicated RAM, all set around a 21.6-inch widescreen display with full 1080p resolution. Other notable features include a built-in webcam, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and dual 3-watt stereo speakers, along with an included wireless mouse and keyboard.

Asus Eee Top ET2203Weight and Dimensions

The entire package measures just about two inches thick – making it right on par with Apple’s iMac and downright slender compared to Gateway’s bloated One ZX. On a desk, it measures 21.57 inches across – no wider than a typical monitor of the same size – so it’s easy to squeeze into just about any space. Weight of about 20 pounds feels like a bear when you’re moving around, but also gives it some presence on the desktop and prevents it from wiggling around or feeling cheap.

Design and Build Quality

To some degree, Asus has clearly copped some Apple attributes in the style department. The ET2003 features a glossy black bezel set flush with the display, silver trim, and rounded corners. But you won’t see us complaining. The ET2003 executes all of these elements well, and Asus has added some of its own cues too, like a stripe of bright chrome below the LCD, a prominent front speaker bar with a perforated silver grille, and a smoked acrylic surround piece. The acrylic has become a common addition in this type of computer, but Asus gives it a slightly different twist with a dished-out design that makes it seem as if the entire PC is sitting in a tray of glassy plastic. It shows through most evidently below the speaker bar, where an inch or so of blank space brings out the cupping in the plastic. Unlike the One ZX Series, Asus includes no ambient LED lighting, which would have been a nice touch on a machine we already consider more attractive than that competitor.

Asus Eee Top ET2203Peripherals and Accessories

What is it about all-in-one PCs that makes manufacturers opt for the worst peripherals possible? Although Asus didn’t fall into the same trap as Gateway’s ZX One (supplying a mouse and keyboard that seem like they’re from the Dollar Store), the ET2003 comes packaged with a mouse and keyboard that seem destined for a kindergarten classroom. We’re talking a netbook-sized keyboard for a desktop computer here, folks. It spans only 11.75 inches across, from key to key. A real desktop keyboard, like Logitech’s Illuminated Keyboard, which we measured for reference, hits 16.5 inches – or 13.5 if we’re generous and exclude the number pad that Asus left off theirs. We realize Asus shares the Eee moniker with netbooks, but there is absolutely no reason to make a keyboard this cramped on a desktop computer. The same goes for the mouse, which, although less frustrating, still had our palms and fingers hanging off the side like gorilla hands.

In a quirk we’ve never seen before, the keyboard also produced @ symbols when we held shift on the number 2 key and ” double quotations when we held shift on the ‘ key, a swap of what each key is supposed to perform under shift.

Asus Eee Top ET2203Ports and Controls

After powering up the ET2203 with a blue-lit power button below the screen, a strip of touch controls below the monitor light up in white. Four buttons deliver dedicated controls for the monitor, while disk access and Wi-Fi indicator lights beside them let you know when the hard drive is spinning or Wi-Fi is powered on.

Around to the left, the ET2203 offers two USB ports, an SD/MMC/MS (Pro) card reader, and dedicated 3.5mm jacks for headphones and a microphone. Further around back, you’ll find four more USB ports for a total of six, an S/PDIF digital audio output, HDMI input to use the monitor as a display, and an Ethernet jack. All the essentials are there, but the well-equipped Gateway One ZX offers more extras, like an eSATA port for external hard drives and enough analog audio outputs for 5.1-channel surround.

It may be a matter of personal preference, but the wiggly tray-loading DVD drive built into the right side of the monitor killed some of the ET2203′ slickness for us. In contrast to the subtle slot loaders on the iMac and One ZX series, it’s both an eyesore and an unexpectedly cheap-feeling piece of equipment on an otherwise sturdy machine.

Display

The 21.6-inch display on the ET2203 offers bright, crisp colors and respectable black levels, although as you might expect, it doesn’t quite nail the eye-popping brilliance of high-end standalone displays. Even so, it worked well as a mini cinema with 1080p movies, and showed no signs of blur even in fast-action scenes and video games.

Audio

As with the Gateway One ZX Series, we walked away from the ET2203 downright impressed with the audio it was capable of pushing out. The modest speakers buried behind the front grille deliver volume and presence beyond what you would expect – more than enough to scare you out of your skin when it comes on out of the blue at full volume. Naturally, a little pair of speakers tend to distort at this level, but not badly enough to make it unusable for applications like showing a quick YouTube video or watching an episode of The Simpsons on Hulu. For music, we tried to keep it under the 60 percent level for best performance – which was still plenty listenable.

Asus Eee Top ET2203Desktop Performance

Asus claims its ‘Fast Bootup technology’ improves boot times on the ET2203 by 50 percent, but as far as we know, it might as well be Windows 7 over Windows Vista. In our tests, the system went from powered off and cold to the desktop in 50 seconds, and opened a browser in a little under a minute flat. That’s respectable performance, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it were a 50 percent improvement over what the same hardware might do under Vista (although we couldn’t bring ourselves to infect it with Vista just to find out).

The nimble Core 2 Duo pushed most applications around with similar authority, bringing up applications quickly, handling multiple browser tabs without complaint, and the Radeon HD 4570 chip decoded 1080p Apple movie trailers without so much as a stutter.

Game Performance

Most all-in-one machines make no claim to gaming proficiency, but after getting results on par to the HP Firebird with Gateway’s top-of-the-line One ZX, we couldn’t help breaking the Asus ET2203 in the same way. Unfortunately, testing a similar machine with vastly lower specs set us up for disappointment.

Early 3DMark06 tests prepared us for what was to come with a relatively modest score of 3240 3DMarks.

A quick run in Crysis drove this home. With resolution set to the display’s native 1920 x 1080, both medium and low settings proved to be too much to produce playable framerates on the ET2203. Only when we dropped resolution back to 1280 x 720 with settings still on low were we able to actually settle down and play. Older, less demanding games, like BioShock, still proved to be a problem for the Asus, which didn’t produce playable framerates at full resolution until we dropped all the settings to low.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a clutter-free PC that won’t empty your wallet in the name of fashion, Asus’ ET2203 strikes an ideal midpoint between style, performance and practicality. As long as you have no gaming aspirations, the ET2003 will happily arrange family photos, surf the Web and even edit video from the comfort of your living room. Gateway’s One ZX Series offers touch and a wider variety of hardware, but Asus’ one-size-fits-all competitor offers an excellent value proposition at this spec level and price point.

Highs:

  • Attractive chassis
  • Solid build quality
  • Sharp 22-inch display
  • Excellent desktop performance
  • Surprisingly good sound quality
  • Wireless peripherals included

Lows:

  • Child-sized peripherals
  • Flimsy tray-loading DVD drive
  • Weak gaming performance

Editors' Recommendations