ASUS DiGiMatrix

[image:590,left,5,5]<p>I got wind of this barebones/media center box from Asus through The Register, but a quick Google search come up with a much better story by X-Bit Labs.</p>

Some of the best features: 5-in-1 card reader, built in 802.11b wireless access point, dual Ethernet (10/100 and Gigabit), listen to audio (incl. radio, CD, and MP3-CD) without turning the computer on. Read more for labelled pics of the front and back plus some musings.

It's amazing how many features are packed into this. I think that manufacturers are reallizing that small operators simply don't have the resources to re-purpose a more standard barebones box into one customized for multimedia. Hence the decision to drop a bunch of PCI or AGP expansion slots and build it in from the start.

[image:592,middle,5,5]

Software is the second issue. From the X-bit Labs article:

Maybe ASUS will provide a special version of Windows XP for this kind of personal computers, but since Windows XP costs an extra $75 ~ $100[US], ASUS may supply only its own software with the DiGiMatrix.

XP Media Center is a) unlikely to be certified for use by ASUS (they're too friendly with DIY'ers) and b) I imagine the licensing cost is even higher than for "regular" XP Home. If ASUS is working on its own software, that would be amazing. Basically, your choices are to run Windows XP plus a bunch of third-party software (software isn't designed to work together, full-blown GUI system when all you need is a bunch of on-screen menus, potential driver isssues, expensive) or struggle to get drivers working for a multimedia PC Linux distribution (difficult, if not impossible, especially for such integrated/customized hardware).

Hmmm...makes me think of some sort of QT- or wxWindows-based GUI front-end that implements all the standard multimedia PC functions: TV, photo albums, MP3s, etc. etc. With the cross platform frameworks I mentioned, it has the potential to work on multiple hardware/OS platforms.

[image:591,middle,5,5]

The only down sides that I could see pointed out were part of the strength here, too -- lack of expandability. But, this is not a gaming machine -- it's a multimedia PC/server, and it seems to have everything required. The one bone-headed move: placing the S/PDIF output on the front panel. This means you need to have the front panel permanently flipped down, with a cable coming out the front and (presumably) going into the back of your receiver.