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Geekender Gallery: ASUS Eee Keyboard

The Asus Eee Keyboard is one of the oddest computers we've seen in a while. It looks like an ordinary keyboard, but has a complete PC inside. Let's see how it's done...
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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The Asus Eee Keyboard is one of the oddest computers we've seen in a while. It looks like an ordinary keyboard, but has a complete PC inside — an uncommon but far from unknown configuration. However, it also has a 5in. 800-by-480 touch-screen built into the right-hand side, with fingertip access to calendar, photo gallery, web browser and so on. It has 802.11n Wi-Fi, an integrated speaker and micropohone, and HDMI output.

At under a kilogram, the Eee Keyboard is as easily portable as a standard keyboard, although it remains to be seen what it'll actually be useful for.

 

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2 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

Inside, the Eee Keyboard is a netbook with the components spread horizontally under the keyboard. It looks very much like the all-in-one personal computers that were popular in the 1980s.

 

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3 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The larger form factor allows a larger fan than found in most netbooks, which can run slower and quieter while moving the same volume of air. This is made by Forcecon and specified at 24dB, and is effectively silent even at full power.

 

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4 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The Eee Keyboard has tiny internal speakers, one at each side of the unit. These are the same units as used in the company's netbooks; they sound fine, but because they're now so close to the keyboard your hands can block playback. The keyboard is also very noisy if you're typing while using VoIP.

 

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5 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The Bluetooth module is standard, but isn't plugged directly into the motherboard. This configuration makes changing or upgrading easier, and may also give slightly greater isolation between the radio components and the electrical noise of the main circuit.

 

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6 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

There's no chance of a memory upgrade, with the main RAM soldered firmly into place and no SIMM sockets for additional RAM. This is a machine designed for web applications and light personal use: gamers, engineers and software developers should look elsewhere for digital muscle.

 

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7 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

A 800MHz DDR-2 1-gigabit RAM chip, soldered directly into the motherboard. This is overspecified for this machine, probably because it was easier, cheaper or safer to source than a lower-spec part. The economics of the memory market frequently force decisions on manufacturers for reasons other than engineering.

 

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8 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

Most netbook and small form factor PC SSDs are standard socketed daughterboards. Although made from standard chips, this is a proprietary daughterboard, discouraging upgrades.

 

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9 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

Unusually for a desktop computer, the Eee Keyboard has an internal battery. It's not very capacious, and we expect it to be able to run the computer for 90 minutes at most.

 

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10 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The Wi-Fi unit — unnamed and not working in this prototype — has the normal two antenna connections. On a netbook, the antennas are in the screen, where they're raised up for extra range. Here, the antennas are in the keyboard, which could make connectivity less effective at longer ranges.

 

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11 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

Most of the computer's IO is on this daughterboard, with three USBs and the audio connectors brought out to a usable position on the device.

 

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12 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

An unusual motherboard denizen, this Thine THC63LVDF64A-G chip converts the outpuit of the GMA 950 graphics chipset to the signals that drive the LCD. Usually found on the LCD panel itself, the lack of space has pushed ASUS to integrate this component directly into the motherboard.

 

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13 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The Silicon Image SIL1392CNU chip drives the HD output for the HDMI. The GMA 950 chipset was not certified HDMI or HDCP, so this chip ensures compatibility with HDMI 1.2 standards and resolutions from 480i to 1080p. The chip also manages up to eight tracks of sound for HD-Audio and DVD Audio DTS and Dolby. There is some question as to whether the Atom N280 found in the computer is powerful enough for HD playback: to date it has been unsuccessful, but better drivers may help.

 

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14 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

To the left of the touch-screen are two special keys: they lie lower and feel different to the rest of the keyboard. They're harder to press, which is appropriate as one is the power and the other the key that turns the tiny internal LCD on and off — two functions you're unlikely to want to accidentally trigger.

 

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15 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The software here isn't finished, but has themes that recall those of the first EeePC: EeeFun and EeeTools resemble features found in Xandros. There are shortcuts to launch functions such as the alarm or calculator, but these also work if there's a larger monitor connected.

 

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16 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The brightness of the screen, its resolution and touch response are good, even if the screen is glossy. The touch interface is surprisingly sensitive and responds to a light stroke just as well as a firm prod. After some experience, it proved accurate enough to steer a mouse pointer for most Windows tasks, including standard windows controls.

 

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17 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

A row of indicators show the status of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, time, alarm, sound level and battery level. A number of these indicators are repeated on LEDs above the mini-screen, leading to duplication and a waste of valuable screen real estate. This shows that to get the best results from such an idiosyncratic configuration, some care is needed to customise standard functions.

 

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18 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

With its typical netbook configuration of an Atom N280, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of SSD, the machine isn't beefy enough to act as a multimedia centre.. The 16GB is certainly enough for a useful selection of MP3s and video, but it's neither portable enough to compete with an iPod or netbook, nor powerful enough to act as a home server. The exact role of this machine remains a mystery.

 

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19 of 19 Pierre Lecourt, www.blogeee.net

The Asus Eee Keyboard is more of a concept machine than a new mainstream form factor. Although a fascinating experiment, it needs to have a focus — one job it can do better than the alternatives. And that means increasing performance or capacity — or finding something useful to display on that tiny screen.

 

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