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ASUS Terminator (J-project)

April 1, 2001



Do you remember, I promised your to tell a fairy-tale about a noiseless PC? Dreams come true...

A conception of budget PC wass kept in the heads of computer manufacturers for a long time and this idea is incarnated in different projects. And even such event as a release of a supercheap processor for desktop PC by VIA has poured into a global idea of production of a reasonable system at 199$, without an HDD, though, but at the same time it has a minibrowser integrated into Flash-memory. In a simplified form the scheme looks this way a user buys a computer, tries it in operating, and if he likes it, he upgrades it up to a normal PC with minimal expenses, and if not just puts it away or gives out to his friends not regretting about the sum spent. On the one hand, for computer fans such offer looks like a mockery, but there are will be a lot of new-comers who will be glad to feel the whole charm of working on a PC having spent a sum comparable with one for a playstation. And for educational institutions it will be a good chance to equip their classes with PCs. Network EEPROM and distant loading from a server makes the computer full-value even without an HDD. And there are various examples of this "elastic" market of supercheap PC which capacity rises in direct proportion to decrease of a price for a finished system. That's why it is not strange that companies have set about a new free niche which appeared due to development of modern technologies and increase in production volumes, and therefore, due to global reduction of prices for computer components.

Undoubtedly, in order to provide an acceptable prime cost of the system a company has to produce basic components of the given system themselves. VIA, for example, produces not only processors for low-end market Cyrix III and Samuel 2, but also a completely integrated chipset PLE133, which should provide rather low prices for full-range mainboards with a video adapter, sound, a modem and a network controller. In order to get a finished system you have only to add a case, drive, memory, and, optionally, HDD and CD-ROM drive. The size and design of the PC case will be a determinant when buying such a system. But considering the fact that both VIA products and finished systems are separated by a huge technological and manufacturing chain, this field has been developing too slow.

And what if to take another way? For example, if a large Taiwanese company a mainboard manufacturer, which is aimed at extension of their sphere of influence, would produce the majority of computer components A mainboard on the cheapest completely integrated chipset, with full usage of all its possibilities, including an onboard network controller. And at the same time not so big as MicroATX, and not so extravagant as FlexATX. A power unit is to be as small as possible, designed specially for this mainboard with the most compact position of the components. Plus, a CD-ROM drive and FDD.

Altogether is a so called Barebone, which should get, for a full-value PC, memory, a CPU and an HDD, optionally.

A charm of the second approach lies in the following. Quite often, when a buyer is short of money, he, in the first turn, would save on a mainboard, a case and a CD-ROM drive, what would result in failures in operation, loud fans and refusal to read CDs. But in this case your components are produced by a Brand-name company who accounts for quality, reliability and stability. And, at last, a stream assemblage of the systems installation of processor and memory - you should agree, is a much faster operation as compared with assembling of a PC separately.

Well, today in our lab we have a Terminator (J-project) from Asustek.

Let's take a look at it.

So, I will start with dimensions. On the photo you can see it in comparison with a usual popular ASUS FK-600 case. As you can see, the width is standard, since it's defined by the size of 5-inch discs, the depth and height are practically equal and make around 30 cm.

The design is pleasant. Two-color plastic and roundish changes of the front panel makes a computer looking like a toster-combiner.

I think that it's a true step such design together with a moderate price should erase the distinction between home equipment and a personal computer.

At the bottom of the front panel there is a flap lid where you can find holes for SmartCard, 2 USB, Firewire and 2 sound mini-jacks.

Now comes the rear panel.

You can see that the board's format is non-standard. On the photo you can see connectors painted according to the PC'99 specification one serial and one parallel ports, ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard, one game port, two USB ports, connectors for monitor and RJ-45 net cable, and line-in, -out and mic connectors.

Besides, there are two extension slots, power connector with 110/230B switch and a big 90X90mm fan which would never fit the power unit.

The U-shaped lid is connected with the front panel. In order to take it off you have to unscrew a fixing screw on the rear panel and to unpress a plastic clamp. The lid with the front panel would move a couple of centimeters forward, after that you can lift the lid and than take it off. Here you can see what is left after such operation.

So, there are two external 5-inch bay and one external 3-inch bay. One more internal bay is located above the external 3" one, and below on the left there is a power supply unit. Its dimensions can be estimated with fan holes. Let's consider it at the side.

The unit's dimensions can be seen now from two screws to the front panel. A side panel looks like a door. It's hard to open, but it gives the necessary rigidity for the construction.

The cable from the power supply connector and voltage switch to the power supply unit stretches. In order to get in deeper you have to take out a strap with the power connector and the switch.

Now you can look inside; two halves of the system come apart.

We disconnect the power supply connector from the mainboard, as well as Power, HDD and IDE LED cables. By the way, note that there is no a reset button. The cable has, though, two pairs of pins, and can become multifuctional when adding two cables just press - Reset, hold it 4 seconds - Shut Down.

In the main half there is a motherboard based on the SiS630, showing a CUSC (Compact, probably) and having rev1.03, an extension board CGAEX (Com Game Audio EXtension) rev1.02, a fan and fasteners for cables intended for improving air circulation inside the box.

While disassembling the case I really felt the brand product no shaky details, sharp edges, blots of paste etc. It makes the product a step higher than noname cases.

Although the fan makes no noise, it should be taken off. Note that the power supply unit doesn't heat at all, and the system with the Samuel 2 and HDD 5400 RPM without a fan won't cause any problems while operating. Moreover, the temperature difference (inside the case and outside) constitutes only 7 degrees, with the ambient temp equal to 28 C degrees.

You can see a strange excrescence on the power supply unit and the second fastener for cables.

A transformer is outputted, placed in an additional enclosure and mounted on the power supply unit, and after that the whole construction is placed in the case. At the side of mounting of the unit to the panel, the board is separated from the case with just a transparent plastic. The unit's power is 135W, what is more than enough.

Now up is the CUSC mainboard. I won't deep into details of the SIS630 chipset. You can see a clear resemblance of the Embedded PC an industrial computer which is entirely based on one board and is put in the case which is as compact as possible or an industrial monitor. And an additional board are connected with the main one according to the similar principle

For more exacting users the board features one more AMR slot, which you can use for a modem, and two PCI slots, due to which you can increase the power significantly of the practically absent 3D with an installation of, for example, a budget video card based on the TNT2 Pro for a PCI slot from ASUS.

The Socket-370 can take practically any processor from Cyrix 3 to the latest Celerons with 100 MHz bus and Pentium 3. And two slots for SDRAM in this system are more than enough.

The system uses Award Medallion 6.0 BIOS of the 1001 beta 009 version, but despite it the stability was very high.

Well, the system has taken the best what the Barebone market could offer, and it will undoubtedly entail an avalanche of analog solutions. They say that the name "J-project" means that one of the presidents of the company had a hand in its development.

And we, instead of testing the performance which doesn't differ from other mainboards on the SIS630, will speak about what will be budget computers in the nearest one-two years.

Dreams on the subject

The first dream. I think that it should be exactly a Desktop. Besides, the Tower can't be more narrow than a 5" drive bay, and in the Desktop CDROM's width is easily compensated by a horizontal case implementation.

The second dream. In principle, such systems are not intended for total upgrade, including a motherboards, a video card etc. And the case won't change of course. Then why to follow some definite standards of the format when developing a motherboard? Of course, there is no reason for it. And a board for the aforementioned Desktop, whose USB connectors are located on the opposite side, and, correspondingly, outputted onto the front panel of the case (designed for this definite board) a good idea, isn't it? Comfortable and stylish.

The third dream. Again on deviation from standards. As a rule, an exclusive device, i.e. devices specially designed for definite systems, doesn't have a possibility of total upgrade but they still can endure some slight upgrade there are different feature connectors for additional small boards. So, there is a lot of ways to go. The first one is positioning of a connector for TV-Out daughter board on the mainboard.

In general, a new circuit of the struggle for a PC user brings in exclusiveness of the design in the computer industry and withdrawal from a rigid unification. Of course, it may not suit staunch fans of the computer hardware, but these computers are not for them. And for a housewife who is using this box for corresponding with friends she will be proud of a new ASUS, whose color is much more pleasant than that of others. Tastes differ.

Conclusions

Well, the ASUS Terminator is intended not for all kinds of users. The more individual the approach, the higher number of opponent it has. The system can suit many places: from a home computer with such main applications as a browser and a post client, to office computer with a text editor, a simple database and an electronic worksheet.

By the way, the chipset was chosen carefully: first, the SiS630 is the only low-end solution with an integrated graphics core with the chipset having a full-value 10/100 Mbps BusMaster Ethernet controller, and it can be realized on the board with any additional chips. Secondly, increasing popularity of Linux and other Unix-like OS's puts a question on a driver support and here SiS is above all! At least, such a rear thing as drivers for Linux for all chipset components including a graphics core and sound are available right on the manufacturer's site.

Unexpected conclusion. An exuberant bloom of low-end PCs can lead to another interesting consequence. Whatever you may say, but you will sometimes play on a home computer. All modern games feature cool 3D, which requires as least GeForce2 MX, plus a powerful processor. And it won't be a surprise if a wide popularity of rather weak computers would result in the fact that manufacturers would take out old engines, then adjust OpenGL or Direct3D to it, what can be done with an accelerator of the SiS630 level (i810/815, VIA PM/KM-133), and would put them in use again. Why not?

Well, a revolution which was much spoken about is starting already, only not in the field of a fantastic increase of performance, megabytes per second and fps, but in the field of mass migration to production of supercheap home solutions which attract not with a speed but with a price. The first sample has impressed us with its beauty, style, noiseless operation. And no bugs. For a system intended not for professionals this factor plays a vital role. Performance of the system on the applications it is meant for corresponds to the required level. As for games, they will appear very soon. Just let them do it.


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