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There are a couple final things that I want to mention about this ECS i-Buddie XP desknote system. First, the BIOS for the SiS 740 chipset board inside it was about as bare as they come these days and was very reminiscent of the ancient Compaq BIOS screens. The only options were for hard drives, time and other generic settings. You could only change the FSB to 100 or 133 MHz and there weren’t any overclocking options at all except for a single memory timing. What you install in this system is what you are going to get – no questions asked.

Also a bit of a let down was that ECS does not plan to include any software with the desknote at the retail end of sales. That means no operating system and no add-ons like productivity software or small games. Having the extra expense of purchasing a copy of Windows XP is not exactly what people are going to be looking to do. But, ECS would like to keep the cost of the i-Buddie systems down as low as possible. The only thing you will be getting in this box is drivers!

Overall, the i-Buddie XP system impressed me from many points but also left room for improvements. The design of the system is superb and gives the user lots of expansion and features with the use of USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 ports. TV-out and the option of a DVD/CD-RW drive make it a portable workstation for presentations and the likes. The price is also something you are going to like as I think ECS is going to be keeping the price below the $1000 mark on these guys.

However, the performance of the system was not as impressive as I’d hoped. It didn’t quite match up with the desktop version of the same setup – and truth be told even the desktop performance wasn’t much to look at. The faults seem to lie in the SiS 740chipset itself as the on-board video and memory bandwidth are falling drastically behind when compared to other integrated solutions like the nForce platform from NVIDIA. Having shared memory bandwidth with the video card bandwidth makes the system bus overly crowded and not only prevents a lot of the gaming performance but can also slow down system performance in 2D applications as well. Simply put, the SiS 740 isn’t ready to handle the kind of performance that we are looking for: like the KT333 chipset is.

I keep mentioning that gaming wasn’t a feasible option on the i-Buddie but I think I should clarify this somewhat. During the course of the test and other uses, I have played numerous games on the ECS i-Buddie XP including StarCraft, Counter-Strike and even WarCraft III. The hardest on the system was WarCraft, but the game was still very easy and strong to play at the 1024×768 resolution. Counter-Strike was a breeze for it as was StarCraft. Chances are that this system could even play Quake III and some other recent games. What you can not expect is to turn all the graphic options on and get the frame rates you are seeing with your GF4 Ti cards – it is just not going to happen. But if you are going to be playing some older games or those that are as demanding on system and video card requirements, you should be able to play them on the i-Buddie XP.

What I would love to see is an integration of a desknote just like this from ECS that uses the NVIDIA chipset motherboards and components rather than the SiS chipsets. Having an nForce 2 based desknote computer would be a dramatic leap over anything we have out now in terms of gaming performance and system performance. As Shuttle is building the latest mini-PC based on this chipset, perhaps ECS will be working with NVIDIA on a desknote for it?

If you are in the market for a desktop replacement and portable PC, the desknote series of i-Buddie from ECS is definitely worth a look at. The performance of the system is below what you will be getting on most desktop computers, but for now that is the price you pay for the mobility you have in the design of the i-Buddie XP. We will be eagerly looking forward to seeing what other small form-factor computer designs are to be released soon based on the AMD processors, as ECS has added to the beginnings of the crowd.

Other Reviews: Shuttle SS40 Mini-PC

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