Express Gate – Embedded Linux
The Asus ExpressGate feature is a unique addition to a motherboard and the first time we have seen a GREAT use of on-board solid state media.  While some motherboards were originally going to be built with flash memory for Windows Vista ReadyBoost, I think that after finding performance benefits close to zero for desktop systems, Asus wanted to find a new way to use the memory that they had designed on the board. 

No doubt they have created something compelling. 

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During boot up, instead of getting your typical splash screen from the motherboard BIOS, the user is presented with a screen like this.  You can use the keyboard or mouse (if your mouse works with it — mine didn’t) to select to either boot into the “SplashTop” Linux OS for web browsing or Skype calling, boot off standard devices, enter the BIOS setup menus or power down.

In the BIOS menus you can choose to enable or disable this feature and set the time that the menu here waits for user interaction before defaulting to booting into your desired OS. 

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Once you have decided to boot into the Linux-based OS that is on the flash memory, you get a very basic system with which to play around in.  The boot up time is one of the more impressive features — you can get a web browser up and running in less than 15 seconds after you initiate the process.

Here we have a basic browser window open to Google — obviously since Asus has pre-installed the OS on the flash memory it has the necessary drivers to utilize the two Gigabit Ethernet ports located on the motherboard. 

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Here you can also see that the browser has Flash installed as our entire site loads up just fine.  You can adjust quite a few settings in the areas of browser options, sound output, microphone input and keyboard support. 

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The other main application in the small operating system is a Skype client — I had no issues logging in and completing a basic test call using a standard headset microphone.  I don’t use Skype for any kind of everyday calling so this part of the instant-on operating system isn’t that appealing to me, but for others it could be.

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You can adjust the resolution of the display in your ExpressGate “SplashTop” while it defaults at the 800×600 setting.  Thanks to the writable memory that makes up the ExpressGate technology on the board these settings can be saved.

Overall, the value of the ExpressGate technology depends greatly on how you use your system and how often it is turned off.  My machine is an always on system so I don’t really worry about the instant-on benefits that this provides.  If you turn your PC off though, as I imagine a lot of you do for power and heat reasons, then Asus might have a key to your heart.  If you just need to check movie times on your way out the door, taking 15 seconds or less in getting online to look compared to 2-3 minutes or more for your Windows OS to boot and “settle” is like shaving hours off your errands.
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