First Look: Sideshow + Asus's ScreenDuo

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We've seen the nifty Microsoft Windows Vista demos where a separate screen on a notebook lets you run various software gadgets (even when the laptop's off) for a year, but we haven't seen any working product. Until today.

Asus new "Vista-capable" motherboards (one for AMD and the other for Intel) sport a desktop version of the SideShow screen. Using a small PDA-sized device tethered to a USB port, the ScreenDuo lets you control Windows Media Player, monitor your CPU temps and voltages or read RSS feeds on its tiny screen. The USB-powered device is designed to sit on your desktop and features a power button and two trigger buttons, as well as a digital pad and two nav buttons.

The ScreenDuo is currently only available bundled with Asus's new Vista Premium branded motherboards. That doesn’t mean it won’t work with another board though. We actually installed the ScreenDuo on machine using an Athlon 64 A8N32-SLI Premium boards and Vista. However, Asus isn't planning on selling the device separately. It can only be purchased with the P5B Premium Vista Edition or the M2N32-SLI Premium Vista Edition motherboards.

As with any new technology, our install wasn’t painless; although some of the problems are definitely related to the alien landscape of Vista. One of the windows to configure an individual gadgets doesn’t render properly – that’s either a bug in the Asus ScreenDuo applet or a bug in the Nvidia GeForce 8800GTS drivers that we used.

After a few more minutes of futzing around we got Sideshow up and running. It's actually pretty neat. With its white frame, it almost looks like it belongs on your desktop as a virtual picture frame. We tested several gadgets, including the RSS reader, photo viewer, and hardware monitor, and were ready for more, but unfortunately, there were only three additional SideShow gadgets available for download. The device even works when the PC is entirely shut down (or in standby mode), as long as your USB ports continue to provide power.

The really interesting thing is that you don't actually have to have Vista to use the ScreenDuo. Asus bundles Windows XP drivers and a good assortment of gadgets with the package. We also tested the ScreenDuo using an EVGA 680i board running Windows XP Professional without any issue. It even worked without the dialog box problem that we had in Vista so perhaps it is a video driver issue.

We'll have a full review of the new Asus board and the ScreenDuo in our May 2007 issue!

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