A ScreenDuo SideShow
While an onboard ReadyBoost cache is neat, it doesn't exactly have the same flashy appeal as, oh, Vista's slick Aero user interface. However, Asus' Vista Edition motherboards aren't completely lacking in sex appeal; they also come bundled with a fancy ScreenDuo display designed to work with Vista's SideShow capabilities.
The ScreenDuo measures roughly 4" wide, 2.5" tall, and 0.75" thick, and features a 2.5" diagonal QVGA display. It has a four-way directional pad and a couple of buttons up front, in addition to three buttons located along the top edge of the unit.
A handy stand pops out of the back of the unit, making it possible to mount on a desk for easy viewing. Asus also throws in a USB cable to connect the ScreenDuo to your PC, and that's where the fun begins.
Windows Vista's SideShow feature was conceived to allow laptops to display information on a secondary display, but that functionality hasn't been limited to the mobile world. Auxiliary displays are nothing new on the desktop, of course—I've been running dual monitors for years. However, SideShow isn't quite the same as a secondary monitor. Instead, it's designed to be an interface for what Microsoft calls gadgets—mini applications similar to widgets on the Mac.
Most users will find gadgets on their Windows Vista sidebars, but the ScreenDuo and other SideShow devices provide a secondary display and interface for those kinds of applications. In notebooks, SideShow devices can allow you to access email messages, check your calendar, and use other gadgets while the notebook remains closed. That's certainly handy if you're on the go and don't have time to sit down and crack open your laptop, but the appeal doesn't really translate to the desktop, where you're generally always sitting in front of your monitor. Still, gamers should appreciate the ability to access certain applications without disrupting their full-screen fragging, questing, or whatever it is that kids are doing these days.
Oddly, the M2N32-SLI Premium's ScreenDuo module doesn't show up in the Windows Vista SideShow control panel. Instead, Asus provides its own ScreenDuo software and a selection of gadgets, including a handy RSS reader and an iTunes control panel that you're probably not going to get from Microsoft. Users can easily trim this list of gadgets to suit their needs, and configuration is a snap.
When the ScreenDuo module is powered on, the user is greeted with a simple interface that can be used to fire up any of the gadget apps. The screen itself is clear and bright, and the simple interface plays well with the limited number of buttons on the device.
QVGA's 320x240 resolution isn't the best way to view pictures or slideshows, but it's more than adequate for text, as can be seen with our own RSS article feed. There's even enough room along the bottom edge of the display for a mini taskbar, complete with a clock and mail and calendar notification icons.
If you like gaming to music of your own choosing, the ScreenDuo's Media Player Controller gadget is pretty slick. Not only can you monitor and control what's currently playing...
You can also browse your media library and available playlists. I really wasn't expecting the media player interface to offer much more than basic playback and volume controls, so I was pleasantly surprised here. The ScreenDuo really is much more than a secondary display; it's a whole secondary interface.
Of course, while the interface is nice, gadgets will ultimately make or break the ScreenDuo—and SideShow as a whole—on the desktop. Asus is off to a good start, offering iTunes control, an RSS reader, and a hardware monitoring app, but the last of these definitely needs some work. The hardware monitoring gadget will display system temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages. However, they're all on separate pages, and you don't get any graphing over time. We like graphs. A lot.
SideShow is a new idea, so we'll cut Asus some slack here. If anything, they've provided a very nice foundation for desktop gadgets, and we'd love to see developers take advantage of it. This kind of auxiliary interface seems ideal for instant messaging, hardware monitoring, and system performance tracking gadgets, in particular.
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