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A whole heap of companies have started offering miniature Linux-powered PCs in the last few years, from Zonbu, Sumo and Koolu to DecTOP, that sells the device formerly known as AMD's Personal Internet Communicator. A number bear an almost suspicious resemblance to x86-powered thin clients, being based around inexpensive, low- …

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Coat

Why BFM TV ???

Isn't it any hot anchor in Zee Blighty ???

1GB though is a bit tiny even xfce wise.

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Unhappy

ARM candidate

why not stick an ARM chip in it? lower the cost even more?

This is too expensive for what it is. You can buy a EEE701 for less.

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In Car PC?

There's been a few murmurs in this direction but most boxes seem to be overly powerful for the task - therefore overly power consuming, warm and expensive. This could fill that niche if marketed properly in my view.

Hell, it even looks like it'll fit in a din.

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Boggle

What a completely pointless piece of hardware. Why not just buy a netbook for £50 less with a much faster Atom CPU, and plug in a full-sized keyboard, mouse? That way you get a display for free, but if you want a bigger one, buy one and plug it in as well.

The price is plain crazy. If you can make profit selling a netbook for £200, this box shouldn't be much over £100. Might even have some point at that price!

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Dead Vulture

eh?

a 200MHz processor and just 128MB of RAM. That's a mid-1990s level spec,

I wouldn't exactly call that MID 90s spec. More like late 90s spec. I spent £200 on a PII233 in 98 and only got 32MB to go with it.

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Anonymous Coward

firewall?

shame only one network port

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Too limited. Too expensive.

This baby:

http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/store/Mini_ITX_Systems/Damn_Small_Machine

has been for sale for a couple years, hardly top-of the-line, but still fast and with better connectivity (OK, less usb ports, but still...). After all these years, you'd think there could have been a significant improvement...

Also, basing it on a *buntu was probably not so smart.

Better luck next time.

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Mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa

The late-90s-spec thing is a fair comment; I apologise unreservedly for my inability to accurately remember PC specs from 15-odd years ago. :¬)

Yes, an ARM chip would be a better fit for such a machine, but there are few ARM-based Linux distros around just yet. Some of the tinier thin clients also use MIPS processors, which are even less-well-supported. The snag with going non-x86 is that suddenly you can't use off-the-shelf Flash players, Java VMs and so on - while some of them are out there, they are often not free to download & cost the system-builders serious money to license.

Yes, a "netbook" would be cheaper, but it would also be around twice the size. The Linutop2 really is *very* small and netbooks still have cooling fans and so need airflow.

As for a CarPC, I'm afraid that never even occurred to me. I don't have a car - I'm a biker myself. As such, like most bikers, I am generally dead set against any in-car distractions for drivers whatsoever.

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Useless? Methinks not...

@ Boggle

On the contrary, this is an excellent piece of kit that has a definite market. Take for instance Point Of Sale terminals... screw one of these on the back of an LCD monitor and you have a nice low cost small footprint retail sales machine. I have already done this with a Eee PC, it' s nice to see more coming on the market.

There are loads of uses, from in-vehicle computing to thin-client terminals. Office PCs could be replaced with this as well, what, you need more than 500MHz for your word-processor? It certainly would reduce the amount of support to the desktops that are deployed in most offices.

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Flame

Re: Boggle

"What a completely pointless piece of hardware. Why not just buy a netbook for £50 less with a much faster Atom CPU, and plug in a full-sized keyboard, mouse?"

Sheesh! Read the article and find out why. Hint: it's all about the power and noise levels, components and robustness. Read the last paragraph if you can't be bothered to finish the review.

Sheesh!

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Unhappy

still not convinced

@Liam Proven

"The snag with going non-x86 is that suddenly you can't use off-the-shelf Flash players, Java VMs"

But you said you can't play flash properly as it is anyway. I imagine Java would also be dog slow.

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@AC 15:26

"Hint: it's all about the power and noise levels, components and robustness."

An EEE701 AFAIK draws 10W with the LCD screen set to lowest. And this puppy draws 8W, not a massive difference and i'm pretty sure you could disable the screen if you wanted.

I'm fairly certain that the noise levels between the two are negligible as well, even with the fan (which can be turned off) going at full whack.

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unless the price is a lot cheaper, i just can't see why someone wouldn't buy a 701

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Happy

I'm still convinced...

of the concept, but not this execution. What about these beauties? http://www.fit-pc.co.uk/

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there are other small desktops

We're using the eBox 3300 from DMP/ICOP out of Taiwan. WDL Systems in the US carries them. About $150 for a bare machine in quantity 1. These have a 1GHz Pentium equivalent processor with 256MB of RAM. They come with USB ports and a CF port and a micro-SD slot. The power supply is rated at a max of 10W, so they can't be pulling much more than the Linutop 2. I would not run a compute farm with them, but for most things they are just fine. Installing Linux is a little tricky as they use somewhat rare hardware for the IDE controller and the ethernet.

We're using them as embedded machines and they are working very well.

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Boffin

Viglen

This looks identical to the Viglen MPC-L, it is £99 including vat with a bit less ram and a free memory stick - is it the same or the lower spec model mentioned at the beginning of the article?

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Hard to see what they are charging for

There's no screen and no disc. A very low-end CPU, a few pennies worth of RAM and a 4-port USB hub and controller. Unless the case is made of something pretty special, I'd say the markup on the parts is around 400%. This may be about par for very low volume devices, but that's why they are very low volume devices. Disappointing.

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Good luck to them

I can see a few uses for these, shame its a bit lacking in ports though. I work with control systems and something like this with parallel and serial ports would be ideal for either new systems or retrofitting older setups, great for prototyping too.

If they could offer options on port configs, like the second network for a firewall mentioned above or a couple of serial ports for some point of sale kit then this could well be a winner.

As to the price, yes it is a bit steep but they are not a high volume manufacturer so they aren't getting hardware at anything like asus or dell's discounts. Considering what I've seen companies pay for similar kit, 250 euro is very reasonable.

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EEE B202 would be a better bet

I bought an EEE B202 for £70 less, it can run Windows XP / 7 / Ubuntu 9.04 if required, uses less power and is silent. It's bigger but still small enough to be attached to the back of a monitor etc.

A much better option in my opinion.

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Linux

Fit PC

I was after a small silent PC for the living room - I looked at various and the Fit PC was best for my use.

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Go

Hamster powered

This could even powered it with a hamster or two, though it'd probably make overclocking expensive and unhealthy (too much steroids to peanuts ratio) and it may bring the wrath of the fearsome semi-clad PETA troops on you.

In all seriousness a computer has more uses other than doing games, word processing and internet trawling - and this particular device fits a niche perfectly : an easily programmable general purpose automation machine: logging stuff, security, webcam monitoring/time lapses, misc automation, torrent duty w/ an external drive, etc using nothing but readily accessible software tools (think Python for instance) that can also work with cheap COTS PC hardware. It could even be solar powered, and probably could last through the night or a dark day on a battery no bigger than itself. You would not need a screen or a keyboard unless it needed servicing/updating etc. Because it's running X, it could be remotely administered too (using your Eee maybe?)

With no moving parts it would be quite robust and long-lasting - Plug'n'Forget.

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Misses the price point completely

My company's product ships on wafer Atom boards. They're about the same size as this, silent, about the same power draw, with 8GB of solid state storage, an Atom N270 processor and 2GB of RAM. We can do it for less than this price as well. Completely pointless.

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I have one of these

Bought it on a whim, but although it's a nice box it's biggest problem is market position.

As you say, no-one will use it as a desktop substitute, so I really don't get what the point is of shipping it with Open Office. Anyone that buys one of these is going to use it for a) POS, b) in car or living room PC, c) signage or variations on those themes. Yet when shipped it would run Open Office but not VNC (to be fair I think this has been fixed in the latest release), which turned connecting to a wireless network (at home, without a screen) into a three-day job.

What's more it runs some unnecessarily customized version of Ubuntu with some astonishingly annoying hacks. Want to start sshd on boot? Install and reboot, no daemon. Puzzled, you add it to /etc/rc.d and reboot. Bing, it's gone again. In fact there's some completely non-standard file you have to edit somewhere which has a list of "forbidden" daemons. More hours wasted and a royal pain in the arse, that generated an angrygram to Linutop and no mistakin'.

Considering how many micro distributions are available I hope Linutop use their heads, drop the novelty desktop focus and custom distribution and focus on getting it working better when headless, using a standard distribution.

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whoooosh

The sound of another near miss.

Might make a great firewall? Ooops, single ethernet port.

Might make a good media streaming box for the loungeroom? oops, no HDMI or DVI port, probably not up to showing HD (the reviewer doesn't bother mentioning that, pah)

Too expensive and no clear usage niche to fill = FAIL

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Its cute

Its cute but I can't really think of a use for it. Price-wise its way cheaper to build something yourself, the other day I assembled a 2.8GHZ Athlon/1GB RAM Micro ATX machine for under $45. There are other cheaper thin-client looking things out there that can probably work just as well. What I don't get is why it's always Linux? Specifically the most irritating distribution of Linux? They seem to be marketing this thing as sort of an embedded device, and I've always found NetBSD to work much better on embedded things. As an added bonus it lets you use cheaper, lighter non-x86 processors like the Super H, etc...

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@Spencer

with a fanless system you can do things like stick them in an oil-filled plastic bag and run them underwater. All-solid-state standard off-the-shelf microcontrollers can run to almost half a kilometer of pressure in this simple, cheap configuration (and with modifications to things like the capacitors can drop to over 3000m) so an all-solid-state PC should be able to do something similar.

So there's anything exposed in a nautical environment- even if it's running underwater. It'd be perfect for stuff like a light obervation class ROV or AUV, whereas a netbook would be too big and bulky.

It'd also be fantastic for embedded PC control in industrial environments- no fans means that it'll not be affected by (or be dangerous in) some really harsh conditions. Being x86, it could very quickly and cheaply be set up to, for example, provide a touchscreen interface for a large range of sensors.

And if you loaded, say, Win98 and Office into a RAMdisk on the device rather than loading a fairly modern OS from USB stick you'd find that it was plenty fast enough for office use.

Saying that, you can get more powerful kit for less money- that still has the same capabilities as listed above.

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should be ARM

This machine demonstrates wasted potential by sticking to obsolete and slow x86 architecture. So what that not all Linux distributions are available for ARM - how many are needed? And if portability is not Linux's strong point, then what is? For * sake, even FreeBSD started supporting ARM recently.

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Way too expensive

The machine costs way too much considering that the Viglen MPC sells for £99.

The Viglen has a 400Mhz Geode processor (the Viglen page doesn't list specs, but some reviews do) rather than 500Mhz but it also has a proper 2.5" harddisk in for storage and it has the same 512MB ram.

Viglen MPC product page: http://tinyurl.com/5zpxpu

Some reviews:

http://tonywhitmore.co.uk/blog/2008/08/18/viglen-mpc-l-well-worth-79/

http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/mikewillis/entry/viglen_mpc/

http://popey.com/Playing_With_The_Viglen_MPC-L

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Re: Mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa

>> The late-90s-spec thing is a fair comment; I apologise unreservedly for my inability to accurately remember PC specs from 15-odd years ago. :¬)

Wouldn't 15 years ago take us to the mid-nineties?

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Unhappy

@ Adam Foxton

I accept the underwater oil filled plastic bag argument, it's something i *completely* overlooked when comparing the 701 to this.

Having said that i still reckon it's not worth the money, nor the 75% rating the reviewer gave it.

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"Being x86, it could very quickly and cheaply be set up to, for example, provide a touchscreen interface for a large range of sensors."

I don't think the arch matters so much when Tcl/Tk and other languages work on ARM and others.

@AC 09:08

That product looks disturbingly similar to the Linutop, even down to the measurements. The price is acceptable as well.

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HDMI

As Apple don't seem to want to add HDMI onto their MacMini there has to be a market for machines of this size that can be turned into media hubs.

Shame this isn't one of them.

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If it were cheaper, hams would snap these up by the bucketfull!

Would make a nifty battery powered box to run digital modes like PK31, RTTY, etc. Just use a low power LCD display that can run off an inverter and you're all set for EMCOMM or Field Day...

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Anonymous Coward

Possible uses?

1. Home automation PC including pulling files off a server for playback on a TV or audio system. Give it a bit of web presence and the right interfaces and it can set the mood and temperature for you getting home.

2. In-car non-essential systems controller. With the right software this little thing could handle satnav, entertainment, phonecalls etc. A GPS could be a lot more if it was broken out of the little grey plastic box with the stern sounding lady inside.

3. Vulnerable people. Again with the right software this thing could act as the inexpensive hub for things like sheltered accommodation to monitor alarms and sensors detecting people moving around.

4. Animal husbandry. Say you have a hatchery or a breeding project. I'm sure this could be used to monitor various sensors and regulate various outputs accordingly.

5. Etc.

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