The Linutop is a small Linux PC. Of course, if you think the Mac Mini is small, then perhaps the words, incredibly miniscule are closer to the mark.
Running a customised version of xubuntu Linux, this little box could replace your desktop for most common tasks, including what you’re doing right now.
And if this wasn’t impressive enough in a box slightly larger than a Nintendo DS, the Linutop does it all drawing a maximum of 5 watts – That’s less than an energy saver light bulb!
The package received by DigitalReviews contained a 1 GB Silicon Power USB key with version 1.2 of the Linutop operating system pre-loaded and of course, the Linutop itself.
The Linutop’s size is really quite stunning. The silver box actually measures just 9.3 x 2.7 x 15cm and while stylish, definitely has an industrial feel to it.
While our Linutop was not delivered with a power adapter, it is normally shipped with a Europlug. Thankfully, the Linutop’s DC IN port is fairly common and we had no problem sourcing a suitable Australian adapter from one of our old ADSL modems.
The Linutop has all the regular ports you would expect from a basic full sized PC, with a standard (SUB-D15) VGA port, 10/100baseT (RJ-45) Ethernet port, separate 3.5mm audio in/out ports, 4x USB 2.0 ports and of course a 9V DC IN port.
The Linutop has no onboard storage save for its BIOS and 256MB operating RAM, so all non-volatile storage is held externally, hence the USB key.
UP AND RUNNING
Once the monitor, keyboard, mouse and power is plugged in, the Linutop silently comes to life. No fans. No noise. The Linutop has no ON/OFF button so as soon as it senses electrons it just fires up. Easy.
After a brief POST screen, the Linutop logo appears and a minute or so later, the xubuntu desktop and Linutop configurator load up to await your input.
While the Linutop operating system is essentially unchangeable, some special settings can be retained after a reboot, such as Locality, Display and Network configurations. This system allows the Linutop to be virtually impervious from viruses or other common mishaps since it essentially returns to a factory state after each reboot.
A bit like a Mac, the Linutop is literally plug and play, and has a basic selection of software pre-installed, including:
- Firefox (Web browser)
- Flash Player (SFW player)
- GAIM (Instant Messaging)
- AbiWord (Word Processor)
- VLC Media player
- Onscreen Keyboard
- Thunar (File manager)
The basic software installed allows you to browse the web, type a document or watch a video – quite literally, plug and play. While the system is not speedy, in everyday use I wouldn’t call it sluggish: Even with a few windows open, it’s perfectly useable.
The installed VLC media player had no problem playing back DIVX files full screen at near DVD resolution, as long as no AC-3 audio was involved. Not bad for a completely fan-less AMD Geode processor with just 256MB RAM.
In our tests, the Linutop proved to be rock solid and managed to run flawlessly. With extended usage the Linutop’s case became warm but never hot. In fact, even when operating in 30+ degree heat, the case remained merely warm.
As of version 1.2, the Linutop also supports a variety of USB TV dongles allowing you to view digital TV full screen. With no digital TV dongles on hand we were unable to test this feature, but as reported above, we did manage to playback full screen video without any problems.
THE LINUX DILEMMA
As shipped, the Linutop feels a bit like a demonstration install. Everything works and demonstrates what the little box can do. And let’s face it, it does it well. In the hands of a Linux expert, I’m sure the system could be easily adapted to numerous solutions, such as a simple web/file server, kiosk, electronic billboard, education desktop, work terminals, etc.
This however, is the Linux dilemma: Infinitely customisable, but only by a finite number of people.
I’m no slouch when it comes to computers but I failed miserably when trying to customise the Linutop. With no internal storage, I thought it obvious to use a network drive to store files. After countless attempts, I failed dismally. Similarly, getting VNC up and running also proved too difficult. Now I’m not suggesting this is a fault of the Linutop: It’s not. It’s Linux.
In fairness, I did find some online documentation (both on the Linutop and on the website) but it’s far more complicated than someone without a degree in Linux is likely to understand.
Brilliant for a Linux enthusiast, but a bit much for even the above average Joe PC user, I’m afraid.
- Processor: AMD Geode LX700 (x86)
- Memory RAM: 256 MB
- 4x USB 2.0 ports
- Audio in & out
- Network: 10/100baseT Ethernet (RJ-45)
- Video: VGA output (SUB-D15)
- Size: 9.3 x 2.7 x 15 cm (3.66×1.06×5.9 in)
- Aluminum Case
- Power: DC in 9V – 1,5A (5W)
- Voltage Range: DC in 9V – 16V
- Operating temperature 10°-40°C
- Operating humidity 10%-90%
- Weight: 280 gr (9.9 oz)
I really wanted to like the Linutop and I really do. Its unfortunate marriage to Linux however, has me torn.
Having said this, I can honestly say that the Linutop is an excellent choice for businesses who have a Linux expert to call upon to tailor the box to their particular needs. The low power usage, it’s extremely customizable nature and incredibly small footprint are all undeniable, but unless the Linutop ships as per your exacting needs, without a sound understanding of Linux, the Linutop (or moreover, Linux) is just too difficult to customise.
While it may not match the Linutop philosophy, I believe providing Windows XP drivers for this box would make the product more accessible to a wider market. Alternatively, the folks at Linutop could offer two or three optional installs, ie: Internet use, office/productivity or file /web server configurations.
The Linutop is an outstanding piece of hardware for countless enterprise solutions, but perhaps more than a little daunting for the non-Linux home enthusiast.
The Linutop is available directly from Linutop for 290 Euros and comes with a 1 year warranty. It is also available in bundles of eight, for $2100 Euros.