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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

By Susan Linton on September 08, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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The new generation of inexpensive netbooks may be wonderful, but for my main desktop I want a real machine -- something I can open up, clean, and add to. So I was extremely tickled recently to trade for a new LinPC, an economical personal computer that features PCLinuxOS MiniMe 2008 preinstalled and ready to go.

The LinPC's motherboard is an MSI K9N6SGM-V V2 in a Micro-ATX form factor. An AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ dual-core processor powers the system, aided by a gigabyte of RAM. It has a 1GHz front side bus and supports up to 2GB of DDR2 533/667/800 RAM. Included is a Realtek RTL8201CL Ethernet chip and Realtek ALC888 7.1 High Definition Audio. It has the standard ports, including four USB ports and six-port audio. The Nvidia MCP61P GPU is equivalent to an Nvidia 6100. Expansion slots are one PCI Express x16, one PCI Express x1, and two PCI (all open upon delivery). There are two memory slots, with one open.

A lovely jet black case houses the system with lots of room for growth. It features three open external 5.25-inch bays, two external 3.5-inchers, six open 3.5-inch internal drive bays, and seven expansion card slots in the back. On the front are the power and reset switches, two USB ports, and microphone and earphone jacks. The case assembly isn't particularly heavy, but it's sturdy.

Inside is a 400-watt power supply, Optiarc DVD-RW AD-7200A optical drive, Seagate Barracuda ST3160815AS SATA 7200rpm 160GB hard drive, and motherboard assembly.

The hard drive is set up with three partitions: 41GB for / (root) using the ext3 filesystem, 4251MB used as swap, and 103GB for /home on ext2. The drive is specified by the manufacturer to read 73 MBps, but tests here revealed 74.84 MBps buffered disk reads and 741 MBps cached reads (as tested by hdparm).

The BIOS, dated April 2008, offers standard options such as boot order and which integrated peripherals to enable, but also many of the timing settings and configuration options used for overclocking. Most of these are set at Auto, meaning as detected per manufacturers' specifications. This usually results in a balance of optimum performance with stability. However, you will want to enable Cool'n'Quiet feature if you wish to use CPU scaling. The Quick Boot option is enabled, and it brings the GRUB boot screen into view only one or two seconds after you press the Start button.

The operating system

PCLinuxOS MiniMe 2008 is the operating system used on these systems. It's a lightweight distribution that offers out-of-the-box usability, stability, and newer software. The installed system occupies 1.9GB of disk space. It feels quick and agile, even with Compiz Fusion 3-D effects enabled.

PCLinuxOS MiniMe uses the Linux-2.6.22 kernel for newer hardware support, Xorg 7.2.0, GCC 4.1.1, and a slimmed-down KDE 3.5.9. Eric Keeler, the owner of LinPC.us, says that when the full version of PCLinuxOS 2008 is released, the company will probably offer users a choice between it and MiniMe.

The LinPC MiniMe ships with the PCLinuxOS splashes and screens, but has a customized wallpaper (with several others available) and utilizes a nice window decoration and theme. Compiz Fusion isn't standard, but can be installed and activated upon request. Users get the Mandriva/PCLinuxOS Control Center to configure and tweak the system, as well as the KDE Control Center for the desktop. Synaptic is the APT package manager front end for installing additional software and applying system upgrades.

The version of KDE 3.5.9 in LinPC MiniMe is trimmed down to include only a few applications, while some alternatives to KDE components have been added. For example, Firefox and Thunderbird are available for browsing, email, and news reading, but Kmail and Knode are absent. The full OpenOffice.org office suite is included, as is MPlayer, Tunapie (for streaming radio and TV programs), and XMMS. Many games have been retained and a few others added, such as blinKen and Frozen Bubble. With this starter system in place, Synaptic can assist users in customizing the system to their requirements. The included Make live CD can help them create a new remaster of the system.

As delivered the system comes with root and guest accounts. One of the first things you should do is change the root password and set up at least one user account.

Benchmarks

I tested the new PC with the Phoronix Test Suite (PTS). Many of the tests don't mean a lot without a valid comparison, and I didn't find a box in their database with a similar CPU and amount of RAM that ran the same version of the PTS. Instead I used the data on an AMD Turion 64 X2 running at 1.90GHz, with 1454MB RAM and GeForce 7000M / nForce 610. It's a bit better on graphics and RAM but uses a bit slower processor. Both machines had Compiz running during testing.

PTS comes with 32 individual tests, and using the Universe option runs them all in one huge test. Using this option I found that despite the economical motherboard and graphics, the LinPC held its own pretty well.

For example, the MP3 encoding test converts a Waveform audio format (WAV) file into MP3. The LinPC encoded the 78MB file in 43.71 seconds, compared to the 57.09 seconds of the Turion machine. Another interesting test is the Linux kernel compilation test. The LinPC compiled the 2.6.25 kernel in 31.96 minutes, while the Turon machine finished in 33.86 minutes.

In testing the memory I found my LinPC ran the Ramspeed test (Integer Batch run, which tests the system memory performance) at 2074Mbps while the Turion machine with half again as much memory did 1992Mbps. In a test that benchmarks the memory and CPU Level 2 cache performance, the Bandwidth test, the LinPC read 1370Mbps and the Turion read 2165Mbps.

The most fun tests involved obtaining frame rates for popular 3-D games such as Nexuiz, Tremulous, and Open Arena. The framerates of the LinPC while playing Nexuiz 2.4.2 averaged 17fps, while the Turion averaged 13fps at the same resolution. When comparing Tremulous 1.1.0, the LinPC acheived 68.06fps to the Turion's 57.36. On Enemy Territory the LinPC framerates were 33.8fps and the Turion's were 42.7.

You can see the full results of the PTS Universe test of this machine at the PTS Global database.

As you can see, the LinPC won some and lost some, but overall its performance is respectable. In everyday usage, the Compiz effects ran smooth as silk without any glitches, hesitation, or artifacting. Applications opened quickly and performed well.

Conclusion

Overall, I'm happy with my recent acquisition. The case is sturdy with lots of room for growth. The power supply is sufficient to run a mid-level add-on graphics card that requires an additional power source. The motherboard is respectable for its price point. The processor is ample for today's applications, and the graphics is powerful enough for most of the 3-D games available for Linux today.

The only complaint I had was that no restore disk or copy of the OS was included. I mentioned this to Keeler and he stated that that was an excellent idea that would implemented immediately.

LinPC is not a dream gaming machine, but in a world where the price of everything is uncomfortably high, a $309 computer with these specs and these capabilities is a bargain.

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on Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Fletch on September 08, 2008 04:09 PM
No offense, because hey, everyone likes to find a bargain...but does this really qualify as news? I mean, when I read this, I was thinking, "Ah, so let's see what feat of engineering is going to be introduced within this computer", but instead, I was pushed really nothing more but a "customer testimonial". This really could be wrapped up in an ad, don't you think?

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Re: Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 12.169.163.65] on September 08, 2008 04:22 PM
It's called 'a product review.' Which I'm sure you already knew.

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.213.69.21] on September 08, 2008 05:06 PM
A quick newegg search shows that you can get this exact same hardware for around $240 before shipping. A bargain, maybe, only if you are someone who doesn't build you own PC, but in my experience someone who's runs Linux (like the preinstalled OS) builds their own PC.

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Re: Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.42.162.149] on September 08, 2008 07:17 PM
I've run Linux for almost six years and have never built my own machine. So this machine sounds a lot like what I need.

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Re: Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 217.206.184.91] on September 09, 2008 10:18 AM
Im one of those people. Actually I used to build my own PC - nowadays prebuilt systems are available at a price point thats hard to match with DIY. The great thing about systems like these is that you know straight away they have been tested with the hardware , and as such you can expect everything to work.
I see no point in building a extremely high-end linux box with a top-of-the-line graphics card. As much as I love linux I think i will leave the job of gaming to my console.

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.63.254.140] on September 08, 2008 05:38 PM
A recent trip to LinPC.us show the system now includes an AMD x2 5000+ for the same price.

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: big bear on September 08, 2008 05:49 PM
I find it good news to see what seems seems to be a positive business providing a pre-installed system and tests to make sure all the installed hardware is compatible.

Prices parts vs assembled can show big differences regardless of the installed OS, the work and final product is a product of a retailer who obviously cares about what he is selling and many buyers are looking for something that will just work.

Many new PC purchasers are interested in Linux as Dell, HP and Lenovo all attest to. More options in the market, combined with positive customer interaction only means success for Linux.

I will be visiting LinPC myself to see what is offered based on this article. Thank you.

Big Bear

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 149.39.208.10] on September 08, 2008 06:09 PM
The article states the following:

The hard drive is set up with three partitions: 41GB for / (root) using the ext3 filesystem, 4251MB used as swap, and 103GB for /home on ext2.

... and ...

The installed system occupies 1.9GB of disk space.

Why is so much space set aside on the root partition?

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Re: Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 214.4.253.97] on September 08, 2008 07:22 PM
So you can install more programs and such

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.69.39.220] on September 08, 2008 11:27 PM
Like another person commented. I have been a Linux user for just under 5 years. I have never built my own computer. The closest thing related to this has been fitting a graphics card. I have no idea about which parts are compatible with which motherboards. I have no idea what power supply I need for different hardware.

So to me, if I lived in the USA this would be a great machine. Not all Linux users build there own computers.

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RE: Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.10.23.98] on September 09, 2008 12:21 AM
Ok, so I haven't checked pricing at all, but the reviewer got a major technical spec wrong. Its an AMD based system, so it doesn't have a Front Side Bus (FSB). I took a quick look at the LinPC website, and didn't see it on there so the reviewer should double check his facts. Otherwise it seems like a decent review and having never heard of LinPC I'm glad to hear about another Linux PC builder.

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Re(1): Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.53.103.150] on September 09, 2008 02:49 AM
AMD processors DO HAVE FRONT SIDE BUSES....All CPU's do.

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Re(2): Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.84.196.212] on September 09, 2008 08:45 PM
BRRRAAAPPP! Wrong. Front side bus measures the bus speed between the memory controller and the CPU. On AMD cpu's the memory controller is integrated onto the cpu. It is appropriate to talk about the memory speed in the case of AMD systems but not the FSB speed.

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.115.76.63] on September 09, 2008 02:34 AM
Good review.I have built many systems and I can attest that the price is fair and they cannot be making much of a profit off these systems.$300.00 is typical for a tower with these specs.The Everex GoS pc Walmart sells online is cheaper but it uses the Via C7 processor,which is pretty weak by comparison.The LinPC would run Windows XP[and maybe Vista]if you wanted to create an ntfs partitiion and dual-boot,and I know PCLinuxOS includes a nice utility on the live disk to easily restore the Grub boot menu after a Windows install overwrites it,then you are all set.Through in a Radeon 3450 or a Geforce 8400 GS for $30.00 bucks and you could even play most games out today.

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LinPC.us was created to help support and promote PCLinuxOS

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.148.97.123] on September 09, 2008 03:48 AM
Thank you everyone, for the comments and the attention. Just to be clear, we make no profit from this system. We do add a small fee for the time to build, install and test the system. I must agree newegg is a great site but, we do a 24h burn in to ensure you get working hardware. Also we will go the extra step to make you a satisfied customer. Believe it or not we started the site to help promote and support PCLinuxOS, not to get rich. Of course I know some will have a different opinion of that and thats fine. Also, PCLinuxOS recieves a donation from every system sold on LinPC.us.
Please, feel free to call or email us if you have questions.
Eric
LinPC.us

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Long Live the FSB

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.144.46.105] on September 09, 2008 05:54 AM
Wrong other Anonymous, Now with AMD CPU's, the FSB doesn't leave the CPU for the traditional memory controler on a distant northbridge. No mo chipset-influenced
(B)i(t)CH memory timing/compatibility issues. And íntel is still stuck producing a matching pair of bridge chips for EVERY intel CPU, a sales model which they are just now re-evaluating.

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Sleep/WOL

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.102.75.75] on September 09, 2008 06:39 AM
Have you happened to test sleep/wake-on-lan support? I want to replace an old Dell tower that sucks up power.

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.212.236.26] on September 09, 2008 08:37 AM
I wonder? How maney linux user's will buy this box. Then wipe the drive and install the favorite distro of their choice. If I was in the market for a new box,that is what I would.

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Re: Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.233.77.236] on September 09, 2008 11:35 AM
And I wonder how many won't.

Bottom line, more people will use that pretty good distro than without the pre-loads.

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.202.160.31] on September 09, 2008 06:44 PM
This is a good review. Yes, you buy have the same hardware cheaper from some online stores, but the impoertant point has been made by previous commenters: There is now a whole population of Linux users who don't know how to build a PC and are who are not interested in ever doing so. They want to buys a cheap appliance for, say, a family member who has some basic computing needs. These computing needs include browsing the web, viewing videos, and listening to music online (yup, that's what my kids wanted on their Linux machine).

To satisfy this population, I think future reviews should confirm that the machine can perform these tasks. Does the system come with a browser that has the Flash, JRE and Acrobat Reader plugins? If not, how easy is it to install them? Any crashing problem? How about proprietary plugins?

That's the kind of questions you want to answer in such a review. Please consider adding these points on your checklist.

Thank you,

Fred Mora

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.63.254.140] on September 09, 2008 07:45 PM
Really? Of course it has a browser with flash installed. You can easily add Java and Arcobat, not sure why you need acrobat, use xpdf it doean't hog resources.

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.1.51] on September 09, 2008 10:24 PM
It's great to see another PC on the market (not my market, I live in Australia), that comes with Linux pre-installed, is cheap, but doesn't skimp with an un-upgradable, low powered CPU, has room for expandability and look decent enough.

What isn't great to see is that Dell released a laptop with Linux pre-installed on it and everyone "Hoorays!" at the idea being implemented.

The LinPC comes along, and there are more people here knocking it rather than praising it. Kudos to the ones that see it as a good thing. And kudos for LinPC for having a go at doing something like this. If you can build your own PC cheaper, that's great. You'll do it anyway, regardless of who is selling what. Everyone knows that pre-built machines cost a little more. But think about what you're paying for here.... Someone else cut their fingers on the exposed aluminium case corners. And apart from all that, not only has it been installed, booted and configured for you, they even soak test it for a day.

I'm not sure about you, but I would really appreciate it if all manufacturers would do this. I have received new laptops that are DOA and think to myself (after I've stopped being pissed off) "Surely they tested it to see if it at least turned on."

My friend bought a new LCD TV. Spent like $4K, got it home, and no screen. Great sound from the speakers though. I argued that a simple BOSE system would have sufficed. But that's my sense of humour for you.

I always get excited to see a new PC on the market that comes pre-installed with Linux. And it is great for people who don't put their own hardware together. Look at a typical computer environment. People know how to use their computers but no idea how to fix them. People know how to turn on a TV and DVD player, but have no idea how to connect them up. Start telling them about RCA's, HDMI, SCART, TOSLINK. They're brain will explode. Look at an office environment. Most (not all) developers don't touch hardware. Most hardware people don't do software.

Either way, this Linux PC is a good thing. As it has been mentioned, great for light weight use that mum and dad or gran and pop use it for. Email, web and the occasional chat. They might even sneak in a Youtube video.

Please, next time you're about to bag something out, have a think about how great an impact it can have on the rest of the world, which is nothing like you.

SteveC (not affiliated with LinPC at all).

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Update: Sleep/WOL

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.102.75.75] on September 10, 2008 12:43 AM
Per Eric K. at LinPC, sleep works but they have not tested wake-on-lan functions.

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Re: Update: Sleep/WOL

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.63.254.140] on September 11, 2008 03:54 PM
Isn't WOL a function of the mainboard not the OS, so it should work.

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BTW This is a bare bones MSI MBOX K9N6SGM-V Computer

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.30.155.232] on September 12, 2008 06:51 PM
Hi

This is a bare bones MSI MBOX K9N6SGM-V 4GB max supported PCIE x16 (x8 max supported as with all Nvidea 6100-405 designs.) Decent box for a build. $99.99 at Frys. Beware it's a AM2 not AM2+.

Cheers

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Linux-powered LinPC desktop is a bargain

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.176.55.7] on September 13, 2008 04:57 PM
Many games have been retained and a few others added, such as blinKen and Frozen Bubble. With this starter system in place, Synaptic can assist users in customizing the system to their requirements. The included Make live CD can help them create a new remaster of the system. You will be able to rate each game that you Play games http://www.iplaygames2.com . We hope to provide top games only and hope that you will also give us some good games as you can submit a game of your choice and a game that you like TuxTyping's other game, Fish Cascade, has Tux chomping up fish before they fall to the ground whenever the player types the letters correctly. Fish Cascade's levels are much less creative -- Easy, Medium, and Hard -- and the types of exercises are the same as in Comet Zap: Alphabet; Finger Exercises; Long, Medium, and Short Words; and Plants.

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