Around the end of 2005, the LWN chief editor suggested that it might
be a good time to invest in some new computing hardware for the
development and distributions editors. Your development editor was
assigned the task of finding this new hardware. Being a hardware guy
at heart, I did not find this to be an especially odious task.
The new machines needed to be reasonably fast, yet inexpensive.
Their use was mainly for desktop work. The machines that were being
replaced, Athlon 1700 XP systems with Asus A7V333 motherboards, were
noisy to the point of being annoying. Silence is golden.
The new machines were destined to run only Linux, so there was no
need to pay extra for Microsoft operating system licenses. This
requirement narrowed the field of available desktop machines considerably.
Several weeks were spent searching through ads in Linux magazines
and searching around the net. The possibility of assembling machines
from individual parts was considered, but the array of available
motherboards, CPUs, cases and graphics cards made the task difficult.
Success with that approach was unpredictable.
Next, some Linux-specific PC vendors were investigated.
was considered, but their hardware was more aligned with the server
market than the desktop market. The fun was beginning to wear off
of the project when your author stumbled across
Open Sense Solutions
LINI PC line.
The LINI PC was advertised as being small, quiet, and fast.
It came with a pre-installed version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution,
so Linux compatibility was guaranteed. A 1 year warranty was also
part of the deal.
The configuration of the LINI machines, with some additional options,
- Asus K8V-MX Micro-ATX motherboard with built-in:
- S3 2D Graphics card
- AC97 sound chip
- Serial port
- Parallel port
- 8 USB 2.0 ports
- 10/100 mbit/sec ethernet
- SATA hard drive interface
- PATA CDROM interface
- AMD Athlon 64 2800+ CPU
- 1 GB of PC3200 RAM
- 200 GB SATA disk drive (250GB on one box)
- DVD +-R/RW drive with CDR capabilities
- Antec Aria case
- front panel USB ports
- front panel Compact Flash and Memory Stick sockets
- front panel audio ports
The front-panel Compact Flash slot is a very useful feature if you
frequently use a digital camera (without USB), it allows for fast and
easy downloads of images. All of the various ports have been tried
out, and no problems have been encountered.
The box has 3 fans, one for the power supply,
one for the CPU, and a vertical slot-fan.
While not totally silent,
the box is reasonably quiet, and is a huge improvement over the previous
system. The cooling is also quite effective, this should give the
hardware a long life.
The Antec Aria case
(reviewed here) is well designed. Access to the inside is achieved
by unscrewing a single thumb screw on the back of the box. The top and
side panels just slide out and the innards are revealed. The contents
of the box are packed together fairly tightly, but sufficient air flow
is available for cooling of all of the internal components.
There is space (not much) for a second and third hard drive, but both
have to be mounted vertically, and they would add a lot more heat to
the inside of the box.
Fortunately, disk space is not a big problem with the current generation
of hard drives, and a single drive will work for most users.
The Asus motherboard's Micro-ATX form factor allows the box to be quite
small. The box measures in at 10-1/2" wide by 8" tall by 13" deep.
It is roughly one third the size of the full-size tower case
that it replaced.
Here are some large format
images of the outside and
inside of the LINI PC.
The worst feature of the LINI box is the location of the power
switch. Space on the front panel is limited, and the large square
power button is located just below the CDROM eject button.
This is especially a problem when the CDROM tray is in the out position
and the buttons are not easily seen.
It only takes one instance of pressing the wrong
button before one becomes extremely cautious when using the CDROM.
A rear panel power switch would be an improvement, although space
is very limited there as well.
The power supply in the Antec cube box is in an L-shaped box.
This is not a huge problem, but it is a non-standard form factor
and could prove to be difficult to find a replacement in the event of
a failure. The odd power supply shape was required due to the small
The only other mis-feature of the LINI that your editor found is the
placement of the two blindingly bright Blue LEDs on the front of the case.
The LEDs are directly visible When the box is viewed from the side, a
fogged diffuser lens would be a nice addition.
Most computer reviews are written within a short period after the
hardware is received. The problem with that approach is that it takes
some time to become familiar with the hardware, and subtle problems
may take a while to show up. The LINI machine has been running reliably
for almost four months, it is safe to call it a good piece of hardware.
Compile times are blazingly fast, and GUI response is quite zippy.
We are lucky to live in an era when computer hardware is improving at
a rate that is on a par with the slowing effects of software bloat.
The best way to discover that your current computer has made the gradual
transition from cheetah to snail is to upgrade to a faster box,
then return to the old machine.
The author's previous machine once seemed like it had more processor
power than one could ever use. After using the LINI, the older machine
just doesn't seem very responsive anymore.
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