OS: Linutop OS
CPU: x86-compatible VIA C7 (1.0GHz)
RAM: 1GB (upgradable to 2GB)
HDD: 2GB SSD
Dimensions: 235mm x 236mm x 55 mm
Much more powerful than the previous models, generally higher specced hardware components. Copes with its tasks very well
Significantly bigger than the previous Linutop models with poorer build quality. Power consumption is less economic than predecessors
Diminutive size and low energy consumption have always made Linutop stand out from the nettop crowd, so we were intrigued when the Paris-based manufacturer unveiled the latest version of the machine, which represents a radical departure from the original concept. And we were pretty excited when the latest version of Linutop landed at our door. Even judging by the size of the delivered package, it became immediately clear that size is no longer Linutop’s major selling point. And our initial impression was confirmed when we unpacked the unit. Linutop 3 is significantly bigger than the previous Linutop models. In fact, Linutop is even bigger than most of the popular nettops on the market. This means that you can’t just tuck Linutop 3 away or mount it on the display using a VESA bracket. But the size of Linutop 3 does have a few advantages. The spacious chassis provides easier access to internal components, making upgrades less of a hassle. Bigger size also means better airflow, so despite the new and more powerful processor, Linutop 3 is still cooled passively. The build quality of Linutop 3 is a step backwards compared to the previous models. While Linutop 2 felt virtually indestructible, the latest model doesn’t make quite the same impression. Although the metal casing feels sturdy and can withstand occasional bumps and knocks, the same can’t be said about the plastic front. The on/off button, in particular, looks decidedly flimsy and has a tendency to get stuck when pressed at a slight angle.
When it comes to the hardware components, it’s all good news. Linutop 3 now features a VIA C7 processor running at 1.0GHz, which is a huge improvement over the AMD Geode LX800 used in Linutop 2. The amount of RAM is also bumped up to 1GB (upgradable to 2GB) while the internal solid-state drive rises to 2GB (from 1GB). Linutop 3 also features a DVI video-out port and six USB ports: four on the back of the machine and two on the front. There is also an Ethernet jack on the back of the machine, but no wireless adapter, which is slightly disappointing. Unlike Linutop 2, Linutop 3 sports two internal SATA connectors, so the machine’s storage capacity can be expanded by installing 2.5-inch SATA hard disks. This is indeed a welcome improvement, since most of the internal solid-state disk is occupied by the system software. Improved hardware inevitably leads to higher power consumption. On Linutop 3, it reaches the 20W mark compared to Linutop 2’s 8W. It’s still lower than an average nettop or a small form factor PC, but not as impressive as a single-digit value.
Thanks to the improved hardware, Linutop 3 is snappy enough for most daily computing tasks like web browsing and word processing. Similar to Linutop 2, the new model runs Linutop OS which is essentially a tweaked version of the Xubuntu Linux distribution. The major attraction here is the custom Linutop Setup utility which pops up when you start the machine for the first time and lets you configure the system. You can use the utility to choose the desired language and keyboard layout, configure network settings and back up the system software. The latter allows you to easily create a bootable USB stick with the system software, and you can use it to run Linutop off it. The Linutop Setup utility can help you to configure file sharing options, add Windows shares and enable the remote access feature which lets you control Linutop from another machine using the VNC protocol. By default, Linutop OS acts as a single-user system with root access, but you can switch the system to an unprivileged mode using the Linutop Lock feature accessible through the Linutop Setup tool – useful if you plan to use the machine as a public terminal. The bundled software includes the Firefox browser, the excellent VLC player, the OpenOffice productivity suite (the older 2.3 version) and an assortment of utilities. The browser comes with the Adobe Flash plug-in, so you can access Flash-based websites without any manual tweaking. Since Linutop OS is a Xubuntu derivative, you can install software from the Ubuntu repositories.
The Linutop 3 is not particularly cheap and a wireless adapter and built-in card reader would have been handy. Although speed is not the key factor here, the Linutop performs well and copes fine with the tasks it’s obviously been designed for. While it is not as robust as the previous model in terms of build quality, the unit is sturdy enough to withstand harsh treatment. Overall, it’s a nice machine on its own, but it lacks two major advantages of the previous models: size and low power consumption. The improved hardware specs are a step forward, but at 340 euros, the Linutop 3 is an expensive proposition.
Eee Box Eee BOX B202 £200 incl. VAT
or Eee Box B204: £320 incl. VAT
If you are on the market for an inexpensive and small desktop machine, take a look at the ASUS Eee Box series nettops. The low-end B202 model sports the Intel Atom N270 processor, a 160GB hard disk, a wireless adaptor and a multiformat memory card slot. The high-end B204 model adds to this the ATI Radeon HD 3400 graphics card, the ability to play high-definition videos via an HDMI connector, and features a built-in Bluetooth adaptor. Both machines come with Windows XP, though, so you have to install Linux yourself.