Even in these times of the diminutive nettop, it’s not everyday that a fully working PC measuring a mere 14 x 14 x 3.5cm (5.5 x 5.5 x 1.38in) arrives in the office. With its svelte dimensions and weighing only 562g, the Linutop 2 (yes, there was a Linutop 1) is one little box that truly deserves the tag of ‘miniature PC’.
Despite the low weight, Linutop’s little box is encased in a relatively thick aluminium shell, giving it build quality only somewhat less impressive than a Sherman tank. Though we didn’t test it this time around, the Linutop 2 is another machine you could probably drive a car over and still leave it intact afterwards.
Only at the front and back of the machine do the recessed panels around the ports flex slightly when applying pressure, but we can’t see many scenarios where this would be an issue. At its bottom are two thick rubber strips giving it a secure grip and also making sure the metal casing doesn’t damage anything.
Another big ace up the Linutop’s sleeve is that it has no moving parts, and therefore runs absolutely silently. Basically, the only way to tell if it’s on are the LEDs at the front (or of course by checking your monitor). It also means you can put the unit anywhere and in any way you want, whether that’s upside-down or diagonally, and it won’t suffer from a dusty environment either because there are no vents.
The third factor differentiating the Linutop 2 from other miniature desktop PCs is its power usage: supposedly it never uses more than 8w. In our testing we actually found it to be more like 8.5w, though considering the tiny difference this could easily be due to variations in what keyboard we were using at the time. Also this is still less than half the drain of competing Atom-based nettops.
Of course it’s a trade-off with less powerful components meaning the Linutop 2 can’t run Windows, but we’ll get to the internals in a bit. Also keep in mind that when turned ‘off’, the Linutop 2 still consumes up to 1.7w despite the USB ports not being powered, so if you’re ”really” serious about saving energy you’ll want to switch it off at the mains. The power brick, meanwhile, takes a standard kettle lead just like a PC or monitor, and despite being quite small is still almost a third as large as the main unit itself.
Though the unnecessarily large white power and USB icons on the Linutop 2’s front do detract somewhat from its look, overall the matte black styling is minimalist and quite attractive. Sure it won’t win any design awards, but it has a rugged appeal.
At the unit’s front we have four USB ports, two LEDs (a blue one to indicate if the machine is powered up and an orange one for drive activity), the power button and built-in speaker, and headphone plus microphone jacks.
The back is even sparser, with a 3.5mm audio-out jack, VGA (up to 1,920×1,440) an Ethernet connector and of course the power socket. Digital video connectivity is one of the sacrifices of the small form factor (unless you go the DisplayLink route), and considering the Linutop 2 is aimed at businesses and institutions rather than home use, having VGA instead of DVI or HDMI makes sense.
Inside its diminutive chassis, Linutop relies on an AMD Geode LX800 processor. This remarkable 500MHz X86 CPU uses less than one watt and is quite capable of running Windows XP, so we’ll have to look elsewhere for the Linutop 2’s supposed inability to do so.
It comes with 512MB of memory upgradeable to 1GB, which again is perfectly capable, but it’s when we get to storage that we see the culprit: 1GB is barely enough to hold the Linux OS and included applications, leaving you with a mere 400MB free for storing files.
Naturally, you can and should store all your files (such as documents, pictures and videos) on an external memory stick, leaving the 400MB free for any other applications you might wish to install. However, there probably won’t be too many of these, since the basics are well taken care of and the Linutop 2 is not really suitable for anything beyond the basics.
On top of a custom Linutop version of Ubuntu Linux, the small machine comes pre-installed with the latest version of OpenOffice for productivity, VLC for playing video files, FireFox for all your web-browsing needs and Pidgin Instant Messenger. Just keep in mind that like most miniature PCs out at the moment, the Linutop 2 can’t handle Full HD video, with even efficiently-encoded 720p content causing stutter.
So what’s this tiny PC actually like to use? Boot time is a disappointment, as despite its Linux OS the Linutop 2 takes a minute and 20 seconds to boot. Once booted though it offers a streamlined and responsive environment and shuts down in 12 seconds. There’s also an ‘amusing’ custom screen-saver that shows the Linutop 2 being carried in a back jeans pocket and used as a coffee-cup coaster.
From a handy little tabbed menu that pops up when starting the machine, you can configure applications to autostart and interface with your network at boot, set several backup configurations, and lock the OS into a limited user mode that allows no user changes. All of which is especially useful for some of the public-access and viewing markets this unit is designed for.
Overall then, the Linutop 2 does what you’d expect without fail, and without making the least bit of noise. It also stays very cool, becoming warm but never hot to the touch. It’s when we get to price that things become a little complicated. The Linutop 2 is currently not available from third-party resellers, and its price direct is 280euro excluding VAT. The Wall Bracket (36euro) and three-year warranty (55euro) plus 28euro shipping put the full amount at 399euro excluding VAT (though prices go down when buying in quantities of six, 30 or 100).
Even for just the basic package, you’re looking at 368.37euro (inc VAT), which at the current unfavourable rate of exchange is a whopping £334.48. Considering the ‘underpowered’ specifications and high price due to the currently low pound, you might be starting to think that you’d be better off with one of the many Atom nettop configurations, like the Eee Box which is currently around £230.
However, while this might be true for most consumers, the Linutop 2 offers three factors the combination of which no currently available nettop can match: zero moving parts (in turn meaning zero noise), sturdy aluminium build quality and most of all, only 8.5W maximum power usage compared to 20W for a typical nettop. This makes it ideal for harsh environments, public locations and situations where power use and/or noise are prime considerations.
The Linutop 2 offers a unique proposition for those looking for a totally silent tiny PC that’s built like a brick and uses less than an energy-saving light bulb. However, due to its high purchasing cost and lack of features some will want to look elsewhere.
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