Linutop 2 - Linux PC review

The Linutop 2 is one of the smallest PCs on the planet. We examine its potential as a cheap client system.

In our tests, 720p video in both H.264 format and WMV HD were completely beyond its ability to decode. It manages standard-definition MPEG and AVI video acceptably well, but in a world of wide-screen, high-def it's not going to be the ideal platform to drive high-profile marketing displays. But it does have more than enough power to run public information boards on custom software.

Formal benchmarks show the limits of the Linutop. Using the Sun Spider browser benchmark run under the default installation of FireFox (version 3.0.5 on our review model) gave timings an order of magnitude slower than a standard Core 2 desktop system. The overall result was 40,981ms, against 3,820ms for a 2.1GHz Core 2 Duo desktop PC.

That doesn't mean it's unusably slow OpenOffice Writer runs acceptably, and we also used Google Docs with a fair amount of success, but the Linutop never lets you forget you're running on seriously frugal hardware.

So you could in theory consider the Linutop as a desktop client in an office role, but you'll soon run out of local storage if you want to do any kind of software customisation to get it to fit in with your IT infrastructure. But it does support PXE booting over the network so if you're after a true thin-client terminal with the option of local boot capability, it could fit the bill nicely.

You could even run the Linutop2 as a headless server system if you wanted a machine for very light duty. Again the configuration manager makes setting this up very easy, giving a simple interface to the pre-installed VNC server to allow remote management. Activating it takes a few clicks and there's no need for the terminal or any command-line fiddling to make yourself the root user. Finally, you can use the configuration utility to set up Samba Windows shares with little fuss.

With Nvidia's ION platform promising not only desktop levels of performance but also the power to run Windows Vista's Aero interface, and in a very similar form factor, the Linutop doesn't look like the best option for next-generation thin-client desktops.

But it's tiny, enormously frugal and pretty cheap, plus the software is very well integrated into the platform as a whole. The Linutop2 certainly has niche appeal, and in the end it's simply a small x86 PC and it will do anything any other x86 PC can do. But the limited power and storage on offer mean it isn't an option as a mainstream client platform.

Verdict

Its limited processing power means it won't work as a video player for digital signage and its lack of internal storage restricts its abilities as a low power desktop. However, if you work within its limitations the Linutop 2 will happily occupy many niches, both figuratively and literally.

Processor: AMD Geode LX800 Memory: 512MB Storage: 1GB internal flash Graphics: Integrated Geode, 1920 x 1440 max resolution Display: 10.1in 1,024 x 576 TFT Connectivity: VGA, 4x USB OS: Linutop OS 2.4 Warranty: 1yr RTB Dimensions: 140 x 140 x 35mm

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