Linux Mint has been steadily gaining popularity since spinning off of Ubuntu in 2006, with its most recent userbase bump coming from the rather vocal backlash over Ubuntu’s “Unity” UI. Whether you’re a long time user or a recent Unity-dodger, today’s news from the official Linux Mint blog is likely to catch your eye.
This morning, the Linux Mint team officially unveiled the “mintBox”, a small form factor computer developed by CompuLab which (as you may have guessed) ships with Mint pre-installed.
Introducing the mintBox
The mintBox isn’t quite your run of the mill desktop machine. Rather than just slapping Mint onto a standard PC, the development team tried to find a unique machine which also had real-world value and practicality. They ended up going with a branded version of the fit-PC3, an embedded computer that looks more like a home router than a traditional desktop. Small and nearly silent, this highly efficient machine is powered by AMD’s G-Series Fusion Accelerated Processing Unit (APU), which combines a dual core 64 bit CPU and Radeon HD 6xxx GPU.
A major theme of the mintBox is connectivity, offering a considerable number of ways to get connected:
- Dual-head display HDMI + DisplayPort
- Digital 7.1 S/PDIF and analog 2.0 audio
- Gigabit Ethernet
- WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth 3.0
- 2 USB3 ports
- 6 USB2 ports
- 2 eSATA ports
- 2.5” SATA HDD
- 2 mini-PCIe sockets / 1 mSATA
- Serial RS232 port
The impressive list of connectivity options isn’t the only unique thing the mintBox has going for it. Its case is all metal, which doubles as a huge passive heatsink. This keeps the hardware running cool without the need for a dedicated fan. Also of note are its large dual WiFi and Bluetooth antennas, which is a welcome upgrade from the tiny integrated antennas most machines have.
There are two versions of the mintBox for users to chose from:
mintBox Basic ($496)
- 250GB HDD
- APU G-T40N (1.0 GHz dual core + Radeon HD 6290 – 9W)
- 4GB RAM
- Flat metal case
mintBox Pro ($549)
- 250GB HDD
- APU G-T56N (1.65 GHz dual core + Radeon HD 6320 – 18W)
- 8GB RAM
- Ribbed metal case
For an extra $100, you get a more powerfull CPU+GPU combo and another 4 GB of RAM. The increased horsepower of the mintBox Pro requires more cooling, which is accomplished by the unique ribbed casing instead of the smooth case sported by the Basic model. The Pro model also consumes double the energy as the Basic version (18 watts versus 9 watts).
Unfortunately, those looking to turn their shiny (or possibly, ribbed) mintBox into a HTPC might want to read the fine print before clicking the “Order” button; the Mint team passed along this message from CompuLab in regards to using the mintBox’s IR receiver:
The iRDA status is a bit complicated. Current mintBox HW features an iRDA port implemented with a SMSC Super IO component. The problem is that SMSC does not provide drivers for this functionality and apparently does not intend to do so in the future. We are preparing a new version of the motherboard with an additional iRDA implementation that should be able to utilize the LIRC software. However that is yet to be validated and currenlty there is no clear ETA on units with new motherboard revision.
On the other hand, WiFi and Bluetooth remotes will work fine with the appropriate media center software, such as XMBC. Those who would rather use an IR remote can always purchase an additional IR receiver, such as the excellent FLIRC we reviewed back in May.
Money Well Spent?
Judging by the comments in the original blog post, there is some debate about the value of the mintBox. While big name computer manufacturers can drive the price of their components down by purchasing in volume, the mintBox unfortunately doesn’t have that luxury. The cost of these kind of machines will always be higher than what a company like ASUS or Acer could pull off.
It’s also worth noting that, as the mintBox is simply a rebranded version of an existing unit, the Mint team’s investment in it is predictably low. Accordingly, only 10% of each sale goes to the Linux Mint project directly. While the mintBox is surely going to serve as a stream of revenue for Mint, those who’s primary goal is to support the development of Mint itself may want to consider a direct donation instead.
If you’re not bothered by the sticker shock and want to send a few bucks over in Mint’s direction, you can place your mintBox order right now: