Jan 272015

MintBox Mini - Pricey LinuxMint Computer

Some people live in a fool’s paradise, a ra ra island inaccessible to the rest of us fortunate elements inhabiting the mainland of sanity.

Or at least so I thought when I heard Israeli hardware outfit CompuLab and LinuxMint (the folks behind the eponymous Linux distribution) had come together to offer a MintBox Mini computer for $295 in the second quarter of 2015.

MintBox Mini is to be peddled through Amazon.com in the U.S. and Europe.

LinuxMint will get an unspecified share of the sale proceeds.

Just in case you didn’t know, LinuxMint is currently enjoying its 15 minutes of fame, i.e. it’s the most popular Linux distribution  (according to Distrowatch.com).

After using LinuxMint for eight months (both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions) and enduring frequent painful freezes that drove me nuts, my judgment is that this Linux distro is still not as robust as one would wish it to be.

MintBox Mini will debut with Linux Mint 17.1 MATE 64-bit pre-installed (although Cinnamon is a far more popular desktop than MATE). On first boot, users must pick a username, password and location.

Pricey, Pricey

Now why in God’s name would you want to pay $300 for a MintBox Mini computer (4GB RAM, a measly 64GB SSD) when you can get a better Linux PC for a third of the cost.

I’m, of course, assuming you have all your marbles intact and possess a keen desire to get value for your money.

Here are some huge downers with the MintBox Mini – No monitor. No keyboard. No mouse. No HDMI to VGA adapter.

No, there’s no Bluetooth support either in the MintBox Mini.

So add another $300 for a decent monitor, keyboard, mouse, a 250GB SSD and a HDMI to VGA adapter. Now you’re looking at a total price of $600 (inclusive of taxes). Folks, that is the real cost of a well-fitted MintBox Mini.

In a world awash with 1TB drives, nobody is gonna be content with a puny 64GB drive. Most people will want at least a 250GB drive. Some users might even consider upping the memory to 8GB (maximum).

If you’re looking at a larger size hard-drive, say a 500GB SSD or 1TB SSD, then the price moves into crazy territory ($700-$900). Keep in mind that MintBox Mini does not support regular hard-drives.

It’s not clear if the MintBox Mini will be customizable at the time of purchase a la the iMacs and MacBooks on the Apple online store.

My considered opinion is that very, very few people will will fork out $600 or more for a Linux desktop although enthusiasm for the MintBox Mini currently runs high on the LinuxMint forums.

Super-smart people keen on test-driving Linux will not spend more than $5 (they will get a 4GB USB drive and install LinuxMint, Fedora, PuppyLinux, Ubuntu or whatever be their preference and run it in Live mode on a Windows PC or install it alongside Windows on a partition).

Better LinuxMint Alternative

What if you’re hell-bent on installing Linux (LinuxMint, Ubuntu, Fedora etc) on your desktop PC and not running it in Live mode?

In my view, a solid choice for installing Linux on a desktop PC is the Dell Optiplex SFF 780 system that you can get on eBay or Craigslist for anywhere from $65 to $150 depending on the configuration details such as memory, hard-disk size and whether it has an operating system installed.

Often these Optiplex PCs on eBay come with Windows 7 and a 250GB hard drive. Some sellers even throw in a keyboard and mouse.

I have a bunch of these Optiplex SFF 780 PCs and I can tell you they’re robust small form factor devices that cosily rest on your desk or below it. They take little space and you can easily remove the case, hard-drive, memory and DVDRW drive without any tools. Most Dell Optiplex 780 models on eBay come with dual-core processors but occasionally there are quad-core version too.

Installing LinuxMint on the Optiplex SFF 780 or any other desktop/laptop is not like finding a cure for cancer or a vaccine for herpes. Anyone with a functioning brain should be able to do it if he can move a mouse and navigate to google.

Once you burn LinuxMint to the USB stick and boot into it (press the F12, F11 or the del keys at boot time), you’ll be able to run Linux without affecting the existing operating system on your PC.

You will also be presented with an option on the desktop to install LinuxMint on the desktop, either replacing the existing OS or alongside it in a partition.

If you haven’t tried Linux (any flavor) before, I encourage you to take the open source operating system for a ride.

Even older PCs with less memory and slower processors run Linux reasonably well. Go for the Live mode (run Linux off a USB or disc) so that you don’t screw up your existing PC.

If you’re nervous about downloading and burning LinuxMint to your USB drive or DVD, you can buy a DVD with LinuxMint or other distros pre-installed from OSDisc for about $6.

Specs of MintBox Mini

* AMD A4 6400T quad-core processor
* 64GB SSD
* Radeon R3 GPU
* 802.11 b/g/n Wifi
* Gigabit Ethernet
* 5 USB ports (3xUSB2.0 and 2xUSB3.0)
* Input/output for headphones and microphones
* MicroSD card reader
* Two HDMI slots for dual monitors/TVs
* Passively cooled fanless design
* Resolution support 1920 x 1200 @ 60Hz
* 10.8cm x 8.3cm x 2.4cm
* 5-Year warranty

Tough Sell

I predict MintBox Mini will struggle in achieving volume sales.

In my view, LinuxMint project leader Clement Lefebv and his developer team ought to concentrate on fixing basic issues like addressing the frequent freezes instead of squandering precious time and energy on hardware devices that are highly unlikely to take the world by storm.

At $99, MintBox Mini might be worth considering as a baby step into Linux.

But at $295 (without the monitor, keyboard etc), it’s not worth a second look.

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