barebones box for Salix

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barebones box for Salix

Post by mimosa » 28. Oct 2015, 16:40

For the past six months, I've been living out of a laptop, but I'd like to get something more comfortable for my desk. The options I'm consdering are all tiny, silent matchboxes to which you add RAM and storage, so the main difference between them is the processor, plus the build quality and I/O.

I'd be grateful for any perspectives on these, especially from an engineering point of view - an aspect of quality that is missed out in the benchmarks.

1. Fitlet-B is from a company I've bought from before (a more powerful machine for someone who wanted Windows). It has an AMD E1 Micro-6200T SoC, 64-bit Dual Core, 1.0GHz 3.95W processor, and sells for £149:

2. Gigabyte Brix BXBT-1900 has the more powerful Celeron J-1900, less generous I/O, and also looks very nice, currently on Amazon for £92.99. ... ROKL5A1OLE

I was leaning towards this option when I found:

3. the Intel NUC5CPYH, with Pentium N3700 1.6 GHz Processor, for £99 (it doesn't include RAM as the Amazon page suggests). That chip is a more recent Celeron. I'm no judge of technical specs, but it sounds slightly better, with somewhat more generous I/O, and a better wireless card (802.11ac). I'm linking to for this one because their UK site has no user reviews yet. One downside is because it is so new, it is better supported by the series 4 kernel, as some of those comments attest. But I imagine it'd be straightforward enough to build one to run Salix 14.1 on it with: [EDIT - I see the 4.1.8 kernel is available in 'Contributed packages'] ... s=NUC5CPYH

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by GJones » 28. Oct 2015, 17:39

I'd suggest going with Fitlet B, as the AMD E1 has hardware virtualization support. I don't believe anything marketed as a "Celeron" has that.

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by ChuangTzu » 28. Oct 2015, 19:44

I've always liked AMD so I guess Fitlet-B.

In the US, I usually buy parts from and build my own, or purchase an off-lease business pc.

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by gapan » 28. Oct 2015, 21:16

Hi mimosa, good to see you around!

While I don't have much experience with these specific PCs, since a couple of months now I have an Intel NUC. It has an i3 CPU, but I don't recall the exact model. It's one of the slightly "bigger" ones, that can also include a 2.5" HD, as well as an M.2 SSD. Overall I'm very satisfied. It is really small and takes virtually no space on the desk. It's also almost completely silent. You can only hear a soft hum after midnight, when ambient noise is zero. It doesn't get too hot, usually it's around 35-38 degrees C. It has a metal casing, so I guess that helps with the heat. But there are a few issues. One would expect intel to be careful with build quality, but apparently that is not exactly true. The metal casing causes interference with any wireless input devices that have their dongles plugged directly in one of the 4 USB ports. They are practically unusable that way and after I got it I saw a lot of people having the exact same problem online. The "fix" is to put any such dongles on a small extension USB cable (a few cm will do just fine). Since I was doing that anyway, I don't mind much. Also, it has an IR receiver and that's a problem, because with the default EFI settings, reading any IR signal wakes the NUC! So, watching TV in the same room with the NUC turned off, would just switch it on. The "fix" for me was to just disable the IR receiver as I don't need it anyway. Finally, sometimes, maybe 1 out of 10, trying to shut it down, will just reboot it. I think it does that when I have an external HD plugged into one of the front USB ports, not sure though.

But, it also doesn't exactly work correctly with a default 14.1 installation. I needs a newer kernel (I'm using the 4.1.4 packages I posted in the forum) and also a newer xf86-video-intel (version 2.99.917) package. It's OK after that. I'm guessing the hardware is too new for 14.1 and current would work better from scratch.

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by mimosa » 5. Nov 2015, 17:54

Thank you to all who replied. In the end, I got something completely different, a used Zotac C-series Zbox from Ebay, which is marketed as a 'media centre' (so it has good I/O and reasonable graphics) although it's not that powerful. It suits me just fine, and my unpowered HDMI to VGA adapter works better with it than it had been doing with my laptop. I've mounted it on the back of that antique monitor, so it's reasonably tidy. It is passively cooled, though not silent, because I've put an old HDD in it for now. The soundcard recognises my Sennheiser USB headphones without tinkering with .asoundrc, too, which is a bonus.

Here are some specs:

Code: Select all

 mimosa[youtube]$ inxi -F
System:    Host: Kernel: 3.10.17-smp i686 (32 bit) Desktop: Xfce 4.10.2 Distro: Slackware 14.1
Machine:   System: Motherboard by ZOTAC product: ZBOX-CI320NANO series version: Rev.00
           Mobo: ZOTAC model: ZBOX-CI320NANO series version: Rev.00
           Bios: American Megatrends version: B219P023 date: 03/04/2015
CPU:       Quad core Intel Celeron CPU N2930 (-MCP-) cache: 1024 KB flags: (lm nx pae sse sse2 sse3 sse4_1 sse4_2 ssse3 vmx) 
           Clock Speeds: 1: 1826.00 MHz 2: 1826.00 MHz 3: 1826.00 MHz 4: 1826.00 MHz
Graphics:  Card: Intel ValleyView Gen7 X.Org: 1.14.3 drivers: vesa,intel 
           GLX Renderer: Rasterizer GLX Version: 2.1 Mesa 9.1.7
Audio:     Card-1: Intel ValleyView High Definition Audio Controller driver: snd_hda_intel Sound: ALSA ver: k3.10.17-smp
           Card-2: Sennheiser driver: USB Audio 
Network:   Card-1: Intel Device 08b3 driver: iwlwifi 
Sensors:   System Temperatures: cpu: 45.0C mobo: N/A 
           Fan Speeds (in rpm): cpu: N/A 
Info:      Processes: 165 Uptime: 29 min Memory: 709.4/3931.1MB Client: Shell (bash) inxi: 1.9.17 

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by ginsim » 6. Nov 2015, 00:59

^Nice chip in that one Mimosa, it uses very little power.

@Gapan, I have a NUC fetiche tbh :D Fantastic small machines.

On topic, just ordered this set from Amazon ... +pi+bundle
Can't wait to tinker, got all weekend alone home (no missus around, only some bottles of wine;)
My Doctor is called Racket.

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by mimosa » 4. Jun 2016, 19:20

Update: the Zotac keeps crashing, and as I discovered, many people report that it is shoddily built. So I bought the Gigabyte BRIX J1900 ... and it wouldn't even boot, so I returned it. It seems I'm also not the only one, and there are problems with its BIOS too.

I really wish I'd gone for the Fitlet B, which is no longer available (and the simplest model that is, is far more expensive). Those seem to be ruggedly constructed little boxes.

So I am considering the NUC. There is the i3 one gapan mentioned (I think it is the same model): ... 00S1IQHKK/

and this basic Celeron one (N3050), for perhaps half the price: ... B010ULA314

This is a slightly beefier Pentium N3700 model, perhaps half way in price between those two: ... B00XPVQHDU

Has anyone tried either of the second two? I'd really prefer a fanless computer, but you can't have everything.

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by westms » 6. Jun 2016, 23:15

mimosa wrote:Update: the Zotac keeps crashing
Hi mimosa,

this thread I discovered and read sunday.

I'd love to help you, but can not help you in deciding between the two computers. In principle, I would rather advise against.

Some time ago I was also interested in such small computers, but then refrained from using. There were too many problem descriptions in the web. Very small, fanless, not lame, many interfaces and small price. These requirements are incompatible.

Actually, I want to give you a very different approach, with which you can maybe achieve something. There are a variety of reasons for the difficulties with the ZOTAC.

You write: "Update: the Zotac keeps crashing...". In my search in the forum I have found no evidence that you had already reported incidents. (ZOTAC or ZBOX and mimosa)

If you have not yet written off the ZBOX, you could systematically check for errors and maybe fix them.

But even if you are going to buy another computer, you should find out what happens. If it's not the computer but on tasks in your household or in the neighborhood, then the incidents with other hardware can reoccur.

When and how you experience the crashes? Can you describe it exactly?

At certain times?
After a certain period?
During or after certain program runs?
Occur the crashes only during the runlevel 4?
Happen the crashes in multi user mode, too?
Even in single user mode?
What is the room temperature?
What is the CPU temperature? inxi -s
What is the HDD temperature? sudo smartctl -a /dev/sda | grep -e Airflow_Temperature_Cel -e Temperature_Celsius
What distance is between ZBOX and the back of the monitor? (influences)
Did the crashes happen on before installing the internal hard disk?
Was the SATA cable kinked during disk installation? (be honest)
Are the bending radii of the SATA cable too small? (radius > 15 mm == diameter > 30 mm)

Are you using a new kernel? I guess so.
Do you have BIOS or EFI firmware to the latest version? I guess so.
Was the CPU microcode permanently updated at the same time or even subsequently?
Tries the kernel to load the microcode temporarily? (-> log file)
Have you or the distribution, microcode made available to the kernel?
Are ATA/disk CRC or timeout error messages in the log files?

Is the electric house installation intact?
Are your domestic appliances electrically suppressed? (blender, vacuum cleaners, ...)
Are electric welders in the neighborhood?
Are radio amateurs, radio stations, radar stations or beacons in the neighborhood?
Do you have on your desk still an electrical chaos? (be honest)

There is more to ask and tell.

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by mimosa » 7. Jun 2016, 06:14

I put it down to the shoddy engineering I've read about by Googling. And I'm sure you're right, these little boxes are squaring the circle; but I think they're cute. Fitlet and its cousins are more rugged, and lower spec for the price. If they brought out another really basic one I'd be tempted to get that. However, I am intrigued by gapan's positive report of the NUC.

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Re: barebones box for Salix

Post by westms » 8. Jun 2016, 06:29

mimosa wrote:I put it down to the shoddy engineering I've read about by Googling.
You know, it always complain only those who have difficulties and they then dominate.
mimosa wrote:[...] but I think they're cute.
Yes, cuteness can also be a selection criterion. But if you have the device then you mount it behind the monitor, where you can no longer see it.
mimosa wrote:Fitlet and its cousins are more rugged, and lower spec for the price. If they brought out another really basic one I'd be tempted to get that.
I found some on the Fitlet-B. It looked pretty good. You could try to find a used device.

From your previous message: "I bought the Gigabyte BRIX J1900 ... and it wouldn't even boot". I would not again take part in a new discussion like "Why Linux does not boot?", but still, what happened there?

All following links pointing to German text.

I would like to point to a short magazine article about the Intel NUC5CPYH: ... 69165.html
1,49 € c't 18/2015, Seite 64 (ca. 1.5 redaktionelle Seiten)

I own the paper edition. My summary: This device has a silent fan. In August 2015, it cost 140 €. You need SO-DIMM-RAM type DDR3L-1600. The description is basically positive. But some will not work under Linux (Ubuntu 15.04). From wireless adapter, only Bluetooth has been detected. Chromium with Flash Player can play videos from Netflix and Amazon Prime. H.264 videos stutter already from 720p resolution. 4K can be forgotten. Under Windows 10, videos in H.264 und H.265 (HEVC) run smoothly. With Google Chrome, YouTube videos stutter already from 720p resolution. But with extension h264ify or other browsers, 4K videos work supple. In Edge Browser, Netflix and Amazon Prime are problem-free. With UEFI-boot until the Windows desktop appears even with Fast-Boot option it takes 50 seconds. BIOS boot mode is some seconds faster.

Conclusion of the editors, in my own words: Shuttle, Zotac and other can do it too and without fan. Therefor, too expensive or too slow.

The claims of the c't-editors are often high. Usually you do with fewer.

And a pointer to a magazine article about comparison of three mini computers, included is Intel NUC5i3RYK: ... 86859.html
1,49 € c't 09/2015, Seite 134 (ca. 3 redaktionelle Seiten)

I own the paper edition. My summary: The article is from April 2015 and the description is all positive. The comparison is between: Gigabyte Brix GB-BXi5H-5200 (420 €), Intel NUC5i3RYK (280 €) and Shuttle DSS7U (200 €).

The Brix is some loud under load (1.6 Sone). The others are more silent (0.5 and < 0.1 Sone). At idle, all are very quiet. The shuttle has a more extensive equipment, resulting in higher power consumption, also its computing power is slightly lesser. Each can drive two displays (a combination of one HDMI/miniHDMI and one DP/miniDP), but do not have the same resolutions and frame/refresh rates. SO-DIMM-RAM type DDR3L-1333/PC3-12800 is needed. Fedora 21 worked well on all three mini comuters.

Conclusion of the editors, in my own words: All three are good to work as media player devices and office computers. For 3D-games too lame. Not well suited for rendering or video encoding, due to limited heat dissipation capability. For this Alienware Alpha and ASUS GR8 are the better choices. ---

Maybe you try again to find small computers but with CPU Celeron G3900 with Skylake technique. This CPU is powerful, inexpensive and has low power consumption, therefore is also suitable for such small computers.

General Intel NUC

By date descending: ... t=datum_ab

More general Mini-PC

Some information from other sources in English: ... -pc-review ... -pc-review

I hope that helps.
The text has again become so long. :o

Edited: some typos corrected.
Last edited by westms on 8. Jun 2016, 21:59, edited 2 times in total.

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