Hardware Review: Lini Desktop

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A look at Open Sense Computing's new Linux desktop workstation offering.

I occasionally read that one of the major PC vendors, such as Dell or HP, is coming out with some sort of Linux box. Similarly, I read statements from Linux enthusiasts hoping for such an event, so that Linux on the desktop really will take off. My bias is slightly different. I note the vendors such as SW Technology Los Alamos Computers, Open Sense Computing and many others who have thrown in their lot with Linux and subscribe to some sort of open-source philosophy. These are the sorts of vendors from whom I prefer to buy. I would be sorry to see the giants in the industry overwhelm these little guys, who are much more likely to share my Linux enthusiasm.

In fact, over the years I have ordered product from each of the three vendors mentioned above and was quite satisfied. This particular review concerns the relatively new Lini computer from Open Sense Solutions. My purchase occurred early enough that my system was considered something of a beta unit. The vendor was not informed that I would write a review, so product configuration and customer support were not skewed.

What I Ordered, Hardware

The Lini is a small form factor (SFF) computer, with a reasonable selection of standard features, including:

  • AMD Athlon 64 800MHz FSB Processor

  • Socket 754 VIA K8M800 Micro ATX Motherboard

  • PC 3200 400 MHz 184-Pin DDR SDRAM

  • Western Digital 80GB SATA hard drive

  • NEC DVD+-R/W drives

  • Integrated Flash card reader

  • Realtek Ethernet controller, RTL-8139/8139C/8139C+

  • On-board S3 graphics

  • On-board AC97 sound

I ordered the basic unit with two enhancements, a memory upgrade to 1GB of RAM and an Atheros wireless 802.11abg card. Expectedly, sound and graphics upgrades are available, as well as other upgrades and options, but my needs in those areas were met with the basic unit.

The Lini comes in a 7.9" (H) x 10.6" (W) x 13.2" Aria case made by Antec. Among the most attractive selling points of the Lini are these:

  • SFF, allowing some efficient rearrangement of my tiny office space

  • Wireless card, avoiding some wire clutter in that same office space

  • Micro ATX Motherboard, suggesting an available path for upgrade that is somewhat vendor neutral, unlike many slightly smaller SFF boxes

  • Supposed quiet operation

I already had a decent LCD flat panel and therefore needed no monitor. The price for all this was $749, with no shipping charge for a beta release.

What I Ordered, Software

The Lini comes with the Ubuntu distribution installed. I prefer KDE to GNOME and was told by the vendor that KDE would be available at boot. I asked that Ubuntu be installed in a partition of about 20GB, leaving about 60GB of space in which I could install other distributions.

Ubuntu is provided as either a 64-bit compilation or a 32-bit compilation. The latter is more mature in terms of supported applications, so I chose the 32-bit version to avoid any extraneous issues. I can install a 64-bit version at some later point.

What I Got

The box appeared at my home in a timely manner. Unpacking revealed only one minor quality control glitch--the top of the case was not seated properly. Loosening a convenient knurled nut allowed me to slide the top out and reseat it easily. The package also included various manuals, CDs and the install/live DVD for Ubuntu 5.04. The latter is accessed by the Debian package manager GUI, synaptic, for the addition of further software.

Upon boot, the X configuration failed to accommodate my LCD monitor, leaving me in console mode. I didn't address this problem directly, but went on to install my current favorite Linux distribution, Libranet 3.0. Like Ubuntu, Libranet is derived from Debian. The hard drive was partitioned per my request, so there was space to give Libranet its own 20GB partition. Libranet installed fine except for its inability to deal with the Atheros 802.11abg wireless card.

Next, I copied /etc/xorg.conf from the Libranet partition to the Ubuntu partition and rebooted. Ubuntu's X configuration now was happy, so I got a login screen. However, there was no KDE choice--another quality control glitch--and I was presented with the GNOME desktop instead. This was easily rectified by firing up synaptic and installing the KDE desktop.

At this point, it was time to start investigating the hardware. I tried the following components:

  • USB headphones (for VOIP)

  • USB Kangaru hard drive

  • USB scanner

  • SD card reader slot of integrated Flash card reader

  • Wired and wireless Ethernet

  • CD burner

and everything I tried worked fine. I have yet to try absolutely everything, but nearly so.

I had some problems configuring my remote printer, but that's a well-known upstream problem with the CUPS configuration interface, seemingly intended for experts. I'm sure the CUPS developers find the interface to be intuitive, but I do not. Configuration choices made successfully on earlier CUPS releases were no longer viable, but eventually I stumbled upon a configuration such that remote printing worked.

Another upstream problem is that OpenOffice.org uses A4 paper as the default option, and how to change that to US letter is not readily apparent. A little Googling, however, led me to a simple, albeit hidden, solution.

I next wanted to get the wireless going under Libranet. The Atheros works with the madwifi driver, which is not provided with the kernel. Plenty of information for the driver is available on the Web, perhaps some that provides clear instructions for driver installation. However, because the Ubuntu installation as configured by the Lini vendor worked fine, I decided to test customer service at Open Sense Solutions. I fired off an e-mail and received an answer the same day. The instructions referenced in that answer were clear and they worked. Now I can boot into two fully functional alternatives, Ubuntu--essentially Kubunutu now--or Libranet.

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If you are not a company

Anonymous's picture

If you are not a company with specific needs in computering,don't pay for any Linux realease,you'll be only desappointed.
If you want a home reliable commercial operating system,there is only one that is also reliable,has compatiblity with almost all hardware and applications and has plenty of support and dedicated software: Microsoft Windows.At least worth the investition.
You are passionate about the opensource philosophy or simply like Linux? Download the latest of your favorite free Linux version.
Frankly,do you think the commercial Linux releases are any better?

I recommend openSUSE or Ubuntu.

would I buy another?

R. Sevenich's picture

If I really needed another machine RIGHT NOW, I would probably buy another Lini. Otherwise, I would wait until the vendor had adequately addressed the noise problem.

The fact that the LCD monitor was not recognized properly was not an issue for me, but would make me reluctant to recommend it to a new Linux user. Again, i would expect the vendor to address that issue.

Finally, I haven't had it long enough to assess hardware robustness, but it has run flawlessly so far.

Regards,
Richard

For beta it is OK

Anonymous's picture

But I would definitely expect better for production.
Having to configure X "by hand" (or by installing a different distro) is simply not acceptable.

What I would expect from a Linux Hardware Vendor:
- Take hardware which is automagically detected and configured by Suse, Fedora, Debian, (K)Ubuntu and Knoppix.
- Or try to get correct hardware configuration by helping these distributions.

So that in effect I can be SURE that the upgrade releases of these distribution will also will install without a glitch.

What I would NOT like would be a heavily customized preinstalled distro which on upgrade or reinstall fails miserably in detecting the hardware correctly.

Geri

what to expect of a bought LINUX

Anonymous's picture

"...many others who have thrown in their lot with Linux and subscribe to some sort of open-source philosophy."
I share with Professor Sevenich's ideas that there are 2 different aspects in supporting LINUX software.
But customers see it as only one: buying and expecting the same quality as with other O.Systems.

We should remember that LINUX is handmade by OpenSource and other users like us. So, when buying LINUX you should expect to also become another builder of a good LINUX.

That is not the case of big companies that only build their programs to create a commercial tendency towards their side, not the comunities one.

So, when I read people expecting LINUX to work like Windows, I think that they are not seeing the real LINUX. Because it is always better to create instead of copying. It is a nightmare to try to follow the big companies tendencies in software development. I have read that Ms Word is declining in its development, while in LINUX it is improving. Now, RTF files are something that every software is able to handle. The same happens with other software.

So, as a starting point of a better communication, I should think that LINUX is just for developers. Then I would expect that every LINUX dealer would be constantly submiting new config files to the OS comunity to improve the LINUX quality. If they want to sell more LINUX, they should help the comunity.

This way, the LINUX machine would be sold for what the comunity would expect to buy. The dealers would also be forming part of the OpenSource comunity. And perhaps, some day, LINUX would be able to compare to Microsoft or Apple in sales.

quality is a must

Key's  PC's's picture

I think I would have had to rate this computer as unacceptable.
From poor quality control (shipped with top panel seated wrong.)
To apparently untested upgrades (wireless.)
It appears that the computer needed an hours work right out of the box!
My customers would have returned the unit and sought a vendor ( such as dell or H/P) whose products worked. I offer a money-back plus satisfaction warrantee. I couldn’t if I shipped this kind of quality.
Quality is all us small vendors have to compete with .
Keys PC's

The wirelss worked as adverti

Anonymous's picture

The wirelss worked as advertised. Libranet was a "third party" product. So was the LCD monitor, although this should be an issue to be addressed by the tech support. However, unless the reviewer is exceptionally picky, sound appears to be a serious problem.

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