You’re looking for a new PC, but you don’t have the $1000 or so for a solid, reliable workhorse. To cut costs, you could either build your own, or look for a low cost alternative. Oh, and you have one other requirement: you’re switching to Linux, but without the expertise of being able to install an operating system, you need the computer to come preinstalled with a popular, well-supported Linux distro.
Sound like a tough request? It’s not. Let’s take a look at five Linux computers that you can order today for under $500.
An Affordable Linux PC
While Linux isn’t only for personal computers, you’ll probably find that your best experience of the OS will come from a robust desktop device, rather than a smartphone. You might have been introduced to Linux via the Raspberry Pi and the Raspbian operating system, a fork of the popular Debian distro, for instance, and decided that the OS was an adequate replacement for Windows or Mac OS X.
One of the advantages of switching to Linux is that the cost of the computer is lower because the operating system is free to use, unlike Windows. This has several benefits, not least the ability to occasionally find a device that is more powerful than its Windows counterpart.
So what’s on offer?
CompuLab fit-PC4 Pro Linux
This sub-$500 computer looks more like a router than a PC, but inside you’ll find a 2GHz quad core AMD GX-420CA, AMD Radeon HD8400E Graphics and 320 GB HDD. The CompuLab fit-PC4 Pro also has two USB 3.0 ports, six USB 2.0, two HDMI, a microSDXC slot and two Ethernet ports. Preinstalled on the HDD comes the 64-bit version of Linux Mint 17.3, and there’s also a serial port and analog/digital out port supporting Dolby 7.1+2. Inside, two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots hold up to 16 GB of memory, and the computer also has a mPCIe+mSATA slot under the chassis.
This fanless, aluminium Linux box delivers good performance for a very low price, and reviews for the device are staggeringly positive.
Acer VN2620G-UC887L Desktop
Available for $299, this Acer desktop is a compact computer featuring an Intel Celeron 887 Dual-core 1.50GHz processor (with integrated Intel graphics), 2GB DDR3 RAM (expandable to 8GB), a 320G HDD and two USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 ports. Video out is via HDMI, there’s a single audio out port and wireless networking.
Built for office tasks, you won’t find much opportunity for gaming or image processing here, but what you will find is a competent, low-power PC that does the job it is designed for, as well as video streaming.
Looking at the reviews, while a popular piece of kit, for the best results you need to install Linux Mint 16, as the included Linpus Linux OS is pretty rigid and limited.
CybertronPC Axis LyNX1 DT3204B Desktop
A far more traditional-looking tower PC, the CybertronPC Axis LyNX1 DT3204B has an AMD Athlon 5150 1.60GHz Quad-Core CPU, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB 7200rpm HDD with Ubuntu 14.04 pre-installed, and a Radeon HD 8400 GPU.
With a rewritable 24x DVD drive, 7.1 channel audio, VGA, HDMI and DVI video in ports, two USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, Mini PCI-E and a standard PCI-E ports, connectivity is via an Ethernet cable, with 1000Mbps Gigabit network controller.
Although difficult to upgrade, this is a competent computer that has attracted some good reviews.
So small it can be mounted in the Vesa bracket on the back of your LCD monitor, this $220 Linux PC features a quad core Intel Celeron Processor J1900, 4GB DDR3 RAM, Intel HD Graphics, a 500GB HDD and build in Wi-Fi. Also in the box are HDMI and VGA video connectors, an Ethernet port, a single USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 ports, a serial port, speaker and mic ports.
While there is only a single RAM slot (not surprising for a device of this size) it can be expanded to 8GB. The hard disk drive can be swapped for up to 256GB mSATA SSD, or you can replace it with a standard SATA HDD up to 1.5TB.
Although the device is listed as “Linux Ubuntu” on Amazon, you have to request this operating system is installed after purchasing. Otherwise, it will arrive with Windows 7 64-bit pre-installed, but without a license.
RKM MK802IV LE 8GB Quad Core Linux Mini PC
Finally, for under $100 (at the time of writing) is this quad core Linux Mini PC, a stick computer, which means that the only physical connector is the HDMI plug. With Picuntu 4.5 (based on Ubuntu 13.04) preinstalled on the 8GB NAND flash, the 1.8GHz Cortex A9 RK3188 quad core CPU should enable you to perform most browsing, streaming and office tasks.
Built in wireless networking means that you can connect this ridiculously small PC to your network, and support for a variety of audio formats (MP3/WMA/APE/FLAC/AAC/OGG/AC3/WAV) makes it a good choice as a stripped down media center.
What Tasks Can You Use These PCs For?
They’re small, and they’re low cost. You’re probably thinking that these computers aren’t up to much.
You would be wrong.
While the quality of the graphic processor might restrict HD video and intensive image editing, and it is unlikely you’ll be able to play the latest video games (whether you’re using Steam for Linux or not), these limits are true of Windows PCs of a similar spec.
But these computers will be suitable for browsing the web, word processing, email and other office tasks, light image editing (photo fixing, for instance), retro gaming, webcam chats, and even running media center software like Kodi. For under $500, that’s not a bad deal.
A Wider Selection of Devices
If you’re looking for something more powerful, and are happy to pay over $500, then a good place to start looking is at the Ubuntu website, where you will find a large list of devices from Dell and HP (among other big names) that come with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS or 12.04 LTS preinstalled.
Have you purchased a Linux desktop? Perhaps you’re in the market for one? Let’s talk about the options available – share your thoughts in the comments box below.