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Open source nettop designed from survey requests

Jan 26, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

The Open-PC project, which developed an open source Linux PC based on community survey requests, says its KDE-flavored nettop will ship next month. The Open-PC is equipped with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom 330 with 3GB RAM and 160GB storage, but its high $500 price has stirred some controversy.

As the Open-PC project announced in July, the Open-PC is designed as a completely open source Linux desktop. "Only components with complete technical specifications, as provided by the manufacturers, were used," states the project's web-site. "Everything works with free drivers and no proprietary software is needed."

The project is said to be a response to other unnamed "free software" Linux systems that have been marred by pre-installed software that "was buggy and not widely tested," or by device drivers that were "often unstable, non-free or not available at all."

The Open-PC

Last week, the group announced hardware specs for the nettop, which is set to ship in late February. Housed in a 16.7 x 13.6 x 3.9-inch (425 x 345 x 100mm) chassis, the system incorporates a Mini-ITX mainboard from ASRock, with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom 330, Intel 945GC northbridge, and ICH7 southbridge, says the project. Further supplied with 3GB DDR2 RAM, a 160GB hard disk drive, and dual SATA II connectors, the Open-PC offers a PCI slot for expansion.

Open-PC hardware details

The Open-PC's I/O includes a gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports, as well as PS/2, parallel, serial, and VGA ports, says the project. Standard audio jacks and a 250-Watt power supply are also said to be provided.

The 359 Euro (about $505) price includes phone- and email-based installation support, says the project. In addition, 10 Euros from every PC sold is donated to the KDE project, which supplies the Linux desktop environment pre-installed on the system.

More Open-PC hardware details

Hardware projects almost always turn out to be more expensive than planned, but the $505 pricetag was considerably higher than the $300 to $400 estimated when the project launched in July. Indeed, as Katherine Noyes ("Linux Girl") notes in a LinuxInsider write-up on the project, the high price has been topic number one among the many (mostly negative) comments about the Open-PC that have emerged on Slashdot and Open-PC's own forums since the specs were released last week.

With the price ranging up to about $650 with a monitor and basic peripherals, the general consensus was that there were much better deals to be had for a nettop, no matter how free the drivers are, writes Noyes. She quotes one post by an Anonymous Coward: "I wanted to buy a Free PC, but I couldn't afford it."

Noyes also quotes Slashdot blogger GNUAlmafuerte as noting that it is unfair to call the system truly free when it lacks an open BIOS. (The ASRock specs lists a 4MB AMI BIOS.) Among other critiques, Noyes quotes blogger Robert Pogson as telling her, "Matching a 250W power supply with an Atom processor is insane."

Others opined, meanwhile, that the Intel 82945GC northbridge used in the Open-PC is not optimized for multimedia. Indeed, Intel's single-core Atom 230 and the dual-core Atom 330 used in the Open-PC are typically combined with Intel's 82945GC northbridge, which is also used in the system. To add greater multimedia oomph, including HD video playback, systems integrators such as ZaReason have instead chosen to add Nvidia's HD-ready "Ion" companion chip. ZaReason's Ion Breeze 3770, for example, starts at $400 and is based on an Atom 230 and Nvidia's Ion chip.

Others, meanwhile, suggest that an ARM-based system would have been a better — or at least a lower cost — choice. Several projects and companies have released open source systems based on the ARM Cortex-A8-based Texas Instruments BeagleBoard, including the Always Innovating Touch Book. Featuring a detachable tablet, the netbook sells for $400.

The Open-PC's KDE-based desktop
(Click on either to enlarge)

While many of the negative posts about the Open-PC originated on Slashdot, criticism can also be found on the Open-PC site itself, includnig complaints about the price and the BIOS. One disgruntled survey participant, in a post titled "You tricked us!" claims that some of the survey results were ignored by the project. Others, however, seemed to be interested in purchasing the system.

Back at LinuxInsider, Noyes concludes that despite the high price and other issues, the project was, if nothing else, a worthwhile experiment. "Using surveys to collaboratively decide on the machine's key specs — and delivering a tangible, FOSS-based product just six months after the project's launch — are nothing to be sneezed at, whatever your opinion of the result," she writes.


The Open-PC will be available for sale in late February for the price of 359 Euros (about $505), says the Open-PC project. More information may be found here. The LinuxInsider story on Open-PC should be here.

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