GeeXboX 3.0 Review – The Quick and Easy HTPC
A lightweight distro running XBMC that is designed for temporary or permanent use – how does it fare?
GeeXboX is an incredibly small Linux distro that is designed to help people get a home theatre PC set up as easily as possible. It’s able to run on not only x86 systems, but also ARM and even PowerPC, with an ISO optimised to run on USB and SD cards, as well as giving the option to install it to a hard drive. This makes it extremely portable, and with various ISOs for different systems clocking in at about 150MB apiece, there should be plenty of room for all your audio and video content on larger storage mediums.
It boots lightning fast, with only a very brief splash screen between POST and when the XBMC menu loads up. This is the case from both a USB stick and a 5400rpm hard drive, although with much older machines it will possibly take a little longer to boot.
The XBMC interface has not really been changed – there’s the GeeXboX logo on the bottom of the screen, and some of the news ticker items inform of updates to the distro, but that’s about it. It works exactly like XBMC does, with the same video, music and app support as the original. GeeXboX also includes a few of its own apps: a software updater to keep up to date with GeeXboX, a manual network setup app, and a web browser. The network settings app doesn’t automatically look for broadcasting SSIDs, which seems a little odd considering how easy to use the rest of the distro is.
Installation onto a hard drive is done very simply. Selecting the install option from the boot menu will take you to a hard drive selection screen, reminding you that your hard drive will be wiped, before copying the necessary components to the hard drive, including a bootloader. It needs very little human involvement and it’s done in a matter of minutes.
Mileage may vary per system, but it was able to play just about anything we could throw at it. Tracking was perfect, with GeeXboX able to move through 1080p media with no problem or buffering; it even played fine in the background. It has all the media adding and scraping you’d expect from XBMC as well, which is probably more suited for permanent installs than portable media centres.
For more advanced maintenance, GeeXboX includes a debug mode, and you can easily access the command prompt with Ctrl+Alt+F2. The only available user is root anyway, so it allows you to perform manual package installations, updates and removals. There are other boot options as well, allowing you to change the root file system, boot with a custom IP, and more, so that you have a lot more control over how it works.
Overall, it’s a very good and comprehensive package. Thanks to the multiple ISOs, there’s no wasted space for the live medium or hard drive, allowing for as much consumable media as possible on the remaining space if you’re using it purely mobile. It also means you still have the optical drive free for physical media, and it will save settings to the USB or SD card you store it on. Thanks to this, its speed and its flexibility, it’s pretty much all you need for watching your favourite films on the go, and even serves as a very decent permanent solution.
Optimised for mobility, GeeXboX is a tiny and lightning-fast XBMC distro that allows you take and watch your media wherever you go. It doesn’t mess around with the superb XBMC either, adding only a browser and useful updating software to make the experience just that little bit better.