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Dec
10

MintBox 2 review – not as fresh, still as minty

by Rob Zwetsloot

The MintBox 2 is here, and it’s more powerful than ever. Just how much power are you getting for nearly £400 though?

Specifications

Operating system: Linux Mint
Processor: Intel i5-3337U
Memory: 4GB DDR3
Heat dissipation: Die-cast heatsink case, fanless design
Networking: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 N Wireless
Ports: 6 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, optical in and out, 2 x eSATA, HDMI out, Display Port out

The MintBox is full of I/O ports
The MintBox is full of I/O ports

Review

Last years announcement of the original MintBox was a bit of a surprise. While Ubuntu has been distributed on some laptops and PCs for a while now, Linux Mint doesn’t quite have the mainstream penetration of the distro it’s based on, and neither does have a marketing team like Canonical’s to try and promote it either. The MintBox was a fairly high-end system though, for its size, and served as a test platform to bundle Linux Mint with the Linux edition of any future fit-PC creation. A year on, and a second MintBox has been released, imaginatively titled the MintBox 2, and is worlds better than the original.

The MintBox 2 is based off of the incredible Intense PC, a product released earlier this year that we really liked in our review. Specifically, it’s based on the mid-range of the Intense PC, running an i5 processer but with the RAM cut in half down to 4 GB. That still gives it plenty of raw power though, while still allowing it to idle at an astonishing 10 W. The actual case itself still has all the hallmark Intense PC features – the exact same port layout is featured on the front and back, and the only noticeable difference is that the interchangeable front ports include Linux Mint branding instead of the Intense PC logo.

The sheer number of input and output ports on the rear and front allow you to do a lot with the box. Changing the front four USBs for four Ethernet ports and you have a fantastic lightweight server and router for the home, and it will plug in to just about any kind of display thanks to a HDMI port, mini Display Port and a variety of connectors and adapters included with the MintBox. This allows it to be used as a home media PC perfectly due to its size and fanless design, and could even be used as a Steam Machine in the future thanks to SteamOS.

Right now, it’s powerful enough to easily playback high-bitrate 1080p media, and can stream HD content from video services perfectly. While it won’t properly compete against a purpose built gaming machine, it’s more than powerful enough to hold its own, especially for its size. It’s also easily upgradeable, with a single comaprtment on the underside opening up to reveal the harddrive attached to it, and the RAM and other major components within easy access. The RAM is attached like laptop sticks, making them easy to pop out and increase to a maximum 16 GB.

Linux Mint actually being in the box by default is somewhat a minor note – it’s definitely nice to have it there, and the set-up process is quick and painless, however it’s very easily replaceable if you want to use it for more than just a desktop PC. It obviously runs extremely well on the system, and comes running MATE as standard rather than the more flagship Cinnamon, however that’s easily changed.

The one issue we did come across while using MintBox 2 is that it did get rather hot while idling. The Intense PC would get warm to the touch, but nowhere near the MintBox’s temperatures. The case itself is the heatsink, like the Intense PC, so it at least means it’s doing its job, but we’d worry about putting it in an enclosed space. Having said that – with the correct level of ventilation or just out in the open, it is an incredible piece of kit, and a lot cheaper than the Intense PC equivalent.

Verdict

5/5

It can get a little toasty, but it’s otherwise a fantastic piece of kit that is cheaper than its sister machines with almost the exact same specs. It’s powerful, portable, and has a huge range of applications that it can easily pull off

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    • PuzzledObserver

      Please give more details about the storage of the MintBox2. Capacity? Disk? SSD? Specs of that disk? Thanks.

    • John

      No thanks. I’m gonna save the money for Steam Machines.

    • http://pitsnews.blogspot.it/ piesdo

      And the video card?

    • dgrb

      Too busy to look it up yourself?

      http://www.fit-pc.com/web/products/mintbox/

    • Danny

      Sounds like a perfect pc to use as a retro gaming machine. Load up emulators, a good frontend, and some retro usb controllers (nes, sega, atari, etc)!

    • David Wardley

      I would need convincing that drivers for peripheral gear, printers, scanners, and sound are available and work well in a friendly manner. That appears as a universal problem for many potential Linux users. Look it up. Without those add-ons the machine is almost useless except for browsing and email!.

    • Graham SMith

      Can’t you find something better to do than troll? Try Win 8 if you really want to know about driver compatibility issues, but you know that already don’t you? People come on here to read informed opinion and they shouldn’t have to put up with micro$oft FUD.

    • http://www.ducakedhare.co.uk DuCakedHare

      Linux Mint itself has a little problem: if you simply leave the OS at the login screen, MDM (the Mint Display Manager, responsible for said screen) “idles” at a constant 50% CPU usage… which may explain your experience with the heat!

      Solution is to change DM – lightdm is the generally recommended one. Google for appropriate tuts. After that, you’ll idle at 0-1% and should not see the heat problem…