News, reviews and how tos covering Linux, Android and Chromium OS on mini PCs
A mini PC is basically a tiny computers that fits in the palm of your hand and can be used by anyone. Small computers are not new as embedded devices and development boards are well established in the IT and electronics industries. However consumer targeted devices only really emerged with plug computers like the Shivaplug. The revolution or perhaps race began with the advent of the Android PC 'stick' (Rikomagic MK802) which was released around the same time as the first 'inexpensive' development board targeting hobbyists (Raspberry Pi Model B). The subtle distinction being the Android device was a fully functional end-user device and truly plug-n-play compared to the small and very cheap development board whose objective was to build a support community. Because of the size and capabilities of these devices the term 'mini PC' was coined.
Since then Android sticks have had additional ports added to them to create Android boxes and now new devices support additional operating systems including Windows, Linux and Chrome OS. However right from the early days the lack of basic information including guides and tutorials together with working software suitable for the beginner or non-technical user was a hindrance to fully exploiting the potential of these devices. Whatever information existed was disparate and scattered across forums, blogs and websites. Equally the potential to use these small and highly mobile devices as Linux mini PCs was hindered by the lack of GPL compliance and unwillingness by manufacturers to embrace Linux as a supported OS.
But now the rest is history. The AllWinner A10 SOC was advanced to the A20 SOC. Rockchip replaced AllWinner dominance first with the RK3066 then RK3188 and RK3288 SOCs. Amlogic entered the market along with niche (Odroid) devices using Samsung before finally Intel joined with their successful Z3735F SOC. Critically for Linux, the lack of support for video drivers because of the Mali GPU closed source and the lack of kernel source initially from Amlogic has seen the Intel SOC having the best native support for Linux even though wifi and sound drivers are still ongoing issues. The price reduction and further miniaturization of barebone boxes is now also challenging the boundaries of what a mini PC actually is versus what functionality a mini PC should provide. Is it a stick or a box? An HTPC, desktop or TV box? Should it be fanless or quiet? While faster CPUs, quicker GPUs and larger memory are all being offered they come at a cost of increased heat dissipation and the demise of the sub-$100 price-point being eclipsed by prices north of $150.
When I bought the original Android stick I had a vision: running a fully functional latest LTS Ubuntu OS on a commercially available and supported Linux mini PC. Several years later and arguably this has been achieved by the Intel Compute Stick. But I was also on a mission: to increase and improve knowledge; to make software freely available including the Linux kernel; to develop, support and enhance Linux (especially Ubuntu) on these physically small consumer mini PC devices. This needs to be a collaboration. Unfortunately free software for you comes at a cost for me so I need donations to cover my existing costs in sharing my work like this website and Google Drive for example. Donations also help offset the costs of new storage and peripherals required for development. Most importantly donations both monetary and of new devices help me continue my work in providing solutions, software and support to everyone.