[sf-lug] Need a new Linux mini-pc? and some news...

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Apr 20 23:46:53 PDT 2022

Quoting Bobbie Sellers (bliss-sf4ever at dslextreme.com):

> Hi LUGers,
> Well I got the Linux Pro weekly update and it had old news and
> new.
> But I chose to mention it because this sounds like a hot piece of
> equipment.
> >Star Labs Unveils a New Small Format Linux PCcomputer

Article is here (as you mention further down).

Looking at the hardware OEM's Web site
(https://us.starlabs.systems/products/byte#), I see things that halt me
and make me suspicious.

1.  There's no actual full specifications page.  Hmmm.

2.  Drilling down to detail about RAM, there's no indication what 
_class_ of RAM.  DDR3?  DDR4?  What brands/types?  No information at all.  
(Digging around to the Accessories pages suggests some variety of DDR

3.  What's the motherboard chipset?

4.  Does it require forced ventilation (fans) or passive?

5.  What are, even, the _dimensions_, for heaven's sake?

6.  What are the makes/models/types of SSDs offered?  Looks like some
sort of PCIe slot, maybe M.2 compatible, but why aren't they bothering
to give details?

7.  What are the sound chipset?  Ethernet chipset?  Wireless/Bluetooth
chipset(s)?  SATA/USB/microSD/SouthBridge chipset?

8.  Do the USB-C ports do the "PD" power extension?

9.  Page says "fewer blobs" [sic].  Fewer BLOBs than what?  What does
that mean, exactly?  What binary large objects (if any) _are_ needed to
initialise this hardware?  

10. Page says "Expandable Storage.  Add a second 2.5" SSD".  Does that
mean there's a second PCIe slot inside and enough room to add a second
mass storage device (e.g., to run with RAID1 mirroring), or are they 
talking about hanging an eSATA external drive off it?

Personally, I'd not spend that much money without a lot more precise
knowledge of what's there.  It's certainly nice that it can run from
coreboot, and a Ryzen 7 model 5800U is so ridiculously overpowered a
CPU, I can only assume this is aimed at Ubuntu users.  (Oh, wait, it
_is_ aimed at Ubuntu users.)  And for heaven's sake, the CPU _alone_
draws 25W TDP.

Oh, wait, after a _lot_ of poking around, I ran across a link to
specifications.  https://us.starlabs.systems/pages/byte-specification
(Q1 answered.)

Q2.  The specs page _mostly_ answers this question.  Example:

    8GB of 3200MHz DDR4 memory
    Form Factor: SO-DIMM
    Type: DDR4
    Configuration: 1 × G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB

It is implied (but not properly stated) that there are two SO-DIMM

"G.SKILL Ripjaws" is a punkish-PR brand/product line of RAM aimed
squarely at gamers.  Lots of bright colours (crimson red heavily
featured), and gimmicks like that.  Except, I believe the full name of
the product line is "G.SKILLS Ripjaws V".  But why just gamer RAM?  Why
not Corsair, or Crucial, or Mushkin?

Q3.  Still nothing anywhere about the motherboard chipset.  It's a

Q4.  Nothing about ventilation.

Q5.  Dimensions 50mm H, 125mm W, 111mm D.  That means it's probably a
Pico-ITX motherboard.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pico-ITX

Q6.  Still not much about the makes/models of SSDs, except the type
is revealed as "M2 2280".  Which is good, as far as that goes.  But why
not NVMe-class addressing?

Q7.  Sound: still vague.  Ethernet: doesn't say, which is kinda
shameful.  Wireless:  Intel AC 7265 (slightly misspecified).  Bluetooth:
chipset not stated.  ("5.1" is not a chipset.)  Other chipsets: doesn't

Q8.  Doesn't say whether USB-C ports do the "PD" power extension.
(Probably not.)

Q9.  The cryptic comment about "blobs" goes unaddressed.

Q10.  They're talking about hanging an eSATA external drive off it.
I.e., there's no second internal PCIe socket for a second M.2 device, or
extra physical room.

So, in sum, it's pretty decent.  You can do better for the money, and
get faster / higher-quality I/O, and better quality components -- and
not have to deal with vagueness from the vendor.

> Now There is another mini which I had missed hearing about.
> Purism Launched a MiniPC  The makers of the Librem line of
> Linux-based laptops have released a mini PC.	
> IF you can go to the URL below you can find more about the
> Purism and links to both Star Labs and to Librem.

Direct link to the Purism-produced "Librem Mini" article:

Article is once again _really_ vague.  Specs at
https://puri.sm/products/librem-mini/ are _partial_, and at least better
than Star Labs's.  Many of the same flaws.  In this case, the
motherboard (chipset not specified) is probably Nano-ITX.

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