When I bought the UCPC, I didn't know I was buying a kit -- no RAM, no hard drive, no operating system. I've installed the RAM and the solid state drive. Now it's time to start it up and install the operating system.
Starting the BRIX for the First Time
I wasn't sure what a non-OS computer would recognize when starting up for the first time, so I plugged in the following:
- Wired keyboard (instead of a wireless one)
- Wired mouse
- HDMI cable to a monitor
I attached the power supply, and then pressed the On button. It lit up in blue, but the monitor was unimpressed: "No signal," it snarked.
My heart sank. Now what?
I attached an external DVD drive that held the Linux install disc. The BRIX computer sensed it, and I could see the DVD working away. But no display on the monitor.
Try a different monitor, I thought. I moved the BRIX and all the attached components over to another monitor, plugged it in, and...
Installing the Operating System
The BRIX box knew to look for the external DVD drive automatically, because the solid-state drive was empty. It then took a while for the DVD drive to grind away and install the 64-bit Xfce edition of Mint Linux 16 (download from http://www.linuxmint.com/edition.php?id=156).
Once done, I unplugged the external DVD drive, and then restarted the computer. Man, it boots fast! The speed comes from using the lightweight Linux implementation on the solid state drive. Time to boot: 9 seconds.
This is remarkable. Even Android takes a minute or longer to start up on smartphones and tablets.
Note: a blue LED inside the BRIX flashes to indicate disk access; it can be seen through the cooling vents. Also, I can now confirm the box has no cooling fan, so it is silent; it gets warm during use, but not hot.
Useful list of new functions in Xfce Mint 16: http://www.linuxmint.com/rel_petra_kde_whatsnew.php#mdm
Completing the Project
With Linux working, I switched to a wireless keyboard. First, I tried a spare Bluetooth keyboard-trackpad device. Linux recognized it and the two connected. But no-go: nothing I typed appeared on the screen, and the cursor was unmoved by the trackpad. I retried a few times, then gave up.
I switched to Logitech's K400 keyboard, which also includes a trackpad. It worked flawlessly, being recognized instantly by Linux.
Then came the big premiere: showing a movie from a USB stick on our big 100" screen in the entertainment room. I hooked the HDMI cable to my Sony receiver, and the Optima projector displayed the image. But no sound.
Meanwhile, my wife arrived and sat on the couch. "Can we watch the movie?" No.
No sound. Odd.
As a substitute to the audio-over-HDMI not working, I ran a spare 3.5mm audio cable from the BRIX's digital audio-out port over to the Portable Device input on the Sony receiver. The sound emerged from the six speakers, finally.
The movie was now working in hi-def and surround sound, using VLC video replay software. I did notice, however, some video tearing at times. I'll have to investigate this problem some more at some time; perhaps the USB stick was not fast enough in delivering the data.
The total cost came to around $450 -- about $150 less than an equivalent Mac Mini:
- $300 - BRIX computer
- $90 - solid state drive
- $50 - DDR3L RAM
Add to this a keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
In the end, I had fun putting together a computer, like the way we did in the 1980s and 1990s.