About six weeks ago I told you about Symple PC, the new $89 PC preinstalled with Ubuntu. Now I’ve had a chance to take one for a test drive. The verdict? Just like I figured, it’s a good deal. After all, the price is nothing if not sweet, especially considering that these machines come with a one year full replacement warranty.
Before I turn into Siskel and Ebert and give this computer two thumbs up, perhaps I’d better explain a few things first. On its own terms, the machine certainly would deserve the upturned thumbs, and maybe even a gold star on your refrigerator door. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s necessarily a drop in replacement for the latest top-of-the-line offering from HP or Lenovo — even though for many uses it could be.
The Symple PC Web Workstation is a strange hybrid. It’s not new; it’s not used; nor is it refurbished — but it is all of those things. Symple PC takes discarded systems from electronics recycling centers, puts the components through rigorous testing, then reassembles them into brand spanking new mini tower cases made from 100 percent recycled vinyl. The resulting PC is new on the outside, but filled with “previously owned” guts.
Because the computers are made from repurposed parts, they don’t all come with the same specs; buyers are guaranteed a minimum of a 2.8 GHz processor, 2 GB RAM and a 80 GB hard drive. Our test machine meets these minimum specs exactly. While gamers and bleeding edge aficionados may scoff at these numbers, they’re more than adequate for nearly any office workstation, which is their intended use.
The folks at Symple also guarantee that each computer will come with at least three USB, one VGA and one Ethernet port; and for audio, at least an output jack. With our machine, we evidently hit something of a jackpot. In addition to the VGA and Ethernet ports, ours has six USB ports as well as both a parallel and serial port. Our unit also came with the standard three audio jacks: microphone, line in and audio out.
Most likely to make assembling the Symple PC easier, all ports and controls are located on the back of the mini tower, with the power button located near the top where it’s easy to find and reach. It’s also colored green, making it easy to see against the black tower in low light. As with all computers, the first thing you notice after pressing the power button is the whirling of the fan.
In our earlier article on the Symple PC, one commenter who’d evidently been prompted by our coverage to purchase a machine, complained about the fan being excessively loud. This isn’t the case with the machine we received. Although the fan isn’t as quiet as most laptop fans, it makes no more noise than either of the two desktop machines we regularly use at FOSS Force — much less than one, which goes into turbo mode ten seconds into a YouTube video. Personally, I like the sound a fan makes as it drones in the background. I find it comforting. It means the CPU is hopefully not catching fire.
The first boot into preinstalled Ubuntu 14.04 LTS went smoothly. As expected, Ubuntu required click-throughs to establish language, keyboard and location, then prompted for a name and password for the user before spending a minute or two configuring itself before bringing up the Unity interface. Unlike the horror stories I’ve read online from people who’ve purchased Dells with Ubuntu preinstalled, the Symple machine has worked perfectly out-of-the-box without a single configuration error.
Because this computer is mainly being marketed to businesses as a web workstation, I thought it was important to see how it performed online under the type of load expected in a normal office environment. As I had no way of getting an Ethernet cable to the testing area and the Symple PC doesn’t come equipped with Wi-Fi, I plugged-in a small USB Wi-Fi dongle I had lying around. The Ubuntu install had no trouble identifying the device and I was able to connect with our router with one click.
For two days now I’ve been using it for all of my work here at FOSS Force, and the machine hasn’t had any problems coping with anything I’ve given it. It routinely handles having ten or more open tabs in Firefox without showing any signs of bogging down — even when adding a YouTube video to the mix.
When I needed to edit the JPEGs that accompany this article, to crunch them down from megabyte sized files to something more appropriate for the Internet, I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the Ubuntu package manager, as I downloaded and installed GIMP. Again, with about six megs of graphics files open, ten or more tabs up in Firefox, and a video streaming, the Symple PC was taking it in stride. Not bad for $89.
For most home users, I’d have absolutely no problem recommending a Symple PC. It’s only $89, it comes with a warranty, and Unity is simple enough that either your grandson or grandmother can figure out how to use it. And if Ubuntu’s not your thing: wipe it and put the distro of your choice on it. It’s true that if you open the case to add more hardware you void your warranty, but so what? If something goes wrong you’re only out $89, which won’t get you into some rock concerts these days.
As for business use, the Symple PC is a no-brainer for most everyday office purposes. Why? How about the fact that you can buy five of these for about what you’d pay for one from the name brand folks — with about the same warranty and no software licensing fees. Also, it’s uniform physical form simplifies the logistics of setting up workstations, and it can handle just about any task you’re likely to throw at it.