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The ChimpBox: A Review

by Michael Duffy (tuxlink)

Like a child on Christmas morning, I was almost shaking with excitement the day the box arrived at my front door. This box held the contents of which I had been talking, thinking and dreaming about for the previous few months since it first became an idea in a chat room with some of my fellow PCLinuxOS buddies. Now, it was here, and December was nowhere in sight. Truly, an early Christmas gift!

The need for a box like this has been increasing in popularity for some time now. After reading about and becoming curios of The Mintbox Mini, a product offered in the familiar green of the Linux Mint distro, I started to wish for a box that would fit that need, niche and price point also. Up to this, I had built full sized desktop machines without much difficulty. The biggest hurdle for me seemed to be the battle against heat here in Southern California. A room that is already hot, sucking air into a computer that has a great need to remain cooler can be a troublesome task. In the average home, A/C cannot be run all day long, (some of us work for a living!) and if extra fans are used in the case, noise becomes a factor. My current desktop machine, an AMD Athlon 3500+, has four fans in it. A CPU fan, a fan on the power supply, and two case fans. At first boot up you notice it run, after an hour or so, I find myself turning my speakers up a little! Not the end of the world by any means, but it's there.

Upon opening the box it arrived in, I am shocked at how small the ChimpBox enclosure is! It is 8 1/4" X 7 1/2" wide, and 2" tall. In anticipation of connecting it to my 22" Envision monitor, I went searching for a VGA cable, only to find I already had one plugged into the rear of the monitor waiting to go! I connected and then turned my attention to the power connector, the audio and USB keyboard and mouse. With all hooked up, I nervously leaned my thumb on the power switch located on the left of the front panel. It instantly glowed blue, and my screen came alive!

"Oh crap, what's wrong!" There was the boot process happening before my eyes, and rather quickly I might add, but I was missing something. Something primal was missing. "What the...?" There was no sound. Nothing! No fans, no whirring, no buzzing, no creaking,... nothing. It was glorious silence. The one huge factor about the ChimpBox is that it is silent. In the following hours of use, I must have leaned over to check to see if it was still on. And yes, there it was, running silently, with it's calming blue glow.

I wondered how it would fare with heat dispersion. Both sides, the front and the top have plenty of holes for venting any heat that builds up. After a number of hours using it, it had barely even become warm to my hand.

The sight of an activity LED flashing on and off gives you a small clue whether a machine is alive, but there is nothing but the constant blue power light to calm your curiosity. One thing I am impressed with is the boot up time. I have a password entry at the login screen and including typing that in, this baby boots up in thirty one seconds! I could set it up to bypass the login, but either way, it's the fastest booting machine I have ever owned. I could go through the specs of the machine line by line, but then if you're interested in buying a ChimpBox, you can read through all of them at the website. One thing I will say about the wireless adapter that sits behind the front panel, is that it has very easily found and kept a strong 82% wifi signal from my router located about 25-30 feet away in another room on the same floor. The ChimpBox does come with an RJ-45 Ethernet port, so if you happen to be located close to your router, a wired connection is always a nicer (and faster) option.

I have been using the box for a few weeks now, and I can say it is easily able to run everything that PCLinuxOS KDE can throw at it. I have burned three DVD's through an external burner via USB and it tore through that in no time flat. I have used Gimp to make wallpapers for the ChimpBox, and it is impressive to see the tools zip through the tasks so easily.

Some folks might not like the size of the AC/DC adapter, commonly known as 'the brick'. It is 6 1/2" long by 2" wide. I have seen 17" laptops with bricks that were half the size of this. Tucking it away though, like under a desk or behind the monitor, helps the 'out of sight, out of mind' thing to work for you.

One thing I wanted to do on the new ChimpBox was export some video and see how it handled it. I created a short video that runs for just 3 minutes, including still images and a soundtrack. I set the export for a high def and high quality, hit the 'Export' button, and started my stopwatch. It took exactly 8 minutes and 12 seconds to render the video into an .mp4 file. I was quite impressed with that, and if I had selected a lower quality (like for the web etc...), it may have been even quicker.

All ChimpBoxes come with a recovery USB thumb drive. It holds the OS and works just like a Live CD/DVD. If you happen to really mess things up on the desktop, or anywhere else, this drive restores you to day one, in no time at all. The OS that comes as default on the ChimpBox is PCLinuxOS KDE. If new users to Linux find it unfamiliar to get around at first, there is a wealth of knowledge available at the PCLinuxOS website, with a friendly helpful community waiting at the ready to help with any issue that may arise. The ChimpBox offers a great deal of value to new and experienced users alike, at an affordable price and in a neatly sized package.

The only question left is, have you been good enough to get one this Christmas?

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