Unbelievably cheap mini-PCs from E-Way

Summary:I saw this article from linuxdevices.com and I couldn't believe my eyes. E-Way Technology Systems is a company from Taiwan that is selling a tiny 200 MHz x86-compatible fanless mini PC with 128 MB RAM, Fast Ethernet, and front loading compact flash slot for $99 at single quantities!

I saw this article from linuxdevices.com and I couldn't believe my eyes.  E-Way Technology Systems is a company from Taiwan that is selling a tiny 200 MHz x86-compatible fanless mini PC with 128 MB RAM, Fast Ethernet, and front loading compact flash slot for $99 at single quantities!  Of course this wouldn't be very useful as a full desktop computer, but it is the perfect low-power fanless zero-moving-part silent appliance at an unbelievably low price.  Here are some of the things you can do with this hundred dollar box.

  • Citrix or Terminal Server thin client (you'll need to add keyboard, mouse, and a display).  By the time you add those things, you might be up to $300 but it's multiples cheaper than other thin clients.
  • Small office or home office Asterisk PBX to support a couple of phones and voice mail boxes (So long as you don't try to transcode anything).
  • Change to a board with no video and audio but with multiple Ethernet ports and this can become a killer IPCop appliance.
  • The front loading CF (Compact Flash) slot is super convenient for firmware upgrades since you can easily extract the CF card and flash the image from a regular computer.
  • It could probably serve as a Linux Wi-Fi appliance as well with an

But this hundred dollar unit is a little under powered and I couldn't help but wonder if there is a more powerful solution.  I went to E-Way's website and found this 800 MHz fanless mini-ITX system with 256 MB RAM for a mere $199 at single quantities ($150 at 300 units).  But even at $199, you can't even build a mini-ITX system this cheap in component costs alone!  Mini-ITX components are usually very expensive.

It doesn't have the front loading CF slot but it has a PXE boot ROM and very good performance characteristics.  This unit can use CF or hard drives in the thicker model.  This would probably make the perfect PBX system if it was coupled with something like the Astrabank-8 which is a USB device that provides 8 analog phone ports for analog phones or fax machines.  The performance and hard drive would allow it to handle many more users and voice mail boxes.

It could probably handle DVD playback with ease since it has MPEG 2 acceleration though I doubt if it will handle HD video play back.  As a media PC, it has limitations because it lacks HD component out and only has a DB-15 VGA port and no DVI.  But it would probably make a killer car PC since it doesn't use a lot of power (no more than 20 watts) and you could hook up an LCD panel to it.  It's small enough to easily mount under the car seat.  As a firewall appliance, it would need to have more Ethernet ports though I'm not sure if that's an option with this mini chassis or not.  E-Way does sell 3 and 4 port fanless systems that are perfect for the firewall appliance which may even be fast enough to do in-line virus scanning for a small number of users.

So what's the catch with this outfit?  They seem to be a bit slow and inundated with requests for information.  Ordering from them can be a bit trick if you read their order instructions.  Obviously the more you buy the better off you are since you only have to go through the ordering hassle once.

Request US$ quote by email for current cost and spec. Please request quote for items not shown. Price shown is typical US$ for large quantity lot. Cost or image or specs are subject to change. To preserve our low costs, payment is funds wire at time of order, or L/C with deposit for large quantity. One year warranty for pre-authorized defect repair or replace, shipping cost covered by customer.

Would this stop me from trying to order something from them?  No because the prices are just too good and you can't find anything even remotely close in raw component prices.  Just the mini-ITX chassis alone is often more than $100 and you have to spend another $50 on the power supply.  These conditions are primarily intended for resellers.  So far I haven't found any resellers offering these things.  A computer store could probably buy them at quantities of 300 and sell them at twice the cost to individual consumers.  System integrators that sell pre-packaged appliances and support would also benefit greatly from this source.  Still, I would love to see an online discounter carry these in the USA that is geared to sell and support these things even if I had to pay an extra 15% over the single quantity pricing.

Norhtec also sells a slightly less powerful 166 MHz mini-PC for $120 (single "eval" unit) plus $35 shipping which can bolt on to the standard VESA holes of a LCD panel as seen in the picture on the right for super convenience.  The difference is that you can actually order the thing from their website with a credit card which beats having to send a money order.  Norhtec won't sell in bulk unless you're talking about units of 1000 or above.

Topics: Hardware

About

George Ou, a former ZDNet blogger, is an IT consultant specializing in Servers, Microsoft, Cisco, Switches, Routers, Firewalls, IDS, VPN, Wireless LAN, Security, and IT infrastructure and architecture.

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