Aleutia E1

  • Editors' rating
    6.0 Good

Pros

  • Tiny, robust, low-power system unit
  • Sealed unit, with no moving parts
  • Silent in operation

Cons

  • Sluggish performer
  • USB 1.1 connectivity only
  • No internal storage

Aleutia is a small UK-based company dedicated to providing robust and affordable low-power computers for developing countries — particularly in Africa. The company grew out of its founder's experience in 2006 of setting up an internet café in Ghana using 20 elderly, power-hungry traditional desktop PCs.

Aleutia's solution is the diminutive E1, a fan-less computer running a small-footprint version of Linux from a CompactFlash card — there's no hard disk or internal solid-state drive. The E1, which costs £179 (inc. VAT), comes with a roll-up rubber keyboard, a miniature USB mouse and a user manual — the base version we reviewed had no monitor, although Aleutia will supply a low-power (10W) 10.4in. SVGA LCD, boosting the price to £279. The company also offers a 'semi-portable office in a box' comprising the E1 and the monitor, a roof-mounted solar panel and a 240Wh lead-acid 12V battery with DC-AC converter. This 13kg bundle costs £389.

Design
Housed in a solid metal case measuring just 11.5cm by 11.5cm by 3.5cm, the Aleutia E1 is tiny. The front edge has a CompactFlash card slot, two USB 1.1 ports, two 3.5mm stereo jacks for microphone and headphones, a soft power switch, a power LED and a storage activity LED. At the back is a connector for the external auto-voltage-switching 5V power adapter, a mechanical power switch, a PS/2 keyboard connector, a 15-pin VGA port, an RJ-45 Ethernet connector and a third USB 1.1 port.

The E1's 11.5cm-square footprint won't take up too much space on a desktop; you can also mount it on the back of a monitor if need be. This passive-cooled system has an 8W power consumption rating (not including a monitor).

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The top of the case is a finned heatsink, while holes at VESA mount spacing, in the corners, allow the whole thing to be bolted onto the back of a standard LCD monitor.

Software
Aleutia uses Puppy Linux for the operating system (version 2.14). Like many versions of Linux, Puppy is free; it also has a small memory footprint and minimal system requirements, which allows it to run from the included 1GB CompactFlash card. Puppy comes with a set of basic applications preinstalled, including Gnumeric for spreadsheets, AbiWord for word processing and the Mozilla-based Seamonkey web browser/email client. Many more free Linux applications will also run under Puppy Linux.

By default, the Aleutia E1 is set up to check online for Puppy updates. If you don't have a DHCP network connection, the Puppy boot will pause for a while during bootup, waiting for a connection.

On initial power-up, Puppy offers a choice from two X Windows drivers — Xorg or Xvesa. Xorg is the more sophisticated choice, while Xvesa is compatible with a wider range of display types. You can choose a test mode for either, and once the X Windows driver is selected, it will probe the connected display for compatible modes. You can then set a display resolution and colour depth from a list of supported options.

In use
You wouldn't expect a system built around a 200MHz x86-compatible SiS 'system-on-a-chip' processor, 128MB of RAM and a 1GB CompactFlash card to be much of a performer, and it isn't. The E1 takes about two minutes to boot to the Puppy Linux desktop, while launching the browser (to Google, set as the home page) is a 43-second operation.

In fact, the E1 is generally slow to load applications (AbiWord takes about half a minute to load), which partly accounts for the E1's poor showing in our workload test. This involves typing a short (187-word) document, creating a small spreadsheet with a graph, browsing a couple of web sites and playing a YouTube video: it took us over an hour to complete this test — some 25 minutes more than the next slowest low-power system we have tested.

The YouTube video (specifically, this one) proved a particularly stiff challenge for the E1, while on the user side the folding rubber keyboard isn't the most ergonomic input device we've used.

Our review sample also showed a low-level background pattern of drifting diagonal bars on the video signal, which could become visually wearing after prolonged use. We were using a 15in. NEC AccuSync LCD52VM rather than Aleutia's own 10.4in. monitor.

Power consumption
Of course, performance isn't the main point of the Aleutia E1; it merely needs to be 'good enough', and arguably it is (just) for basic tasks. Power consumption is another matter, and here the news is better — at least at first glance.

In the workload test outlined above, we recorded an average power draw of 22.8W for the E1 (7.81W) and the 15in. NEC LCD monitor set to 50 per cent brightness (15W). Idle and peak power figures were 21.7W and 24.1W respectively. All power measurements were made with a Voltcraft Plus Digital Multimeter VC-940.

Although it consumes power at an impressively low rate, the amount of time the E1 takes to complete the relatively straightforward tasks in our workload test removes some of the gloss from this result. For example, the Inveneo Computing Station — which has a similar average power draw (20.7W under Linux) — consumed a total of 10.7Wh in the test, whereas the E1 used 25.1Wh. This suggests that users will need to take care not to place too many demands on the E1's limited hardware: tellingly, the E1 took roughly twice as long (~15 minutes) to play the YouTube video as the Inveneo system.

Aleutia sells a 'semi portable office in a box' comprising the E1, a 10.4in. LCD monitor, a 240Wh lead-acid battery and a roof-mounted sloar panel for £389.

Conclusion
At first sight the Aleutia E1 seems an impressively low-cost, low-power computer. However, you'll need to add a monitor and perhaps a more ergonomic keyboard. Many users will also want to add external storage, be it hard disk or flash-based. This exposes another drawback of the E1: its three USB ports are only 1.1-compliant, which means that data transfer rates are restricted.

Although we like the concept behind the Aleutia E1, it looks as though a hardware platform refresh — or at the very least a RAM upgrade — to boost performance without adding too much to the power budget is in order.

 

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