Run Linux on Refurbished Mini PCs – Motherboard – Part 3

If you need a fast computer but don’t have much to spend, consider picking up an off-lease refurbished system. These PCs are a few years old and have seen some use, but they are often heavily discounted and offer a lot of bang for your buck.

A motherboard is the main printed circuit board (PCB) in general-purpose computers and other expandable systems. It holds and allows communication between many of the crucial electronic components of a system, such as the central processing unit (CPU) and memory, and provides connectors for other peripherals.

There’s a number of factors you’ll need to bear in mind when selecting a refurbished mini PC. For such a small chassis, you’d expect to see some lack of connectivity or compromises due to its size.

Monitor ports

The main digital interfaces are DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI. DisplayPort and HDMI also carry audio. It’s also possible to use USB-C if it has DisplayPort support although this is rarely available with the current refurbished mini PCs.

The old-school VGA connector is a cable of last resort. This offers an analog signal, and you’re unlikely to get a pixel-perfect image with monitors.

Refurbished Mini PC - Motherboard

Ex-lease refurbished mini PCs are often available in a variety of configurations. For example, the HP EliteDesk 800 G2 comes supplied with a VGA port and a DisplayPort. But models also come either with an extra DisplayPort or a serial port. It’s worth asking the seller of the refurb whether they can fit an additional port.

We recommend purchasing a mini PC with two digital monitor ports. Running Linux as a desktop machine with dual monitors is much more productive than using a single monitor. If your monitors don’t have the same digital ports, that isn’t a concern, as a suitable cable or adapter is inexpensive.

USB ports

We’ve already mentioned that some ex-lease mini PCs have a USB-C port, although it may only offer limited functionality such as faster charging of a mobile phone rather than being able to drive a monitor.

Some peripherals benefit enormously from USB 3.0 ports such as external SSDs and mechanical disk drives. USB 2.0 ports are useful for devices such as a keyboard, mouse, printer, and other devices.

If you have a lot of USB 3 devices, you should make sure the PC has plenty of appropriate ports.

Wired and Wireless

We recommend connecting the machine via its ethernet port rather than use Wi-Fi. Ethernet is just plain faster than Wi-Fi, offers lower latency, and a more reliable connection. Wi-Fi is subject to a lot more interference than a wired connection.

Ex-lease mini PCs can often support a built-in Wi-FI module but many corporate buyers prefer machines to be networked with a wired connection. You’ll therefore find many refurbished mini PCs lacking wireless capability.

If wireless connectivity is essential and isn’t available for a specific refurb mini PC, there’s a few options. The simplest option is to use an external USB Wi-Fi dongle. They are very inexpensive and offer good performance. A better solution may be to use powerline technology which uses the existing electrical wiring in a home or office.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth lets your devices talk to each other wirelessly. It also lets you fire tunes to a wireless speaker so you can listen to music at home, in the park or on the beach.

Many of the ex-lease refurbished mini PCs lack Bluetooth. It’s worth checking if that can be added. Some mini PCs’s Wi-Fi modules include Bluetooth support but this may not offer Bluetooth 5.0. This latest iteration of Bluetooth offers increased range, higher speeds, and bigger broadcasting capability.

If there’s no Bluetooth support available from the motherboard, this shouldn’t present an issue, as a USB Bluetooth 5.0 adapter is very inexpensive.

Audio

You’ll be hard pressed to find a machine without headphone/microphone jacks.

RAM

We’ll cover this area in a later part of this series. Suffice to say, you want to check whether the RAM is integrated into the motherboard or whether it has RAM slots. If the latter, you’ll usually be limited to two memory slots in a mini PC.

BIOS

The BIOS (pronounced bye-oss) is a ROM chip found on motherboards that allows you to access and set up your computer system at the most basic level. In order to access the BIOS, you must press a specific key set by the manufacturer when starting up the machine.

We often find that ex-lease refurbished mini PCs have a fairly limited range of BIOS options.


The next part of this series will examine storage options.

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