Beelink S1

Success! Beelink S1 Running Linux – Courtesy of the Open Source Community

Ubuntu

We recently published a post summarizing why the Beelink S1’s hardware specs look so promising for an inexpensive Linux mini PC. But I hit a brick wall when trying to install any flavour of Linux on the machine. I simply could not get the machine to boot a live Linux distro, either from a USB DVD or USB key.

I contacted Shenzhen AZW Technology Co. Ltd., the manufacturer of the Beelink S1, twice to see if they could offer any support. They replied recommending I get used to running Windows 10, as they contend Ubuntu is difficult to install on this mini PC. The second email has yet to elicit a response. I must have exhausted my support quota. Undeterred, I made a call for help to Linux enthusiasts. And half a dozen good folk promptly stepped forward to offer a simple solution, which I’ll detail below. This is one reason why I love Linux; the community.

The solution involves using the rEFInd Boot Manager, an open source tool written by Roderick W. Smith. This utility is a fork of the rEFIt boot manager, a boot manager designed for computers based on the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) and Unified EFI (UEFI). The solution also uses a script written by Ian Morrison of Linuxium. His script respins various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, to add functionality including the ability to boot on Apollo-based mini PCs. Conveniently Ian has applied his script to various Linux distributions. The steps I took to get Ubuntu 17.10 beta 2 on the Beelink S1 can be summarised as follows:

  • Download the Apollo-based Ubuntu 17.10 from linuxiumcomau.blogspot.com. The site offers ISOs for booting on both Intel Atom-based and Intel Apollo-based mini PCs. The Beelink S1 is Apollo-based.
  • ‘Burn’ the Apollo-based ISO to a USB key. I use Etcher for most of my burning needs. I’m a strong advocate of this easy to use, multi-platform, open source image flasher built with web technologies.

Having set the mini PC to boot from the USB key, I rebooted the machine with the USB key inserted in the device. And it boots Ubuntu with no issues. I install Linux to the 1TB internal hard drive (this doesn’t come with the S1). This meant the machine has dual boot capabilities (Windows 10 remaining on the 64GB eMMC flash).

First Impressions

Ubuntu 17.10 is based on the Linux release series 4.13. It includes support for the new IBM z14 mainframe CPACF instructions and new KVM features. Wayland is now the default display server.

Ubuntu 17.10

Here’s the Ubuntu 17.10 desktop running on the Beelink S1. I took the screen shot using a single monitor, but dual monitor support works great (HDMI and VGA). Note, Shutter, a feature-rich screenshot tool, isn’t working with Wayland.

From limited testing, the Beelink S1 functions as an excellent, inexpensive Linux-based mini PC. The quad-core Celeron processor is more than capable of handling most desktop tasks. The Intel GD Graphics 500 video performs competently. For example, there’s no video tearing evident on YouTube videos, or watching HD video with vlc. Bluetooth speakers were easy to pair, and Wi-Fi is working great. I almost exclusively run Linux from SSDs. But the mechanical 1TB hard disk performs well.

Quite a few things make this mini PC stand out from its peers. Here’s a few.

CPU The Celeron N3450 is a quad-core SoC typically found in inexpensive notebooks. It’s based on the Apollo Lake platform. The processor is noticeably faster than say a Intel X5-Z8350. The processor is perfectly suited for daily tasks (office, browsing) as well as moderate multi-tasking. And it consumes a mere 6W of power when operating at base frequency with all cores active.
RAM Typically mini PCs have only 2GB or 4GB of RAM. I find 8GB of RAM is the sweet spot for my desktop usage, so the Beelink S1 ticks the box here.
Storage Typically inexpensive mini PCs come supplied with 32GB of eMMC. Whether you run Windows 10 or Linux, this is often too restrictive to use the machine as a main PC, relegating the machine to a specific function, e.g. a media box. Personally, I would have preferred the device to have 128GB of eMMC, but 64GB is a reasonable compromise, and the storage options are a boon.
Storage expansion The expansion options are very unusual. I fitted a Seagate BarraCuda 1TB 2.5″ hard disk (7mm form factor) by opening the lower panel. 9mm form factor drives also fit. As it’s a mechanical hard disk, the machine is no longer silent. But the drive is quiet. I’ve not tried installing an internal M.2 SSD yet, this requires opening the innards of the machine.
GPU Intel HD graphics 500 is suitable only for simple games. This is definitely not a gaming computer.
Display The dual monitor support is very welcome. The vast majority of mini PCs only support a single monitor. Ideally, I would prefer 2 HDMI, instead of 1 HDMI, 1 VGA, but I’m not going to lose any sleep here. The HDMI port supports resolutions up to 3840 x 2160.
Ports The Type-C port is another unusual but welcome inclusion.

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