I needed some SFF (Small Form Factor) computers for a project, and Dell recently released the FX160 which looked exactly like what I was after. But let me give you some quick advice before you read any further : If you want to run GNU/Linux, you’re in for some ugly surprises.
It’s really a shame since the specifications aren’t that bad. The first one I got has 2GB RAM, 2GB NVRAM, 80GB 2.5″ SATA hard drive, a 64bit Atom processor and a Gigabit network interface. But here’s the catch : Where most Dell computers have well supported Intel chipsets, this one is SiS and Broadcom equipped. And when it comes to open specifications in general and GNU/Linux support in particular, SiS is hopeless.
I didn’t order it with the Novel SuSE Linux Dell offers as an option, since I needed to make some multi-boot tests with Windows. And I thought that if one GNU/Linux distribution the hardware, any recent distribution would. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I tried it with all recent Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases. Here’s a quick status :
- Fedora 9 : Network not working
- Fedora 10 : Video not working by default, x86_64 not working at all (only i386 installs)
- RHEL 5.1 : Network not working, video working with vesa at 800×600 max by default
- RHEL 5.2 & 5.3 : SATA not working
The network chip is a recent Broadcom one, which seems supported only by recent kernels. The SiS video chip isn’t supported by any free driver, but hacking Xorg’s monitor section made it possible for me to get 1280×768 and 1280×1024 working with the vesa driver. Don’t expect any kind of decent performance, though. There seem to be some closed 2D and 3D drivers floating around, which are worth trying if you’re stuck with that hardware. You will find more information here : http://ncc-1701a.homelinux.net/~linux-sis/.
Right now, I’ve got the device in a mostly working state : Fedora 10 i386 with a binary sis_drv.so driver and an xorg.conf manual entry to display the flat panel native resolution of 1360×768. The PXE booting and BIOS locking down options are really nice and working fine. I haven’t tried the sound card, nor will I have to for this project.
Overall, keep away from the FX160 if you’re thinking of running GNU/Linux on it. Blame SiS for it… and let’s hope Dell comes up with an updated model soon, packed only with free software friendly hardware.