Penguin Wee 4th Gen
This compact PC is highly configurable and comes with your choice of distributions pre-installed. Matthew Hanson tries it out.
A small, yet powerful, desktop PC that runs your choice of Linux straight out of the box.
There’s a distinct lack of computer manufacturers making machines with Linux pre-installed in mind, so it’s a real pleasure to get a tailor-made machine – filled with some of the latest technology – and Ubuntu 13.10 already installed and ready to work straight out of the box. Of course we’re compelled to say – in a BBC-esque way – that other Linux distros are available. The Penguin Wee 4th Gen GNU/Linux Desktop is fully configurable before you purchase, meaning you can tailor your Penguin Wee to perfectly suit your needs, as well as your budget.
The default pre-installed distro is Ubuntu 13.10, but there’s a long list of supported distros on the website, along with a note that even if your distro of choice is not listed, as long as it is relatively modern there shouldn’t be a problem running it on the Penguin Wee.
Configuring the rest of the system is just as easy – each configurable component has a drop-down list box stating the various options, along with any additional costs that option will add to the overall price.
In terms of standard components, the hard drive starts at 80GB. You can choose larger capacities up to 1TB (for an extra $144), and choose a HDD/SSD hybrid or straight up SSD (solid state drive) instead. These options are a lot more expensive – a 500GB SSD will add $485 to your bill – but the performance boost that comes with a drive that doesn’t rely on mechanical parts and spinning disks is definitely worth consideration if you can afford it.
You can also select from 2GB, 4GB, 8GB or 16GB of DDR3 RAM, so if you want a truly cutting edge PC that’s both powerful and future proof, then you’re able to do create one. You can choose whether or not to have a built-in wireless adaptor and optical DVD drive, and you can save money by choosing whether or not to have a monitor, keyboard and mouse included if you need them.
While there are plenty of components to configure, some specifications of the Penguin Wee 4 are set in stone – or rather set in white plastic. There’s no choice of processor, and while the website states that it is an Intel Core i3-4130T processor, the Penguin Wee 4 we received came with an Intel Core i5-4430 processor, clocked at 3.00GHz. We contacted Think Penguin about the discrepancy, and were told that since our system was sent out, it’s switched to the Intel Core i3-4130T because, as with other fourth generation processors with the suffix ‘T’, they’re better suited for small enclosures, due to the lower power consumption, and reduced heat produced when on. This does, however, result in a chip that has slightly lower performance than the one we received.
Intel also has a Core i5 processor, the i5-4570T, which is also better suited for small enclosures. Think Penguin has chosen not to use this processor though as it includes Intel’s Trusted Execution Technology and vPro technology, because of compatibility concerns with Linux distros, as well as potential security vulnerabilities with vPro’s remote access features.
If you’re after more power, Think Penguin also has a new model with processor configurations up to the top of the range i7-4770K. The Intel Core i5-4430 – the i3-4130T and the i7-4770K – are fourth generation (hence the ‘4’ in the Penguin Wee’s name) Intel Core processors, commonly known by their Haswell codename. This latest release brought a
lot of new innovations and improvements over the third generation Ivy Bridge processors, including better power efficiency. Mobile devices will benefit the most from this improved power efficiency, as the lower power draw will result in increased battery life, and – as already we mentioned – they will also produce less heat, making them more reliable in small cases.
This is just as well, as the Penguin Wee 4th Gen comes in an impressively compact case, the dimensions of which are just 8 x 8 x 2.5 inches. It’s easy to carry around, and can be placed unobtrusively almost anywhere. The white case brings to mind some of Apple’s minimal design ethos, with just a single power button on the front, along with the Think Penguin logo. On the back of the box is an impressive array of ports, including Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0, three USB 3.0, an eSATA port and optical and other audio ports. You can connect the Penguin Wee up to a monitor or TV via D-Sub, DVI or HDMI.
The out of the box experience of the Penguin Wee is superb: We unpacked it, plugged a keyboard and mouse in,
“The out of the box experience of the Penguin Wee is superb.”
hooked up a monitor, and turned it on. No further set up or installation was required. Ubuntu 13.10 is entirely preconfigured with a default username and password (which is printed on an included sheet of paper). As we’d expect with a computer with such powerful components, Ubuntu felt fast, smooth and responsive.
Our benchmark tests reflected the power of the Penguin Wee, ( seethefull
benchmark-results,p16). For comparison we’ve included the results of the Mirabox, a small ARM-based Linux box (reviewed LXF174, p20). While it wouldn’t be fair to directly compare the machines (the Mirabox is a lot cheaper, and designed for light programming, after all), we thought it would be interesting to see just how the Penguin Wee’s powerful components affect it’s overall performance. The fourth generation of Intel’s Core processors, has new and beefier integrated graphics (which on the Intel Core i5-4430 is the Intel HD Graphics 4600). This means that you don’t need a separate graphics card to handle video editing, high definition media playback and even some games, which as well as reducing the size of the Penguin Wee’s case, it shrinks the overall price as well.
We tested a full 1080p high definition MKV file and it played perfectly, and looked fantastic. We also tried out Left4Dead2, the zombie survival game, which isn’t the most graphically demanding title, but when there are crowd of zombies chasing after you lesser machines will begin to struggle. At 1080p resolution with the game running medium graphics, the Penguin Wee kept a high and consistent frame rate.
The impressive graphics performance means that the Penguin Wee could act as an excellent media centre, with its small size making it an excellent candidate for hooking up to your living room TV. Its small form factor does come at a price, however, as with all the components that are packed into the diminutive body, keeping everything cool is a priority. This means that the Penguin Wee, and the fans built into the body to keep things cool are quite noisy – something that might become annoying if you’re trying to watch a film. Still, we’d rather have a noisy little box that performed solidly than a whisper quiet one that kept crashing.
Overall, we were extremely impressed with the Penguin Wee, though we do wish it had a different name. Having discussed its merits in the office we’ve now got something of a reputation as being interested in the urinary habits of flightless birds… Being able to configure most aspects of the machine before you buy is great, and the ease of getting it up and running is another plus. We also found the design and performance of the machine to be very impressive. If you’re looking for a small and compact desktop PC to work on, watch videos and even occasionally play games, then the Penguin Wee 4th Gen GNU/Linux Desktop is definitely worth considering.
Don’t be fooled by its size; the Penguin Wee is a powerful machine.
Brings to mind the product designs of a certain ‘fruity’ Californian company.
Multitasking isn’t a problem thanks to the multi-core processor and generous amount of RAM.
There are plenty of ports for connecting peripherals, including fast USB 3.0 and eSATA ports. The Think Penguin Wee also has audio connectors for surround sound.