I mentioned it couple of times in the ArsGeek news section but there are plenty of people who don’t know what is a Zonbox exactly? It’s a solid state Linux business computer, which means it has no moving parts – not even a fan. This makes for a very quiet computing experience. What comes in a Zonbox? Here are some stats:

  • Intel-compatible ultra-low power CPU
  • 512 MB RAM + 4GB flash-based local storage
  • Graphics up to 1400 x 1050 (16 million colors). Hardware graphics and MPEG2 acceleration
  • PC-compatible ports for keyboard and mouse
  • 6 USB ports to plug-and-play all standard USB accessories
  • Broadband ready: 10/100 Mbps Ethernet built-in
  • Pricing: $99.00 for the Zonbox itself and plans as follows: 25GB storage $12.95/month. 50GB storage $14.95/month. 100GB storate $19.95/month.

Zonbox is also very environmentally friendly. In their words: With Zonbu, green doesn’t have to make you blue! With its efficient ultra low power design, Zonbu delivers the power of a traditional desktop computer but uses just a fraction of the energy. That could mean as much as $10 a month in energy savings for you — and might just help save the planet, too. Not only does Zonbu’s low power design reduce CO2 emissions, but by buying carbon offsets, we make the operation of your Zonbu device completely carbon neutral. Talk about guilt-free computing!

Read on for my review and some screen shots.


So what’s it really like to use a Zonbox? Keep in mind that this is still a beta project. As such I did run into a few odd problems but nothing that I’ve found seems earth shattering.

I unboxed the unit, plugged in VGA, sound, networking, keyboard and mouse (both USB) and hit the power button. I was greeted with the startup screen, which took about 1 minute to boot into. Once there I entered my email address and password. Here’s what I first saw:

fisrtblush
Perusing through the Start menu I recognized a number of familiar programs. Here’s a partial list of what you’ll find in a Zonbox: Firefox, Evolution, OpenOffice, Mujsic Library (Banshee), Mplayer, Photo Organizer (F-spot), Skype, Gimp, Scribus, Gimp, about 30 games including Frozen Bubble and Blobwars and a number of smaller utilities.

While the box is capable of playing games, I apparently am not.

loser!

The menus are well organized and easy for non-linux users to read. For example, instead of Scirbus you’ll see a menu entry for “Desktop Publishing”.

It’s a strange feeling to be doing work on a computer, browsing the web, playing media and not hearing a hard drive spin up or a fan whine away. Strange but nice.

Obviously, the Zonbox isn’t the most powerful computer and you won’t find the most recent desktop effects on it but it’s quite quick enough for basic computer use. I was able to surf the web, check my email, have Gimp open and listen to music with no noticeable lag in performance. For the users this device is targeting, the experience should be painless.

Beatallica

Zonbox has a documents folder created by default and available through the start menu or as the first icon on the desktop. It appears that it’s this folder that takes advantage of Zonbu’s offsite storage. Anything in this folder will be saved on the Zonbu servers (using 128bit encryption) for use anywhere in the world.

documents

Adding a new folder is a snap, as is putting an existing folder onto the list of folders to be backed up and stored outside of your Zonbox. Simply drag the folder you want into the left hand ‘shortcut’ box of the browser and the folder will be saved.

Zonbu also offers a small (less than 2MB) download for windows machines which allows you to access your files remotely. Simply install it and click to open. Enter your email address and password and you have access to your files.

windows browser

In addition to this application, your files are available over the web as well, again by entering your email address and password. Changes made to your files through the web or the windows client are reflected at your next reboot, or if you choose to refresh your files list on your already running Zonbox.

As far as out of the box ability, I’m very happy using the Zonbox. You can be up and running in easily less than ten minutes, which is a bonus for folks who don’t want to muck about with configuring a desktop.

I’m not entirely sold on the subscription model, but then that’s always been something I’ve shied away from. With the initial cost of the box and a 2 year plan at $12.95 a month you’ll end up spending about $410 over a 2 year period. Yes, you could purchase a cheap desktop for that amount, which is my gut reaction. But you’ve also got to consider that Zonbu backs up your data for you, meaning that in a crisis, it doesn’t disappear. And we all know how good most of us are at backing up important files. How often do you think the average home user does it?

Even if your box goes up in flames, Zonbox will replace it for you, and your files are still available online while you await your replacement.

Zonbu, in keeping with their green theme, also takes care of recycling your Zonbox should you ever end your service or upgrade to new hardware. They’ll take it back from you and see that it doesn’t end up in a a landfill somewhere.
Would I use this for my primary computer? No. I enjoy gaming and I enjoy complete control over my system. I didn’t like the fact that your storage space couldn’t be used to install new programs.

I would consider using this as a secondary computer, or a ‘family’ computer, stuck in the living room perhaps. The price is not terribly expensive and to know that your files are secure out there is a great feeling. I’d be willing to pay the $12.95 a month simply for that.

I’ve got a suggestion or two for the Zonbu folks as well. Make wireless a standard feature. I’d be a lot more easily sold with one less cable in my living room. Another suggestion – find a way to build in an SD card reader. The ability to plug photos right into this box and manipulate them with the Gimp, then upload them to flickr would also be a huge selling point. At least for me.

I think the folks at Zonbu are on to a good idea. I’m very curious to see how well this is adopted. I can think of plenty of practical applications for a small, silent and non-power hungry pc that costs a hundred bucks and backs up your files for 13 bucks a month.

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