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Flyweight Linux PC comes out swinging

Weighing in at about 2 pounds, the new dictionary-sized Linux PC from partners Via and Mini-Box can be used as a desktop or embedded within a larger machine.

Taiwanese hardware maker Via Technologies and U.S.-based PC maker Mini-Box have unveiled a tiny desktop computer featuring an embedded Linux operating system.

The Mini-Box M-100, a general-purpose computer built around Via's EPIA Mini-ITX mainboard, is about the size of a dictionary and weighs about 2 pounds. Besides being used as a desktop, it can also be used as "embedded" hardware--housed within a larger machine to perform a specific computing task.

The device is slightly larger and heavier than a CD-ROM drive found on a standard desktop PC, so it may not be the smallest desktop computer on the market. However, it is likely to be the smallest based on a standard mainboard design, as other tiny PCs use specially designed, one-off mainboards.

"You can stack almost 10 Mini-Box M-100s in the space of a single PC tower, each with more integrated features and connectivity than most PCs provide as standard," said Richard Brown, a Via marketing executive.

The tiny $500 PC sports a Via Eden or C-series processor and 256MB of RAM. The standard M-100 ships with 64MB of CompactFlash memory holding the MediaBox embedded Linux operating system.

Buyers have the option of boosting storage capacity by expanding the CompactFlash memory to 128MB, or by adding a 40GB IBM notebook-size hard drive, thus allowing it to run the Windows XP and Windows CE operating systems.

The device features a 14-key customizable keypad on its faceplate and a general purpose input/output (I/O) port, but lacks an optical drive. The M-100 also features a built-in liquid-crystal display, which eliminates the need for a monitor in some applications.

The product was unveiled at the Embedded Systems Conference, which takes place in San Francisco this week.

CNETAsia's Winston Chai reported from Singapore.