Open Source

System76 Meerkat: Near perfection in an Intel NUC-based PC

If you're looking for an Intel NUC-powered set top or desktop device, Jack Wallen might have the ideal machine to meet and even exceed your needs.

System76 Meerkat

I've had the pleasure of using the System76 Meerkat for the last few weeks. When the box arrived, and I pulled out the double-decker sandwich-sized machine, I was doubtful if I could use this four-inch, squared desktop device as anything more than a novelty.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I'll confess that I'm a fan of the company. I use their Leopard Extreme as my production desktop, and it performs the following duties to perfection:

  • Writing
  • Audiobook and podcast recording
  • Video editing
  • Email
  • Web browsing
  • Graphic design

That particular machine is a liquid-cooled i7 with 16 GB of RAM, so it should pull all of the above with ease. But what about this new tiny cousin of the System76 flagship desktop? Could it pull off the impossible and go toe-to-toe with a machine I paid a premium for?

Surprisingly enough, it does. Even so, I would posit this darling little PC has a better purpose, one that it could stand as a perfect means to a very entertaining end. What purpose is that, you ask?

Your next multimedia PC.

That's right. Thanks to the combination of form, factor, and performance, the Meerkat would be an ideal machine to sit below your 60' HD television and serve up Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and much more. This is especially relevant with so many people looking to cut the cord from the corporate juggernauts like Time Warner Cable. Honestly, considering nearly every major network now offers streaming, the need for pricey cable subscriptions is no longer necessary.

You may glance at the Meerkat price, which starts at $499.00 (USD), and think "I can get a Chromebox for much less and do the same thing." Although that may be true, you're not getting nearly the power found within the Meerkat—a full Linux desktop (running Ubuntu 15.04) that allows you to stream all the media you want AND get your work done.

I put this to the test by connecting the Meerkat to my main television and adding both a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Sitting back on my couch, I was able to binge watch Daredevil and then take breaks from all that hard work to actually get some real work done. The Meerkat didn't skip a beat... literally and figuratively (Spotify powered my writing).

Here are the default specs of the Meerkat:

  • Operating system: Ubuntu Desktop 15.04
  • Processor: 5th Gen Intel® Core i3-5010U or i5-5250U (2.10 GHz or 2.7 GHz - 3 MB cache - 2 Cores - 4 Threads)
  • Graphics: Intel® HD 5500
  • Memory: Up to 16 GB Dual Channel DDR3 @ 1600 MHz
  • Storage: M.2 SATA SSD, 2.5″ drive; up to 2.5 TB total
  • Data ports: Front: 2× USB 3.0 (one powered) Rear: 2× USB 3.0 (Figure A)
    Figure A
    Figure A
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet, Intel® Wireless-AC, Bluetooth 4
  • Video ports: Mini HDMI 1.4a, Mini DisplayPort 1.2
  • Audio: 5.1 channel (Mini HDMI, Mini DisplayPort), 3.5mm headphone/mic jack (Figure B)
    Figure B
    Figure B
  • Security: Kensington® Lock
  • Power supply: 19V, 65W AC-DC Power Adapter Multi-country plugs (IEC types A/C/G/I)
  • Dimensions: 1.9″ × 4.5″ × 4.4″ (H × W × D)
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs. (0.544 kg.)

Naturally, if you're considering this as a multimedia device, secondary storage should be a top priority. The default storage for the Meerkat is a scant 32 GB. That's perfect if your multimedia needs will be filled via streaming. If, however, you'd rather store movies and music on the box, you'll want to purchase additional drives. In the Design and Buy page for the Meerkat, you can add up to a TB of additional SSD storage or up to 2 TB with a traditional drive.

Some users will say that the price of the Meerkat is steep, especially when you compare it to some other Intel NUC offerings, because you can find plenty of stripped-down, bare-bones Intel NUC devices for under $200.00. Look closely, however, and you'll find that the majority of those incredibly low-priced units are bereft of an operating system. To find a similarly spec'd NUC device, you'll spend $350-$400.00—but still with no OS. With the Meerkat, you get the specs and a full-on desktop OS... with support.

I have to admit that I was seriously impressed with the power this tiny device offered. Even though the Meerkat couldn't match the ridiculous speed that comes along with the single most impressive desktop computer I've ever used—the Leopard Extreme—it could do everything else and performed well beyond expectations.

Anyone looking for an Intel NUC-based device to serve as either a desktop replacement (where space is a primary factor) or as a streaming media dream come true, the Meerkat should be your first choice. It really is a no-brainer.

Are you considering a move to Intel NUC devices? If so, what purpose would they best serve? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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