Open Source

Review: System 76 Meerkat NetTop PC

The Meerkat NetTop PC is for anyone looking to make the switch to Linux but also wanting to avoid the headaches of dealing with unsupported hardware.

Desktop systems are following the trend set by netbooks by getting smaller and smaller. And it makes perfect sense. Not only do you save space, but in most cases you save on energy costs. System 76, a company producing Linux-based hardware, is offering up an outstanding smaller form-factor PC - the Meerkat NetTop PC.


  • CPU: Intel Dual Core Atom processor 1.6 GHz
  • RAM: 1GB DDR2 667 MHz (upgradable to 2GB)
  • Storage: 80GB SATA II, 300 Mbps, 7200 RPM, 8MB Buffer (upgradable to 750GB)
  • Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • Sound: Intel High Definition Audio
  • Networking: 10/100/1000 (LAN)
  • Front Panel: 2 x USB 2.0, Microphone In, Headphone Out
  • Rear Panel: 2 x PS2, 1 x VGA, 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x S-Video, 1 x RJ45 LAN, 1 x Serial, Audio I/O
  • Power Supply: 84 Watt Power Supply
  • Dimensions: 2.36" x 8.66" x 12.40" (W x H x D)
  • Operating system: Ubuntu 9.04
  • Price: $259
  • Additional information

Who's it for?

The Meerkat NetTop PC is for anyone looking to make the switch (or has already switched) to Linux, but also wanting to avoid the headaches of dealing with unsupported hardware. The NetTop is a perfect solution for anyone looking to place a PC in a tight location or where power saving is a must.

What problem does it solve?

The Meerkat solves a few problems. First and foremost, as stated earlier, the Meerkat (and all of the System 76 hardware) offers a Linux solution without having the hassle of piecing together hardware that is supported by the Linux operating system. The Meerkat NetTop also consumes very little energy. With an 84 Watt power supply you know the consumption will be minimal. Finally the form factor is small so the Meerkat works well in tight places.

Standout features

  • Performance: Even though the specs of the Meerkat seems lower than your average desktop, the machine feels far more powerful than you might think it should. Applications are lightening-quick to start and the graphics will make you feel like you are working on a performance machine.
  • Operating system: Ubuntu 9.04 is one of the slickest releases Canonical has put out in a long time. This operating system is perfectly suited for both the Meerkat and the new user.
  • Graphics: Even though the specs aren't performance-level, you will be surprised that the Meerkat runs Compiz (the Linux 3D desktop) with ease.
  • Cost: The Meerkat sells for $259.00.

What's wrong?

For what the Meerkat is designed to do, and with how well it performs, there really is not much wrong with this machine. However, if your users have been primarily using Windows as their operating system there will be a learning curve as they get up to speed using Linux. Also, the form factor is so small on these machines there is no room for upgrading. So when you purchase a Meerkat NetTop you should look to get the best bang for your buck then because you won't be able to increase performance later.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

The Meerkat NetTop PC is an outstanding entry to the small form factor desktop machine. If you are looking for a reliable system that will outperform many of your larger machines, take a fraction of the energy, and have the security and reliability of the Linux operating system, the Meerkat is your solution.

User rating

Have you encountered the Meerkat NetTop PC? If so, what do you think? Rate the unit and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review of the Meerkat NetTop PC in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review above.

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


I don't mean this in a bad way it is just that a few factors weren't mentioned in the bottom line for business that I know my boss would freak out about once he tried to use this thing because he just doesn't know better: 1. Browser won't be capable of running Active X controls. I don't really see this as a bad thing because I think security wise it should be an outlawed technology BUT... 2. Integrating with Exchange (even using webmail) will take a lot of getting used to. 3. OpenOffice isn't Microsoft Office. There is a reason people continue to pay for MS Office and why OpenOffice is still free and it isn't because Sun doesn't want any money to continue to maintain it.


There doesn't seem to be any internal Optical disc drive, Wireless, nor any internal dial-up Modem. (Modem problems have put more people off linux than anything else- and 10% of us still must use dialup.) While larger internal HDs are available, apparently faster HDs are not. Adding these features adds quite a bit to the cost... Not everybody gets what a nettop box is and isn't; I'd say a standard checklist for these units needs to be developed asap. Also, I've run a Via Epia M10000 mini ITX for years; the only trouble was those baby power supplies stuck in itty bitty cases- two of'em went down and they got mighty hard to find!:] Misc Qs: are this Atom CPU, GPU, & the mobo up to coming cloud standards & virtualization? How does it fare printing to a wireless laser in an office environment? With wireless keyboard & mouse, would it run happy off the desktop? All that said, this still looks like a great machine; thanks for bringing it to our attention!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have your latest workstation deploys been with small form-factor PCs?


For me Outlook is one of the only reasons to use MS office which is clearly lacking from OpenOffice or StarOffice. Even though Office 2007's new interface is confusing at first it tends to be reasonably productive in the end. Do you have any suggestions for an Outlook alternative? Good email reader with build in calender.. hmm i believe Lotus Notes is the closest thing but has a horrible complex configuration and is limited to Lotus servers.


Try looking into Thunderbird with the Lightning add-on for calendar integration.

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