Since it was released in February of 2012, many people have tried to use the Raspberry Pi as a replacement for their current desktop computer. The people behind the Panther MicroPC are working do just that with a custom board and custom Linux distro. If they can get the funding, that is.
The introduction of the Raspberry Pi has led to many amazing projects. The one thing that, I’m sure, everyone said when they first saw it was “I wonder if I could run a desktop on that?” With the early versions of the Raspberry Pi that was a chore because the CPU ran at under 1 GHz and RAM was half a Gig or less.
There has been a flurry of Raspberry Pi clones of varying degrees of quality. Most offer more power, but also come with more risks such as lack of software, limited support, and lack of-of a community behind them.
Starting in June 2016, a group of developers decided to try and turn a Raspberry Pi 3 into a full-fledged Linux computer. After trying to work around the Pi’s shortcomings, they decided to create a custom single board computer and build their system around it. Thus the Panther Alpha was born.
Usually, when you want to create a computer using a Pi (or one of its clones), you need to purchase quite a few add-ons, including a case,a wi-fi dongle, a Micro-SD card, power supply, and more. The team behind the Panther Alpha takes care of that for your by packaging their board in a silver case the size of a short stack of CDs for less than $100.
The website (and the Kickstarter campaign) seem to be pushing two major selling points in an effort to sell the Panther Alpha to Businesses and Education.
First, they point to the fact that the Alpha will use significantly less power than a normal PC. In fact, they say that using the Alpha can allow “anyone to slash their energy consumption by as much as 77% with absolutely no compromise on performance”.
Second, they quite a bit a noise of about the Alpha’s 2 GB of RAM and the efficiency of its Linux-based Panther OS. They state that “What takes the average desktop computer around 1,000MB RAM after startup, Panther OS matches with just 200MB” (I should mention here that Panther OS is a custom build of Fedora with Gnome 3 themed to look like macOS.)
Here is a quick run down of the Alpha’s tech specs:
- 2GHz quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53
- 32GB onboard storage
- 2GB RAM
- Mali-450 graphics
- 2x USB 2.0 ports
- microSD card reader
- Bluetooth 4.0
- HDMI output
- 3.6 Headphone jack
- Size 0.61 inches x 4.25 inches x 4.25 inches
The Panther Alpha’s Kickstarter page goes to great lengths to make it looks like an iMac clone. The picture at the top of the page looks just like a recent iMac. Panther Alpha’s silver case looks like a Mac Mini. Even Panther OS has macOs-esque backgrounds and dock. On the other hand, the description talks about Windows 10.
My point is that from the pictures it looks like a mac-clone powered by an ARM chip and Linux. If they want to target people who use Windows machines (still a large majority), why give your product an Apple look? To me, it confuses the issue.
Another problem I have is with their specs. Accord to them, their custom distro will only use 200MB after boot. I’m running Manjaro with Gnome 3 and after I open Firefox and pull up a couple tabs, my RAM usage heads north of 1GB. How are they going to pull this off? For me, the math doesn’t add up.
In the end, if the Panther team can get the Alpha into production (that’s always a possibility regardless of the product) it would give the Raspberry Pi a run for its money. If this project sounds like something that would interest you, stop by their page and give them a couple bucks.
Kickstart analysis site Kicktraq calculates that if the current pledge trend continues, the Alpha will only be 83% funded by the end of the campaign. (If you end up getting an Alpha, let use know what you think of it.)
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