Pinebook: My First Few Surprising Hours With A $99 Linux Laptop
I normally use Linux on my Dell XPS 13, GPU test bench or a beefy Ryzen Threadripper PC. That means my daily experience with the Linux desktop is lightning fast and very aesthetically pleasing. I've discovered the visual versatility of Linux through multiple desktop environments without any concern for CPU or memory bottlenecks, but I've never been forced to explore an equally important aspect of its flexibility: the ability to adapt to older or under-powered hardware. Enter the Pinebook, a shockingly affordable $99 laptop from Pine64.
The Pinebook is available in both 11.6" and 14" models for $99 (the 14" model has a lower resolution screen at time of publication, although mine had a "surprise" upgrade to 1080p before it was advertised on the site), and it's being offered in "Buy To Order" format. That basically means you buy it, they build them in small batches, then periodically ship them out from China.
Let's set expectations early. The Pinebook is built around a 64-Bit Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53 CPU clocked at 1.2GHz, with 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM. That's the same board Pine64 sells for $29.99. To arrive at $99 on my model, the Pinebook surrounds that board with a white clamshell-style enclosure, 16GB of eMMC flash storage, Wifi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, a full-size keyboard, multi-touch touchpad, an SD webcam and a 1080p IPS display.
The connectivity side is minimal but perfectly functional. You'll get two USB 2.0 ports, a MicroSD card slot, a headphone jack and a mini HDMI out port.
By the way, the 1000mAh battery is charged with the included power adapter, but it's a mere 5V. That means you can power up the Pinebook with a traditional smartphone battery pack or even a USB solar charger! No need to stay near the wall. I'll touch on the Pinebook's battery life in the next article (once I've had extended time with it), but my first impression is that you're going to get at least 6 to 8 hours away from the wall depending on brightness and which OS you're using.