Refurbished Hardware

Run Linux on Refurbished Mini PCs – Processor – Part 2

If you need a fast computer but don’t have much to spend, consider picking up an off-lease refurbished system. These PCs are a few years old and have seen some use, but they are often heavily discounted and offer a lot of bang for your buck.

This series recommends what to choose when buying a refurbished mini PC to run Linux as a desktop computer. For this article we focus on the CPU.

CPU

The central processing unit, or CPU as it’s known in the computer world, is a very important part of the computer, being that it’s the main central processor in your computer.

For each generation of processor produced, Intel and AMD are guilty of producing a range of CPUs often offering very little difference between them. It’s almost as if these big chip manufacturers want to bamboozle their customers.

The vast majority of refurbished Mini PCs on the market use Intel silicon. They often contain a desktop CPU with low power requirements.

One of the main reasons why a refurbished mini PC is an enticing prospect rests with the fact that CPUs only get slightly faster with each generation produced. The days when Intel launched a next generation chip that’s 3 times faster than the previous generation has long since sailed. It’s all because the heat generated by putting billions of very small transistors even closer together is impossible to counter even with efficiency improvements.

Many Intel CPUs produced 8-10 years ago have comparable single core speeds with their latest generation. Let’s illustrate this with an example.

Intel Core i5 CPUTake the Intel Core i5-4590T CPU found in the Lenovo M93 Ultra Small PC. That’s a 4th generation chip released in 2014. Let’s compare that to the Intel Core i5-11400 CPU, one of the latest 11th generation chips, released this year. The 4th generation chip has 4 cores, the 11th generation has 6 cores.

Benchmark tests show that when using 1-4 cores, the 11th generation chip is only about 60% faster. In terms of desktop feel, that doesn’t make a huge difference. Further, for the vast majority of time performing daily desktop tasks, the CPU won’t even max out 2 cores, let alone 4. It’s true that the 11th generation chip is about 3 times faster when using all of its 6 cores. But for the majority of desktop activities in Linux, most users probably rarely ever push the CPU that hard.

Not all chips are the same though. Many of the Intel Atom and Celeron chips are extremely basic and are noticeably slower even with light desktop use. We recommend you err on the side of a higher-end, desktop-strength Intel Core chip. But even 3rd generation Intel Core CPUs make great desktop computers in Linux.

A lot of the ex-lease corporate Mini PCs available on the market are 4th-7th generation i5 Core chips. They’ll be fine to use a desktop computer for years to come. There’s no need to get a machine with the latest generation CPU. Intel (and AMD) won’t thank us for saying that, but you might!

GPU

Most refurbished mini PCs are as “mini” as they are because they rely on the basic-grade graphics acceleration built into the CPU to power their video outputs — no dedicated graphics card is involved. This integrated graphics silicon is more than sufficient for productivity work and video playback. Integrated GPUs found in the Intel Core processors have good hardware acceleration for video codecs although check which ones are supported.

Without a dedicated graphics card, a refurbished Mini PC isn’t good for serious gamers, people who want to mine for Bitcoins, professionals that do graphics-related work (graphics design, animation, video editing, etc.) or anything else that really needs an expensive dedicated graphics card.

There are a few mini PCs that have some kind of separate, dedicated mobile graphics chips. But they haven’t entered the refurbished off-lease market.


You’ll want to pair the chip with a capable motherboard. In the next part of the series, we’ll look at the things you should consider from a motherboard perspective.

Articles in this series
bullet-valid-icon Buying a Refurbished Mini PC - Highlights their advantages. Start here.
bullet-valid-icon CPU - The main central processor in your computer.
bullet-valid-icon Motherboard: Looks at connectivity such as monitor ports, USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi.
bullet-valid-icon Storage: Another important component. Store Linux, applications and your data.
bullet-valid-icon RAM: Random-access memory (RAM) is a form of computer memory.
bullet-valid-icon Other factors : Design and build quality, noise, power consumption, and more

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