Sometimes, when you're looking for a box, all you're looking for is the box itself.
The contents are important, of course, but your criteria probably don't go much further than "I want Linux on that monitor" or perhaps "that TV definitely needs more PC".
The Efficient PC Wraith is just such a box. It's a squat rectangle with the grand total of two holes on the front: microphone in and headphone out. That's it.
No drives, no USB, no nothing. And yet it's one of the more flexible and attractive machines on offer amongst its rivals.
It sticks with the tried and the true, for a start. Efficient PC has chosen a Shuttle case to house the Wraith's soft innards, and it's an attractive and compact choice.
The square front, neatly adorned with a silvery panel where you'd expect the DVD drive might go, means it really doesn't look out of place in a living room or on some stylish desk. Thanks to its size and clever air flow, it's also easy to tuck away in any convenient cubby hole.
Being a low-cost machine, though, this sports the bare minimum. Under the hood the Wraith is nothing more than a dinky motherboard, a stick of RAM, and a hard drive, plumbed together with the relevant Intel chippery to make a distinctly low-powered machine.
It's kind on the power draw, taking an average 30W when idle with some much bigger peaks when overactive, because it's based on the same lower-power 65nm architecture as the current generation of dual-core chips. Don't be fooled – this is far removed from the Celeron of yore.
Built to order
The processor that came in our machine (a bottom-of-the-range E1200) really wasn't up to a lot when coupled with the small board.
Video playback was hit-and-miss, and the Wraith did seem to struggle, dropping the odd frame. We had no problems using an Ubuntu desktop, though – as per our selection criteria in this test, it's not stunningly fast but it does the job perfectly well.
Thankfully, an upgrade to a tougher Core Duo is only £22. Since Efficient PC builds to order, you can add anything you like, from extra RAM to a year's full Linux desktop support at £100.
The motherboard's PCI slot can also come with a range of tasty additions in its expansion slot, giving the possibility of wireless networking or even a TV tuner.
The great thing about buying from EfficientPC is that they're Linux experts as well as system builders, so they'll pre-install Hardy, and only use components that are fully supported. If you've ever tried to fully install an obscure video card you'll realise why this is so important.
The Wraith doesn't exactly tickle the performance tastebuds before that ubiquitous upgrade, and we might once have marked it down for its lack of a DVD drive. But we're in an age where the network is king, so if you've got a suitable Ethernet cable routed to your desired location you could at least use it to play back non-HD videos. Add a wireless card and it'll probably be an even better fit.
The bog-standard hard drive is decent at 160GB, and the enforced rear-mounting of the USB ports means neatness is all but enforced. You'll probably want a wireless keyboard and mouse if you're going for this configuration though.
Small but powerful
As a discrete box the Efficient PC Wraith does its job adequately: it's one of the cheapest small machines out there today that retains enough power to be of any use.
The EfficientPC Wraith is the very definition of a good-quality computer, and if you're buying a machine specifically for Linux we reckon that its supplier should figure into that value consideration very highly.