Xtra-PC a review

While compiling my article A conversation about Open Source I came across an interesting US Company Xtra-PC who are marketing “Xtra-PC: The $25 Computer.” which is in effect not as some of you may expect another Raspberry Pi competitor, but instead a low profile USB stick with a Linux based operating system that you are expected to run that way, permanently. As referenced in that piece I was so intrigued by the concept that I ordered one. The package arrived form the USA this morning so here is the start of my review. See also my new article Xtra-PC in depth for more info.

As you may be aware Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and Fedora have been able to boot from USB sticks instead of the more traditional CD or DVD media for years now. The fact that USB memory sticks are writable has allowed such Linux distributions to allow some element of “try before you install” operation. This has been great in giving people confidence that Linux runs on their hardware and is “for them” before applying the final solution to any Windows that is lurking on the hard disk.

This approach although very useful is not really taking advantage of the fact that USB memory sticks have become much bigger and faster in recent years. This is to the extent, that just like the  Raspberry Pi, much of what most people want from a computer can now be easily done using inexpensive and reliable solid state memory alone.

Who really needs terrabytes of personal storage space?

What Xtra-PC have done is take this concept, familiar to and well proven by Linux geeks, but aiming at the potentially huge market of people that bought a computer a few years ago, are generally happy with what it does for them but have run into problems with the hard disk (the most likely part of any computer to fail) or the Windows (probably still XP, or 7) messing up in some complicated and expensive/difficult to fix way. Times are tough, money is tight. Do you REALLY need that new Windows 10 PC?

If the computer is capable of booting from a USB stick – and most built after 2004 are, then Xtra-PC is a possibility to breathe new life into it – even IF the hard disk is faulty of the Windows OS horribly virus infected or locked up in some way by malicious ransomware.

For my tests I plumped for the $79.99 variant of the Xtra-PC – which is a USB3 128GB and conventional USB stick in size.

The 128GB stick
The 128GB stick

The cheaper $25 (8GB) and $35 (16GB) and $50 (64GB) are all the ultra small USB types that can be left in a laptop permanently without fear of being knocked out. Compared to what may be available on a 10 year old PC these are very reasonable amounts of storage for documents, personal music collections etc.

The 128GB model comes with extra ‘FileRez’ software for helping getting files back from Windows hard disks. As I do not run Windows I have no way of testing the efficacy of this however 😉

The packaging of the memory stick contains important information for beginners – what the key press for selecting boot from USB is on a selection of manufacturers machines. My test machine was a Toshiba so I put the stick in and powered up, pressing F12 which is the right key for my laptop. A menu then appears allowing the USB key to be selected as a boot source.

The USB takes a few seconds to boot and the first clue of the target audience for this when the first prompt is asking for a password for the administrator user (not root).

Asking for a new administrator password
Asking for a new administrator password.

Actually what is going on is that this is just a name chosen for the default user of the computer (like the “pi” user account on a Raspberry Pi). This user is called by Linux as an “Administrator” in that the sudo command can be used to execute commands as the true “root” user when needed. This is needed for actions such as installing new software. If you want to be really secure it is better to create a second account for your own use that does not have this special ability. However in the real world plenty of people plug on with Windows permanently in Administrator account!

The first hurdle that may be a trap for the unwary is that the computer needs to connect to the Internet to complete the setup. If a physical cable is plugged in this is not a problem but most laptops will typically be used over WiFi. The icon for network connection is in the bottom right hand corner of the screen next to the time. Once this basic fact is known, it is a simple matter of choosing your WiFi network and entering the secret key for it. I found it easy enough but after the good beginning in telling users which key to press to get started, a bit more on screen help as to how to connect your network would have been nice. We have to remember here that many of the target users of this product will never have used a Linux desktop before so where things are located will be a mystery.

Software needs to be downloaded too to complete setup.
Software needs to be downloaded too to complete setup.

Once connected to the Internet lots more software is downloaded. It is at this point that it is clear that the underlying operating system is here is Ubuntu Linux. This is great as it means that an absolutely huge amount of software is available to the Xtra-PC user if they should ever need it.

Several licence agreements need to be accepted as part of the setup process – including one for the Microsoft TrueType fonts.

Microsoft fonts ELUA screen.
Microsoft fonts ELUA screen.

This is not a distribution that will please Free Software purists! However the aim here is clearly to make the transition for people with existing investment in Microsoft Office documents as painless as possible.

The other nice feature of the software downloaded is that you also (without any complicated mucking about) get the ability to play DVDs – even commercial region encoded ones. The DVDs do not play when inserted (there my be an option to change that) but firing up VLC does the trick.

The software selection installed by default seems rather spartan by normal Linux standards, but are the sort of things a Windows user would expect.

There are desktop icons for Facebook, Email, Firefox, Pintrest, OpenOffice (Not Libre Office as many Linux distros use now), Amazon Cloud Reader and something I am not familiar with called Pandora.

The default desktop when Xtra-PC has been set up.
The default desktop when Xtra-PC has been set up.

The menu has a few more items, including the package installer, but there is NO terminal. If you want a terminal program the keypress Ctrl+Alt+T does the trick. However I can see people going through the same work cycle they did under Windows without needing to either use the terminal or install any further packages.

If you do open a terminal a simple df command will show you that in the case of my 128GB stick there is a 21G root partition 4.3G of it in use and the rest a whopping 94G as /data – for the user to store what they like. Using such a slow device as virtual memory is painful to say the least. How the Xtra-PC gets around this is by using a Linux facility called zram to provide the swap. A portion of the main memory is reserved and used to compress data as it needs to be swapped out. This leads to a gradual degrading of performance as you ask the computer to do more and more rather than hitting a sudden brick wall of speed suddenly going down to only a small percentage of what it was. Using zram for swap means that the product will perform better the more memory you have. Spending a few $ on increasing the memory in your older PC to the maximum it can take is probably going to be a good investment.

With just over 4G of the main file-system  in use by the standard software suite means that even the basic $25 model has plenty of spare space.

What is it like to use?

Programs can take 2-3 seconds to launch first time, a few seconds more for something really big like the OpenOffice suite. Provided that your computer has a reasonable amount of memory the action of caching will soon make things very speedy. If you can take a spinning hard disk out of your laptop and run completely from the stick, the battery life should improve quite a bit too! If you want to use this with a laptop that is on a go a lot then I would recommend that you stay with the ultra low profile sticks – so max capacity 64GB – for now) – only reason for this is that the larger 128GB and normal sized stick juts out so could be damaged if you are on the move a lot.

The choice of Apache OpenOffice is interesting too – maybe this is something to do with working with the Microsoft fonts?

This is a choice if you hate waste. If you are generally happy with a PC you paid good money for a few years ago, this is a great way to give it a new lease of life with Xtra-PC and maybe some more memory if you are making do with 1 or 2 GB at the moment. The most likely thing to go wrong physically with a PC is hard disk failure (they are complex pieces of mechanics that do wear out). Even more so than that is the Windows software getting corrupted in some way either by accident or malice. Just bypassing these issues by plugging in a small memory stick is a wonderfully elegant solution.

This is just the first day – I will report back when I have used it some more.

Lastly, for now, here is the a makers demo of the software I just found on Twitter.

Time for an update..

Had some time for playing with this again..

Once the system is fully set up for use, on my test machine at least (a Toshiba laptop with Intel i3 processor and 6GB of memory) a boot from cold start to desktop takes about 110 seconds. If the computer had a USB3 port instead of USB2 I would expect this to be be considerably faster. UPDATE: I have now tried the Xtra-PC stick in another computer that has on-board USB3 ports. In this case booting to from boot device menu through to desktop is in 35 seconds instead of 110 – quite an improvement – but expected.  There is no getting round that USB2 is relatively slow compared to SATA hard disks (or USB3). The Firefox browser for example takes 100 seconds to start first time – that is nearly as much as the whole OS boot process takes! If you watch the progress with the top command on a terminal you will see that the ‘wait state’ figure for the OS goes to 55% at times. This is the slowness of the USB2 technology holding things up. However once the browser is loaded, signing into my Gmail account was nice and snappy, as was generally visiting websites. Apache OpenOffice seems much faster to start than Firefox – about 15 seconds from the double click to start before you get the first screen. This goes to show that Internet browsers are amongst the largest, and therefore slowest to load, pieces of software most people get to run! Note that the action of buffering under Linux mean that second and subsequent starts are much much faster. For instance shutting down Firefox and double clicking it again gets the browser loaded and ready in just 7 seconds instead of 110! Again – when running from a USB3 port the initial (after booting) Firefox load time was down to about 4 seconds.  The moral of this is once booted keep your computer running all day (or all week). Or if your computer has it use the USB3 port! Going back to the original machine with the USB2 ports I then retested a Firefox load after reboot and that too was now 7 seconds. It seems the VERY first time you run Firefox it does a lot of stuff that is very slow on a USB disk. The initial boot time for the OS is still around 110 seconds however from USB2.

Personal computing started with people having to load any software they wanted to use from really slow floppy disks (or even slower cassette tape). To some extent the “PC on removable media” idea of Xtra-PC goes back to this. You have to get into the mindset of loading the program you want, doing some work with it, and then a short wait while the data is saved again. Having everything on a USB stick means that the concept of backups goes back to the same simplicity of the floppy disk days – just have another stick of the same size and just copy the lot – once a week or so.

When looking for what other people had said about Xtra-PC I found one site calling it “A Scam” – because it is “Just Linux booting from a USB stick”. In a way yes it is, but with a whole lot of work put in to make it more useful than just a staging post for getting that Linux onto a faster internal hard disk where it would then spend the rest of it’s life.

Xtra-PC provides a complete working system, that is suitable for novices to Linux to use, and even plays DVDs without any messing about. They just need to be taught a little patience that big programs take a while to initially load from the USB2 media. Once loaded they should work just the same as on a more conventional PC.

Under the covers it IS Ubuntu Linux so you can install anything on offer there in the repositories. As a test I picked something quite far removed from the set of software you would expect to be provided with Windows. I picked the “GNU R” language – much loved by statisticians and City traders. It pulled in a bunch of dependencies and produced a menu item under Education which started a terminal where the R command is available and the standard demos of graphical plots etc ran without issue.

Author: Martin Houston

This is my own little corner of the Internet. You will find a mixed bunch of stuff about Open Source (what I have done for a job for the last quarter of a century) and wider issues of what is wrong with the world. I am a freelancer so if you would like any software written (for money) get in touch!

48 thoughts on “Xtra-PC a review”

  1. Hello, thank you for a very informative article!
    As a relative, in operating my ageing Dell Inspiron Laptop I would be very interested in obtaining
    a Xtra-PC, so is it available for purchase in the UK?

      1. I also ordered mine direct (I ordered 2 at $25 each) and found I was charged another £16.07 to collect from the local sorting office – £8.07 tax and another £8 Royal Mail admin charge. So do bear this in mind when you decide to order.

    1. Hi Graeme,

      I recently purchased an Xtra-PC Turbo 16 which is still in its packaging. I bought it because I purchased an Acer Cloudbook and found out it was quite slow, so, in all my wisdom, I sent for one of those Xtra-PCs to turn it into a faster system. Don’t laugh. Anyway, I can send it to you if you are still interested in buying one. You can pay me through Paypal (send money to a friend) after you receive it. Reading your article you seem to be a trustworthy and decent guy, so I’m happy to do it that way. Reply to me here if you are interested and I’ll give you my email address. I paid £40 for it, but I’ll let you have it for £35 with free postage.

      Kind regards
      Michael Nunn

      1. Yes I see what you mean about not being very fast! Absolutely worth getting rid of Windows and running a small footprint Linux on it – something that uses the lightweight LXDE user interface would be ideal. This was very popular when “Netbooks” which is what this is really, were popular the first time round. My first Netbook was an Asus EEEPC 701 and then I got an Dell Inspiron 910. These were truly revolutionary LINUX machines for the time but utterly trashed by being forced to run Windows! You have 32GB of internal SSD there, delete Windows and use all 32GB for Linux. If you need more storage than that get a 64 or 128GB SD card. This will be slower than the internal SSD but well fast enough for movies and music.

      2. Im very interested if you still have the xtra-pc as I want to get one of these let me know if you still got it and are you from the UK thanks

  2. I am sorry but I would like to disagree with this assessment and endorsement of this product.
    IMHO it is a simple ripoff of the unsuspecting and gullible in its purest form.

    let me elaborate:
    #1. I do not dispute that it will work as described. BUT
    simply from the Financial Stand Point 25$ for and 8GB drive with a linux on it?!
    for $20 I can get 64GB and even 128GB drives on sale and load a free Linux Mint on it in 20 min flat.
    it will give me same if not better system, with proper regular updates. even more it will give me an up to date system with all up to date drivers and software, not an outdated compilations used in Xtra-PC.

    #2. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.
    Yes you CAN run Linux from USB, but as any operating system, it is not really designed to be used day-in and day-out from USB. this means that it will wear out the USB very fast. depending on how much you use your computer, you can get a year or two at best out of it. but if you are poweruser, I bet more 8-10 month especially since we do not know the quality of the flash stick Xtra-PC uses for ditribution.
    after that you are out of 25+s/h and out of your files and settings etc.
    and have to start anew. now an investment in even el cheapo SSD drive (can be found in around $40 to day) and installing a distro of your choice sound a lot better, isn’t it?
    you WILL get a better speed (as you point it out SATA is faster than USB)
    a much longer life even on heavy use.
    you also have control of your files
    and you are using an up-to-date compilations of OS and applications.

    I have 3 PC running Mint now and I am not what you would consider an avid Linux User.

    1. I have done extensive work on industrial systems that write to the sort of flash memory in USB sticks a lot. It was an eye opener to me. I like you had assumed that you would soon run into problems with the memory wearing out but practical experience with hundreds of units and I think perhaps one or maybe two memory cards failed (possibly due to being worn out). The write speed to flash storage will go down once all the virgin cells are used up. Typically then a whole 4MB block of memory will have to be erased so that data can be rewritten – even if that is just a byte. But even cards that have been re-written hundreds of times still worked just fine.

      Yes of course fitting a now very affordable SSD into an old PC is a great way to give it a lease of life! SSDs have an interface that reports back wear level stats etc. so you know how much life they have left as well. If you are the sort of user who feels confident to do so. Getting a repair shop to do it for you and the total cost will get way more than Xtra-PC charges.

      This product is not aimed at “avid Linux Users” like yourself. It is aimed at people who would be alarmed at the prospect of opening up their PC. Also with Xtra-PC a lot of the ‘tinkering’ that you would take in your stride but would be beyond them, e.g. being able to play DVDs, has been done.

      Because the Xtra-PC is a fixed size backing it up is just a matter of image copying one USB stick to another. Even daily backups done this way the target stick will get far less writes so will be working for plenty long enough once the original stick burns out. The backup can become the master and a new stick used for the backup – this is a beautifully simple task for any user to do at the end of the working session. If one was to use a ‘smart’ process for doing the backup – only writing each 4mb block if it differed from the one now on the live drive, the actual number of writes needed to do a backup after a modest amount of work would be really small.

    2. VLAD, you are pretty stupid to believe because you can do these Linux task in a few minutes everyone could, or would want to, do the same. Any config you want to get would be less than $100 and a novice would spend several days (complete novice which I think this is aimed at) learning about Linux and much more time trying to do all the things that are already done here. While I am sure you might have impressed someone with your assumed knowledge, you totally missed the boat on the target purchaser of this device. That’s why most techies don’t ever get into business while pseudo techies (like Bill Gates) make millions!

      1. Yes I agree DrT, I have just fired up my Xtra-PC stick on a much slower computer – an old Dell Vostro computer with 4GB of memory and just a Core2 Duo processor. That takes about 2 mins 15 secs to boot to the desktop (USB2). I am in the process of writing a small article on what exactly makes a computer “slow” or “fast” and what can be done to make the best of the one you have. Xtra-PC is a good platform for this in that the disk it boots from is undeniably slower than internal SATA disks would be. But sume understanding of what is going on “under the hood” helps that become less of an issue.

        1. Do a vs linux Mint and the time its takes to either install it on a USB Stick or internal harddisk.

          USB2 is 480Mbit which makes it able to transfer 60MB/s in an ideal world, in reality it will probably be around 20MB/s
          5200 RPM Harddisk you would get from 80-150MB/s
          So on paper, what ever your internal drive is, it should beat your USB2.0 hands down on any speed test / Load times on a OS.

      2. Are you for real?

        Admin suggest you make a backup of the USB everyday, no normal user would do that, so that is for the hardcore user, but he/she would not use a USB for system drive anyways.

        So back to your comment, it stated that it would take about 20 minutes, not a couple. Assuming you have access to a working PC, this takes the time it takes you to read the very well done Documentation for Mint OS which is more then you get from Xtra-PC or Windows.

        Learning Linux? You get that many of these systems like Mint, Ubuntu etc. is usable out of the box also, you need to attain the same level of knowledge on that as on Xtra-PC or for that matter on a Windows PC, Mac or Chrome OS PC.

        “That’s why most techies don’t ever get into business while pseudo techies (like Bill Gates) make millions!” <- What are you on about ? Bill Gates made his business from knowing Business and being able to do the hardwork as well… Who are those Techs that don't ever get into business?? if they are Techs and understand their job, they get into business one way or another, you Sir are a Troll at best.

        On Xtra PC at best its a bad solution to bring life to an old PC. Ofcause you would want to use the internal Harddrive or SSD which one old PC's with USB 1.1 or 2.0 is still way faster.

        1. It would be rather paranoid to back up an entire bootable disk every day! Occasional clonings and then just a quick copy of your personal files using rsync would be fine.

    3. easy for a brainiac to state… much harder for most senior citizens to do. If its so cheap and easy to do why don’t you start selling them for $15 with 64 gig? Put up or SHUT up.

  3. Their website states:

    ‘Please note that shipment times and any delays do count in the 30
    days for the money back guarantee. If your package takes 30 days to arrive then you will be outside of the 30 day money back
    guarantee window. Please take this into consideration when you
    order.’

    = DEALBREAKER fae Non USA Customers then lol no way is that a fair and reasonable term of trade! :p

    1. I cannot speak for the company but I would though such a warranty is just to cope with the situation where the product is just not compatible with the users hardware in some way. With so much variance out there it would be impossible to guarantee that a product will work in all situations.

      If you boot from a USB3 port this is as snappy as you would expect from an internally installed normal OS – but that is a pretty recent machine. Real ‘old clunkers’ with USB2 and not a lot of memory for caching would have a much more pedestrian experience, but still better than a computer that does not work AT ALL 🙂

      Longer term – any Linux is a product of a large collective of people and is a moving target. This in practice works very well but to ‘warranty’ it, i.e. take a legal responsibility, is a bit brave.

      The whole “Value proposition” of Xtra-PC is to take the ability of Linux to run quite well just from a USB stick but to make it non intimidating to people who are just used to running a small selection of productivity software under Windows.

    2. I saw this too and agree that this is a con. It contravenes UK Trading Standards law on two counts. Firstly that the product should be fit for the purpose and minimum warranty of 12 months should apply and if incompatible with buyers set-up then they have a right to return it within 90 days, Secondly, that the warranty effectively starts on receipt of the product – not from when they claimed to have sent it. I won’t deal with companies that are covering their arse in the small print. This tells me that they expect a high level of failures and returns and are trying to reduce this.

      Only if a reputable UK distributor picks up this product and reduces the price by at least 25%, would try the 128Gb version. The only one large enough to support my existing libraries and leave a little free for new software.

  4. thank you for your article. I saw the product advertised-Xtra-PC and had no idea what it was. I have an old Compaq 610 that is as slow as an elephant strolling in the bush.
    I have kept the Compaq because it has a huge amount of my digital images on it.
    Having read your article I think I might give this product a try.
    Mike

    1. If you have things of value sitting on an old hard disk it is a very good idea to get them copied somewhere else. Hard disks are mechanical, they can and do fail. Leaving old computers turned off is no guarantee that they will work again when you want them to either. The thermal changes associated with starting up from cold adds a bit extra risk of failure. In fact it is standard practice for important big computers to leave them running 24/7 – especially if they are getting old. A constant environment is best for longevity.

      Xtra-PC or any Linux install USB stick will help you get these files off safe. You either need a stick that has been created with enough spare space, or a second external USB device, or “Cloud” based service like Dropbox or Google Drive where you can save the important files.

      Just because a hard disk no longer boots to a “sane” operating system, it does not mean all files on it are lost.

  5. Hi…

    I am another one of those people who are unable to fully grasp Linux in order to attempt putting together my own USB Stick running Linux… My questions below will attest to that…

    These questions may sound silly to all of you Techies out there… I just need to seek some clarification…

    1) Once I opt to use Xtra-PC… My Windows Software will no longer be applicable… right…? Meaning I will not be able to use them at all on this “Resurrected” Notebook or Desktop per se… Is my understanding correct…?

    2) Assuming that the Hardrive still works and I have recovered all I need to recover from these files, can I then format or erase the Hardrive and use it as non-essential storage…? I understand that Xtra-PC does not require a Hardrive to run and it runs directly from the USB Stick… Am I right…?

    3) Once I have wiped the Notebook’s Hardrive Clean… Can I somehow copy Linux from my USB Stick onto my Hardrive and then have it boot from Hardrive again…? I do not have any knowledge of Linux so, if it can be done… I would hope it is a very simple process…

    4) Assuming that I am able to execute (3) above, can I then use the Xtra-PC to resurrect another PC…? I have a couple of dead Notebooks and a Desktop in my closet… All superb Gaming Laptops in their Prime…

    5) If I am not able to transfer Linux from the Xtra-PC USB Stick onto the Notebook Hardrive… I will then need to leave the USB Stick permanently on the Notebook… right…? In your opinion… What is the USB Stick Memory Size most relevant for me to run some basic applications…

    6) If I need to resort to (5) above, Steam Offers some of the games I play in Linux Version. If I would like to run these games, I would probably need a Bigger Memory Size USB Stick… right…? Maybe the Xtra-PC Pro with 128Gb Storage space…? I’m assuming that further program installations will the onto the USB Stick… right…?

    7) My Final Question… Let’s say I am taking the path in (6)… Can I then use this stick that I have setup up to run my Steam Games, to run on other Notebooks as well…? I would then have a Portable Gaming Xtra-PC… right…? That can run on any Notebook or Desktop with a USB Port…?

    If you don’t mind… Please help to clarify these concerns that I have…

    Thank you very much…

    1. I will try to answer those questions 🙂
      1) There is a project called Wine that has got quite a lot of Windows software running under Linux – but it is quite a complex subject! Windows may look simple on the outside but there is a lot going on under the surface! If there are specific bespoke apps that you have to run then it may be possible to get consultancy help to get them running & keep them running.

      2) yes it would be a great thing to do if your Windows PC had been affected by a virus or other malware. Just take off non executable data files then erase everything else. There is little point in booting from the USB stick and then having the internal disk , which unless your PC is VERY old will be faster to boot from than the USB. Which leads onto 3). It should be possible to install Xtra-PC as a conventional install on the hard disk, although I have had a quick look and there is nothing in the FAQs about it. It will probably boot faster if you do. In any case you can just go for a plain Ubuntu or other Linux release. These start life on USB stick or DVD disk but are not intended to stay there – the functionality before installing is really just “demo” level.

      4) No reason you cannot use Xtra-PC on as many PCs as you like. I have moved mine between several PCs of differing capability now and it works fine in each case. If you have a PC that can boot from USB3 port then Xtra-PC will work about 4x faster than on a USB2. That is if you get a version on a USB3 memory stick.

      5) Answered this in 2 & 3. If you are overwriting the hard drive it really only makes sense to make that bootable. If for some reason it cannot be (e.g. a defect has occurred in the boot track of the hard disk), then yes you can still work by booting from the USB stick, but in this case you have to leave it in.

      6 & 7) Steam – if you are playing games against others on the net you will likely need a high performance PC – preferably including a SSD boot disk of a generous size. The speed penalty for reading/writing USB may well put you at a disadvantage against other players at critical times in the game. Booting Xtra-PC of USB3 may be enough to play some Steam games but I guess you would always be at some disadvantage. USB2 would almost certainly be too slow. Try it let me know 🙂 I am not familiar with Steam – if the need for local storage is not required (everything going over the network) then even USB2 will be fine. Someone who knows about Steam would give you a better answer.

      1. Hi…

        Thank you very much for your responses for (1) to (5). For (6) and (7)… Steam… I have a separate rig complete with SSD and other stuff that I use when I go gaming online against others… But nowadays, I mostly game on my own… against the computer or something… No longer on-line. My extremely poor Internet Connection puts paid to my Online Gaming plans…

        The reason for (6) and (7) is to see if I can actually install a few SteamOS and Linux Games like Dawn of War II and Defense Grid 2 that I love into the Xtra-PC Stick and use it on my much older computers amongst others, a Gaming Desktop that has a dead Hardisk and an Alienware Notebook that is getting to be very jaded compared to the current gaming Notebooks that is available in the market.

        If I purchase a large enough USB Stick say the 128GB Xtra-PC Pro unit, can I install the games I mentioned above and run those games directly from the USB Stick itself…? Or better yet… Can I install Wine and run even some Windows Games from the USB Stick…? If I can actually do this, then I will have a Portable Gaming Rig right in my pocket… and I can take it anywhere I go… I wouldn’t mind the performance loss if it is not too much… If the loading time is too long, I would just leave the stick in for example and only shutdown the computer and take it out when I am leaving and won’t be back for sometime.

        I really hope that it would be possible to run Steam from the Xtra-PC USB Stick directly…

        Thank you very much for your help and patience in answering my questions. I really appreciate it…

        1. Linux just sees the USB stick as a hard disk so there should be no issue space permitting. I have one of the 128G sticks and they at least are USB3 so if you have a PC with USB3 ports you will get to work at much nearer hard disk speed.

          If the game loads and then runs from memory then you should be able to run from a USB stick without too much waiting around.

          You can get Wine and info about it from the site https://www.winehq.org/. I can see no reason provided you have the patience for the loading/saving that you cannot run this or Steam from the USB stick.

          1. Hi Marty…

            Thank you very much for your clarification…

            I will definitely be getting one of those before leaving for home soon.

            Thank you very much.

            Regards … Dzul

  6. It seem like it should be possible to do have an Xtra-PC style device with a “USB PC on a stick”
    instead that would really run the Windows applications software out on the USB device. It
    might boot the internal PC invisibly under Linux to operate the display and peripherals and
    run the Windows and host software at high speeds out in the dual core Atom CPU on the
    USB port. While this would be physically larger and somewhat more expensive device then the
    Xtra-PC approach the software would actually be running N as times fast and it would run with
    the host PC operating software. It would actually do what the Xtra-PC now only promises. If anyone
    knows about solution that does this, I would be interested in hearing about it.

    1. What about when the Windows install on the PC is corrupted or virus infected? As Xtra-PC is likely going into such environments it is actually a very good thing that it does not run Windows software unless you really really go out of your way to do so (by investigating the Wine software). There are PCs not much bigger than a USB stick – but they are designed to plug into the HDMI port of a TV rather than trying to use parts of an old PC.

      It is also hard to make something that fits into such a small space as fast as a full sized PC because of heat dissipation issues. There are also these NUC devices that are very small and quiet – you could just use your existing screen and keyboard with them – but you are really buying an expensive new PC – just a physically small one.

  7. I did this some time ago when the hard drive on my laptop died. It’s an old Acer but it’s wot I got and I wasn’t going to buy a new one.
    I loaded a new copy of Ubuntu onto a flash drive and then installed it onto a 64gb SD card, which would become the new permanent Hard drive. Simplicity itself. The SD card of course is out of the way and less of a chance it gets knocked off the laptop.
    Ubuntu is a fine OS and simple to get used to. It isn’t a straightforward switch for Windows users though and they will have to learn it’s foibles.
    If you have windows on the original laptop HDD it will read the data on there fine and much can be dragged over for safe keeping.
    Wine works but not for all windows programs so beware of that. An alternative is to set up a program called Virtual box that allows you to run a windows os within Ubuntu. this is an easier way to run windows progs in a format windows user can understand easier.
    Is Xtra-PC worth the money?
    For myself no. Creating a bootable drive on either a flash drive or an SD card is simple enough with a bit of patience. For someone who just wants to kick up their old computer back into life who doesn’t have the time or knowledge to do it themselves then yes, it is a fine idea I wish I’d thought of myself.

    1. Yes thanks for the VirtualBox suggestion – probably only useful for people with a beefy PC though (absolute min 4GB memory etc) as there is quite an overhead on top of that of the Windows guest. Your mileage may vary with whatever the latest machinations are with Microsoft’s licencing/product activation too. Its much easier to run Linux machines as guests but in this case that rather defeats the object 🙂

      And quite right, someone with enough knowledge can set Linux up to run from an SD card – accepting that it is a) not as fast and b) cannot tell you when it is about to wear out like a SSD can. As you rightly point out the value proposition of Xtra-PC is letting people that do not have this level of Linux understanding get the benefits of such a setup.

    2. Ok as an update I have installed VirtualBox on my Xtra-PC image. It works but there is one limitation people need to be aware of: Xtra-PC is a 32 bit Linux OS – this means it works on the older PCs such as early Pentium 4s that are not 64 bit aware – which is part of the target market. This does not mean that it can only see 4GB of memory though, it can but has to use some tricks to do so. Any one process can only see 4GB of memory which means that is the limit for any virtual machine. Of course you can only run virtual machines that are 32 bit on a 32 bit host OS (even if the computer itself is 64 bit capable). However if you have original Windows XP DVD and licence key it may be possible to build a fresh Windows under VirtualBox and run Windows programs that way.

      1. Seems a bit odd replying to myself but this does not really warrant a full blown post 🙂 I found I had a genuine 2002 edition of Windows XP Home Edition complete with activation key. I installed it under Xtra-PC in a VirtualBox. Install went fine however there is one huge SNAG!

        Microsoft appears to have TURNED OFF the product activation servers for XP! This means any install (or reinstall of a messed up machine) only has 30 days of operation. Thanks a bunch Microsoft! YEP – seems they have TURNED IT ALL OFF http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/answers/id-2529977/howto-activate-windows.html

  8. I just got a basic xtrapc. It does not want to load on my not too old Vaio laptop! Even if the BIOS gives the possibility to use an external drive! The support from Xtrapc can not be reached what ever you try! Not impressed at all!

  9. I would think a USB based ‘storage drive’ a relatively poor or unreliable form of data storage. I’m thinking if you don’t have a 2nd backup USB or CDROM drive, that will be a risk. You’d have to buy or backup your USB right as well, just in case your EasyPC fails.

    1. USB is a lot more reliable than you would think, certainly more so than magnetic storage. The only thing different between USB pendrives and SATA interface SSD disks is the latter have the ability to let you know when they are reaching the end of their expected life so you have time to move retire them from service before there is data loss. As far as backing up Xtra-PC see my other article http://www.deluxetech.co.uk/xtra-pc-depth/ where I show how to make a clone of the Xtra-PC stick either to another stick or a SATA hard disk.

      1. This product is nothing more than a shakedown of people who don’t have the knowledge to be able to rescue these machines themselves. The premise of paying $25 or more for a free operating system along with £14 for import tax and an additional $12 for international shipping is simply outrageous. The system itself uses an outdated version of Lubuntu that is modified slightly to encompass Xtra-PC’s branding and to simplify the OS. This means that the upstream vendors (Canonical in this case) cannot update this distribution as it will break the Xtra-PC modifications. There is no reference I can find anywhere about the update process from Prairie IT therefore I presume there isn’t one. Not good.

        Whilst Linux is a very good operating system, it certainly isn’t as novice friendly as others. As for the question about running games on Xtra-PC, I can guarantee you will have no luck with this. Read/Right speeds to a usb device are too prohibitive, the Wine solution is a non starter, its incredibly complicated to encapsulate a windows based game into a wine emulator. So if you are using this because you don’t have the knowledge to set up a live Linux distribution for free, then you will have no chance with Wine. Virtual box will not have the resources to run games either. You’ll find most games unless they are on the same level as the likes of solitaire will be unplayable.

        This company are basically repackaging a substandard version of linux and profiting from it at the expense of non-tech savvy people. There are 1000’s of step by step guides on the internet on how to set up your own live distro of any flavour of Linux. So idiot proof that anyone can follow them.

        Don’t give them your money, learn something new instead.

        1. If you know enough about Linux to do everything that is done for you by Xtra-PC then as several people have already stated it is not the product for you. However several moderately complex things have already been done for you such as getting DVD playing working and installing the Microsoft fonts so that your existing MS Office docs stand more of a chance of looking nice when imported into OpenOffice. Also zram swap is a good adaptation to life on a USB stick. That is not standard either.

          I would not describe doing these things for people as a ‘shakedown’.

          Complaining when people try to sell a Linux based product shows a misunderstanding of the nature of free that ‘free software’ is about. It is NOT about price but freedom to do what you wish with the software. The GPL allows charging money for software – but prohibits the recipient being denied access to source code or the right to give further copies away themselves.

  10. I bought the $25 stick, and haven’t the foggiest idea of how to run/use it. I can’t even get the PC (Acer laptop)command page to come up so I can enter USB run, etc.
    Linux is totally foreign to me.

    1. The key you need to press to give you the option to boot of the USB stick is F12 as you have an Acer laptop. You will also need to be connected to the Internet at least the first time you boot as there is some finalising setup the Xtra-PC needs to go through. A physical RJ45 cable into the back of your Router/HomeHub is the simplest way to do this. You should have been supplied with at least one with your Internet router.

  11. I brought a pair of the high end versions of xtra-Pc with the FileRez software as a recovery aid to my, my wife’s or any random PC. I know one should create a recovery disk but they get lost or your collegue forgets. I work in remote regions.

    Im also interested in using it as a secure way to browse in dodgy sites. Linux isn’t a common hacking target and I will use the xtra-PC to sandbox a healthy PC. I often use VMWare for this but this is another approach and doesn’t use up any of your PCs memory. I’ll be using mine on a new PC via it’s USB 3 port. I’ll probably install a vpn and Linux anti spyware.

    It also gets Linux out there in the market. Microsoft, Apple and Google are dangerously dominant.

    1. Yes that is a good idea, especially if you follow my guide at Xtra-PC in depth and make yourself a ‘disposable’ clone. However there is another USB based Linux distribution already purpose built for this called Tails. It is ‘amnesiac’ in that by default it runs from memory only and forgets everything about the current browsing session (even scrubbing the memory clean) when you shut down that session, so forgets any rogue code infections. It is also a method for browsing anonymously and also accessing the “Darknet” (that part of the Internet not visible to normal search engines) via TOR. So if you are a budding Edward Snowden it is the thing to use.

  12. I’ve sent off for an Xtra-PC the 64mB ‘popular’ to speed up my 10 year old Dell tower PC. Having read all the entries in this thread, I’m asking myself; have I wasted my money? My PC has been frustratingly​ slow for the last couple of years and getting worse. I have an external 1TB and have transferred a lot to that to leave my C: drive lightly loaded. I’m not a computer geek but know something about them. I operate Windows 10.

    1. Linux is going to be faster than Windows on the same hardware as it is not having to carry all that anti virus weight. You do need to choose technology appropriate to the processing power you have available. An all bells & whistles desktop will just be a drag on a machine much slower than it was designed for. XTRA-PC has chosen a lightweight set of software that works as near as possible to Windows of version appropriate for now ageing PCs. With a bit of knowledge/googling you can set up any modern Linux distribution the same.

  13. I seriously thought about buying one but buying stuff from the US just about doubles its price by the time shipping, tax and the Post Office admin charge are added on. If the product was available in the UK, I’d be iterested but not from the USA.

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