Hewlett-Packard's PC-making division has made a surprise announcement: the launch of a cut-price all-in-one desktop running Canonical's Linux-based Ubuntu operating system.
Dubbed the HP Pavilion 20-b101ea, the device is based around an AMD E1-1200 accelerated processing unit (APU) featuring two 1.4GHz Bobcat processing cores and in-built graphics hardware equivalent to an AMD Radeon HD 7310 GPU with 80 . The system supports up to 8GB of DDR3 memory, with 4GB supplied, and includes a 500GB 7,200RPM hard drive and slimline tray-based DVD writer packed behind a 20" LED-backlit 1,600x900 display.
From the specifications, then, it's clear that HP isn't targeting the high-performance crowd: the E1-1200 is a low-power processor based on the somewhat outmoded Zacate 40nm family of APUs. With just 1MB of L2 cache and slow-running processing cores, the chip - launched nearly a year ago - is roughly equivalent to an Intel Atom processor, albeit with significantly improved graphics performance and out-of-order execution. Its thermal design profile (TDP) of 18W is an important feature in battery-powered laptops, but isn't much of a consumer-facing pro in an all-in-one - aside from its potential for slightly reducing the user's electricity bill.
That said, HP isn't interested in getting gamers on-side but simply in offering a low-cost and capable general-purpose PC. With four USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports, an integral six-in-one card reader, wired Ethernet and integrated Wi-Fi, built-in speakers augmented by headphone and microphone jacks, and the ever-present front-facing webcam, it may well have done just that.
The big news isn't in the hardware, of course: HP already has a near-identical Pavilion 20 model in the market, which boasts a 1TB hard drive, 8GB of memory and a copy of Windows 8. The real story is in the software: HP is making the Pavilion 20 available with Ubuntu Linux for the first time, suggesting that it is at least dipping its toes in the water of desktop Linux support.
That's a momentous occasion. Numerous PC makers have tried and failed to convince buyers to pick up a Linux-based system over the years, with Dell quickly abandoning its similarly Ubuntu-based desktop and laptop lines and the well-documented failure of Linux-based netbooks being two particular highlights. Although it's still possible to buy an Ubuntu-based machine from Dell - even discounting the Project Sputnik machines, which are aimed at developers and other technical types - it's not easy, but HP appears to be planning to market the Ubuntu-based Pavilion right alongside the Windows-based equivalent.
HP's move to offering Ubuntu on the Pavilion 20 comes on the crest of a wave of increasing interest in the open-source operating system, helped no end by Valve's support of the platform with its Steam digital distribution platform - although, given the specs of the Pavilion 20, it's unlikely many gamers will be knocking on HP's door.
There are several advantages to buying the Ubuntu-based Pavilion 20 over its Windows 8 equivalent, the price being the key factor: while the Pavilion 20 Ubuntu Edition has a recommended retail price of £384, HP is currently selling the system for £349 as a launch offer - making it £150 cheaper than the also-discounted Windows version at £499. While some of those savings have to be offset against the halved memory and hard drive space, overall performance isn't likely to suffer a great deal between the two - and both include a two-year warranty.
While HP isn't likely to give up on its profitable partnership with Microsoft any time soon - every page on the HP Store, including that for the Pavilion 20 Ubuntu Edition, includes the message 'HP recommends Windows
' - to see the world's biggest PC vendor offering an alternative to the Windows homogeneity is certainly to be welcomed.
Full details on the Pavilion 20 Ubuntu Edition can be found on the HP website
, and compared and contrasted with the Windows edition here