If you're in the market for a Linux-ready PC, May 2012 has been a good month. First eRacks launched a new line of high-end desktops. Then System76 introduced high-power laptop. Now ZaReason, one of the few other big open source OEMs, has both released new hardware and upgraded a popular existing model. Read on for details.

Since its launch in early 2007, California-based ZaReason has carved a successful niche for itself selling computers with Linux preloaded. It offers a variety of distribution choices, including all the big names: Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Fedora, Mint and Debian. (Other distributions are available upon special request.) And it continues to expand, with its website mentioning a slew of international sites as "Upcoming ZaReason Locations."

New Linux Hardware

Beyond physical expansion, ZaReason has also been busy updating its product line. Most recently, it introduced a small form factor desktop PC, the MediaBox 5330, touted as the perfect device for a variety of applications ranging from a media server to gaming to a home theater. Combined with open source media platforms like Myth TV, it could be used to do a lot of cool stuff.

In addition, ZaReason has upgraded its Limbo 5660 desktop, adding a more powerful CPU and increasing support for peripheral devices. Meanwhile the company continues to promote the machine, which is priced beginning at $499, as a best value model for Linux users.

This focus on pricing from a Linux OEM is particularly notable, since traditionally it's been hard to find budget PCs with Linux preinstalled that cost less than those subject to the "Windows tax." One has typically had to choose between buying low cost hardware from one of the big OEMs and installing Linux oneself, or shelling out a little more cash to a small vendor like ZaReason in exchange for guaranteed Linux compatibility and support. But if the open source OEMs continue to prioritize price, these circumstances may change.

Pricing is also an area to watch given that ZaReason apparently has set its sights on the "masses," rather than just Linux geeks who are more likely to see the value in ZaReason's offerings. As CEO Cathy Malmrose wrote in an email:
Do us a favor? Take a minute to sit back and relish how amazing it is that we can now build hardware specifically for GNU/Linux and ship it out to people who are not devs, not geeks, not techies – people who want computers that have better security, stability, support, all of it. People who want their computers to just work.
It may take a while before large numbers of "ordinary" people start their PC shopping with a brand like ZaReason instead of one of the large corporate OEMs à la Dell. But if the open source hardware market continues to move in the right direction, that day could come.