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Linux Hardware

Fully Revised and Updated: 2012-01-25

If you want to build a computer, from parts, that will run Linux optimally out of the box. Then this may be for you.

Linux now runs out of the box (i.e. without recompilation) on most systems anyway and for a built system you can boot off a CD to check it runs. But if you want to get a best value system and have it run Linux you may want to think a bit deeper then that. There wasn't much on the web that actually detailed the parts or the rational in putting them together.

My objective has been to physically put together both low (£200) and high (£800) end, AMD and Intel based, Linux systems, and to get some perspective on their relative performance.

The top end machine parts were chosen so that spending more would only lead to unimportant performance increases. The bottom end machine parts were chosen so that spending less would only lead to important performance decreases.

Choosing the components took four days of research including finding where to look building times varied but 3 hours is not unreasonable for a first build and install, installing Ubuntu 11.04 takes under an hour but since it happens largely by its self it takes you just 5 minutes and then you leave it.

Disunity

For those that don't know 11.04 has been superseded by 11.10 which forces you to use the "Unity Desktop" a beautiful but dysfunctional user interface.  I do not consider it as a serious operating system. Its like going into a restaurant that doesn't have a menu and you just have to ask for what you want until you hit on something they actually have.

Good news just in! Bringing Ubuntu (GNOME) Classic To 12.04 LTS? P.S. These guys are great for other info to.

To download Ubuntu 11.04 at the moment, google for "ubuntu-11.04-desktop-amd64.iso"

Benchmarks

For processor evaluations the "System Profiler and Benchmark" program downloadable from the "Ubuntu Software Centre" on the "Applications Menu" on the Desktop, is good. Using the clicking the "Network Updator ..." on the "Information" menu will provide information for a huge variety of CPUs for any given benchmark. See Benchmarks however for some reason my information doesn't seem to get included!?

Click on the "in depth" links at the end of the relevant section below, for each machine, for more information on how to proceed with putting it together.

(If you are interested in looking at other set-ups then those here. I found Open Benchmarking to be interesting though impossible to use.)

Reasoning

If your interested in the reasoning behind choosing parts then click on this link. Parts.

Here are some of the checks I did;
  • Compare performance on Tom's
  • Check Ubuntu forum for problems
  • Check web for problems
  • Consider cross compatibility
  • Download manuals
  • Check if Linux drivers supported
Sadly, reasoning is difficult given the severe lack of serious technical documentation. Try searching for data sheets for either processor or anything else for that matter and you end up with little better than technical sales literature. Sad isn't it. This is why people resort to benchmarks with bits of standard software but this may fail to show the power of an 8 core system if the chosen software can only handle 1 core. Linux is pretty good with multi-core though.

Disclaimer

Please note:
  1. I cannot guarantee that what is written here is entirely free from defects though I do make an effort to ensure it is, you can help by correcting me.
  2. I am not a supplier I just did this because I had a hard time choosing my system.

Suppliers

Quoted prices are for January 2012. Most parts were bought from ebuyer.com with the exception of those marked * which came through amazon.co.uk. Two other major suppliers you might consider if in the UK are Scan and Overclockers. Note that a 1TB hard drive now costs £80, it was £35 before the floods in Thailand! All the prices are updated accordingly.

Low End Machines

This is the low end a cheap desktop for low budget Linux users. I have also looked at the Intel Atom but found it to be inferior to AMD I think. If I was to build a chip Intel based system it would be around a GA-H61M-D2-B3 motherboard at £46 and the cheapest processor is probably the Pentium G620 at £50. This board is very upgradable processor wise and could take one decent graphics card.

Having first done the Sabertooth series below I wanted something cheap but reasonably good. This series  come in at about £200, you can of course mess about with the specs a bit. For this series I have gone the AMD route because motherboards are very easily upgradeable to faster processors and AMD offer better performance at the price. With the Sempron processor with the second core unlocked (the second core will not always unlock we are told but it did for me) it is about 1/4 the speed of the Sabertooth systems below. However this is quite adequate for all but the most demanding applications.

AMD-200

Costs around £230 including VATax offering basic performance.

WARNING: But before you look at building one of these you need to know that I haven't built one because - Since building the original computer AMD has launched its FX series processors and appears to have discontinued the Phenom processors. Thus we need to build around an AM3+ socket not an AM3 socket. AM3+ looks good and should upgrade to 8 core if required but I haven't tested it. So what is below is AM3+ based but the benchmarks are on the old AM3 board.

System configuration:
  • Asus M5A78L-M LX V2 Socket AM3+ Motherboard Integrated ATI Radeon HD 3000 GPU
  • AMD Sempron 140 2.7GHz Socket AM3  Processor
  • 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 1333MHz
  • 400W Power supply
  • Western Digital 250GB Hard Drive
  • Samsung 22x DVD±RW DL & RAM Optical Drive
AMD-200 in depth.

Mid Range Machines

So far I haven't looked at this one. My instinct says save on the graphics card with on board graphics, preferably something that can use the i5's GPU and for AMD look at their APUs. Here i suspect that the i5 will win.

High End Machines

These are rugged powerful systems. (Rugged is really a word you should use after 3 years faultless running but the Sabertooth mother boards give a 5 year guarantee.)

These machines are around £900.

Sabertooth 990FX-750

Costs around £760 including VATax offering high performance with the added convenience of 3 hot swappable drives for backup or RAID. I have built 1 of these systems.

WARNING: To get this working I had to do the Linux install with a VTX Radeon 5450 graphics card I had lying around fitted and then switch over to the more powerful graphics card below afterwards, so as to trick Ubuntu into installing the ATI propriety drivers required. If you don't have an old ATI card I wouldn't bother unless you want to buy one for £25.

Here's the system configuration:
  • Ubuntu 11.04
  • Asus Sabertooth 990FX
  • AMD FX-8120 Black Edition 3.1GHz
  • 8GB DDR3 1600Mhz
  • Sapphire Radeon HD6850 1GB drives 2 screens
  • 3 x Samsung 1TB Hard Drives mounted in a Trayless hot-swap bay for easy change over.
  • Samsung 22x DVD±RW DL & RAM Optical Drive
  • Antec 750W Modular PSU  
Sabertooth 990FX-750 in depth.

Sabertooth P67-750

Costs around £800 including VATax offering high performance at a budget price. I have built 1 of these systems.

System configuration:
  • Ubuntu 11.04
  • Asus Sabertooth P67 R3
  • Intel Core i5 2500K 3.3GHz
  • 8GB DDR3 1600Mhz
  • Zotac GTX 550 Ti 1GB drives 2 screens
  • Samsung 1TB Hard Drives 
  • Samsung 22x DVD±RW DL & RAM Optical Drive
  • Antec 750W Modular PSU  
Sabertooth P67-750 in depth.

AMD vs Intel

YouTube Video





© Tom de Havas 2011. The information under this section is my own work it may be reproduced without modification but must include this notice.