Monday, 1 February 2010

Choosing hardware and software for your next Linux computer.


Software

When choosing to buy or build a computer, I would first off think about what you want it for, and then choose the software then the right hardware. If you going to be doing professional graphics/audio/video work, I'd consider a Mac, as there are some good second hand deals out there. My Powermac G4 (dual 1Ghz MDD, with 2GB ram, room for 4 IDE hard drives) is still a good usable machine, even for light multimedia usage. The only real reason to use Windows is really for games, although there are quite a few, mostly non-commercial, games for Linux and Mac. Even then you can still dual-boot a PC or a Mac. I only boot into Windows for the occasional game of GTA SA and Need For Speed games. You can also play a certain amount of Windows games using WINE. For native Linux games, DJL is a great Steam-like game manager that makes it easy to find what you want.

If you need a machine for an everyday desktop work, web browsing, playing music, media server, and everything else, you can't go wrong with Linux. For me, Ubuntu is the most user-friendly distro. It's the one I have had the best experience with and I feel like it keeps getting better. Feel free to play the distro feild, as it costs nothing but a little download usage. In fact you can get an Ubuntu disc sent to your door for free! Distrowatch is a good place to find the right distro for you. These days there's no reason not to go 64 bit, unless your hardware doesn't support it, as it supports more than 4GB of ram and can give a performance increase.


Hardware

When building or buying hardware for use with Linux, do a bit of Googling to see if anyone has had problems with your chosen hardware. At the moment Nvidia is the best choice for a smooth Linux experience. You'll be rewarded with good performance and lovely compiz goodness! I would avoid onboard graphics as the performance is not so good and it usually borrows from your RAM. Motherboard-wise you can't go wrong generally, except with specific makers e.g. Foxconn. For wireless cards, I have had the best luck with those cards with ralink chipsets. I've had several Edimax and Belkin cards (USB, PCMCIA and USB) that work well with Linux. I have to say I don't like USB dongle-type devices anymore as i have had them overheat and die on me. Most soundcards seem to work OK with Linux, some better than others. Despite problems in the past most Creative cards work fine, though you might need to research a little with X-Fi cards. For printers, HP and Epson work well, avoid Lexmark/Dell. Similarly as HP/Compaq support Linux a lot of there hardware works well with it. There's a good list of hardware makers that support Linux here. Also have a look at the Linux Hardware Compatibility database. After choosing the main hardware, choose a suitable case to house it in, with a decent power supply.
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