[Techtalk] Best components for a new Linux box? (was: Building boxen)

Akkana akkana at shallowsky.com
Tue Nov 13 21:48:41 EST 2001

Rachel Andrew writes:
> What would be a good spec for Linux box? (I'm not well off so this would 
> have to be relatively inexpensive components.) I'm very capable of building 

I've found recent Linux distros to be very forgiving of motherboard,
video card, and all the IDE disks.  For motherboard and video card,
you're safest if you avoid the latest-and-greatest and stick to hardware
that's a year or so old.  Check around for bargains, then before you
buy, run home and do a quick web search on "linux [cardname]" to make
sure there aren't any major problems.  I haven't had much luck with
making lists of supported hardware then going to stores with lists
in hand: invariably any hardware old enough to show up on lists 
on the net is too old to still be on the shelves of Fry's.

Avoid USB if you don't want hassles.  USB support is getting much
better, and lots of devices are supported, but lots more aren't.

You can use as little as a 2G disk if you just want a minimal Linux
system and a small amount of space to play around; 4-5G is more
comfortable and can probably be had for not much more money.  
You can get disks under 10G for very little money at used places
or swap meets, as well as case, power supply, mouse and keyboard.

Ethernet cards are the biggest problem.  My husband just went
through a 2-day ordeal trying to get a new network card (because I
swiped our last spare for my new box).  Everything that we could
buy at the local Fry's or MicroCenter was something known not to
work or to be flaky with Linux -- Neagear, Linksys, and lots of
Taiwanese no-name boards (mostly NE2000 clones -- apparently a
real NE2000 chipset works, but clones usually don't, including
the one we tried).  When ethernet cards were discussed on this list
last month, everybody recommended 3com or Intel, but you can't actually
buy either of those now (3com stopped making ethernet cards some time
ago, and Intel supposedly makes them but hasn't been shipping any to
stores in quite some time).  We ended up at a used place where they had
a box of old 3com cards, but the first two didn't work (Linux recognized
them but they were fried, just plain didn't work in either Linux or
Windows), so that's a total of 5 round-trips to get a NIC. :-(

(However, I did follow my own advice and ask the salesman at Microcenter
that we were looking for a network card to work with Linux, and he
turned out to be a Linux user himself, working there because of a
layoff.  He knew a lot and we had a great discussion, but eventually
we decided there weren't any reasonable cards there and he sent us
off to a nearby used-hardware place.)

Modems are about the same level of difficulty as ethernet cards,
though there's always the option of an external modem (for a lot more
money.)  US Robotics seems to do better than other manufacturers
(less likely to be winmodems), both serial and USB.


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