Building a new machine for Linux...

I've been out of the hardware loop for a while. Not counting my laptop or work-provided computers, I'm still using a 450MHz K6-2 in an AT case. Gotta love that old Asus T2P4 motherboard; when I bought it EDO RAM was the latest thing, as was the 166MHz K6 I bought with it. That motherboard supported USB before I had even heard of USB! And by now I've taken that board from 32MB all the way to its max of 512MB (then back down to 256MB; it's slightly unstable with memory in the second SIMM bank). But it's starting to feel slow, especially for audio or graphics processing. (Oh yeah, my old machine also includes an ISA Soundblaster AWE64, or maybe a Soundblaster 16; I never use the MIDI capabilities anyway.)

So I'm building a new machine, and learning again. The goals:

  1. Linux Compatibility
  2. Cool & Quiet
  3. Reasonable price for the performance
  4. Responsiveness
  5. Decent 2D multimedia performance; useful multimedia features are a bonus
  6. Durability and future upgradability
Things I don't care about:
  1. Total speed demon
  2. Ultra-fast 3D -- I'm no gamer
  3. More than two channels of sound

This project started when I almost bought a motherboard/CPU/RAM set from someone, but needed the rest of the computer to put it in, since I didn't already have an ATX system, so I went ahead and bought the case, video card, and CD/DVD drive. That deal seems to have fallen through due to being unable to hook up with the seller. So I started looking at how to complete the machine.

Case Enermax CS-501SN-B black tower w/300W PS ~$40 Simple, attractive, decent quality
Optical drive Toshiba SD-R1312 combo CDRW/DVD 32xCDR / 10xCDRW / 40xCD / 12xDVD ~$80 Almost every CD-ROM drive and many of the CDRW drives I've used have been Toshibas. Having both CDRW and DVD in one drive simplifies things, at least until I worry about writable DVD.
Graphics card ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon ~$60 I'd love my computer to be able to record TV (I can't login to my VCR from the internet!), I don't need the latest 3D capabilities, and the ATI Radeon is well-supported in Linux. ATI is highly Linux-aware.
CPU Intel Pentium III (Tualatin) 1.26GHz, 512K cache 2 x ~$170 I'm a big AMD fan, but I also don't like hot processors. The Pentium III seems to be the last of the cool runners (at least that will go in a normal socket rather than a special mobile socket). See the power dissipation numbers in this processor comparison table. Only trouble is that Intel says the cheaper (256K cache) versions are not dual-capable.
Motherboard MSI MS-9105-020 Pro266TD Master-LR Dual-socket370 ~$150 or ~$180 or ~$190 I think it might be time for me to go dual-CPU, especially if I'm already limiting myself to a ~1.2GHz Pentium III rather than going closer to 2GHz or more. Also, DDR memory seems to be the way to go if possible, at least on a dual-processor machine built today, even though it doesn't do much (anything?) for a single Pentium III; anyway I'd like to be able to get good memory prices for a long time. Trouble is, this board is discontinued and the only other dual-PIII/DDR board is around $350.
Sound card Creative Labs Soundblaster Audigy 2 ~$70 or ~$72 or ~$76 Sure, a lot of motherboards these days have onboard sound, but their quality and Linux support can be questionable. 24-bit resolution would be really nice, and the firewire port on these cards wouldn't hurt either.
CPU cooler Verax P10T 2 x $37 An easily overlooked component, it needs to be quiet, effective, and (for socket 370) light. But with processors that put out less than 30W as heat, it doesn't need to be nearly as effective as for Athlons or P4s. Unfortunately, the Tualatin P-III is different enough from the old Coppermine P-III that some of the quiet P-III fans I was considering don't fit the Tualatin.
Monitor Datus / Daewoo Qrum F107
17" 1280x1024 LCD, 20ms refresh, dual analog and DVI-D input, 450:1 contrast ratio, 8-bit color, speakers
$500 $380 on clearance I don't care about the little speakers, but this was a good value.
Power Supply Fortron FSP300-60PN
300W
~$45 120mm fan makes it emit only 20dB

By the way, Pricewatch is a good place to start looking for where to get good prices on this sort of thing.
ResellerRatings is a good place to start finding out how reputable a vendor is.


Rob Funk <rfunk@funknet.net>