help me chose a new computer
February 7, 2009 1:18 AM   Subscribe

Help me choose a Linux desktop computer (UK)

My desktop finally died this weekend and I'm ordering a new one on Monday. It will be used for general web surfing, word processing etc. The only heavy-duty application is raw photo processing (using bibble and rawtherapee). No need for any graphics acceleration.

I plan to run Ubuntu 8.10 and my budget is very limited (close to £200). I've built all of my computers in the past, and would be happy to do so again, but I've read in various places that you can't really save money doing this any more, now that companies are turning out such huge volumes. Also, it's been so long that I really have no idea about the current generations of cpus. I have all peripherals, all I need is case+psu+motherboard+cpu+ram.

I'm looking at this ebuyer deal:

http://www.ebuyer.com/product/155468/bundles

Is this a good bet? Are there any warning signs that any of the components won't get along with Linux? or can anyone suggest any alternatives?
posted by primer_dimer to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Without looking at the ebuyer deal I would still suggest just building your own.

For GNU/linux at the moment I would suggest going with a low end name-brand motherboard (say Asus or Gigabyte) with an intel chipset. Then put in a low-end intel core 2 cpu. The Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 will be sufficient.

The reason I suggest an Intel chipset is that they are now fully supporting FOSS drivers for their graphics. This will make life easier.

Now the part why building your own is worthwhile. Buy a decent power supply or buy a case that includes a decent power supply. Most of the cheap deals on computers will have a crappy power supply and this is not one place that you want to save. A good power supply will lengthen the life of your computer and lessen the risk of it dying catastrophically one day. I'd also suggest buying a nice case (I'd suggest Antec) as that is something you can keep when you upgrade. But you could go cheap on that for now if money is tight.

In summary - low powered intel CPU, Intel chipset, 2GB RAM, good power supply.

I'm running Ubuntu 8.10 on just such a configuration assembled about 18 months ago when low-end was obviously less powerful than low-end today and Ubuntu runs beautifully on it.
posted by Sitegeist at 3:29 AM on February 7, 2009


Some warnings I can think of in no particular order, mostly related to things I have gleaned by being a long time follower of the linux audio users list serve:

Intel HDA audio is bad under a Linux system, so if you care at all about audio quality or want to record or make music, do not use Intel HDA.

Get a mobo with a bios that plays nicely with Linux, some are better than others and some are just awful, I think I remember someone recommending acer.

Search the Ubuntu support forums for the hardware you want to use, item by item - it is an easy way to see which hardware people are having trouble with.

Ricoh chipset based firewire controllers don't work so well with Linux (specifically I have heard complaints about firewire audio cards working poorly when used with controllers that have ricoh chipsets).

If you get a soundcard with hardware level mixing, this works around one of the least polished parts of the Linux user experience, apps that make sound hogging the sound card and preventing all other apps from making sound. Pulseaudio and jack both fix this for different types of user, but can still be a pain in the ass.

Usb1 class compliant sound cards and midi interfaces all work with Linux, without any issues (other than the low bandwidth of usb1). Usb2 is a bit more of a crapshoot, since there are no widely accepted standards.

Hardware that is at least 6 months old, and sells very large numbers of units, will in general work better with Linux than newer and or more obscure hardware. Before most hardware works with Linux, some Linux developer needs to get their hands on it and write a driver (or, as often is the case, adapt an existing driver to work with the quirks of that device).
posted by idiopath at 4:07 AM on February 7, 2009


For 200 £ you can get a netbook like the Aspire One. Add 20 or so for extra memory and you have a very portable computer. The one from ebuyer you listed is good deal and should work well with ubuntu But it's also pretty much overkill for most linux desktop apps imo
posted by uandt at 5:22 AM on February 7, 2009


If you can stretch your budget to £250, the Asus EEE Box looks and is reputed to be a nice little machine. It's sold with Linux, so you can know it'll work, but so far as my web searches go, it looks like it's only sold with XP in the UK.
posted by Zed at 5:23 AM on February 7, 2009


I've used Ars Technica's builders guides over the last ten years and they've never steered me wrong. They include a budget box guide that's really cheap but still decent.

As Sitegeist points out, the risk with cheap boxes built for you is that they save money on non-obvious components like the power supply. The chip looks good, but the RAM is dodgy. You can probably match the price building your own, but then you'll have a box you know is reasonably reliable. And all of Ars' guides are, in practice, guaranteed to work well with linux because they assemble the guides from their forums where a lot of hardcore builders who use linux are discussing components.
posted by fatbird at 10:16 AM on February 7, 2009


I plan to run Ubuntu 8.10 and my budget is very limited (close to £200). I've built all of my computers in the past, and would be happy to do so again, but I've read in various places that you can't really save money doing this any more, now that companies are turning out such huge volumes. Also, it's been so long that I really have no idea about the current generations of cpus. I have all peripherals, all I need is case+psu+motherboard+cpu+ram.

I was in pretty much the same situation a few months ago and put together a dual-core system (self-link) that handles 64bit Ubuntu with no problems whatsoever for US300. If I did it again the only thing I'd do different would be to put a bit more research together and shell out for a slightly better processor.
posted by carsonb at 10:27 AM on February 7, 2009


I don't know what the equivalent is in the UK, but in the US, outlet.dell.com has some decent, cheap systems. All the compnents are ubiquitous, and you can be relatively certain that they'll be supported by Ubuntu.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:17 PM on February 7, 2009


I haven't bought a desktop in over ten years; every one's been hand built. Part of building your own is knowing exactly what's in it from the get go, and planning which things you can expand for later. There's no need to necessarily spend the budget immediately (though 300 dollars is quite low). For example, if you plan to store photos on disk (and not with, say Flickr, or DVD), then you expect to grow your need for disk over time. Rather than buy it all now, get something cheap and small enough (to last for a while) and pick up more disk later at a cheaper price.

One suggestion I'd make today is to budget for backups. I have a newly bought 1 terrabyte file server with disk mirroring I'm putting into use for sharing files and archiving backups. If that's too expensive (likely), I suggest reading JWZ's guide to backups. Your post says you don't need a disk. If you're planning on reusing an existing disk and the new system comes with a disk, you might pick up an enclosure for the new drive and use which ever disk is bigger for JWZ's tips.

I assume though you'll want to dual boot XP in order to run bibble and rawtherapee. If you pick up an Atom processor (in the Eee Box and others) you'll quickly discover that there's a tradeoff between power saving and calculation being made.
posted by pwnguin at 1:18 PM on February 8, 2009


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