Building the Ultimate Linux Box
For the power supply, the three of us agreed on a vendor: PC Power & Cooling. PCP & C has a reputation for making good units and, as a bonus, quiet ones. PCP & C justified our confidence when they told me of their brand-new 450A4 unit, specifically designed for use with the S2462. And at 44dBA, the A4 counts as pretty quiet.
In May, Tom's Hardware compared 46 CPU coolers. The clear standout is the Silverado from Noise Control, Inc., rated best in cooling performance at 30°C and second-best in noise emission, only 37dBA. Typical coolers emit about 50dBA. The Silverado's only real drawback is that it's large—80mm long, 56mm wide, 113mm high—so you need to be careful about case clearances.
We can avoid having our case fans add more than a bare minimum to the machine's decibel output by specifying cooling fans that have ball bearings rather than the cheaper and more common sleeve bearings. This will cut machine noise by an appreciable degree, especially the annoying, whining high-frequency component, which is mostly bearing noise.
PC Power & Cooling makes 20dBA Silencer 80mm ball-bearing case fans. Specify the three-pin connectors to plug into the motherboard, not the four-pin connectors meant to be plugged into the power supply.
We're going to be specifying fast-wide LVD drives, the cutting edge in SCSI devices. Within that class, the important statistics are seek time, rotational latency, capacity, heat dissipation and noise output. Mean time between failure is long enough on the leading brands that you're quite unlikely to see one before your system is years obsolete.
A StorageReview.com search confirmed anecdotal evidence from Rick Moen. He likes IBM's current product line, the UltraStar. With a 4.2ms seek time, they edge ahead of competition from Seagate, Quantum and Fujitsu. Rick believes they run relatively cool, too, and we hear they smoked the competition in some comparative trials run by Evi Nemeth at the CAIDA Project. So we'll add two IBM UltraStar 36Z15 drives to the parts list.
We also want to be able to read (and write) CD-ROMs. Again, StorageReview.com confirms Rick's anecdotal report, tapping the 32-speed Plextor PX W1210TS as the best-of-breed among SCSI CD-RW drives.
CD-R/CD-RW drives by their nature have head assemblies much more massive than those of ordinary read-only CD drives. Why? Because they mount burn lasers. Much greater mass means much greater inertia and much faster mechanical wear, and the considerable heat generated during burn cycles also takes its toll. Accordingly, the MTBF times for CD-R/CD-RW drives are markedly shorter than for regular CD drives. One should not use CD-R/CD-RW drives for mundane read operations, but rather only for CD-burning. Accordingly, if you really have the need for a CD-R or CD-RW drive, you also need a second, read-only drive for everyday CD-reading.
Daryll Strauss chimes in with: “Buy a DVD-ROM rather than an ordinary CD-ROM. Typically the transfer rates are just as good, if not better, because the base DVD rotational speed is higher to begin with.”
A DVD is a must-have for another reason; any true dream system for a Linux hacker must include the ability to violate the anti-fair-use clauses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by playing DVDs, even if (like me) the hacker is basically uninterested in DVDs per se. It's ethically imperative.
Presently, only two models of SCSI DVD-ROM are available: the 304S/305S by Pioneer and the SD-M1201B by Toshiba. The Toshiba is 5X as a DVD drive and 32X as a CD-ROM drive; the Pioneer's numbers are 10X and 40X. Easy call, especially since the Toshiba is actually more expensive.
History says that the top-of-the-line Hewlett-Packard tape drive is either going to be the best-of-breed or close. The top-of-the-line HP DDS4 drive appears to be the C5685, with a capacity of 40GB and a transfer rate of 21.6GB/hour (assuming hardware compression).
For my purposes, clearly displaying a lot of text at relatively small font sizes is the most important thing I want a monitor to do. Thus I pick the only monitor PC World rates as excellent at both text and graphics, the Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2060u. It supports 2048 × 1536 at 75Hz, a refresh speed comfortably above flicker level.
Daryll is a graphics expert and part of the team working on the Linux drivers for ATI's high-end Radeon card. He tells us that for the foreseeable future (or at least until NVIDIA gets a clue about open source) the Radeon will be the best high-end graphics card with entirely open-source drivers. So we add one ATI Radeon 64MB card.
Because this is a development box rather than a gaming machine, it's more important that a sound card be well supported with stable drivers than that it hug the bleeding edge of audio technology. The safe choice seems to be the SoundBlaster Live Platinum 5.1. ConsumerSearch's top speaker pick, rated excellent for both game play and music, is the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1.
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