The Ultimate Do-It-Yourself Linux Box
You've got a wide range of drives to choose from, and good SATA drives are amazingly inexpensive. We chose two Seagate Barracuda 300GB 7200 RPM drives with 8MB Cache. These drives are SATA 3.0Gb/s drives, so they're fast, and all three motherboards can handle these types of drives. We chose two identical drives for RAID 0 configuration, which produces even faster disk access (though without any fault tolerance). You can pick just one of these if you're on a budget. They go for about $100 US each. If you're not a fan of Seagate for any reason, you can get other brands of drives that work just as well for about the same price.
Plextor offers a SATA DVD R+W drive, the PX-716AL/SW for about $150 US. This drive has the following write speeds: DVD+R at 16x, DVD+RW at 8x, DVD-R at 16x, DVD-RW at 4x, CD-R at 48x, CD-RW at 24x, DVD+R DL at 6x and DVD-R DL at 6x. It offers read speeds at 16x DVD-ROM and 48x CD-ROM. Be careful when selecting a SATA-based DVD/CD drive, however. You can run into Linux installation problems if you choose a Linux distribution with a kernel configured such that it doesn't recognize a SATA DVD/CD drive properly.
We chose a Plextor PX-750A ATAPI drive for our budget combination, because it costs only about $60 US. You can find cheaper drives, but the less you pay, the noisier and more unreliable they tend to be.
Of course, you will need, at the very least, a monitor, keyboard and mouse to have a complete system. We don't make much of a favorite monitor, keyboard or mouse because your favorites will depend a great deal on your personal tastes. Some people like wide monitors; others don't. Some people like wireless keyboards; others don't. Some people like ergonomic design; others don't.
Our summary sample configurations do include a monitor, keyboard and mouse. We did so only to give you an idea of the total price you can expect if you are going to put together a complete system. Your total price probably won't change much if you choose a different keyboard or mouse, but monitor prices vary greatly depending on what kind of monitor you want. So, take our prices with a grain of salt. If you opt for a big, wide-screen monitor, you're obviously going to pay more.
We chose for our example a Samsung 204B, because it has a fairly large screen (20"), good resolution (1600x1200), good contrast ratio (800:1) and an unusually fast response time (only 5ms). It's a great monitor for work and gaming, at a good price—about $400 US.
Extremely budget-minded people can go for something like the Acer AL1515, which is smaller (15"), lower resolution (1024x768) and much slower (16ms). This monitor can be good for work but terrible for gaming. But the price is much lower at about $150 US.
As for keyboard and mouse, we chose two Logitech combinations, the Wireless Comfort Duo (about $75 US) and the wired Internet Pro (about $18 US). You have a lot of wiggle room here. You can get better keyboards and mice without having to spend a whole lot more money, but the Comfort Duo should be enough for most users. We happened to replace the mouse that comes with the Comfort Duo with a Logitech G7 Laser Cordless, but you may find this mouse to be a royal pain, because it requires you to swap batteries as much as twice daily. Fortunately, it comes with two lithium ion batteries, one of which stays in a charger while you use the other. But because this is an unlikely choice for many people, we stuck with the Cordless Duo as the standard choice for the preferred system.
We put together two systems, a great system and a more budget-minded system. If you have money to burn, you easily could pump up the great system into an ultimate system. Trick it out with the two best NVIDIA cards on the market in SLI mode. Add a liquid-cooled system that you connect to everything in the box that generates heat. Go for the top-of-the-line AMD64 processor instead of the 4200+. You'll pay a lot more, but you'll get what you pay for. The AMD Athlon 64 FX60 Toledo runs for just under $1,000 US.
The second combo uses a less-expensive case, a single video card and less memory in order to save cash. You can cut other corners as well, but we chose those components that were at a price threshold where a better component would cost significantly more money. For example, at the time of this writing, the difference between an AMD64 4000+ and an AMD64 4200+ is about $30 US, but the price difference jumps to $100 US between the 4200+ and the 4400+. As mentioned earlier, AMD is likely to have restructured all these prices by the time you read this, so the threshold where the price jumps probably will be different. Choose accordingly.
The same tends to hold true for video cards. There's a point at which the price increase doesn't get you much extra performance, so you have to think hard in order to decide whether you want to spend the extra cash for the edge. At the time of this writing, the NVIDIA 7900GT series is affordable and fast. If you really need a budget card, the eVGA GeForce 6600GT 256MB PCI Express x16 goes for about $150 US, and although it doesn't compete well with the 7900 series, it's no slouch.
Perhaps no category includes a wider variety of prices than monitors. We didn't explore the vast range in our do-it-yourself kit, simply because a choice of monitor can be intensely personal. We can't tell you which one you'll like best, but we can tell you that the price difference between a monitor you like and one you love can be as much as $1,000 US or more. We're very happy with the Samsung 204B. You might need more, or you might be happy with less.
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Editorial Advisory Panel
Thank you to our 2014 Editorial Advisors!
- Jeff Parent
- Brad Baillio
- Nick Baronian
- Steve Case
- Chadalavada Kalyana
- Caleb Cullen
- Keir Davis
- Michael Eager
- Nick Faltys
- Dennis Frey
- Philip Jacob
- Jay Kruizenga
- Steve Marquez
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- Craig Oda
- Mike Roberts
- Chris Stark
- Patrick Swartz
- David Lynch
- Alicia Gibb
- Thomas Quinlan
- Carson McDonald
- Kristen Shoemaker
- Charnell Luchich
- James Walker
- Victor Gregorio
- Hari Boukis
- Brian Conner
- David Lane