The Ultimate Linux Box
We chose Patriot eXtreme Performance 4GB (2 x 2GB modules) 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM, which sells for about $250. Linux can use all 4GB of RAM whether you run a 32-bit x86 or 64-bit x86_64 kernel, but most people won't really need 4GB of RAM even with four CPU cores. If you want to cut back on the total price, you can try the CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB modules) 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM, which runs about $160. The latency on the CORSAIR modules is actually better than the Patriot eXtreme. The CORSAIR timing is: 4-4-4-12, and the Patriot is 5-5-5-12. We've run benchmarks that show that lower latency helps performance, especially with AMD processors, but if you can tell the difference in actual everyday use, let us know. We can't.
Regardless of the memory modules you choose, make sure you insert them into the correct slots for dual-channel operation. In the case of the ASUS Striker Extreme, it is the first and third slot (every other memory slot, with matching colors).
The ASUS motherboard has what it calls integrated RAID onboard, as is true of most motherboards available today. This is really a misnomer. There is no hardware RAID controller on this or most other motherboards. The onboard RAID is really just a multichannel SATA controller. We configured Kubuntu 7.04 to run RAID 0+1 (also known as RAID 10) using four drives attached to the onboard SATA. It worked fine, but it was much more trouble than it was worth, so we do not recommend that approach. It is an especially bad idea if you intend to run more than one version of Linux on the same machine. It was hard enough going through the procedure once. We wouldn't want to repeat the process for every distribution we tried.
If you really want to use RAID, take our advice and buy a real RAID controller card. We chose the 3ware 9650SE-4LPML PCI Express controller. We connected four drives and configured them in RAID 10, which provides the best performance and safety at the cost of disk space. It stripes two sets of two drives, mirrored. The striping gives you the performance. The mirroring gives you safety, because you can replace a failed drive without losing any data. However, because two drives are redundant, you get half the disk space of your four drives. Our four 320GB drives gave us about 640GB of disk space.
If you really want more storage space than we created, you can buy larger drives or sacrifice some performance and configure your array as RAID 5. RAID 5 trades write performance for more storage space.
The 3ware controller is superb. It delivers excellent performance and it is very easy to set up. You press Alt-3 to activate the setup screen at boot time. This utility allows you to create storage specifically for booting operating systems, but you don't need to use this feature. It may be necessary for other operating systems, but you can boot fine from the RAID array with Linux by using normal RAID partitions.
You can add a battery backup unit to the RAID controller so that you are less likely to lose data if you experience a power outage. We didn't include the battery backup as part of our ultimate box though.
You shouldn't need to add drives to your system via the onboard NVIDIA SATA controller if you use this RAID card. If you do add drives to the onboard SATA, however, be warned that some Linux distributions may get confused about the order of drives in your system. We tried adding a drive and did not experience this problem with this particular combination of components, but this problem has reared its ugly head with other similar configurations, so we assume it's still possible.
You may see an on-screen message at boot time that says the controller is not compatible with your BIOS. It goes by so quickly that you may miss it. If that concerns you, there are a variety of other RAID cards from which to choose. However, despite this warning, our 3ware card has performed without a hitch for weeks, and we love the fact that the Linux kernel has great support for the card by default.
The card is PCI Express x 4, which works fine in the middle PCI Express slot of the motherboard. If you go with our recommendation, make sure you plug the card in to the center PCI Express slot, not the second PCI Express slot for video SLI. You will experience lockups and problems if you choose the latter slot.
Some might consider a RAID cage to be frivolous. But this is the Ultimate Box after all, so we're including the 3ware RAID cage that lets you hot swap four drives in the space of three 5.25" drive bays. Aside from easy drive replacement, the RAID cage has two advantages over mounting the drives normally. First, the 3.5" hard drive cage in the case fits only two drives if you want good air circulation. You would have to mount at least two of the drives in the 5.25" area, and then add drive fans if you want to keep them cool. The RAID cage lets you pack all the drives in one small space, and it comes with its own set of fans to keep them cool. The cage also requires only two power sources, instead of one for each drive.
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