The Ultimate Linux Box

We packed unbelievable power in a tank case and added all the trimmings for less than $4,000.

What kind of computer would you build if you decided to spoil yourself, but keep your spending below the big price differential that occurs when you buy the next best thing? We put together a box based on that very principle, and it packs enough power to last years into a tank of a case. Then, we trimmed it with a beautiful 24" display, phat speakers, keyboard and mouse. The final product comes in at $3,887 US, with lots of wiggle room to save money on the pieces of the system you may consider more than you need.

Figure 1. Ultimate Linux Box

Heck, it's almost all more than you need, but if we picked anything less, it wouldn't be the Ultimate Linux Box, would it? If your significant other questions your wisdom, you always can fall back on the following speaker analogy: why buy speakers that have a frequency response outside the range of human hearing? These speakers are more likely to perform well within the range of human hearing, right? And, that's why you indulge in overkill for the Ultimate Linux Box. Maybe you won't push it to its limits, but it will perform better within the limits of your work habits, right? Let me know if your significant other buys the argument. (Don't mention that whatever you buy will be obsolete in six months.)

Don't worry if you get “no” for an answer, or if you're strapped for cash. We didn't forget you. We tossed together a Penultimate Linux Box that totals less than $2,000 US (see The Penultimate Linux Box sidebar). It still packs an amazing amount of power. In fact, even the Penultimate Linux Box leaves wiggle room for saving money if you can get by with a slower CPU or display card. As you shave off options, you also can shave the price off the case and power supply.

But, that's not why most of you are reading this, I hope. You want to drool, and we chose some awesome hardware to get those juices flowing. It all revolves around a stunning ASUS motherboard with an Intel Core 2 Quad processor and 4GB of RAM, coupled with a 3ware RAID controller and RAID cage with four 320GB drives. Add one of the latest, greatest display cards, and you've eliminated performance bottlenecks at every turn.

Keep in mind that all prices are as of the time of writing of this article. Prices drop quickly, so you may be able to purchase better hardware for the same price or the same hardware for less cash. Consider also that products get discontinued (our first display card was discontinued a week after we tried it), and that vendors slipstream changes into hardware. Slipstreamed changes mean you may not get exactly what we tried even if you buy the same make and model of any given piece of the box.

Now that you've been forewarned, read on for the details about our 50-gallon drum of butt-kicking hardware.

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keyboard

Anonymous's picture

I used to own that keyboard (MSNEK 4000), and it is the only keyboard that has ever failed on me. It is not a very good keyboard for the price. The keys are mushy and the leg stands broke after a few months. It was also a pain when it first came out to get most of the keys working. I could never get the zoom slider to work with any software. It also has a windows (super) key, which on a linux computer, is analogous to putting a Hyundai emblem on a BMW. However, if you insist on getting a keyboard with the natural layout, go for the older Natural Elite.

No mention of RAID compatible drives...

Anonymous's picture

Hmmm, recommending RAID, but failing to mention the problem with hardware RAID and some hard drives...did you check 3ware's RAID site to see if you are using drives approved by 3ware? One of your recent articles, the one about the 12 TB or 16 TB or whatever high TB backup server build detailed the issue of RAID and jackass hard drive manufacturers with their crappy firmware and the necessity of flashing new firmware on some hard drives to get them to try to work correctly with hardware RAID...

Having been burned by Maxtor (iirc) dropping out of a RAID 5 array (kind of ironic, would be funny too unless you try and wrap your head around redundancy and drives dropping out of RAID 5 with hot-spare and the reasons for spending A LOT of money on RAID 5 capable hardware RAID and the cost of all the drives...) dropping out of the array because of firmware putting the drives to "sleep" during "inactivity", and the subsequent necessity of moving all the data back off the RAID array so you can shut down the workstation or server to remove the drives from the RAID array, plug them into the motheboard ports, flash them inddividually, then reinstall on the RAID card, re-initialize them over another half day to full day, reinstall the OS and data...finding out about all this after you install the OS and migrate the data to the array...priceless. And one way for hard drive manufacturers to be placed on the permanent sh*t list...

If you're going to be showcasing a RAID card in your builds, when you KNOW that some of your readers are going to follow most or all of the build as their spec sheet...you have a duty to call the hard drive/RAID compatibility issue out, whether you're beholden to your advertisers/potential advertisers or not. Otherwise your just as guilty as the tech review sites who continued to use Deathstars in their review rigs without mentioning the Deathstar issue when most other tech sites were reporting on the issue and covering the subsequent class action lawsuit and the later exiting of IBM from the hard drive business. The fact that other sites were covering the issue didn't mitigate the fact that some sites continued to use (and list) the Deathstars in their test rigs during their performance testing and reporting. Nor is it a mitigating factor that a tech review site can't afford to buy new drives since they recently purchased the Deathstars...one of the excuses I was given when I called them on the issue in an email, nor did they address the issue in their response to me of not mentioning the Deathstar issue somewhere in each performance shootout of other hardware.

Finding out that you could've avoided the hard drive firmware flashing chore after you purchase the drives doesn't exactly make a happy camper. Finding out that the manufacturer's drives are to be avoided at all, or that you purchased the drives and the return period ran out while you waited for other hardware to be delivered/back-ordered, or that you'll have to pay a restocking fee, or that the vendor doesn't accept returns of OEM drives...all because there wasn't a heads up in the article about the "approved drive" or bad hard drive manufacturer firmware issue...especially for specs for a computer that isn't really a server and may likely be someone's first experience with hardware RAID...especially for someone who in all probability will be ordering the hard drives and RAID card at the same time...

Just a minor observation... ;-p

Linuxjournal redefines RAID levels...

Anonymous's picture

"We configured Kubuntu 7.04 to run RAID 0+1 (also known as RAID 10)"

;-)

An observation I'd expect from PC Magazine or other Ziff Davis publications, not Linuxjournal.

"RAID 0+1 is NOT to be confused with RAID 10. A single drive failure will cause the whole array to become, in essence, a RAID Level 0 array"

Perhaps a RAID refresher, especially the part about fault tolerance between 0+1 and 10 would be appropriate?

Interesting article. A setup with AMD Phenom quad core cpu would be nice, along with if the possibility of a dual phenom quad core cpu motherboard is available, comparison would be great as well. I thought you needed specific dual version or 8-way versions of Opterons for multi-socket boards, hence the existence of 2xxx and 8xxx versions of Opterons in addition to 1xxx versions (I'm aware that there are other specific advantages to the multi-socket versions of Opterons, better communication between the cpus, but from what I remember of the AMD Durons being used in dual-socket boards when that wasn't intended by AMD and they tried to prevent this through locking the cpus...

I guess I'll have to check out 2cpu.com if they are still around and other dual AMD sites if they still exist to see what my options are before I spec out a new computer. Hope there are lower cost options out there for home workstations without moving up to a SuperMicro board or other workstation/server board intended for business processing. And even for non-servers, some of us are able to put 4/8 cores to use, as well as 4 GB and more memory even though we aren't compiling anything. So don't assume...

How about an almost-ultimate desktop box that doesn't require a gaming class graphics card or electrical breaker jumping cpu/power supply? Say a low-power Phenom quad core or highest clock speed Phenom at 95 watt class rather than the 125 watt class, 4 GB memory, what motherboard, sane cooling, etc.

How about a desktop cooled via ducting, duct tape (if necessary, don't discount it), a custom built manifold made out of cardboard > and a 20" box fan located in another room for silent cooling in one of your buildups?

How about a 4 port Areca card intead of a 3ware card, where RAID 5 & 6 levels (they're not the same, ;-p btw) become possible, or RAID 5 with hot-spare...I'd personally go with RAID 10 on one of these builds, with at least one hot spare (having suffered catastrophic deathstar-related data loss when two mirrored drives failed within hours of each other, teaching me a good lesson on the value of hardware RAID, appropriate RAID levels, hot-spare value, and the subsequent lesson Adaptec burnished into me on fake "hardware" RAID and Linux support). The problem with RAID 10 with hot-spare however, is that it requires an Areca or 3ware board with more than 4 ports, which means jumping up to an 8 port card and the extra 150% plus cost that entails.

Since you're running Drupal, reCaptcha is also an option. I'd guess you're Captcha solution is too easy to break, isn't it? Also, how about enabling the blockquote tag, I see it isn't working...

Cover info in error

Jay Griffin's picture

On the the cover of this September issue at the bottom there was the bullet info for the Ultimate Linux Box that had an error. The cost amount showed "$4,0000" and was meant to have been "$4,000" most likely. I believe this was overlooked by the proof staff in their overview before release. I would think that the cover, in the marketing aspect, should be the most verified and looked over part of the developement stages prior to entering the internal editorial stage. I am sure it was just an oversight by the delivery team. In short, it was kind of an eye catcher for me. I wonder if anyone else caught it?

Keep up the Great Linux coverage.

Nah mate ... perhaps you

Anonymous's picture

Nah mate ... perhaps you should get out more ..

That junky keyboard is bent.

Anonymous's picture

That junky keyboard is bent. Your missing several buttons from your mouse. That screen is too small. That box has too much excess trim. It lags...

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