Focus: Hardware

by Don Marti

A man went to the doctor and said, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”

“Well, don't do that, then,” said the doctor.

Simple but good advice. In the world of Linux, many people subject themselves to pain and suffering trying to get Linux to work on crummy hardware, when they could just not do that, and instead do some research (LJ is a great resource) to find hardware that works well. That doesn't mean wizards who want to hack new drivers shouldn't try to get Linux working on bad, even pathologically stupid, hardware if they want. But if you're planning to get a new web server on the Net by Monday, don't start grabbing random crap off the shelf at Discount Computer Land on Sunday night.

If you're on a shopping trip for PC hardware, and you come across this magazine in your favorite computer store, read the hardware articles before you hit the aisles. Picking high-quality, Linux-compatible parts will save you a lot of time and effort, and will encourage the hardware vendors to test their stuff with Linux in the first place. Buy the magazine afterward, though. If you promise to buy the magazine and the store people say “Hey, this isn't a library,” you can point them to this:

Hello, nice computer store person. Please let this customer read the hardware articles because he or she promises to buy the magazine, and you might sell some hardware, too. Thank you.

The Duron is the “cheap version” of AMD's Athlon CPU. It's not as fast as the fastest Athlons or Pentium IIIs, it doesn't have as much cache, but it is very usable in a good basic desktop machine that runs StarOffice, the GIMP or your favorite development tools. ASL, Inc. has built a respectable Linux workstation around Duron, with top-quality parts and performance that's more than adequate for almost everyone.

Everyone, that is, except people who want the current top-of-the-line Linux machine. Jason Collins, Mike Higashi, Sam Ockman and I sat down for a fine dinner at Taqueria Los Charros in Mountain View to discuss hot hardware, cool cases and fans, and we got some good recommendations from Eric Raymond and Darryl Strauss, too. So check out the article if you're building a no-compromises workstation, and if you're ever in Mountain View, I recommend the super carnitas burrito.

Thinking of dual booting? Well, don't. If you're seriously into learning Linux, don't handicap yourself by putting it on a spare partition on the same machine with all your legacy stuff. The First Law of Dual Booting states that “The application you need is always on the other OS.” So where do you put Linux? On a cheap but stable Linux system, naturally. Jason Schumaker took a savage journey into the heart of the cheap hardware market, and emerged with “Return of Revenge of the Killer $800 Linux Box”--a good selection of high-quality parts that are trouble-free with any Linux software you care to name. That is more than you can say for most PC vendor's low-end desktop box du jour. Whether you're building a cheap box to learn Linux or building a main machine on a budget, Jason's selection is a good place to start.

Feature Articles on Hardware

—Don Marti

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