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Hardware Linux

Building a $200 Linux PC 300

Posted by Soulskill
from the cost-of-a-cheap-tux dept.
WesternActor writes "Computers are getting cheaper to buy every year, but there are still sometimes advantages to building them yourself. ExtremeTech has a story about how they sought out the parts for a $200 computer that (of course) runs Linux as a way of breaking the budget barrier. They even test it against a commercially available eMachines nettop to see how it compares in terms of performance. This probably isn't something everyone will want to do, but it's an interesting example of something you can do on the cheap if you put your mind to it."
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Building a $200 Linux PC

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  • What about atom? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:50AM (#33021046)

    For the price they paid for CPU+mobo they could have got a mobo with an Atom CPU soldered in. That socket doesn't come for free and, after all, when was the last time you had a CPU upgrade? By the time you want more performance you will most likely get a whole new system.

  • by adosch (1397357) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:00AM (#33021096)
    Linux has always had the extreme flexibility to run on a wide range of processors types not to mention still get a nominal amount of performance and use out of something that is deemed 'obsolete' by Moore's Law. That's why I don't do bleeding edge hardware at home unless I have an absolute need for it (e.g. gaming, or some bloatware application that needs that type of horsepower) and it works great to be a bargain-basement shopper. Do I find this article surprising? Not at all.
  • Re:$200??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tgatliff (311583) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:01AM (#33021098)

    I think you would agree that performance no longer is a problem is most cases... Meaning, those HP desktops most likely will perform just as well (and long) as the new ones of today. Pretty sad if you think about it...

  • by sortius_nod (1080919) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:05AM (#33021132) Homepage

    I somewhat agree, however the performance difference is massive between an Athalon and an Atom. For a fully featured computer, you really want a proper processor.

    I've looked down both paths a lot in the past, and you pay for flexibility. That being said, it's about the same price, so why not go with a decent processor?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:11AM (#33021158)
    No, they spent $20 to get a system that's five to ten times faster than the Atom would be yet still be within the $200 budget. Even if they could use the diff to get another meg of memory it'd never make up for it in practice.
  • by FreonTrip (694097) <freontrip@gmailEULER.com minus math_god> on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:12AM (#33021160)
    Newer Atoms fully support x86_64, but will not be quick.
  • by dirtyhippie (259852) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:30AM (#33021254) Homepage

    excluding taxes and shipping is pretty ridiculous. they could easily add 1/4 to the budget, and if saving money (not just "ooh, look what i can do") is really a goal, they would have included it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:37AM (#33021284)

    The problem with buying an Atom is you will want to upgrade it straight away because they are so fucking slow.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:40AM (#33021306)

    Since Windows 7 Home Premium retains for $199.99 it obviously has to run Linux otherwise it would be a $400 PC.

    I remember reading an article about 15 years ago that said the operating system used to account for 2% of the cost of a PC but by then it was 10% of the cost. It seems that thanks to falling hardware prices and rising prices from Microsoft we've now hit the point where the operating system can be 50% of the cost of the PC.

    For purely economical reasons children should use Linux exclusively in schools. As things stand the education system is just generating customers for Microsoft which allows Microsoft to charge whatever they want for the products. I say this as somebody who uses Windows exclusively and who's pissed off at the prices Microsoft charge for their retail software. If I'd grown up using Linux I'd have saved myself a lot of money.

    Well, here's the thing. That 199 price you mention? School systems don't pay that because...none of them are buying retail boxes off the shelf. Most would probably have a volume license through a support contract from some vendor, which may be somebody like Dell that covers them top to bottom, or it may be a mix of providers for hardware and software. To demonstrate an economical advantage, you have to consider their real costs, and no, they can't rely on some geek who knows stuff.

    Besides, this whole thing about generating customers? There was a time where Apple owned the education market...it didn't transfer over at all, except I suppose to a few niche segments which Apple had anyway.

  • Used (Score:4, Insightful)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:40AM (#33021310) Homepage
    I get computers for the school staff for $90 apiece at http://www.techcentercomputers.com/ [techcentercomputers.com] P4, 512MB, 80GB, XP.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:41AM (#33021314)
    There's this new thing called "teh internets", where it's possible to buy things from out of state, where you don't have to pay any sales tax. Also, I hear that some of the vendors you can find on this internets thing don't charge for shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount. If you're paying 25% for shipping, you're not doing it right.
  • by Simonetta (207550) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:58AM (#33021414)

    I don't see the point of this entire article. Why not just buy a used $200 PC and install Linux on it? Or just keep the Windows and install Linux as a dual-boot (If possible)? There are millions of used $200 PCs available. Nearly all will last another five years at least with normal use.

  • Re:$200??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:05PM (#33021448)
    A 3 GHz P4 is slower on single-threaded applications than most 2.2GHz single/dual core processors (AMD Athalon/Core2) simply because P4's had high clocks but a poorly designed and underperforming architecture that made instructions take more cycles and memory accesses more frequent than on the Athalon/Core2's.

    What you see as "faster" is probably a combination of perception, dependencies on networked software, and background software overhead (anti-virus, outlook, etc) that tends to bog down business computers.

    I say this, because a company I work for bought a set of Dell XPS computers a year ago (small project was required to spend around 6k/computer for the amount to be high enough to justify procurement), each with Core2Quads, 8gb+ of ram, bunch of other toys with massive screens, blah blah...

    Anyhow, the XPS's run about like a 3 GHz P4 desktop-replacement-laptop my mother bought back in 2005.

    *Both* feel like they have a small fraction of the power of an AMD 64 X2 4400+ (2.2ghz) based desktop that I built back in 2007.

    What I'm trying to say is that your claim doesn't make any sense from an architectural standpoint if you're familiar with the P4 architectures, and for good reason, since what you perceive as speed has to do with many other factors than the processor and thread handling behavior.
  • Re:$200??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rockoon (1252108) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:23PM (#33021562)
    ..and considering that the AM3 will hold both the Phenom II 1055T and 1090T, which are both 6 core enthusiast monsters.. I've got to give them +++CREDIT TO TEAM+++ .. the machine is upgradeable all the way to the current bleeding edge.
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:31PM (#33021608)
    foxconn branded boards look good on paper, but they fail in about year. Like everyone keeps saying, just buy a well built Intel Atom based system.
  • by XanC (644172) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:33PM (#33021618)

    What's the point of not pirating if you're going to violate the license anyway?

  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:34PM (#33021622) Journal
    The problem with upgrading just the cpu is that you're throwing out a cpu. Most people will upgrade both the cpu and motherboard, and keep the old ones as a spare, or make them into a headless file server, or give away the whole thing.

    Also, most people would be better off buying a cheap dual-core laptop $479 - 3 gig ram, dual core, 320 gig hd), refusing the MS install (-$55) and getting a refund on Windows, and they also won't have to buy a monitor (-$100), keyboard and mouse (-$25) mouse, ups (-$40), or wireless networking to steal wifi since they're so cheap ($25). So, laptop $479-$245=$234 vs their machine ($192) = $42 (and you don't have to pay shipping on the laptop or assemple it), for twice the hd space and 3x the ram - or you can sell the 2 gigs of ram to someone else and you're ahead of the game.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:51PM (#33021754) Homepage Journal

    Nah, no one ever accomplished those simple tasks before multicore processors were available.

        </sarcasm>

        Really, if they wanted a basic machine, as they indicated, they'd go with the cheapest processor, 128Mb RAM, etc, etc. You can set up most Linux distros to work in very tight constraints, and going with the slowest cheapest processor available new, and the smallest stick of ram available, may have come out cheaper.

        Quite a while ago, when 133Mhz Pentiums were the norm, I was looking at an old machine that someone had given to me. It was an old 386 server. I was pondering "what will I do with this piece of shit", and finally put Linux on it and took it out for a test drive. It was pathetically slow, but it did the bare minimum that he specified. I didn't use it for much, since I had a blazing fast 200Mhz machine for my normal use. Who'd ever need anything faster. :) Eventually, it made it's way to the dumpster.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @01:41PM (#33022070)

    Why would they get a new monitor? You can find one at a garage sale for $25 if you really want a cheap computer. Also, just because the laptop has a battery, does not mean the desktop needs one, and the same for wifi. In addition, it is not easy to get a $55 Windows refund anymore.

    So while your analysis works for some use cases, it does not necessarily for a significant amount of them.

    As a side note, why subtract from the laptop instead of adding to the desktop? While that does get you the right difference, the number you get is useless ($234 for a theoretical laptop without its desktop monitor, keyboard, or mouse). It would be much clearer if you gave a number for the desktop including necessary components.

  • by Seth Kriticos (1227934) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @01:53PM (#33022158)

    I think there's a market for a cheap Atom-based Linux box used for internet browsing, but the Athlon II X2 245 is literally at least four times faster at everything.

    Indeed, it's around 4x faster at everything, including sucking up electric power and converting it to heat.

    The atom has a TDP of 8-14 W while the Athlon II is between 25-65 W. If you let both machines run for two years, then the combined purchasing price + the running cost put the Athlon in a very unfavorable spot, especially if you don't need the processing power on a regular basis.

    If you have a good reason to get a fast, power hungry CPU, then fine, but otherwise is would be a waste. Which is what I was wondering in the article about: what's the purpose of this kind of setup? Ignoring the running cost, noise output and some other factors. They seem to have been bored.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @05:20PM (#33023550)
    Sure, but no matter how much energy you are using you are paying the same rate. Its like getting an infinite amount of gas for $50 a month and deciding to drive a hybrid, if you don't have any cap, go all out and get the most power for your money.

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