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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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  • Re:What about atom? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FreonTrip (694097) <freontrip@@@gmail...com> on Sunday July 25, 2010 @09:59AM (#33021090)
    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. The prices for dual Atom-based boards are also a little bit high for what you get, so from a value proposition what they've done makes sense.

    For what it's worth, I upgraded my CPU about two months ago - from a 2.6 GHz Athlon64 X2 to a 3 GHz Athlon II X2 - and it's been decently peppy. More importantly, it let me take the old CPU and pop it into a cheap Linux box of my own. :)

  • Supported Hardware (Score:4, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit (113459) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:01AM (#33021102) Homepage

    With the right hardware Linux is perfect for old hardware. You can customize and tune it quite a bit better than most other OSes. However, the caveat is that the hardware must be decently supported. For example, I have an old laptop with an ATI Mobility 7500 on which I installed Centos 5.5. Normally I'd just grab the FGLRX installer from ATI and remake a module, but in this case, the modules don't work properly. As a result, I'm using a non-accelerated video driver which is painfully slow even for non-intensive graphics such as scrolling a terminal window. I'm not conceding defeat yet. It might be a matter of putting the correct hardware ID into the source and re-compiling or it might be something else entirely. Luckily I know how to do that, but sometimes it's a chore. Not difficult to do, certainly, but a PITA.

    On the other hand I have some old single-core AMD Athlons running some virtual machines via Xen and KVM. Even after years of service, they still do a very good job. On a nightly basis they run some software rebuilds in some VMs and in others run DNS, LDAP, fileservers and mail. I have imported the VMs into a newer quad-core system, but until they die, they use less power than the modern machine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:10AM (#33021150)

    Last winter I put together a 100 euro (~130 dollar) gaming(!) rig.
    Took a oc-friendly last-generation graphics card, (~30e), low-end Intel core2 CPU (~25e), random used LGA775 Board (~25e) and 2 gigs of DDR2 RAM (~20e). All 3 off ebay.

    I got a IDE-Harddrive, CD-drive and PSU with IDE-style connectors laying around (who uses IDE these days anyway?) and repurposed an old case.

    With the graphics card and CPU oc'ed (CPU stable at around twice the stock frequency with boxed cooler) it's a quite veritable rig. Though not every setting can be maxed out, it performs well with any new game.

  • Well my "mp3" collection is over 400GB - though that includes quite a lot of FLAC and WMA-lossless... just saying... (And that represents over 30,000 tracks)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:20AM (#33021206)

    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.

  • Re:$200??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doctor Memory (6336) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:24AM (#33021222)

    Yep, my wife's machine is a 5yo Gateway laptop with a 3GHz P4 and 1.5G of memory. For lots of stuff, it runs faster than my 2.2GHz dual-core machine at work. Lots of stuff is still single-threaded, and even though that's changing, there's often a critical path that can't be partitioned. Faster CPUs still == win much of the time.

  • Re:What about atom? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by houghi (78078) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:25AM (#33021228)

    All the times I really wanted an upgrade (about every 3-4 years) the new CPUs needed a new mobo, as the slots of the new ones where different. In the end a new system was just easier then to hod on to the old outdated hardware. At least then I would have a complete system to give away.

  • by value_added (719364) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:26AM (#33021232)

    Do I find this article surprising? Not at all.

    I'd generally agree, but it's nice to see an article like this. The biggest mistake attributable to new users is making uninformed hardware choices. If the hardware is fully supported, and there's an write-up somewhere on the web confirming that, then the rest is easy.

    That said, what's missing from the article is the dmesg output. A quick search suggests that the motherboard has onboard Realtek RTL8111B NICs, and those NICs aren't supported by FreeBSD. Whether that's the case, or whether it matters, I don't know, but it does underscore the need to know what it is you're buying before you buy it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:40AM (#33021304)

    Well, 200€ actually, but anyway. This is pretty much how I've built the computers for myself and my family for quite some time now:
    - 50€ for Case + Power Supply
    - 50€ for Motherboard that has Audio, NIC and GPU integrated
    - 50€ for CPU
    - 50€ for RAM

    Some of the pieces could be a little bit less or more than 50€, but in general that's how it goes. And we've always been perfectly happy with the performance of the machines.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @10:44AM (#33021330)

    "10 years' worth of digital photos for two people (the other doesn't have a camera) = about 10GB."

    Depends on what sort of photos you take. Da spouse has over 100GB of painted bunting photos alone (RAW images mostly).

  • by mariushm (1022195) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:01AM (#33021424)

    Motherboard with video and sound integrated - 40$ , CPU - 37$ , case + psu - 30$, memory 20$

    We're at 127$ right now, well maybe at 135$ if we include mouse+keyboard

    The hard drive is what would push us over the edge, so how about we just replace it with a 8GB memory stick that's 13-15$ ? 2 GB for the OS should be enough (you would install a Linux in much less space if you want to) and you still have 6 GB left for documents and files.

  • Re:$200??? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:07AM (#33021470)

    Wait, you can buy a significantly slower and crappier used PC for less than it would cost to build a new, better one? That's both insightful and informative. Thanks dskoll.

  • Re:What about atom? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot@nospam.jawtheshark.com> on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:13AM (#33021502) Homepage Journal

    I've got one of these Atom 330's too. 4GB RAM (can only use 3.5GB though... Meh) Anyway, do you use Windows or Linux. I used it for a while as a primary desktop running Ubuntu 9.04 (I think, it was around September 2009, so it sounds correct). It was unbearably slow... Slower that many dumpster-sourced machines I've used and I'm a proud dumpster diver. My brother currently uses it, but I dumped XP on it. No speed complaints at all. I think the NVidia driver for Linux was really bad for the ION GeForce 9400M that was included.

    Compared to a Atom D410 based motherboard (Intel D410PT), I used for building a new desktop for my mother in law. Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (was out by then) runs beautifully on it and the thing is just a single-core machine. Including DVD-RW, 250GB HD, 2GB RAM and a very sweet design case (only thing my MiL cared about) it came in around 250€.

    I'll be getting back my Atom 330 system soon, as I found a nice laptop in the dumpster for my brother (P-IV Mobile 1.6GHz) and he'll get that instead. Comes with a Windows XP Pro license too. ;-) So, if you run Linux on you Atom 330, I'll be glad to hear what you did to get it running decently.

    Back a few years, I did give me the same challenge....Or at least similar: 500€ [slashdot.org] If I could do it, my I'd build my sister a new PC and gift it to her. I did manage. The machine still works, but she now uses a Core2Duo desktop I found at a liquidation sale (store got bankrupt). I offered 300€ for all their computer hardware and this included that fully working E6600-based machine. Sweet :-)

  • by Jon Abbott (723) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:21AM (#33021554) Homepage

    This system is not useful as a desktop if it doesn't include a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The cheapest monitor I see on Newegg is a $99 Hanns-G HW-173ABB 17" LCD monitor, so that would push the price up to $300. The cheapest keyboard and mouse set is about $10. Speakers are about $5. New total is $315 excluding shipping. There's also no mention of whether the integrated sound works in Linux, and whether the integrated video works well (or if Ubuntu resorts to safe graphics mode). I would not be complaining if they had mentioned any of these things in the article.

  • Re:What about atom? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cylix (55374) * on Sunday July 25, 2010 @11:56AM (#33021790) Homepage Journal

    My last rig was an AM2 system and it's a bit simplified to say that you need to only upgrade the processor.

    The only time in my life in which I have purposefully upgraded the processes was when I used the planned obsolesce due to budget algorithm. This algorithm works on the basis of monetary limitations which directly limit the capabilities of the equipment available. ie, I could not afford the shiniest of the shiny.

    The general philosophy was to build a new system with something borrowed, something stolen and then some things new. Using the planned obsolesce algorithm I would under spec the processor to something very affordable.

    This meant I was on a purpose set upgrade cycle of 4-6 months. It was hoped that during this time I could accomplish two things. My wallet would grow over time and through sheer of will I would force market prices to fall. Invariably, within 4 - 6 months prices would dramatically shift and I could upgrade my rig to it's full potential.

    Since those dark times my build strategy has changed and I usually just build the rig as I wish. This means that generally upgrading the processor will not yield that much performance. Even worse is that purchasing a new processor that has greater support for faster memory and newer board designs means I would under utilize it's capabilities. In essence, it's a bit wasteful to purchase just a processor because there is more under the hood then simply cycles.

    There are other areas to eek out performance or substantially increase beyond the proc. There are bus speeds, memory speeds and even faster IO ports. To the extent that one waits to upgrade the divide usually widens proportionally. Sometimes they even make a fancy new DMA channel and slap on a new name.

    So yes, while I could have upgraded my AM2 system to an AM3 there were substantial improvements in the design. Most notably in my case were memory speeds had doubled from my installed module. There were several other improvements, but let us just say things had improved.

  • by Jon Abbott (723) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:13PM (#33021902) Homepage

    If you're going to dumpster dive for a CRT, why not just dumpster dive for the whole computer? :^)

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @12:32PM (#33022006) Homepage Journal

    I just picked up an Acer One netbook from Target for $199 this week. Windows 7 basic (lose some features I could care less about). 10 inch screen LED lit, 1024x600, 1.66 Atom processor, 1g ram, 160g hard drive, and wi-fi.

    Why would I want to build anything with prices like that? Best of all, its very portable, has lasted almost eight hours on a charge, and the keyboard is good too.

  • Re:What about atom? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @01:22PM (#33022302)
    Depends on where you live though and such. For a college student this is a pretty great deal because electricity is free, in many other places if you pay rent you get free electricity. For a lot of the unemployed, they can't afford to spend a bit more for less at the moment because they simply don't have the cash, on the other hand the electricity costs will come when they have a job to pay for it, etc.
  • $300 Quad core (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OrangeTide (124937) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @01:46PM (#33022480) Homepage Journal

    2.5Ghz quad, 800GB(64MB cache), 2GB DDR3-1333, HDMI out, crappy case.

    $75.99 AMD Phenom 9850 2.5GHz Socket AM2+ 125W Quad-Core Black Edition Processor HD985ZXAJ4BGH
    $59.99 Western Digital Caviar Green WD8000AARS 800GB 5400 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
    $69.99 MSI 760GM-E51 AM3 AMD 760G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
    $47.99 Crucial 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model CT2KIT12864BA1339
    $39.99 Foxconn TLM776-CN300C-01 Black/ Silver Steel MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case 300W Power Supply
    ------
    $283.95

    shipping it works out to about $300, more if you have to pay tax.

  • by mrwolf007 (1116997) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @02:26PM (#33022800)
    While you can sure safe money on a diy-box there are far better reasons for that approach.
    Most pre-assembled boxes fail on a quite a couple of choices.
    Case:
    Unless you are getting some overpriced gamer boxes the case is crap! Hassle to upgrade, cheap materials, lots of edges you can cut yourself etc...
    I will be keeping my nice Chieftec tower for the next couple of iterations. Exchanging drives is a lot faster, everything is easy to to get too, nice cool and quiet (with the extra ventilation).
    Power Unit:
    One of the mayor sources of annoyance. Choosing an efficient and quiet one sure is relaxing.
    Mainboard:
    Mainboards happen to be the number one source of failure in PCs. Even rather expensive boxes usually have cheap boards since they cant advertise them (more ghz? No. More cores? No. More memory? No. More reliable capacitors? Ever see something like that in a description?)
    The mobo is the component i never safe money on. Its supposed to handle the next cpu as well and i rather keep a good mobo than getting the next asrock or similiar.

    Do i safe money compared to a similarly specced box from a retailer? No.
    But i know its more reliable and easy to upgrade, so i do safe money in the long run due to upgrading and have less hassle replacing sub-par components.
  • Re:What about atom? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson (43916) < ... <nosduh.arabrab>> on Sunday July 25, 2010 @03:03PM (#33023016) Journal

    Only because people are lazy. Get out your camcorder, make a video of you refusing the agreement, and installing linux, and tell microsoft you want your money back. What's the big deal?

    Or if you want to get more than Microsoft will refund, find someone who wants a legit version, and do a dd if=/dev/whatever_windows_partition of=/their_bare_hard_drive-partition#2, and give them the license sticker.

    Even simpler, sell them the original hard drive with the install files on it, and use the money to buy yourself an even bigger drive for your laptop (and this way Microsoft can't even try to claim that it's tied to the hardware - the hardware it was on went with the OS). A 320gig laptop hard drive with a valid new windows license should net you enough to buy a 500gig to 640 gig laptop hard drive.

  • Problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ceraphis (1611217) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @03:20PM (#33023144)
    Computer manufacturers or parts manufacturers will never push the idea of custom built computers to the uninformed masses. There's much more money involved in pre-built systems, even more when you stick an atom in a net-top instead of a much more capable c2d. Computer manufacturers make more money from markup, and parts manufacturers can streamline the production process straight to the manufacturer, possibly even at a premium.
  • Re:What about atom? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Sunday July 25, 2010 @08:32PM (#33024922) Homepage Journal

    ``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.''

    On the other hand, the TDP is (as far as understand it) an upper bound on what the CPU could draw. If you do need the processing power on a regular basis, then you may get close to the power figures stated - but then the Athlon II allegedly (I didn't verify the claims) also gets you a lot more processing power. If you don't need the full processing power (the more likely scenario), then you will also not use as much power. The Athlon II CPUs in this chart [lostcircuits.com] use about 7 W when idle. I don't know what an Intel Atom uses when idle, but I wonder if it leaves a very large difference. At some point, when you want to save power, the best thing to do is to simply turn off the computer.

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