Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Building a New Computer System for Linux

Filed under
by Gary Frankenbery, Computer Science Teacher, Grants Pass High School

Going to build a new computer soon, and outfit it with Linux? Here's the story of one such recent foray into purchasing components and assembling a new system.


As a 55 year-old computer user and a high school computer science teacher, I'm not a typical system builder or adventurous case modder. Indeed, many would consider my using Linux the only daring thing I've ever done in the realm of computer science. Also, at the high school where I teach, I'm not the hardware teacher—I'm the software guy, as I teach computer programming, basic computer applications/literacy, and web page design.

So, my choices of equipment for my new home computer system were definitely a mix of my conservative stick-to-what-you-know tendencies coupled with a rare desire for something different. I like good performance in a computer system, but I'm not a speed demon. I'm not much of a computer game player, and the games I do play are not that demanding of computer resources. Finally, on a school teacher's salary, money is always a concern.

This new system was to be my new main home computer system, and would run only Linux. No MS-Windows or Linux/MS-Windows dual boot. In fact, none of my home computers run MS-Windows, as I converted (upgraded) my wife's machine to Linux about 6 months ago.

Processor and Cooler

When building a new computer system, the choice of the CPU determines other choices. I've been an AMD processor user for several years now, so while I'm not opposed to an Intel CPU (I do like Intel Corporation for their support of computer science education in my home state of Oregon, USA), I will stick with an AMD processor. But, this time, I decide to go 64-bit, and I end up purchasing an AMD FX-64 3200 CPU (socket 939). Yes, I wanted to go faster, but prices rise sharply in the AMD FX-64 processor line as you step up in CPU clock speed. I do decide to buy an OEM version of the processor, without a fan/heat-sink or instructions, as I've built other Athlon CPU based systems and I want to select a quiet, effective cooler for my processor.

So, next, a processor cooler. I've always used the stock bundled AMD fan/heat-sink before, but this time I'm buying my own. Now, I'm not a CPU overclocker, so something that cools a little better than the stock Athlon cooler is fine. Of greater importance is that the fan be quieter than a stock cooler. Another factor is that I'm definitely not going to the expense (and installation trouble) of a water-based CPU cooling system. Back to the Internet to spend some time reading CPU cooler reviews.

One of my students tells me about, which has many excellent photos of different makes/models of CPU coolers (and good prices too). One concern is that many of the coolers require attaching a mounting bracket onto the underside of the motherboard for installation. I finally go with the Arctic Cooling Freezer-64 cooler because the reviews all say it's very quiet, it cools better than the stock Athlon cooler, it clips onto the stock mounting lugs on a socket 939 motherboard, and it's reasonably priced. While this cooler lacks the razzle dazzle look of some of the other coolers, it appears to be the perfect match for my needs and preferences.

Motherboard and Video Card

For now, I plan to use the video card that I had with my previous system, and upgrade the video card a couple of months down the road when I have more cash. For a while, my old AGP 8X NVidia 5700 video card will do just fine. Since it's an AGP, I decide not to purchase a mainboard with PCI-Express slots. When I do upgrade the video card, I plan to buy an MSI Nvidia AGP 8X Geforce 6600 GT card.

I've used many different motherboards over the years, including motherboards from Tyan, Gigabyte, Albatron, MSI, Biostar, and Soyo. I've had good luck with all of these (only problem was that I had to update the BIOS with one of them to get it to work properly), and I'm not wedded to any particular manufacturer. However, one feature that all these motherboards have in common is that they've all been AMD/VIA chipset boards. While you may prefer an Nforce or SIS chipset board, my cautious nature propels me to stick with with the familiar VIA chipset. So I finally purchase a Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 VIA K8T800 Pro ATX motherboard. While this is not the most feature packed or fastest mainboard around, it certainly is a great fit with the rest of my gear, and has excellent reviews on the Internet.

Getting Radical—the Case

I really don't like wild-looking computer cases. When some of my students show me the gaudy cases they've bought for their systems, I try to be polite and kind with my opinions, but I always look for elegance and simplicity rather than flash and splash. One minor prejudice is that I don't like cases with a hinged closing cover over the cd-drive bays.

My choice of computer system case surprised even me. I decided to go with a blue tinted clear acrylic case.

Yes, I know there are many disadvantages to clear acrylic cases.

They have to be cleaned frequently as the dust that gathers inside will make them look incredibly ugly in a hurry. They typically use a large number of screws (10 to 12) for fastening the side panels. They scratch and mar easily. Finally, installation of drives into the drive bays can be tricky.

Yes, I know all this—but I bought one anyway. I purchased a Logisys CS888UVBL UV blue acrylic clear case.

I bought the case first, and then went back and did some more research on clear acrylic cases after the purchase. If I had it to do over again, I would still purchase a clear acrylic case, but it would be a case by another manufacturer, where the motherboard is mounted on a slide out tray instead of being directly mounted to the case side panel.

One reason that I went with a clear case is that I can use it for instruction with my students in my computer literacy class at school when we discuss computer hardware. But, bottom line, the real reason is that I just like the look of this case.

More Power

The case doesn't come with a built-in power supply like other systems I've built, so I'll have to buy one separately. Back to the Internet for more research. After reading countless power supply reviews, I finally buy an MGE XG Vigor 500 Watt Power Supply. This PS has a fan-speed adjustor knob on the back, nicely wrapped cables, an attractive chrome finish, good power stability and accurate voltage levels as assessed in reviews, and a relatively modest price. I'm very pleased with this purchase, and I think the selection of this particular power supply may be the best cost versus value component I've purchased for this system.


I've decided on 1 Gigabyte of Memory. I won't buy the most expensive, but I won't stint on this either. I end up buying the Corsair XMS TWINX1024-3200C2PT 1GB (2 x 512MB) 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 (PC 3200) Dual Channel Kit. This is good quality stuff. If you buy the cheapest RAM, you may get away with it—or you may not. With this Corsair RAM, I know that if any problems arise later, they are very unlikely to be memory related.

CD/DVD Drives

I already have a LITEON CD burner/DVD-ROM drive that works very well for me. However, I want to do some DVD burning, so I purchase another LITEON with DVD burning capability. Both optical drives are installed in my new system. But—wait a minute—both drives have beige colored front bezels. Frankly, this won't look too good in my new acrylic case. I get some metallic silver Testor hobbyist spray paint and spray the fronts of my optical drives as well as an old floppy drive that's going into the system. Then I get some clear mailing label stock, print new identification labels for my drives, and affix the labels to the fronts of the drives. It all looks pretty good—not perfect, but better than stock drive bezels would look with my case.
I burn a lot of CDs (mostly open source software for my students), so I install the two optical drives and leave one empty drive bay between them, as heat build-up with repeated cd-burns is a major cause of coasters. When doing mass burning sessions, I'll alternate back and forth between the two drives.

Hard Disk Drive

I'm going to go with a SATA drive. This is my first experience with SATA, and I end up purchasing a 160GB Maxtor drive. As I install this drive, I'm struck with how neat, small, and tidy the SATA data and power cables are--this is really the way to go. I may eventually purchase a couple more drives, and try a SATA-RAID configuration. But, because the primary role for this machine is workstation rather than server, one sata drive will do.

The Smoke Test

When you first power on a newly built computer, you experience that stressfull moment of doubt, and maybe even a little panic. After all, you've spent an awful lot of time and money on this. And, if you're foolish like me, you've probably been bragging to others about this wonderful new computer system you've been building. Not only have you invested considerable money and time, you've invested major macho ego into getting this thing working. Clearly, failure is not an option.
The brain starts to whirl rapidly with increasingly wild thoughts. Have I missed anything? Will the motherboard complete the Power On Self Test? Will the processor overheat? Will the memory function? Will the motherboard melt? Will a cloud of smoke rise from the machine? Will I bring down the entire Northwestern USA power grid?

A now slightly trembling finger reaches out to press the on switch.

In fact, the system starts just fine—what a relief.

Wait a minute—there is a problem—the BIOS is not recognizing one of the Optical Drives.

I power down, and scratch my head for a moment. After a few seconds of thought, I realize that when installing the optical drives, I forgot to make sure that one drive was set as a master and the other as a slave. Yes, the optical drives are cabled to the same IDE port, so the master-slave arrangement matters. I take a close look at the backs of the optical drives, and sure enough that's what I've done—both are set as masters. I quickly grab another cable out of stores, and connect each optical drive to its own IDE channel. Problem fixed. With my heart rate now back to normal, it's time to install Linux.

Which Linux Distribution?

I've been a Mandrake (now Mandriva) user ever since version 7.1. Though I enjoy installing and trying different distributions, I want to install a familiar distribution—this is to be my main production machine at home—and I know Mandriva inside and out. I've also been a member of the Mandriva Club for several years, so I'll install Mandriva Limited Edition 2005.

Changes (If I Had It All to do over Again)

Although more expensive, I would buy a BeanTech BT-84-B blue tinted acrylic case instead of the Logisys case. With the BeanTech case, the motherboard is mounted to a slide-out-tray. The BeanTech case also has rubber pads in the drive bays.

People tell me that the comparable Seagate sata drive is quieter and quicker than the Maxtor I purchased. I would investigate this furthur, and perhaps purchase the Seagate.


I've now been using this system for 3 weeks. It runs quietly, and the processor stays relatively cool at 40-43 degrees Celsius. The system is extremely quick, and all my devices are recognized.

I haven't tried any overclocking at this point, but the cool CPU temperature, good quality RAM, and the capabilities of the motherboard and processor should provide opportunities to experiment with this later. All in all, I'm very satisfied and I think this system is going to serve me wll for some time to come.

Original in pdf.

More in Tux Machines

Leftovers: Gaming

Leftovers: GNOME Software

  • GNOME Photos 3.18 App Gets Its First Hotfix Release Ahead of GNOME 3.18.1
    Earlier today, October 12, Debarshi Ray was happy to inform us all about the immediate availability of the first point release of his GNOME Photos 3.18 image viewer application for the soon-to-be-released GNOME 3.18.1 desktop environment.
  • View your GTK3 app or VM on the Web
    Ever wondered how to view gedit in a browser? It’s not a secret anymore, broadway is there for some time.
  • The new search for GNOME Files (aka Nautilus)
    As some (most? none? who knows =P) of you already know, last cycle I worked as a Google Summer of Code intern with Gtk+ and Nautilus. We saw the very positive results of it. And the picky eyes out there noticed that I wrote with these exact words: “While the project is over, I won’t stop contributing to Nautilus. Even with the interesting code, even with all the strange things surrounding it. Nautilus is like an ugly puppy: it may hurt your eyes, yet you still warmly love it.”

Linux Devices

  • Linksys WRT1900ACS Router is Ready for Open Source Tinkering
    We still regard the Linksys WRT1900AC as one of the best and fastest routers available, though if you're eyeing that model, there's a new version available with more memory and a faster processor. It's the WRT1900ACS, which is essentially an improved version of the WRT1900AC. The new model boasts a 1.6GHz dual-core processor, an upgrade over its predecessor's 1.2GHz chip; 128MB of flash memory (same as before); 512MB of DDR3 RAM, which is two times as much as the WRT1900AC; and eSATA and USB ports.
  • Linux Foundation Takes on Real-Time Computing for Embedded Apps
    What's the next step for open source in the embedded computing market? Google (GOOG), the Linux Foundation and other inaugural supporters of the Real-Time Linux Collaborative Project, which launched this month with a focus on the robotics, telecom, manufacturing, aviation, medical and similar industries, think kernel-level real-time support is the answer.
  • Your Last Chance To Crowdfund InvizBox Go, A Portable Open Source VPN Router
    A small Irish tech startup is in the last few days of crowdfunding for a small Linux-based router it’s hoping to ship out to supporters in February 2016. If its Kickstarter campaign is successful, InvizBox Go will offer users some protection when connecting to WiFi networks. Whether you’re at home, at a hotel, or working out of a coffee shop, the InvizBox Go will be able to connect your devices and route all of your traffic over Tor or a VPN connection (or even both). And since it can connect all devices simultaneously, it’s a great solution for keeping your housemates secure without requiring them to plug into anything or even download any software. Or, let’s face it, it’s also good for watching blocked content from around the world. Users will also be able to block a known list of ad providers. An optional feature will block Windows 10’s tracking domain. Additionally, the device can acts as a WiFi extender or even be used to charge a mobile phone or tablet if users plug into its USB port.
  • Irish firm’s product to mask online activity

Leftovers: OSS

  • Industry Veterans Partner to Create a School for Software Engineers
    Another interesting angle is that during their first year at school all projects except their own, if they decide otherwise, must be open sourced online on the repository of their choice (such as GitHub). "Open source is a great option for teaching students because it not only helps you in building new skills as as software engineers, but also you know how to communicate with your peers. You have to understand how the team is working among many things. So I think open source is a great way to learn software engineering," added Barbier. Because the Linux Foundation also runs many specialized courses, I asked whether the school had any plans to collaborate with the Foundation. I was told that, although they are in touch with the Linux Foundation, it's too early to comment on it.
  • Eximbank opts for Allevo’s open source application FinTP
    It originates from Allevo’s older offering, qPayintegrator. The open source project has been in the making for a few years.
  • Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet
    A Columbia University law professor stood in a hotel lobby one morning and noticed a sign apologizing for an elevator that was out of order. It had dropped unexpectedly three stories a few days earlier. The professor, Eben Moglen, tried to imagine what the world would be like if elevators were not built so that people could inspect them.
  • Mozilla to Bar Many Legacy Plug-ins in Firefox By End of 2016
    As we've reported several times, Google has been introducing big changes in its Chrome browser, especially when it comes to how the browser handles extensions. If you've regularly used either or both of the most popular open source Internet browsers--Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox--then you're probably familiar with the performance and security problems that some extensions for them have caused. Mozilla, like the Chrome team, is also focused on the effect that extensions have on performance and reliability. Now, Benjamin Smedberg, a Mozilla senior engineering manager, in a post to a blog, has confirmed that Mozilla will bar almost all plug-ins built using decades-old NPAPI technology by the end of 2016.
  • What you need to know about Astara
    Astara provides OpenStack operators with a vendor-agnostic network orchestration platform that addresses the complex nature and scale of Neutron implementations. Astara features a driver-based orchestrator to manage network functions from different providers on bare metal, in virtual machines (VMs) and containers.
  • Mirantis, NetApp announce joint partnership
    Mirantis, the pure-play OpenStack company, has joined hands with NetApp and announced a joint partnership that combines the Mirantis OpenStack with mission-critical NetApp storage infrastructures.
  • Mirantis and NetApp Partner for Joint Testing, Cloud Reference Architectures
  • Introducing the Astara project, a preview of Liberty and Mitaka, and more OpenStack news
  • Taunton and Somerset trust explores wider open source adoption
    Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has commenced "exploratory work" around expanding its use of open source technology to include an e-prescribing solution after going live with a non-proprietary electronic patient record (EPR) system earlier this month. Trust IT director Malcolm Senior said that although work around potentially adopting a new e-prescribing system was at an early stage, Taunton and Somerset was now considering dates for possible implementation. Senior said he was confident the trust would be able to meet a timeline for completing development of an e-prescribing service in line with aims for a 'paperless NHS' by 2018.
  • Nexenta Brings Open Source-driven Software-Defined Storage Solutions to the Dell Solutions Roadshow 2015 in Japan
  • Update Python GNUPG library for GNU Health crypto plugin
    Issues digitally signing and/or verifying GNUHealth documents, using GNUPG version 2.x should be solved by upgrading to the latest python-gnupg library[1], version 0.3.8 . You can check the changelog[2] for the details.
  • Another city swaps in LibreOffice to replace Microsoft Office
    Another city has decided to swap out Microsoft Office for the open source LibreOffice productivity suite. As ZDNet reported, the municipality of Bari in Italy is currently installing the open-source office software on its 1,700 PCs after a successful trial involving 100 PCs.
  • ODS Onsite Training - Onsite Training to the European Commission
    The course aims at enhancing the understanding of linked open data principles and technologies. By the end of the course, participants should have a clear understanding of what linked open data is and how linked data technologies can be applied to improve the availability, understandability and usability of EU data.