[ubuntu-uk] Desktop Advice

Roger Lancefield rlancefield at gmail.com
Fri Sep 5 16:56:22 BST 2008

2008/9/5 John Levin <john at technolalia.org>

> Hi all,
> I'm considering getting a new desktop. I'm considering one from Dell,
> but can't find any reviews of their ubuntu-ized Inspiron (everyone seems
> to be talking about the laptops).
> Does anyone on this list have one? Can they tell me
> 1: if it can handle two monitors?
> 2: how loud it is?
> Dual monitors and noise levels are the two most important things to me,
> so if you have any tips for where to look, I'd be much obliged.

Hey John,

A little over a year ago I built my current desktop from scratch to support
the same requirements as yours, quiet running, twin monitors and Ubuntu. I
ended up assembling the following kit:

- Antec Solo enclosure with a single 12 cm case fan
- Additional 92mm case fan at front of case to cool the hard disk
- Nesteq 450 Watt "Semi-fanless" PSU (from quietpc.com)
- Basic Asustek P5L-VM1394 motherboard
- Intel Dual-core 2140 1.6 GHz Pentium
- Zalman CPU fan (quietpc.com)
- Nvidia 7600 GS fanless dual-head video card
- 320GB hard disk
- Edimax Wi-Fi Ralink RT2561 chipset adapter (from the Linux Emporium)
- OEM Panasonic DVD player and CD writer

Into this I plugged a couple of TFT panels (1280x1024 NEC and a 1680x1050
Philips), a basic Lenovo keyboard, optical mouse, Creative sound system and
other minor stuff (USB card reader, etc).

The Antec case has a decent number of sound reduction features, although its
12 cm fan is the most audible sound from the system (although very muffled
and not intrusive or unpleasant). The Nesteq PSU is virtually silent, has
superb build quality and uses a modular connector system, enabling you to
lose the connectors you don't use which helps keep the case internals much
neater. As you would expect, the fanless VGA card is silent. In fact, the
noisiest component by far is the OEM Panasonic optical drive, but I use that
only occasionally. Oh, and I replaced the rather noisy standard Intel CPU
cooler with a quieter (and larger!) Zalman equivalent.

I hadn't built a machine for several years and was pleasantly surprised at
how much better packaged components such as the motherboard and the ATX case
were compared to some of the nasty kit available back in the '90s. Both the
mobo and Antec case were supplied with plenty of accessories and spares, and
the case mounting points and connector cut-outs matched the motherboard
perfectly. It seems that motherboards are also supplied with well organized
and comprehensible instructions and manuals these days.  I've built two
machines in the last 18 months or so, one used an Asustek and one a Gigabyte
motherboard and both components were very well packaged and documented, with
bags of spares such as screws, grommets, and the rest.

The slim SATA drive cables make routing and working on the internals much
easier than used to be the case with the awful old IDE data-ribbon
connectors. When it comes to wiring everything up, the important connectors
are all keyed these days, so it's hard to plug anything in the wrong way

The Edimax wireless adapter is compatible with Debian, Ubuntu, Suse and
Fedora, and the Linux Emporium supplies it with custom scripts for the first
three of those distros. I think I used a script for Feisty, but on Gutsy the
adapter installed automatically and required no manual intervention (I'm
wired into a network at the moment, and haven't used the Edimax with Hardy).

It's been as reliable as any system I've ever owned. It's low spec by
today's standards, but it's like a diesel car, not sexy, but is dependable,
stable, rarely groans, and just gets on with it with the minimum of fuss.
It's very quiet (if not silent), runs Ubuntu, productivity apps, development
tools, etc without even getting warm and was relatively cheap to assemble. I
rarely utilize more than 30-35% of the installed RAM and the hard disk is of
course huge for Ubuntu's modest system and application needs. It's totally
flexible and I know the machine like the back of my hand. If something
breaks, I don't have to call an engineer, return it to base or junk the
system, I'll just order a new component and pay a fiver for next day
delivery. Empowering stuff.

Yep, I can thoroughly recommend building your own machine these days. It's a
smoother experience than it was seven or eight years back and you can
guarantee that your components will work with Ubuntu. When you need
component compatibility re-assurance, there's always the Linux Emporium.
Moreover, you can target your funds, spending more on key components like a
good quality PSU and wasting less on a ridiculously over-specced processor.

No idea if this will tempt you or not, but for what it's worth... :-)


PS. A couple of links to services that I found very helpful:

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