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While many manufacturers seem to be preinstalling Linux on their computers these days, a lot of us still prefer to build our own computers. When we buy a computer which has Linux preinstalled, we can be pretty sure that all the hardware components have been detected by Linux and will be supported. On the other hand, building a computer from scratch and then installing Linux on it can be a bit of a shot in the dark since you're going with components which might work well in Linux, or maybe not. In this article, we'll go through a few tips which will let you decide in advance which hardware you should go with.
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Deciding The Purpose
The first step will be to decide what you want to do with the computer. A computer suitable as a file-server will be useless if you want to game on it. Similarly, a high-end 3D workstation will be useless as a LAN server. Once you've decided the purpose of the computer, you can move forward and start choosing suitable hardware for it.
For a file server, you should put in a large amount of storage capacity. Multiple hard-drives, totalling to terabyte-plus sizes will be well suited as a media/file server in your home network. If you want to do 3D designing on the computer, you're better off with a computer which has a dedicated graphics card. For audio work, fast hard-disks are a big plus. For generic office-related work, a low/mid-range PC will be sufficient. In any case, choosing hardware which is easily upgradeable is always a good thing to do. It's easier to simply plonk in a powerful graphics card if your motherboard supports the relevant standard rather than having to buy a new motherboard and a graphics card just so that you can do that 3D work on it.
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Choosing The Hardware Part 1
Choosing hardware for a new computer can be very exciting. Always remember to first choose a basic set of components and build the rest of the computer around them. The first step should be to choose which processor you'd like your computer to have. You can choose between an AMD or an Intel processor. Once you've chosen which manufacturer you'd like to go with and the model number for your processor, it's time to choose a motherboard based on that choice. All motherboard manufacturers have a section where you can pick your processor socket and it will show you the motherboards compatible with it. Some common sockets in use today are LGA1366 and LGA775 for Intel processors and Socket AM2, AM2+ and AM3 for AMD processors.
Information about the processor sockets will be available once you've chosen which processor you want to go with. Check out websites of various motherboard manufacturers like Asus, MSI, Gigabyte and look at their motherboard offerings for your purpose.
Once the motherboard is chosen, it's time to make sure that the motherboard and all its components are well supported by Linux. This can be done by typing the "model number of the motherboard + Linux" into Google and checking out the results. You can be sure that you're not the first one with that specific motherboard. The most useful results will be in the form of mailing-lists, forum posts/threads and articles on blogs. Make sure to find a page which deals with the exact same motherboard that you're going to buy. This will help you later. If you find that your specific motherboard has problems in Linux, it's better to simply keep looking for something which is readily compatible in Linux.
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Choosing The Hardware Part 2
After the motherboard, it's now time to select RAM for your computer. Depending on what your processor demands and what your motherboard accepts, you will generally have to buy DDR2 RAM for your computer. Choose the amount of RAM which will let you use the computer comforably for your purposes. Buying more RAM is generally seen as the cheapest and wisest upgrade for an aging computer, so spend some more now and get a fast computer.
The final piece of the puzzle is a graphics card. If you're not going to be doing heavy 3D work in Linux, the work of drawing graphics on your screen is best left to the onboard graphics card present on almost all motherboards. If you do decide to go with a dedicated graphics card, you have a choice between ATI/AMD or Nvidia graphics cards. Both manufacturers release driver binaries which can be downloaded from their respective website. Under most circumstances, your Linux distribution will also have open-source graphics drivers for your 3D card.
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Final Pieces of the Puzzle
Like the topic suggests, the final pieces of the puzzle are left. These include input and output devices and peripherals like hard-disks, CD/DVD readers/writers, keyboards, mice and the like. You can easily choose anything here without having to worry about compatibility with Linux. Still, keep in mind that your motherboard should support the relevant interfaces for any devices you buy and install.
Depending on the purpose of the computer, the amount of storage can be decided. For file-serving purposes, use multiple disks with large capacities. For other I/O intensive purposes, use multiple disks which run at 10k RPM or higher.
Ubuntu Linux will support the basic functions of all keyboards and mice you connect to it. For CD/DVD writing purposes, you can refer to Ubuntu's package manager for applications.
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Putting It All Together
Teaching how to put together a computer from parts is out of the scope of this article, so the best thing to do is fire up your favorite search engine and search for "building a computer". The first few links on all popular search engines will direct you to good guides with pictures and explanations. For example, there's an excellent step-by-step guide by J. F. Amprimoz right here at Bright Hub: Build a PC - Open Your Case and Get to Work!
Once this is done, it's time to install Ubuntu Linux on that machine. Assuming you have a bootable Ubuntu Linux CD, it's time to turn on your computer and boot it from the CD by changing the appropriate setting from the motherboard BIOS screen. The installation should be easy, provided that you have chosen parts which work well in Linux without any hassle. Good luck and have fun with your Custom-made computer for Ubuntu Linux!