The Linux Convert - moving from closed to Open Source

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Main Feature - Building a Linux PC - quick, easy and cheaply!

Building a Linux PC - 2006 Update

Well, it is a new year now so it really is time for a new look at what is here. Interestingly (for geeks), the April 2006 issue of PCW unknowingly sets down a challenge as it implies that you can't build (from scratch) a system as good as the ones it has reviewed. This has a budget of £699 for the PC's being reviewed (harsh one to beat) and the editorial comment is that a self build would set you back in the region of £860. Oh how we like a challenge.

We would like to take this opportunity to point to our "2005" system which was put together based on prices over a year old for £558 (see system overview for more details). Now some of the specs are lower than the ones PCW are looking for (notably the 512MB RAM vs the required 1GB) but we feel that, on first blush, it should be do-able.

update: Sadly, offline commitments have drastically delayed this article. More news to follow soon.

Building a Linux PC - 2005 Update

A few years ago (1998 to be exact) we put together a site showing how you can get a "fully functional Linux workstation with a webserver" for "Only" £857. This was designed to compete with a Windows system costing only £650. (If you are curious you can still see the specs that were pretty much the standard at the time!).

Time has passed and lots of things have changed. For a start windows has improved. No longer are we showing you how to escape from the limits of Win 95 and get a home webserver up and running for as little as possible - you probably have a windows XP computer in your home capable of all that right now. Added to this, more and more people have home networks of a few computers connected to a broadband (cable or DSL) internet connection and you can see how it really is time to rethink our plans.

And rethink we did. It turns out that it still better to build your own PC and install Linux. The power and flexibilty this offers you - the customer - is amazing. The PC you build may not be as cheap as the middle range off the shelf one, but you know it is powerfull where you want it to be, it has nothing you dont want it to have and you can make full advantage of the open source software available.

Linux Vs Windows Vista

Well the next windows vs linux battle will be fought soon. Windows Vista (formerly LONGHORN) is looking more and more like it will be released by the end of this year. Now I am sure many Windows users are over the moon about this new operating system which promises some of the things "real" (i.e Unix based ones) have offered for many years now. And We agree. Vista is potentially a fantastic improvement to Windows and should be welcomed with open arms.

There is one downside though - hardware specs. If previous version upgrades are anything to go by you can pretty much be sure your current PC will not be suitable to use Vista to its full extent. On the extreme tech website you can find a breakdown of predicted hardware specs (and costs) for a vista system. While these are just predictions they seem reasonable and it is interesting to note that the most basic system costs in excess of US$1,000.

Compare this to a fully fledged server system you can set up under Linux with all the same applications (and more!) for less than £800 at last years prices! Shocking.

I suspect we will stick to linux. (We will follow this over the next few months though)

Any doubts?

We often get asked by people questions along the lines of why use Linux when it is so complicated. This is based on Windows being pre-installed and probably not a sign that Windows is actually "easy" to install. If you want an excellent write up of the trials and tribulations of a windows install check out this mad penguin dot org article.

Update - Linux Questions and Answers.

On a semi-regular basis we get "innundated" with questions about linux - so as a public service, will post selected questions, the ones we feel have the most broad brush help value, on our new Q and A pages. Have a look and let us know what you think.

Old News - Google Ads:

Originally we had intended to use google's adsense program to support this site and help offset its hosting costs. However, for reasons best known to themselves Google have decided to not pay the money they owe and closed our account. For some reason google waited for eight weeks of clicks (without any payments) before they decided to suspend the account (and only after all the bank verification etc had been completed) yet they are refusing to pay for even the legitimate clicks. Needless to say this is very poor behaviour on the part of google - while we fully understand appreciate their desire to protect advertisers it is very bad customer service.

Despite this, can we say a very BIG thank you to the people who visited the sites advertised here - and for those who are happy with their products thank you for letting us know.If there is anyone willing to sponsor this site in its entirety it would be appreciated.

The New Goals

In this study, we have tried to produce a fully functional Linux based PC for under £650, at the prices that could be found on 26 January 2005. This will be compared against a sample system which represents the sort of Windows based PC that can be bought for the same money - again, we will try to identify what is better for Linux users and what is worse. To make this exercise worthwhile we will establish the Linux machine as a capable workstation that also runs a web server and is capable of capable of carrying out basic office related functions. To keep things simple, most of the online price references have come from and Ebuyer - you may find places that are cheaper, if so please let us know.

In addition to this, our Linux PC will be expected to be able to act as a SOHO server if required, share an internet connection either wirelessly or over ethernet, serve websites, carry out graphics design tasks or een simply be a firewall for another internet connection.
In a nutshell, you can see we are looking for a machine that will be able to act as a home pc for a single user, surfing the web or doing basic letter writing and accounts - up to a machine that can act as a file, print and web server for a network of a dozen or so users - designing high end applications!

Before we begin...

First off some assumptions. For the purposes of this, we will assume you have access to a broadband connection or a full set of Linux install disks (floppy (!!), CD-Rom or DVD versions). You will need this and we aren't really going to cover getting hold of it. If you need the basic OS disks then check out We will also assume you are happy about how to install a new OS as going through that would need a site all by itself. If there is enough feedback we will put together a step by step install guide but most of this is covered well enough on the LDP web site.

Part 1 - Memory This is simultaneously the easiest stage and the most important. The more RAM you buy for your system the better (obviously), however we need to keep under budget. Linux as a whole, works better on systems with low ram than a windows installation - however for our purposes we dont want to skimp on anything if we can help it.

Part 2 - Disk Drives As with RAM, the more the merrier here. In the old days, Linux would "prefer" to install on SCSI disks but these days are long gone. As we are planning to give this machine the job of file server and may even use if for video editing we will aim to get at least two hard disks.

Part 3 - Processor / Motherboard These two go hand in hand. While the latest linux kernels will run 64 bit processors, the cost of these and their supporting motherboards may turn out to be prohibitive. Versions of Linux have been designed for pretty much every processor since the 386, so here we can let our budget decide more than anything.

Part 4 - Graphics / Monitor Some difficult choices may need to be made here. Linux and XWindows support for graphics cards has improved in leaps and bounds since the days of manually editing the "xinitab" (or whatever) to get something other than a command line - but monitors can cost a lot of money. We will need to make the most of XWindows ability to have multiple desktops running but still need a powerful enough setup to use the system for high end graphics.

Extras This is all the little bits and peices we will spend the rest of our budget on. Thinks like optical backup drives, keyboards, mouse, modem etc are all going to prove to be essential. For our purposes, home machine that is a capable file server, some extra devices will be essential - however other people may want to chop and change the exact specification. One of the biggest benefits of this process is that you can decide on the exact machine you want, not what a shop is trying to sell you.

Software Our PC will need the full gamut of "productivity" software. This includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, contact manager, presentation, image processing, email and web browsing. Specialist software includes graphics editing, website design, programming languages, video editing and the like. In order to keep with our philosophy here we will aim to use Open Source solutions as much as possible.

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