My home-office Windows machine, last upgraded in 2005 (see §14.8 below), suffered a power-supply failure that also took out either the graphics card or motherboard or both. I suspect the graphics card since the LEDs show me that the BIOS is checking the two CD-ROM drives for a bootable disk. Since Windows is working fine inside a VMware Fusion virtual machine (see §5.4 below), I decided to convert this machine to a Linux box.13
For this upgrade, I found an ASUS-Gigabyte top-of-the-line board comparison that was informative. I decided to get the ``premium'' ASUS board, since it has 2 PCI slots while the more-reviewed ``deluxe'' ($30 less) board does not (all PCIe).
For the CPU, I chose the i7-860 -- only 95 Watts! I considered the i7-870, which is also 95W, but it costs almost twice as much and is only slightly faster (2.93 GHz vs. 2.80 GHz). In a few months the 's' versions should be out at only 82W. On the Web, I found a nice comparison of the main i7 alternatives. I also considered the i7-920 (130W), because I like the idea of triple-channel DDR memory, but the benchmarks did not seem sufficiently better to me. It also has the older, hotter, north-bridge/south-bridge design, while the i7-8xx have the more unified P55 glue chip. The P55 chip (called a ``chipset'' for some reason) and the i7-800 Lynnfield CPU appear to have been introduced only a few months ago (September 2009).
It looks like DDR3-1333 is the top of the line memory-wise (said to easily crank up to 1600 or even 1866 MHz). I chose initially 4GB and perhaps later 8GB of 1600MHz memory.
For the graphics card, I decided on a relatively low-end Sapphire Radeon 4650 card (said to be cool and quiet). I don't want to tax my 500W power supply, and I don't plan to do much in the way of 3D graphics.
In summary, the upgrade components are as follows (adapted from my Newegg shopping cart on December 9, 2009--the Antec green 500W power supply was around $60 from Best Buy, as I recall):
The free 4GB flash drive is a nice touch. Since the Linux DVD image is 3.3GB, I tried to install Fedora 12 x86_64 from it. Unfortunately, I could not find a way to make the ASUS motherboard boot from a USB drive. So, I had to burn a DVD-R and boot from it as usual.
So far I am quite happy with this system. It is very fast, yet relatively low-power and cool-running.
I hit two small snags building this machine:
Fedora 12 installed perfectly with no issues. I will say, however, that the distribution was confusing. It appeared to include a sha1sum for the .iso image, but it was instead for the gpg signature. I downloaded the .iso image twice thinking I had a bad one the first time. The checksum for the distribution is in the .iso image itself, and it gets checked when you click the ``Test'' button at the media-check stage after booting from the .iso image.
Another odd thing was that I can't plug my USB keyboard into just any USB port. I have to remember to use the top right connector when viewing the back of the computer. Similarly, I have to remember to use the bottom-right ethernet connector (which is reasonable since the two connectors should be separate devices eth0 and eth1).
I haven't figured out how to print to a networked Brother 2170 laster printer yet...
Things done after a standard F12 install with ``desk-top publishing'' checked (which seems mainly to load OpenOffice) are listed in §6.3.11.