The instantaneous hardware requirements summary for the impatient.
These recommendations are based on experience and are VALUE, not
PERFORMANCE, minimums. Today's performance machine will
be tomorrow's value machine which will become an antique next week.
Central processing unit
Good: AMD 700mhz Duron
Better: AMD 800mhz Thunderbird
Intel 800mhz+ Pentium III
First choice: ASUS A7V, ABIT KT7
ATX form factor (no micro ATX)
133mhz FSB (Front Side Bus)
UDMA 66 (disk transfer speed)
minimum 4 PCI slots
minimum 2 memory slots
USB is nice, but not required
no on-board: sound, video, modem, network
a single ISA slot might be a plus, more is a negative
MUST HAVE: 300 watt power supply.
Highly recommend: Mid-Tower, ATX
Good: 256mb PC-133
Better: 512mb PC-133
Recommend: An Nvidia TNT-2 based card with 16mb of memory. About $100.
You can buy a better card, but our graphics don't need better, yet. Nvidia cards
are recommended because we know they work. Matrox cards, especially
multi-headed ones are in the queue for testing.
Minimum: 19", 1280x1024 resolution, anti-glare coating.
Much Better: 21", 1600x1200 resolution, flat screen technology is a real plus.
Minimum: 20gig, 5400rpm, UDMA-33
Better: 7200rpm, UDMA-66
Best: scsi, 10,000rpm, possibly dual drive.
NOT CHEAP, PROBABLY NOT WORTH IT.
Recommend: Some Maxtor 45gig, 7200rpm, UDMA-66 drives are
selling for about $170.
Just about anything above 32x that uses a standard ATAPI/IDE interface.
Not needed, but nice to have. Get an internal IDE version,
they run a LOT faster than external parallel port versions.
250mb is the better deal, but if you have a boatload of 100mb
drives already, compatibility may drive your decision.
Any 3.5" 1.44mb will do.
You will have the best luck with:
DON'T! NO internal modem cards.
Get an external modem for use with Linux.
Update 11/23/00, found at www.signalground.com
Internal modem, linux compatible:
Zoom 56k PCI-Plus $75 mocel 2920 (?)
56k receive, 33.6 send
If you have an ISA slot, the old recommendation was
Not needed by normal user.
Not needed by normal user.
A much expanded explanation of hardware devices follows.
This document will be a continuously changing guideline and
set of observations on the best way to install Linux on a
new PC, and how much PC is needed. It is going to change
based on whenever a new Linux distribution comes out and my
experiences grow with both Linux and FORCES.
First, just how much machine do I really need to run JFORCES?
Knowing that this application was originally run on a SUN
minicomputer (old UNIX iron), can I afford a PC with that much
horse power? Which Linux distribution is up to the task?
Believe it or not, you will probably escape for less than $1500,
give or take a few scraped knuckles. I constantly watch
www.pricewatch.com to monitor 'street level' pricing of hardware.
www.anandtech.com, www.sharkyextreme.com, and www.tomshardware.com
provide me with lots of tips about which hardware devices really
work well, and which to stay away from. (If you don't speak geek,
don't go to those sites: your eyes will roll, your ears will ring
with techno-babble, and your head will just hurt from all the charts
and numbers. I hope you actually LIKE aspirin.)
Good: AMD Duron 800 $100
Better: AMD Thunderbird 900 $170
Intel PIII 800 and above $195 and up (pricey)
The main difference between the AMD Duron and Thunderbird chips is
the total L2 cache memory on board the cpu chip. 128k vs. 256k.
Pass on the older Athlon chips.
They run from $100 to $200. You need to get one with the 'ATX'
form factor. 'AT' is being phased out, and 'Micro ATX' boards
typically don't come with enough bells and whistles.
The motherboard needs to run its front-side-bus (FSB) at 133mhz.
This is a definite performance must that costs very little.
UDMA-66 is a must, this is the rate at which all the modern
disk drives transfer data to/from the CPU/memory.
For AMD processors, the key here is to try to get a motherboard
that runs the VIA KT133 chipset, your dealer will know what that
is. Excellent choices are the ASUS A7V ($130), and the ABIT KT7
($125) motherboards. These are both 'Socket A' motherboards.
You mention the ASUS or ABIT numbers to any dealer, and they will
know which of their own products are at that level of quality and
(though you may pay a little more) you will get a good product
recommendation. (I don't follow the Intel product line that
closely, so I can't help you much there.)
They run from $40 to $140 depending on the features you want. There
are two critical factors.
(1) Get a 300w power supply. The newer, faster, processors are
starting to draw some serious amps out of the power supply (can you
say 'weld'). The latest video cards are starting to do the same,
some of the hottest ones literally have their own cooling fans.
Upgrading an older machine with new, and 'hot' components, may
overtax your old 250w power supply.
(2) Get at least a mid-tower sized case. It has every thing to do
with air-flow, keeping the machine cool. The 'Micro' cases just
don't have enough room inside to move enough air for upper end
performance products. If you think you have over-heating problems,
add fans to your case in pairs. One that sucks air into the case,
the other that blows it out. Just one that blows out only produces
a partial vacuum which leaves too little air actually moving inside
the case. Only one that sucks air in packs lots of hot air into the
case and swirls it around, with no where to go.
PC-133, at today's prices (Oct 30, 2000), $128 will get you 256mb.
$256 will get you 512mb (that's half-a-gig). Don't be stingy here.
Cliff's machine only has 192mb, and FORCES runs. You will be
better off with 512mb CAS-3 memory, than with 256mb CAS-2 memory.
If you are a performance hound, CAS-2, from a VERY reputable
manufacturer, is your ticket. Just remember, in six months the
extra money spent on performance will be obsolete.
It is possible that JFORCES will run in only 128mb, but at these
prices, and the demands that other programs may put on your system's
memory, getting cheap here is counter-productive.
It is known that 64mb of memory is not enough for JFORCES.
Get at least an Nvidia TNT 2 chipset with 32mb of memory. The last
ones purchased were under $100. Currently JFORCES almost requires
the Nvidia chipset due to the Open Inventor software's use of Motif
and related software drivers for the graphics. This requirement
should disappear within a year.
We are looking into the Matrox G450 video card which can handle
twin monitors. (Dual Headed.) Lloyd and Paul are both HOT to
have more 'screen real estate'.
How important are your eyes to you? Absolute minimum is 17 inch
that can handle 1280x1024. These are about $150 in the Denver area.
Much better, (you are going to use this product, aren't you?) is
a 19 inch screen that will go as high as 1600x1200, with an anti-
glare coating. If you work in a bright office, with lots of sunshine,
anti-glare coatings are worth every cent. Good Viewsonic/Optiquest
monitors in 19" sizes run about $300.
BUT! Monitors are heavy. Shippers charge by the pound. Shippers
drop things, run forklifts into things, shippers toss things about.
FACT: Monitors are made mostly out of hard heavy glass, and mounted
in cheap plastic cases.
HINT: you may very well be better off buying your monitor locally.
Make the seller take it out of the box, turn it on, and show you
pretty pictures. If it dies in 90 days, take it back and exchange it.
If the box looks bad, skip that one. Let the dealer play with it.
The ultimate point here is that JFORCES displays a lot of stuff. You
will squint till your head hurts with a small average quality screen.
You can get some pretty nice screens at the $400 level that will stand
you in good stead for years to come. (Of course, if you really like
aspirin ... )
Local computer stores will sell you 20gig hard drives, on sale mind
you, for $100. Some internet based companies will offer you 30gig
for the same price. My current price-point (pant, pant), is $120 for
40gig. These are generally: IDE, UDMA-66, 5400rpm, 3.5" form factor.
We know that the cheap 20gig hard drives work for JFORCES. There are
two ways that you can speed up disk access, for those who KNOW they
are going to hit the databases long and hard.
Buy two 20/30gig drives with spindle speeds of 7200rpms and put the
operating system and JFORCES program files on the first drive, the
FORCES data bases on the second.
Use a fast SCSI controller and fast SCSI disk drives. It's a nice
recommendation to make, but we haven't played around with it much.
So, you're on your own.
All the new ones are about 50x, use a standard ATAPI/IDE interface
cable, and just work under Linux. Set them up as the Primary drive
on the Second IDE channel. Let BIOS know it's there. About $50.
Anything above 24x works well. The prices difference between 24x
and 32x comes down to a dollar or so. If you have a spare just
floating around doing nothing, this is a good place to save money.
You won't use a CD-ROM all that much, so performance is not an issue.
Iomega ZIP drives
Get the internal ones. I have several of the 100mb size ones, and
the internal version transfers data A WHOLE LOT QUICKER than the
external parallel ones do, and they are cheaper. About $45 street.
The 250mb size is running about $70 on the street.
Install as a slave drive on the second channel.
Still kind of useful, worth about $20. If you can scrounge one up
for cheap, do it. If you need to transfer small files from a
MicroSoft Windows system to your Linux box via floppy, look into
the 'mtools' documentation.
I've had the best luck with D-link DFE-530Tx+, and Netgear FA310Tx.
Just grab them at $20 and under.
The price difference between 10, and 100mb cards isn't worth saving.
Get the 10/100 ethernet (cat-5 cable) cards.
Linksys likes to change their chips around, and it just takes too
long for all the new numbers to make their way into the Linux network
drivers. Bah Humbug.
3-Com and Intel are well thought of, but you will pay a lot higher
price and get only fractionally better performance.
In a word, the simple answer is: don't. Almost all internal modem
cards that you find on the shelves are 'Win' modems. Linux, in
general, doesn't know how to handle a 'Win' modem. As soon as we
find a good, cheap, internal modem card that works well with Linux,
we will update this document. Till then, the solution is to get
an external modem.
Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS)
The way things are priced in the market at the moment, it makes more
sense to get a pair of small ones rated 3-400, than a larger one,
650. Use one for your main box, the second for hubs, switches,
routers, external modems, etc. Leave the monitor and any printer
plugged straight into the wall.
Most of your power failures will be the 1-5 second variety. The
monitor will come back because it is the video card that actually
holds all the information. You might have to restart a print job.
If power doesn't come back within one minute, plug the monitor
into one of the UPS units, and start shutting your system down.
Under any Unix-like operating system, it is the loss of data that
is staged in memory, waiting to be flushed out to a disk, that is
the main concern during a power outage. When Unix is coming up,
it checks to see if the disk drives are 'clean', i.e. shut down
properly. They will be 'dirty' after a power failure, and Unix
will go through a long nit-picky scan of the hard drives looking
Secondary benefits to having a UPS is line conditioning. Most
take care of 'brown outs' caused by high air-conditioning demands
during the height of the summer. They also take care of surges,
spikes, drops and a host of other ailments caused by the guy next
door and his arc-welding equipment. (Large air compressors, over
head doors, grocery store freezer room compressors kicking in.
You can get a surprisingly large amount of noise on your power
lines from erratic heating pads.)
The Hardware Summary
Cliff's original machine, purchased October 2000, set us back $700
for the basic box. Add in a $200 monitor, $25 network card,
external modem $100, upgrade the memory by 128mb $90,
and we are close to $1100.
700mhz Duron, 192mb main memory, 19gig hard drive,
52x CD-ROM, 3.5" 1.44mb floppy, 32mb TNT-2 video,
P/S-2 mouse and keyboard ports, 2 serial, 1 USB,
1 parallel, 10/100 network card, external modem,
17" monitor, mid-tower case with 300w power supply,
keyboard, mouse, power cord.
Note: this is without an operating system. The SuSE 7.0 linux distribution
retails for about $70, and you can spread it's cost across as many machines
as you have. Red Hat 7.0 is about the same cost. (A pox on Windows.)
This leaves you with at least $400 to hop up or enhance your box with
with the latest in mouse pad accessories. What? You want a Sound Card?
Speakers? A true JFORCES multi-media surround-sound extravaganza
will be in a somewhat later release. But you'll have to pry it out of our
cold dead hands.
## 350 lines of hardware jabber, 14,000+ characters of tech-talk, ##
## and we can finally move on to the part about installing Linux. ##