Linux Hardware for JFORCES:

Notes, Thoughts, Comments, Etc ...

Oct 29, 2000 -- Lloyd Sweeny.

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

General guidelines:

ATX form factor (no micro ATX)

133mhz FSB (Front Side Bus)

UDMA 66 (disk transfer speed)

'Socket A'

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

Video Cards


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.

Hard Drive


Minimum: 20gig, 5400rpm, UDMA-33

Better: 7200rpm, UDMA-66

Best: scsi, 10,000rpm, possibly dual drive.


Recommend: Some Maxtor 45gig, 7200rpm, UDMA-66 drives are

selling for about $170.

CD-ROM drive


Just about anything above 32x that uses a standard ATAPI/IDE interface.

ZIP Drives


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.

Floppy drive


Any 3.5" 1.44mb will do.

Network Cards


You will have the best luck with:

D-Link DFE-530Tx+

Netgear FA310Tx

Modem Cards


DON'T! NO internal modem cards.

Get an external modem for use with Linux.

Update 11/23/00, found at

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

Aopen FM56-ITU/2

Sound Cards


Not Needed.

DVD Drives


Not Needed

CD-RW Drives


Not needed by normal user.

Tape Drives


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 to monitor 'street level' pricing of hardware.,, and

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.

Video Cards


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 ... )

Hard Drive(s)


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.

CD-ROM drives


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.

Floppy drive


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.

Network Cards


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.

Modem cards


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

for trouble.

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.

Cliff's machine:

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. ##


See linux-installation