Satya's blog - New Linux computer build notes

Dec 18 2008 15:10 New Linux computer build notes

I bought a new computer in November/December 2008, to replace the aging Linux box (I have good reason to do that). Here are the build notes.

I bought all the components from Newegg. They arrived in 5 boxes: 1 vid card, 1 case (obvious), 1 cpu, 1 mobo, 1 hdd, plus 1 envelope for RAM.

I bought a new hard drive so I could easily install a new Ubuntu Ibex system from scratch, and then have the old system available for reference. I could also put in just the old drive to get the old system back if I had to.

The case is an Antec Sonata III with Earthwatts 500W power supply, which is apparently auto-sensing 110-240V. The case fan has a 3-speed switch, and connects to a hard drive power connector (4-pin Molex).

PSU has hard switch on back. Front panel switch on modern cases connects to the motherboard for "soft" power switch. There was a random unexplained piece of brown paper in there, about the size of an ATX motherboard. The box also contained a power cord, manual, and (hidden behind the hard drive trays) a box of screws and stuff.

The hard drive trays have silicone grommets for noise reduction, but do they need special screws? (On second though, I don't think those screws are too special.) The case is lockable and comes with keys. It has a front air-filter, which is washable but hard-to-reach.

Lots of internal power connectors in a big wad: 3 hard drive/CDROM connectors on 1 wire, 2 HDD + 1 floppy connector on another. Lots of 4- and 6-pin power plugs. Another 2 wires with end- and center-located thin flat power plugs. These turned out to be SATA power. Bundled most of the wires out of the way.

A mystery: which one is the motherboard? Found it. Inside the shipping box was a plain box. On top of inner box, was packing peanuts. what about sides and bottom?

I changed the back plate and installed the motherboard. The motherboard did not power on, did not beep the speaker, did nothing. I found a pencilled note in the manual, apparently from someone who had bought and returned it, saying that it was bought from and was dead, so they returned it. I returned it, too. Newegg charged me $10 for the return shipping, and a $6-ish re-stocking fee. That was Saturday. After talking to customer support on Monday, they promptly agreed to refund both fees. I confirmed this with customer support on Tuesday. The next week I again contacted customer support, and they claim to have issued a refund.

A note about Newegg customer support: They're only open Monday-Friday between 8AM and 5PM (approximately) American time, and there's a long wait between initiating chat and someone getting to you. But, they tell you approximately how long the wait is, and once they started talking, they understood my problem and agreed to refund the money right away.

As of this writing, the shipping cost has not been refunded but the re-stocking fee is no longer mentioned anywhere -- I'm guessing they'll return the full amount without subtracting the restocking fee.

On Saturday, more than a week after the first order, I also ordered a different board, this time a Zotac brand. It arrived Wednesday. Not being an "open-box" item, it came in a nice decorative retail box, inside which was a cardboard box (boo for environmental consciousness, yay for packaging). Oh, and Newegg packed this one a lot better than the previous one.

One problem: motherboard power LED connector is 2 pins, case plug is 3 pins. Not a big deal, just means no power indication.

The board, like many cheap modern boards, has only 1 PATA connector. This means twisted short cables or buy a long round cable. I bought a longer cable. It has plenty of SATA connectors, only 2 DIMM slots, takes DDR2 800 RAM, 2-3 PCI slots, supports Intel Core 2 Duo (but I'm using a Pentium -- without virtualization support), lots of USB (including USB case headers i.e. connectors for the case's front panel), Fire-wire/1394 (I need that), and PS/2 connectors, very important for my Model M keyboard and Microsoft mouse. And on-board Ethernet and audio, which every modern board seems to have.

The motherboard box says FSB 133MHz, DDR2-800, 8 channel HD audio, SATA 3GB/s, Gigabit LAN, and MicroATX. (Recording this for posterity, before I recycle the box.) It also says supports Intel Core 2 Quad and Duo, and Pentium dual core and Celeron. 2 PCI dlots, 1 PCIx-1, 1 PCIx-16 (graphics).

The CPU retail box was pretty small. Inside it was mostly heat-sink+fan. cpu is tiny. It's like the TNG scene where Data gets his emotion chip. 1 heat-sink peg broke. Had to remove the mobo from the case to fit it anyway. Tip: easier to assemble on-board components (besides PCI cards) while mobo is NOT in case. This heat-sink, and I suspect other retail bundled heat-sinks, came with thermal grease already applied to it.

Connected up the CPU, RAM, and motherboard and powered on. Ah, on-board PC speaker. That's why there's no speaker connection on the mobo for the case. BIOS seems easy enough to use. Can enable/disable various things, devices, etc. Can set boot order, don't see USB boot option maybe I missed it. Can set memory timings -- leaving those alone.

nVidia northbridge is supposed to be "big fail" on Linux. Sigh. I hoped it's only the video, as I do have a PCI video card I can use. So far, it works fine on Linux at about 1280x1024 at 60Hz.

The 3.5" drive bay very difficult to get out, and even then the hard drive won't fit in it without leaving a hole in the front of the case. And that's just yucky. That's when I ordered the extra PATA/IDE cable. Newegg took a week just to process and ship it. I guess they are busy around the holidays.

It's hard to route cables behind the hard drives -- and you need extra-long cables because of the silly orientation of the trays. Tip: take out all the trays, route the cables, and then install the drives. This also means that I need a long IDE/PATA cable (see above) with long distance between the connectors, since the PATA hard drive is so far away from the nearest optical (DVD) drive bay (the lowest 5.25" bay).

Front USB and audio headers connected. SATA hard drive installed. DVD writer installed, but waiting for new cable.

Linux Ubuntu Ibex installed. At first it refused to run in anything higher than 800x600. Turns out adding HorizSync and VertRefresh to the Monitor section of xorg.conf was enough. gdm restarted, resolution looks fine. In /etc/x11/xorg.conf, I added HorizSync 30-81 and VertRefresh 60

Installed packages to make the system similar to the old one: dpkg --get-selection on the old one, and then look through the list installing packages that I want.

I spent all morning comparing package lists for dpkg between old and new boxes. Next time, dump the list with dpkg and diff.

On-board video has a HDMI-to-digital adapter, so I can use it. It is GeForce 7100, nVidia 630i. Video card I bought is GeForce 6600LE 256MB Matthew said that on-board probably has less RAM or uses system RAM. On-board has 5.3GB/s memory bandwidth versus 16 for the 6600, and 1.4 billion pixels/sec versus 4 billion for the 6600. On-board is 7100, higher number but seems to suck more?

I wonder if I can use one of the graphic systems for actual display and the other one for folding@home or something. based on those two, 7100 is 64bit 6600 is 128bit. And the memory bandwidth differs by a *lot*. I have decided to stick with the on-board 7100 for now. It works for my needs.

(Given that I bought a second system for gaming -- 200 bucks for the parts I needed -- I can use the 6600 in that one.)


  • Antec Sonata III case ATX 500W $74.99
  • Corsair 2x1GB 240 pin SDRAM DDR2 800MHz PC2 6400 $39.99 ($30 MIR)
  • Total $114.98 free ship no tax
  • Gigabyte GA-G31M-S2L LGA 775 Intel Micro ATX mobo 40.99 (open-box)
  • Sparkle GeForce 6600 GDDR2 $19.99
  • Pentium E5200 2.5GHz $82.99
  • Total $143.97 shipping $11.60 grandtotal $155.57
  • okgear 24" SATA cable GC24AURM $1.99
  • WD Caviar SE 320GB 7200RPM 3GB/s OEM $52.99
  • subtotal $54.98 shipping $6.99, total $61.97
  • ZOTAC N73PV-Supreme LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 630i GeForce 7100 HDMI Micro ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail $49.99 ($10 MIR )
  • $8.97 shipping no tax total $58.96
  • IDE cable 13.99-10 coupon
  • shipping 8.25, total 12.24
  • Return shipping for defective motherboard = $10.12 (should be refunded)
  • Total items: $326.92 (excluding RMA board)
  • Rebates: $40
  • Shipping: $35.81
  • Grand Total: $322.73 ($312.61 after RMA shipping refund)

If you exclude the video card, which isn't being used for this system, the total comes to just under $295. Oh, plus Use Tax.

Pictures are available

Update 2008-12-21: My PATA DVD writer (Optiarc) wouldn't work as a secondary on the new long cable. Rather than buying iffy PATA-SATA adapters, or expensive ($50!) PATA PCI cards, I bought a $25 (free shipping) Optiarc drive that's just like the one I have, except it has SATA interface. So I'm out one cable, I have an extra DVD writer, and the price of the system went up by $25.
Additionally, Newegg has refunded the bad motherboard's price but hasn't yet returned the shipping cost, despite repeated assurances from customer support that it'll show up in "3 to 5 business days". and they've finally refunded the return shipping cost.

Last updated: Jan 24 2009 19:35

Tag: geeky hardware