Building a computer with linux in mind by Termina "Kickass" Morte

I. Preface
II. Introduction
III. Purchasing components for your system
IV. Building the system
V. Installing Linux
VI. Wrapping Up
VII. Ending

I. Preface

This should be an intresting guide for two reasons. First, this is my first real guide. Second, this is geared to both hardware and software, which makes it a tad bit hard for me to write this. There are lots of guides like this on the net, so if you don't like this one, screw you. ^_^

This is for

While I doubt anyone would be so desperate as to steal my guide, I feel I should still have this warning:

Feel free to use this guide anywhere you like, as long as you give me credit for it and don't change it.

II. Introduction

Now, there are a few things we're going to try to accomplish in this guide.

We want to build a fairly top of the line system for under $500 (This includes software and perendaphils).
We want to install Linux, the distro depends on our taste and what we want to do with linux.

Also, as a side note.... don't bitch to me if you mess something up (hardware or software wise). I don't care, and I don't like you. ^_^

That out of the way, let's begin.

III. Purchasing components for your system

I would personally go with an AMD system. They're cheaper and just as good as Intel.

There are two main sites we will be using for hardware. Pricewatch and NewEgg. (NewEgg is optional, only use it if you want to buy more expensive things, but with basically no risk). Remember: ALWAYS LOOK AT THE REVIEWS! If they have a score of 8/200, stay away!

Pricewatch has a classified section, so before buying a (possibly) more expensive option brand new, you might be able to find a cheap used solution. I personally picked up a kickass motherboard combo (Athlon Thunderbird 1.2ghz w/ some Gigabyte motherboard, 4 PCI, 8X AGP, etc.) for around $40. Not too shabby, especially since I was able to overclock it to around 1.4ghz. Go me!

If you want to order a motherboard combo (and thus ensure that the CPU is compadible with the motherboard) you can pick up a Athlon XP 2600 for around $100. Note that this motherboard would probally suck. 2 or 3 PCI slots, no (or crappy) AGP, and all sorts of bad junk. But hey, if you want to go VERY light on the cost, and have the possibility of hardware conflicts, this is probally the best option.

In my most humble opinion (and for the sake of this guide), it would be better to order them seperatly (and thus make sure you get yourself a good motherboard). I'd recommend ASUS. It will cost a little more, but it will be worth it in the long run. If you get a ASUS motherboard, I'd suggest going with the A7N8X-E Deluxe model. You might need a patch for the onboard network/audio stuff, since the nforce2 chipset wasn't supported by the 2.4.x kernel. 2.6.x supports it though, so if you're going with a distro with that, fine.

This motherboard is around $70 (Detailed stats are found here:

Then pick up a Athlon XP 2600 for $70-80, OR get an Athlon XP 3000 for $130-140. Which one you get is up to you. For the sake of this article, we'll pick the Athlon XP 3000 for $140. Make sure to get a heatsink and fan! Make sure to get a good one make for your CPU type (Athlon XP, A socket). Shouldn't run you much at all.

You obviously need a case to put this all in! Pick up a cheap one for $20. I found a $20 case with a side and back fan, which was nice.

Next you'll want to pick up some ram. Depending on what you're doing with this system, you'll want from 512mb of ram up to 2gigs. For now, let's just pick up a PC3200 DDR 1GB stick of ram. It only costs $138 dollars, which isn't too bad.

Next you'll want a video card (since the motherboard doesn't have onboard video). Just pick up a 16 or 32mb video card from a local store (or if you can find a cheap one on ebay, do that). Unless you plan on playing alot of games on it, of course. You could get a 128mb Geeforce hard for around $60, but for the sake of this guide we won't get the Geeforce.

So far, so good! Only $298 dollars, and you already have the core of your system ordered.

Now for the final touches!

You'll want a good CD-Rom drive. $17 for a 56x is a good deal, so grab one of those.

For a powersupply, you should probally pick up a 400w one. $11 is a very nice deal, in my opinion, so pick one up. If you plan on adding more HDDs and whatnot later to your system, you may want to get a 500w power supply, which doesn't cost too much more.

Next you'll want a good hard drive. One big enough not just for linux (which, coincidently, is quite small), but one might enough to host and store files for your users. You can pick up a 80gig HDD for $49 (or if you feel you need more space, get 2 80 hdds. Better than getting a 120gig HDD, in the event of harddrive faliure, or a power spike corrupting the disk. You can use one for backup, or one to store the files... however you wish to do it). For the sake of argument, let's just get both HDDs for now, at a total of $98 dollars. (Note, you could optionally pick up a small SCSI drive that is, say, 9 gigs. At 10,000rpm up to 15,000rpm, it would be great to have your OS on. Then have an 80gig for backup/storage).

You'll want a floppy drive ($8) for bootdisks, and small file transfers (text, conf, etc.) While this is totally optional, not having one can really turn around and bite you on the ass, trust me.

Now, here is something you only need if you use the 2.4.x kernel. A network card. Your motherboard has one onboard, but as I mentioned, it may not work when you first install (because of the nforce2 chipset issue). So you should probally disable the onboard one in bios, and pick up a $3 NIC card just to be safe.

That should be it! Now just wait a few days for the stuff to arrive, and bookmark (or better yet, print!) out this here guide. ^_^ Make sure to save all your order information (print it out, and burn it to CD) in case of a faulty/broken item, or if it never shows. I've only had one problem in my time ordering computer parts, but that one problem was enough to show me the importance of this. If you don't, don't blame me when they need an invoice number that you can't find.

This brought us to a total of $402 (including shipping, maybe more if prices have changed. No matter what, it's far below our goal of $500

Now, you can choose to buy a monitor for this computer if you choose... or you can install it (with the monitor from your main computer), and then just run it in CLI mode, managing it from SSH. I'll leave that decision up to you. A tip though... don't order monitors online. They're prone to be bad quality, DOA, and the shipping is always horrible. Just pick one up from a local bestbuy (a cheap one, that can atleast go in 1024x768 mode). If you want to buy a monitor from a local computer store insist that you test it first. Make sure it can go into a nice resolution, that there are no scratches, and no problems with it.

A monitor like that shouldn't be more than $60, so that will bring you to a grand total of $460 for:

Athlon XP 3000+, 1 gig PC3200 DDR ram, 2x 80gig HDDs, random video card, NIC, 56x CD-Rom, and a floppy drive. (And if you chose to, a monitor).

Not too shabby, eh?

IV. Building the system

Now it's time to put our system together.

Starting out, make sure to ground yourself by touching the side of the case. Also, you should do this in an area that is NOT carpeted. Static electrisity can really mess you up, and I'm sure you don't want to buy replacment parts.

First, take your case, and make sure all the wires are out the way of where you're going to be mounting the motherboard. (If you have to, tape them to where the floppy drive will go.) You may have to move around the bronze mounting screws that go into the back of the case, so that they line up with the holes in the motherboard (make sure you have them in every place the motherboard will need them! These will ground the motherboard, and also make sure it's steady enough to take some punishment from you installing parts and everyday use.

When your motherboard is screwed in (and lined up with the parrelle/mouse/keyboard/etc port holes in the back), you're ready to install the power supply. Place it (carefully!) in the back of the system, it should be a good fit. Now screw in all 4 screws. Plug it into the motherboard (you should only need to plug in the large/long clear plasic part.) It's quite obvious where it goes. ^_^ Next, whip out your motherboard manual, and place the wires from the case where they need to go. The common ones are: Sound, HDD LED, Power (PW) switch, Restart switch, and Power LED. You only need the Power switch, though the rest are very nice to have.

Personally, I'm a lazy bastard, and never connect the others. You should, so do as I say, not as I do.

Now connect the CPU and Heatsink/Fan. Use a flatheaded screwdriver to get the headsink/fan on. Be VERY careful not to apply too much force, and make sure to have the screwdrive have a nice grip on the heatsink clasp before getting it on. If you look at the bottom of the heatsink, you'll notice one side has an indentation.. Make sure the indentation goes on the plasic part where the CPU rests. If you have cooling gel, place a little on the core of the CPU. (There will usually be a website on the cooling gel that will tell you exactly how to apply it). Too much is as bad as too little, so be careful!

Now put in your stick(s) of ram, and make sure it's in secure (both plasic things to the side should be locked in place).

Now, before going any further, we want to make sure you can power on. Just push the power button after connecting the powercord to the power supply, and see if it turns on. If so, turn it off (hold the power button) and unplug it. If it DOESN'T turn on, go back to your manual and get the wire settings right. You can just keep trying every combonation you can until it turns on (which I've had to do a few times, sadly). If you have frontside USB, you should do that now (though you can't really test it quite yet).

Another important note: Put your motherboard manual someplace safe! Photocopy it as well. I cannot stress how badly you are screwed if you loose it.

Set the jumpers on your harddrives and CD-Rom drives. CD-Rom should be set to master, one harddrive should be master as well, and one harddrive should be slave.

Connect your harddrives to the (hopefully) red IDE port on the motherboard, and your CD-Rom drive to the white/yellow near it. Next connect your floppy drive to the floppy port on the motherboard, and plug all your drives into the power supply. Now connect your video card to the AGP/PCI port, and screw it in. Do the same with your NIC (network card) into a free PCI port.

You're done! Now just plug in your monitor, and enter bios to disable your onboard network interface and you're set. (Only if you have a NIC card installed now...)

Set your boot devices to (Should be under Advanced):
Boot 1: Floppy
Boot 2: CD-Rom
Boot 3: IDE-0

Congrats! If you're this far, you've completed the most dangerous and hard part yet. Feel proud, feel powerful! ^_^ You've just made your own computer, saving yourself money, and learned a lot. Hopefully. Since you also know what's in it (hopefully) and all their specs, you shouldn't have any hardware issues you cannot resolve quickly and easily.

Make sure to make a name for your computer. Perhaps on the experiance you had while building it. Here are some humours scenarios/names.

* Cut yourself while you build it? Name it "BloodSuckingBitch", or the name of an Ex-Girlfriend
* Have a rush of power now that you're done? Name it something blasphemous. (GreaterThanChrist?)

You get the idea.

But now it's time to install Linux.

V. Installing Linux You can either burn these CDs yourself, have a friend burn them, or buy them for (usually) $6-$10

Depending on how you are, and what you want, you're going to need a certain linux distro.

Knoppix: Knoppix is a live distro, so you can make sure all your hardware works perfectly before you install it (and thus not waste time). Run this little baby up, and make sure your soundcard (if you have/want one), internet (you may have to mess around with DHCP or netconfig), and video card work well with it. If you install Knoppix, you can install it as Debian and save yourself alot of trouble. Knoppix uses apt-get, which is a great update/upgrade/installation tool. To install Knoppix, simply open up a terminal and "sudo knx-hdinstall".

Debian: Debian is a fairly hard distro to install. Knoppix is based off of it, so if you're new to linux you'd be better off with that. If you'd rather struggle and learn alot, choose this option and go get the first Debian CD. Install it like you would any linux distro, but do not get any packages with dselect and that other useless package manager. Then install Xwindows with apt-get, as well as Gnome/KDE.

Ubuntu: Ubuntu you can get free (don't even have to pay shipping) from It's a great distro, and have both a live and install ISO. It's based off debian, and is my workstation distro of choice. It has very nice hardware detection, and uses Gnome.

Slackware: Slackware is a fairly hard distro to install as well, but it's much easier than Debain to install. It's very secure and basic, depending on how you install it. If you do the "Install everything" option, you'll have everything you could need (but alot more besides). Or you can pick and choose what you want, which is the best option. Make sure to grab swaret (a less useful ripoff of apt-get, but better than nothing).

Fedora: A great distro if you have a top of the line system, lots of ram, are lazy, and don't mind bugs. Personally, I'd rather be sodomized by a horse.

VI. Wrapping Up

A few sites that you might be intrested in:

These are all places you can find programs for linux, you can really find anything you want. :)

VII. Ending

Well, thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope this helps SOMEONE. If you have any comments, please email me at (or

I'm sure prices will change, and I'm also sure I'm too lazy to update them. The basics apply, and the prices are relative. A 80gig HDD at the time of this writing costs as much as a 120gig HDD a few months later. No worries. Build a computer like the one talked in here for much less, or get a better computer for the same. It's all good.