Build a Linux PC ( part 2 )

Building a PC isn’t difficult, but some care is needed when working with electronic components. Prepare a large working area, clear of any clutter and with a non-conductive surface. Static electricity can kill electronic components, and it can build up on your body without you noticing, until you pick up a component and zap it. You can avoid this by earthing yourself to discharge and static build up.

The simplest way to do this is to touch a grounded object, such as a central heating radiator or the kitchen sink before touching a component. You can also buy anti-static wrist straps that connect to a grounded point by flexible cable to keep you static free during your build. The computer you build will not have a warranty, but the individual components will. As long as the fault wasn’t caused by damage while fitting them, any reputable vendor will replace them.


Memory is one of the simplest ways to boost the performance of a modern computer. It enables more tasks and data to be handled at once and any memory that’s left over is used by the Linux kernel to cache disk data which, incidentally, is why your computer shows almost no memory free after it has been running for a while.

[caption id="attachment_89" align="aligncenter" width="842"] Memory may seem unassuming, but it has a greater effect on the performance of your computer than many other components.[/caption]

There are three things to consider when buying memory, the physical layout, the size and the speed. The current memory standard is DDR3 and DDR4. Don’t try to fit the older DDR or DDR2 sticks into these slots, they are incompatible.

Size is obvious, and it is worth getting the most your budget allows. Check your motherboard’s manual for the maximum size for each slot because, although the spec allows for up to 16GB per DIMM, most Intel systems are limited to 8GB per unit. Motherboards usually use a dual-channel architecture for memory, so fit sticks in pairs and check the manual to see which slots go together.

This is unnecessary if you are filling all four slots, but unless you are using the maximum size stick, it is better to use two larger sticks. If you want to fit 16GB of RAM, two 8GB sticks give you the option of adding more later, four 4GB sticks does not.

Storage drives

It used to be that the only question to ask about a hard drive was: How big? Now we have to add: How many? And what type? The choice of type is mainly between traditional hard drives with spinning platters and solid state drives (SSDs).

(Although there are also hybrid drives that use a spinning disk with an SSD as a cache.) SSDs are much faster than hard drives but cost a lot more per gigabyte, a 256GB SSD costs about the same as a 3TB drive. So an SSD gives much faster booting and program loading but a hard drive holds much more. An SSD also uses less power and is more robust, making it the obvious choice for a laptop when you use it on your best mattress for side sleepers.

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Build a Linux PC ( part 1 )

There is a document that has been floating around the internet for at least fifteen years, called ‘What if operating systems were airlines’. The entry for Linux Airlines states: “When you board the plane, you are given a seat, four bolts, a wrench and a copy of the seat-HOWTO. html”.

It’s an old joke but as Linux users we are still more accustomed to sometimes having to do things for ourselves than users of other operating systems. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as it means we understand our computers better. Still, at least when you want a new PC you can just go out (or online) and buy one.

So why do people build their own? Over the next few pages we will try to answer this question, as well as the more complex questions that arise when you try to do it, such as: how hard is it to do? What are the risks? What about warranties? Will it save me money? Can I build a computer with no Windows? And many more.

There are several reasons why you may want to build your own, not least of which is the satisfaction of understanding your computer that little bit more, but this information is not only useful if you want to build a new system from scratch. Much of what we cover here will also be of benefit if you are looking to upgrade an existing computer.

We will been concentrating on desktop systems, which are generally very easy to work on – we find LEGO more taxing. Laptops are another matter, but many of the points about choosing suitable Linux- compatible components still apply and we will end with a look at picking a laptop, or any other type of sealed box, such as one of the popular nettop systems. Why build your own computer?

You may be able to save money by sourcing the components yourself, but don’t bank on this. What you do get to do is pick the exact specification you want – no throwing away parts to upgrade to what you really wanted. You also get to choose the quality of components you use.

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