I started shopping for a new computer months ago. While I’d repaired and rebuilt a number of laptops and old desktops, this was to be my first completely-fresh, bottom-up build. During both the research and building phases, there were a number of questions I couldn’t (at first) find answers to. Hopefully, this post will provide an answer or two for somebody else out there trying to do something similar.
Right off the bat, I set a strict budget, both for expense and for my performance expectations. I didn’t need a killer gaming rig, wild graphics, or huge speed. I’m used to using 2nd- or 3rd-hand beater laptops, and just about anything would be a step up. What I was looking to build was a sort of “super net-top”, a fast- and capable-enough small computer for websurfing, light IT and web-design, light home-office apps, music and video playback, and the like. I wanted to have a decent chunk of screen real-estate and the ability to enjoy the best of Compiz Fusion. I also wanted to make the whole rig as reasonable energy-efficient as possible. Technically, my wants were:
- A mini-ITX motherboard (for potential case-mods)
- Hassle-free Ubuntu Linux compatibility without weird driver crap
- Dual-monitor support right out-of-the-box, with no additional cards, etc.
- Gobs of fast memory
- An SSD boot drive
I researched, and shopped around, and tried my best to answer all my technical questions beforehand, but in the end just had to plunge in, assemble the parts, and hope for the best. What I ended up with was:
- Zotac IonITX-L-E motherboard
- Crucial 4Gb DDR3 1066 memory
- Intel 40Gb X25-V SSD
- FSP 220-60LE power supply
- 2x MAG GML2226 RT 22″ LED-backlit displays
It took awhile to get it running (given the whacky casemods), but run it did. So, here to answer those questions I had before the build, that you might have as well:
- The DDR3 RAM works just fine out-of-the box, despite conflicting claims on other forums, reviews, and the Zotac site itself. I have nothing to but more+faster memory has always been my favorite and cheapest upgrade. Yes, the integrated GPU does reserve about 750Mb for itself; if the remaining 3.25Mb is too small for your desired use, you probably have the wrong rig.
- Ubuntu Linux 10.04 installed to the connected SSD fast and painlessly on my very first boot. I’d made a LiveUSB install with my Ubuntu laptop, stuck it in an open port, connected all the wires, and just hit the switch. The entire install and update took comfortably less than an hour. The RAM, SSD and Linux make for the most wicked-fast boots and application loads I’ve ever seen first-hand.
- One click on System/Administration/Hardware Drivers, and Ubuntu offered up the correct nVidia drivers. Bing, bang, boom, usefully complete and comprehensive Ion support without a hitch, both displays calibrated and cooking in minutes. TwinView and Compiz played nice from the start; full monitor-spanning “cube” effects with zero hassles. Ion lives up to the hype; I wouldn’t dare gaming or major CAD on this rig, but the graphics fly and leave the CPU well behind.
I did run into other problems, but those were not so much the hardware or system itself, but more with casemod issues. In the meantime, I’m extremely pleased with the motherboard, SSD, RAM, and displays, and how they all play nicely together with each other and Ubuntu.