[sf-lug] new linux box

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Nov 16 11:18:08 PST 2007

Quoting Alex Kleider (a_kleider at yahoo.com):

> Again, my gratitude goes out to all who have given me input re my plans
> for building a high end computer.
> Your responses have driven home to me how little I really understand
> about the issues.
> No, I am NOT a gamer! and I don't foresee any need for 3D graphics.
> I would however like to get into photo editing (GIMP)
> and be able to use VMWare (I need a MSWindows based program to see
> images delivered over the web for my job) which as I understand it is a
> program that can actually run MicroSoft Windows as a linux program. To
> do that I assume it needs a lot of hardware resources.

It's a common misconception that Linux in general must need a lot of
hardware resources.  It's true that the two Linux-based apps you mention
(The GIMP and VMware) are relatively resource-intensive, but that's
mostly a moderate thirst for RAM, not (largely) CPU.  I guess this needs
to be put into perspective.

I have for client purposes a ThinkPad T43p with (I think) 2 GB of RAM
and a single 2.13 GHz Pentium M.  It's certainly very nice for a laptop,
but no barnburner by the standards of the machine you spec'd -- but it
can run VMware Workstation 5 with guest-OS Windows XP underneath Debian
"lenny" (running the Window Maker window manager) as the main (host) OS
without feeling any strain whatsoever.  And ditto running The GIMP 
simultaneously in Debian, while also typically at the same time running
Firefox aka Iceweasel and a half-dozen xterms.

As a very general rule, when newcomers to Linux spec i386-PC-type (I
mean, as opposed to SPARC, PowerPC, etc.) hardware for Linux, because 
they are thinking of MS-Windows's generally much greater demand for CPU, 
they aim much too high on CPU power, and would be better advised to
allocate that same money to more RAM, or better I/O-oriented parts.

I keep saying "in general" because I'm aware that machine roles differ.

My main personal laptop is a rather old Apple iBook 2.2 w/800 MHz G3
PowerPC CPU, with a mere 256 MB of RAM, running the Xubuntu Linux
distribution (Ubuntu variant with the Xfce4 desktop environment).  It,
too, runs The GIMP without any sign of strain, alongside all the normal
other stuff I run, which basically amounts normally to a copy of Firefox
and a bunch of xterms.  To be sure, if I were using The GIMP intensively
for photo editing, instead of just using it lightly, the RAM usage would 
probably shoot up, but I'm betting it would be still perfectly
reasonable.  (You might, however, choose to take that guesstimate cum
granum salis, because I'm nobody's idea of a graphics guy.)

Be aware that there are also a bunch of technologies for running Win32
apps under Linux, some of them way, way less demanding on CPU and RAM
than VMware is.  The least demanding is the completely open source WINE
environment, which unlike VMware doesn't set up a virtualised PC, but
instead is a support environment for Win32 apps right within Linux.  The
downside is that not all Win32 apps run under WINE.  There are also a
couple of proprietary extensions to WINE, the better known of which is 
CrossOver (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CrossOver).  At any given time,
CrossOver runs all Win32 apps WINE currently does, plus a bunch of
others.  Similar to CrossOver but focussed on Win32 games is Cedega, 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedega.  In addition, WINE, CrossOver, and
Cedega have the advantage of integrating the Win32 apps right into your 
Linux desktop, rather than ghettoised into a virtual-Windows window.  
Also, none of them requires that you buy and install MS-Windows, because
WINE/CrossOver/Cedega run Win32 apps directly from Linux.

VMware is certainly the ultimate solution, being able to run essentially
anything at all, because, after all, you're setting up an entire
emulated PC running in a little window.  The emulated PC gets a Windows
OS installed into it, and then you install your apps into that.
However, now Windows and its apps are in their own little world, and it
takes a little thinking and effort to share files between the OSes, and
so on.  

> Also I'd like to spoil myself and not worry too much about having too
> many  screens/windows open at a time. And have everything work asap!
> (I've started my Linux career using rejected equipment but now that I'm
> committed to it, I feel it's time to seriously upgrade!)
> So what I'm looking to get is high end, just shy of the 'latest' (so
> there won't be Linux compatibility issues and also so that the
> product(s) will be know to be reliable.)
> I certainly don't want to throw money away but I'm lucky enough not to
> have too much financial constraint.

I understand and sympathise.  I haven't attempted to spec a desktop box
in a long time (have been mostly on laptops and servers, and the only
workstation boxes I've been dealing in are corporate ones made by Dell,
HP, IBM, and Sun).  Back when I was doing so, if you wanted the ultimate
in regular 2D video quality and performance, you shopped for a Matrox
card.  I've not kept up with the news, so that might no longer be the

> Has anyone got a specific processor and motherboard to recommend? 

Part of what I was getting at, above, is that, within reason, the CPU
for a Linux desktop box doesn't really matter much.  Any current
production PC has a dual-core x86_64-capable CPU runing at 2GHz or
above, which is so vastly in excess of most people's needs on Linux so
that differences don't matter.  True, doing intensive graphics work does
add some additional CPU load -- and also RAM.  So does enabling heavy
desktop "effects" in GNOME or KDE.  My guesstimate is that it still 
doesn't matter much.

Other people who really _do_ significant graphics work should speak up,
however.  My offering an opinion on that matter is not a really great

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