My Linux Workstation






Antec Black Solution Series ATX Mid-Tower Case with 350W Power Supply, Model SLK3700-BQE



Intel D865PERL i865PE Chipset Motherboard for Intel Socket 478 CPU



Intel P4 3.0GHz (Prescott) BX80546PG3000E



Kingston ValueRAM DDR400 512MB KVR400X64C3A/512


Hard Drive

Western Digital 80GB 7200RPM w/8MB cache WD800JB



ASUS Black 52X32X52 IDE Internal CD-RW Drive w/ QuieTrack Technology, Model CRW-5232AS QT Black



ASUS Black 16X DVD-ROM/ 48X CD-ROM Drive, Model DVD-E616P2



Sony Black 1.44MB 3.5inch Floppy Disk Drive, Model MPF920 Black


Exhaust Fan

Antec All Clear 120mm SmartCool Thermally Controlled Case fan, Model 75012


Thermal Paste

Arctic Silver Premium Silver Polysynthetic Silver Thermal Compound, Model Arctic Silver 5, 3.5-gram (1 cc) tube


NewEgg Subtotal







It's quiet. The computer will be in a room where I don't want to hear a lot of fan noise when I'm not using it. It will function as the router/firewall for my home network, so it will be on all of the time. Excessive fan noise is unacceptable.

Its front USB ports are easily accessible. I already have a computer with no front USB ports and two computers with ports at the bottom of the case, near the floor. Now that I've started regularly using a USB flash memory stick, I need to be able to reach the USB ports without getting out of my chair. I tried an extension cable running from the back of the computer around to my desktop, but it felt like a kludge. Better front panel placement of the ports is the real solution.

It has plenty of drive space. I recently bought a box with only one internal 3.5” mount (I don't know what I was thinking) and regretted it within days. No more. This case has 4x5.5” external, 2x3.5” external, and 4x3.5” internal drive mounts. The internal drive mounts are turned sideways to face the side of the box. So when the side panel is removed, the backs of those drives are facing you. The cables are right in front of you and the drive rails make it easy to get the drives in and out.

Mount point for front fan. Even though noise was a factor in my decision, I wanted to make sure cooling would not become an issue, so I selected a case that had a mount point for a front case fan. Both the front and rear fans are 120mm, which allows larger, slower, and therefore quieter fans to move enough air through the case to keep things cool.

Tool-free access. The side panel has thumbscrews and latches, the 5.25 and internal 3.5 drives are on quick-release rails, while the external 3.5 drives are mounted using a quick-release latch/rail system. You won't need a screwdriver unless you have to attach or remove the rails on a drive.

Con: Front panel external drive cover/door. I use my CD drives often enough that having to open a door to get to them quickly becomes a hassle. Fortunately, this door was easy enough to remove. I can put it back later if my usage pattern changes.


It works with Linux. I had a bad experience recently with a motherboard that allowed me to install Linux, but crashed on boot. After reading reviews at various web sites, I happened to run across an Intel support page that listed Linux drivers for their one of their boards. Bingo! Of course the board had to meet my other requirements as well, and this one did.

It has five PCI slots. On-board audio, video, and networking are fine, but as a Linux user, I prefer to have a few cards that I know work and use them instead of dealing with the vagaries of Linux support of various vendor chipsets. In this case, the only thing that was on-board was the audio and Intel posted drivers for that. I'm not a gamer, so my trusty old ATI Rage 128 (16MB) card easily meets my requirements. I have several network cards in the closet, several of which will run at 100MB, which is more than sufficient for my home network, and overkill for my broadband connection. Additionally, the 2.4.20 kernel that ships with the current version of my preferred distro (Red Hat) supports the CDCEther module. That means I can use one of the USB ports to connect to my cable modem. That frees up a PCI slot that would otherwise have a second network card (this is my router/gateway).

It has dual-channel DDR400 RAM slots. This allows fast access to up to 2GB of memory.


I wanted a fast processor, but not the fastest (aka, the most expensive). As has been recommended in many articles on choosing a computer, I chose something just behind the leading edge of performance at a considerable savings.


Anything would have done, and the Kingston ValueRAM was not much more than the others.

Hard Drive

I've had good experience with both Western Digital and Maxtor, and this WD was a little faster and cheaper than its Maxtor equivalent. Note that this drive has 8MB cache. Linux is very disk intensive, so a fast drive with plenty of cache is a key requirement.


Both of these ASUS units have QuietTrack technology. Any drives that reliably read and burned disks would have done. The noise reduction on these units made them stand out of the crowd. I already have a DVD-RW in the house, and I haven't found a use for it yet. I don't see the point of getting another, although I want to be able to read DVD data disks on all my computers.

Floppy Drive

This unit is from a reliable company and it's the right color for the Antec case.

Exhaust Fan

This Antec unit is supposed to be a low noise model, which is supported by the noise level quoted in the specs. I used the exhaust fan included with the case as a front intake fan and made this unit the exhaust fan, due to its temperature control. The only problem I ran into with this is that the included fan had rubber mounts which were intended to be pushed through the large mounting holes on the rear of the case. I had to remove the rubber mounts (destroying them in the process) in order to mount the included fan in the front. The front mount point had normal-sized threaded holes which worked fine with the included fan mounting screws. The large holes at the rear fan mount point required that I use a screw/nut combination to mount the fan.

Thermal Paste

I'd read some reviews about how hot the processor could get, and that this brand of paste is better than the stock thermal pad that ships with most processors. For about $12 to help cool a $190 processor, it's cheap insurance.


Other than the screws and nuts for the rear fan, everything I needed was included. I ordered from NewEgg on a Saturday night (they don't process shipments on the weekend) and everything arrived intact the following Wednesday. Shipping for all the items totaled about $34, which I think is pretty good for such fast delivery.

Since this is my first self-built computer, I tackled the stuff I knew best first. The drives were easy to mount, as I previously described. I then mounted the front fan to get it out of the way. Mounting the motherboard was also trouble-free. I took my time with the processor, as I've heard horror stories about people ruining expensive chips by bending pins or having some other mishap. I prepped the heatsink using the instructions at the web site of the thermal paste vendor. A few minutes with a plastic putty scraper and isopropyl rubbing alcohol and the heatsink was ready. To my pleasant surprise, the chip dropped right into the motherboard and was locked down without fanfare. After putting a good-sized drop of thermal paste on the processor, the heatsink also went on easily.

At this point I felt the hard part was done. I attached various power, front panel, and drive cables, following the diagram on the motherboard manual. It would have been nice if there were an easy way to identify positive and negative wires on the HDD LED cable. There is probably some color standard, but that information is not readily available to the novice builder and should have been included in the case manual. It was just an LED, so I solved it by trial and error.

As a temporary measure, just to keep things moving, I attached the rear fan using twist wires that are used when shipping power cables (the same kind used on loaves of bread). This allowed me to make sure everything was going to work. I fired the system up and took a look at the BIOS. There were more features there than I 'd seen in OEM boxes, including CPU temperature monitoring and fan speed monitoring. After watching the temp stabilize at about 54C, I set the boot options, inserted the first Red Hat 9 CD, and rebooted the system. The operating system install was uneventful, as expected. I've been installing Red Hat systems for more than six years, so absent some unexpected hardware incompatibility or failure, I was ready to declare success.

As it turns out, I used the system for about a day with RH9, then decided to switch to Fedora Core 3. The new kernel and the newer GNOME and associated apps were primary attractions. The only glitch I ran into was that the 2.6 kernel handles USB devices in a way not expected by xsane. In order to get my scanner working with FC3, I did a lot of digging around until I found the answer on Karl Kremer's SANE Epson backend - libusb page.

The only other time consuming task left was to move all my data over to the new drive. Since my old box had two hard drives, one just for data, I copied all the user data over to the second drive. I su'd to each user and used tar -cf /mnt/data/home/username/oldhome.tar ./ to archive the user's data onto the second drive. No need to gzip it, as there was plenty of space and gzip would only slow down the process. Omitting compression would also make it easier to use tar for incremental backups to the second drive later. Getting all the relevant config files involved spending a little more time searching around. I used mc in a terminal because it let me specify a target directory, select files and directories quickly and use F5 to copy them over. Neither the command line nor a GUI are as fast as mc for this kind of task. Surprisingly, I found that mc copies ownership/permissions and includes hidden files when copying directories. This tool is a must for every sysadmin.


Overall, I rate the project as a success. I have a fast, quiet box, the new GNOME 2.8 interface, and a distro that is in active development. I could probably have saved some money on some of the components, but I wanted to reduce the chances of hardware incompatibility or failure.

Anthony E. Greene

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