Buying Your First Dedicated Linux PC

Today Cheryl writes in,

Hello Matt,

I’m wondering about buying computers for Linux. I have had Macs for the last ten years, and I know folks like to bash them, but I have had zero problems running Linux with them. I’m now totally committed to Linux, and it doesn’t matter to me if it runs the Mac OS or not, so I’m wondering about the best approach for finding an affordable machine for photo editing, video editing and noodling around. I mainly use Linux Mint, but I’ve been known to distro hop and currently have partitions with Manjaro, Solus and Ubuntu Mate too.

I’m a non-rich, if not starving, artist, so I need to learn how to approach affordable hardware that will run well (which translates to how to have the best possible machine for $600-700, laptop or desktop, either way). I’m all in favor of the folks like System 76 who build for Linux, but they are a bit out of my price range at the moment. I know there are lots of cheap windows machines, but most of those specs aren’t as good as my 2011 Macbook Air… And I hear stories about Windows hardware locking things down so Linux can’t be installed, which is pretty scary too.

Any advice about places to buy from or resources to use for system building?

Thank you, good penguin sir!
Cheryl


Hi Cheryl,

I totally hear you on the Mac front. My spouse is a Mac user and it suits her desire to “just get things done” quite well. It’s not for me, but I understand the desire to use Apple products. Heck I’m typing this article on my wife’s Macbook Pro running Ubuntu MATE (it’s set to dual-boot). You own a 2011 Air – you could potentially dual-boot Linux and OS X on it.

Now getting back to your main point about finding an affordable Linux PC, let me ask you this – do you still own any of those Macs? Are any of those Macs Intel-based? If you can answer yes to both questions, then perhaps the solution is to consider re-branding these older Macs into working Linux machines. Even a Mac with two GB of RAM could be used to give you a fairly decent Linux box. The more RAM however, the better.

The above option is the most cost-effective choice. However, if you’re starting off from scratch and wish to build your own desktop PC then I’ll share my opinion as to the best approach.

If you’re interested in building your own, I highly recommend the experience. It’s fantastic and in the end, you will end up with vastly better hardware than you would if you were to buy a cheap pre-installed Windows box from Dell.

The first thing I’d do is go to NewEgg.com and price out some motherboard/CPU/RAM combos. You can get a pretty decent setup for under $200. Next you’re going to want to find a PC case with a decent power supply. By decent, I mean one that offers both enough power to run everything while also providing stable power for your components. Price is usually reflective of quality in this space.

By doing a bit of shopping around, you can build a solid PC for $400 that will blow away a pre-built PC from most major sellers.

Before taking the leap, I recommend you look into YouTube videos demonstrating PC building. This will help you decide if it’s worth it or not. I suspect you’ll find it to be perfectly duplicable and that brings us to the next step – buying the components. I highly recommend buying your PC components from NewEgg vs some random website.

With regard to specific resources for pre-built stuff to purchase, that’s a tough one. Pre-built desktop PCs of any variety should run just fine, even pre-built for Windows. Just make sure you’re running with either Intel or NVIDIA graphics and you’ll be fine. I again, recommend buying pre-built (complete) PCs from NewEgg as they’re a highly-trusted seller.

As to the scary lock-in you expressed concern about, not to worry – most distros provide support to work-a-round that problem. Ubuntu, Linux Mint are just a few with ways to work around UEFI issues.

Do you have Linux questions you’d like Matt to help with? Hit the link here and perhaps you too, can Just Ask Matt!

More great Linux goodness!

Matt Hartley
Freedom Penguin’s founder & talking head – Matt has over a decade working with Linux desktops, his operating system experience consists of both Windows and Linux operating platforms. In addition to writing articles on Linux and open source technology for Datamation.com and OpenLogic.com/wazi, Matt also once served as a co-host for a popular Linux-centric podcast.

Matt has written about various software titles, such as Moodle, Joomla, WordPress, openCRX, Alfresco, Liferay and more. He also has additional Linux experience working with Debian based distributions, openSUSE, CentOS, and Arch Linux.

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14 Comments on "Buying Your First Dedicated Linux PC"

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Ryan Sipes
Member

What about System76, comes with Linux pre-installed with drivers written by the engineering team to ensure everything works, and the Lemur hits that $700 price point!

Matt Hartley
Member

(Full disclosure, I own System76 PCs and worked with them as a sponsor in past podcast participation).

Hey Ryan! Sadly, she ruled that out in her question above due to cost.

In terms of value, I would agree it’s clear winner (my old 2008 System76 lappy runs as my Plex server). But I would agree, the value of knowing that everything works now and works going forward is arguably a deciding factor for folks like myself. But for her needs, building her own desktop might be a better match at the moment.

purplelibraryguy
Member

People always mention System76, but they aren’t the only sellers of nice machines with Linux pre-installed. I’m quite fond of ZaReason; their stuff seems pretty comparable and sometimes hits niches System76 doesn’t. On top of that, as a Mint user I’m pleased that they will pre-load with distributions other than just Ubuntu. I don’t understand why they don’t seem to get mentioned nearly as often.
Not that any of this is relevant to the lady’s current needs.

Matt Hartley
Member
Tough love for ZaReason, so don’t think I’m singling them out here. So don’t hate me for some brutal honesty. There are a number of great sellers (Zareason, among others). Unfortunately, their web presence is dated, tired and in dire need of a refresh. For first time visitors, first impressions matter. Some Linux PC vendors are in dire need of a refresh in this area. System76 and Entroware are examples of impressing folks with a proper experience. It’s 2016 and ZaReason still lacks a proper mobile page. There is zero excuse for this. It’s stupid simple to fix. I’m not… Read more »
cheryl
Member

Yes, I’ve been looking at those, and they look great – I’d love to support those guys… Maybe I can plan for one of those down the road a little, to get the specs I want. 🙂

Joseph Dickson
Member

Also check out Ubuntu’s certification page for pre-built systems that “should” run everything just fine.

https://certification.ubuntu.com/certification/desktop/

Building a desktop gives you the most bang for the buck. Just reasearch forums for possible hardware conflicts before you buy.

As for System76, they might be out of your price range but my four year old Lemur Ultra is still blazing fast and all the “big name” distros have worked without a problem. If a laptop is what you need keep those macs running Linux a little longer while you save up for a new laptop.

bcpoet
Member

I bought a Dell Inspiron pre-loaded with Ubuntu a year ago for about $300. I use PhotoFiltre through WINE, Audacity for audio work and have had no problems whatsoever – except I installed LinuxMint as dual OS because I like it the best. Apple is evil (suicide nets around roofs of worker barracks) and should be avoided for moral reasons alone.

bjrosen
Member
A couple of quick pieces of advice. When choosing a motherboard search the Newegg reviews for the words, Linux, Fedora or Ubuntu. If there are no reviews that mention Linux look at a different board. Boards with new chipsets generally require a cutting edge distro like Fedora or Ubuntu because it takes a long time for the drivers to be backported to the kernels in enterprise distros like CentOS (approximately a year). When I build a new system I usually put Fedora on it and then in a years time move it to a RHEL clone. Another consideration is the… Read more »
cheryl
Member

That’s really good to know! Exactly the kind of pitfalls I’m hoping to avoid. Thanks!

Willie ninefivenine
Member

If you’re building something http://pcpartspicker.com/ is pretty awesome for comparing prices and ensuring parts are compatible with each other. I’ve used them for a super-build and a budget build. A budget deal can do a lot nowadays. i5, 16g, 1tb, would be an awesome linux machine.

Matt Hartley
Member

That’s a cool resource! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

cheryl
Member

Yes, that looks amazingly helpful. Thank you!

cheryl
Member

Hi Matt!

I’m the Cheryl from above – thanks for the advice! Just to clarify, my current Macbook Air is dual-boot with ReFind – or rather quintuple boot with my various test installs of Linux on it. I haven’t booted Mac in ages. I’ve had so few problems running Linux on my Macbook, I’m almost wary of buying a Windows machine. 🙂 But sounds like building my own might be the best option, since I’d like something speedy. It sounds kinda fun too!

Cheers!
– Cheryl

Willie ninefivenine
Member

Found this while looking for either a dedicated linux or a used macbook to install linux. I built my own desktop and this site pcpartpicker.com was awesome for picking compatible parts and keeping track of parts with prices of multiple vendors in one place.

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