“New” Machines

Last weekend I “rebuilt” two computers. The first was a true rebuild, migrating components from one case (an Antec NSK 1650) to a smaller one (Antec Minuet), with the goal of this being a small form factor machine for the kids to use in the library/TV room.

The machine was formerly a home server, but most of its functionality had been superseded by large external hard drives and off-site backups. So rather than it just occupy closet space, it was revived as a desktop system for the kids to use for gaming and education.

The components are hardly cutting edge: Gigabyte 8I865GME motherboard, Intel Sempron 331 (2.66 GHz) CPU, 512 MB of memory (Crucial D400), with 1GB added (Kingston), a Seagate 320GB PATA hard drive, a Pioneer DVD-RW, and a 20″ Dell flat panel monitor.

Installation in the Minuet was a bit of a hassle. As with other SFF cases, there is little room, and cable management is problematic. But the components fit well, and the quality of the case was excellent.

I then installed Windows XP and Ubuntu in both machines, first Windows, since Linux is much better at being installed after Windows than the other way around.

Installation of Windows XP was the typical nuisance, between the complexity (tracking down and installing drivers for audio, video, and wireless networking), and the time consumed.

In contrast, installing Ubuntu was amazingly easy. While installing Windows on the second computer, and after starting the format of the hard drive, I went to the first computer and started installing Ubuntu. The only screen during the Ubuntu installation that took me a while was the one for partitioning the hard drive. Not being familiar with the option of automatic resizing, I chose to partition the hard drive manually, with my usual scheme of dividing the space evenly between Windows and Linux, and allotting twice the RAM size as swap space. That done, I then launched Ubuntu into installing the files, and went back to check on the Windows box.

Windows was about halfway done formatting the hard drive, so I soon went back to the first computer. Ubuntu was done installing the files, so I booted up, and saw the Grub menu, with the Windows installation added. I checked the Windows installation, then booted into Ubuntu. In short, as they say, “it just works”. An alert popped up about connecting to a local wireless network, so I chose mine, and that was the end of configuration of the machine.

I put the Edubuntu CD into the drive, and started the Ubuntu package manager, from the Add/Remove Programs item in the menu. Installation of new programs was trivial, and the Edubuntu CD was also found as a repository for new programs. My 11 year-old son (it was his computer) had a lot of fun for the rest of the day on his “new” computer, finding and installing dozens of games and educational programs and utilities.

The experience on the other machine was essentially identical: problematic to install and configure Windows, and trivial to install Ubuntu.

I’m been a long-time Red Hat and Fedora user, but based on this experience, it’s very probable that I’ll switch my primary home machine to Ubuntu or a derivative, likely Linux Mint, for the extended multimedia support. I may keep with Fedora at work, if only to maintain my familiarity with it, and also because multimedia support is not an issue.

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