Putting everything in the box is pretty straightforward now. Just remember: stay relaxed, plan, take your time and do some research on what you are about to do and read the component instructions. This is especially applicable to the motherboard, the trickiest bit. There is a bit of connecting up to do, so find your way around the MB first. If you're really not confident, don't try. There is nothing stopping you doing the research and getting the right components for your job, though. Order the parts and get someone who is confident to put it all together (factor this into your budget). You'll pay less for a purpose built machine that's built to last and cheaper to run than what you'd pay for an 'off the shelf' box only coming close to the same specs. (Not that you would get a machine like the one below off the shelf; it would be a custom build so add more $). You'll also get that glow of achievement each time you use it! If you've done your planning the machine will do exactly what you require, use only the required energy, have less impact on the environment and save you money.
Where to Start
With a piece of paper and pencil. Write down exactly what you want the machine to do. Think of everything. Remember, you can add and upgrade components later, but only if you've planned ahead and your motherboard is ready for that 'next generation' processor or that second PCI-e graphics card. If you one day hope to buy a third internal SATAII hard drive and your motherboard only has two SATAII ports ... you are looking at an external USB drive. Whoops. Didn't think of everything! Avoid having to buy another motherboard every two years and replace everything. This is bad for budget, environment, resources, and totally inefficient when you could have spent $25 dollars more for a board that could be upgraded down the track with a new processor and more RAM (and another couple of SATAII drives).
Once you have a list, you can do some research and match the hardware to your requirements.
The GreenMachine I was about to build would be required to:
1/ Print LightScribe media
2/ Capture and edit home movies
3/ Capture/digitise LP vinyl records
4/ Run Skype
5/ Edit stills/Print in colour
6/ Email and surf the net
7/ Listen to music
8/ Watch DVDs
9/ Have plenty of storage for vid/pics/audio
10/ Run Ubuntu only
11/ Be switched on for long periods in Australian conditions (this can mean very hot).
12/ Be cool, quiet, energy-efficient and environmentally responsible
... with a budget limit of AU$1000. We can do that.
*** What's in the box?
I usually build two or three machines a year. This year I again researched long and hard for components that were both energy-efficient and environmentally responsible. To add another level of difficulty, the components also needed to work under Ubuntu, in this case Hardy 8.04.2. All components were sourced in Australia.
When buying equipment (especially monitors), I always check for an 'Energy Star' logo or sticker. More info here:
And likewise, I look for an RoHS stamp, a UK initiative which aims to limit the amount of toxic materials used in the manufacture of electrical equipment:
Let's start from the beginning:
1/ The PSU and case
To help you figure out what size PSU you are going to need, Antec have a very useful configurator, but first figure out what you want the machine to do and what hardware you are going to need to achieve it, choose your components then plug the data into this configurator:
(* Note: the results of this configurator apply to Antec PSUs, not other brands whose specs may differ.)
Every machine needs a solid, cool, energy-efficient power supply as this is where it all starts or where it can all end in sparks, smoke and dead or damaged components. Currently there are 85%+ energy efficient PSUs on the market, a marked improvement on the 70% and under of a generic 'silver box' power supply. The result of the generic PSU's inefficiency is that electricity you pay for becomes heat instead of power for your machine. In other words, it's wasted (unless you use your computer as a heater; there are more efficient heaters). This added heat and work can shorten the lifespan of internal components apart from the PSU as high internal computer temperatures will heat the motherboard and CPU, forcing fans and the system to work harder which forces the PSU to work harder causing more inefficiency and ... a vicious circle. The generic, off-the-shelf PSUs may also not have appropriate safety switches and are, IMHO, a little unsafe. When they die, they rarely die alone, usually taking another component or two, or every component in the box out with them.
Look for the 80+ logo on your PSU, and for more info on the 80plus Project, go here:
* Note: The majority of PSUs currently on the Australian market are 70% efficient or under, even name brands. You need to be specific and persistent when hunting down 80+ PSUs in AUS.
* Final word on PSUs: When dazzled by the 4Gb of RAM and the 500Gb hard drive for only ?$ at the local computer store, think of that unreliable silver box that is probably inside and the pretty sparks when box goes bang. If you do find a good value deal 'off the shelf', ask about the PSU or factor in the price of a good replacement PSU. When I bought my case I replaced the brand new silver box that was in there immediately. It sits under my desk in case of emergency.
Some otherwise sweet cases come with inefficient and over-powered PSUs pre-installed, and more power is not always better. (Something about killing a mosquito with an elephant gun? Waste of bullets and gunpowder.) Sorry to rave on about PSUs, but when aiming for energy efficiency a good PSU is of utmost importance.
I landed a good price on an Antec NSK6580. This case has Antec's EarthWatts 430Watt power supply pre-installed. Antec have a wide range of cool and quiet cases with and without PSUs from their 80+ EarthWatts range:
* If you want to use the Firewire socket on the front of this particular case but have no Firewire on your MB, read on (1A) for a remedy. If not, skip to 2/ The Processor ... 1A/ Digression - Antec Case and Front Panel Firewire
As it turns out, the Antec NSK6850, as well as having audio sockets and two USB sockets on the front panel, also has a Firewire socket. The internal Firewire lead from the panel socket ends in a 10 pin female header which would normally connect to a Firewire header on the MB. Motherboard has no Firewire header onboard so obviously this wasn't possible. Solution? The Antec case manual informs me I can get an Antec adapter; fits the ten pin header and the other end is a regular Firewire plug. I order the adapter from a local computer shop and a PCI card with 4 x USB and 2 x Firewire external and an internal USB and Firewire socket. When the adapter arrives I put it all together, plug my DV camera in and front panel socket works fine.
"Why not use one of the two Firewire sockets on the card around back?" I hear you ask. Because there is a perfectly good socket conveniently placed by Antec designers on the front panel! Ludicrous question!
I chose the 45watt AMD 4850e:
This is more than adequate for the job and uses around 20Watts less (about a third) than its closest counterpart in the AMD line. Thus, cooler and requiring less energy. (Power consumption of ARM processors, as they become more powerful and common in laptops and desktops, will make 20W look massive. First steps: http://www.slashgear.com/wistron-n90...tbook-0345776/
I had been looking at ASUS motherboards, mainly because of the company's apparent ethical attitude. When I went to pick up the hard drives I asked if the store had any in stock and sure enough, they had something in the exact price range and one left, the ASUS M2N68CM:
The only thing it didn't have was IEEE-1394 (Firewire). See 1A for a remedy specific to this case/MB combination.4/ Storage
Take note, there is an issue here that may or may not concern you. I wish I'd have researched this a little better rather than expecting there might be a work around. Built into this board is an SD chip which boots into a version of Linux, which is installed on this fragment of technology. Great, you might think. If you are not using Windows, think again. This fast boot feature will not work with Linux, only with a Windows install. They have a special name for the feature but I can't remember it. For the functionality of the feature? Who gives a toss, really. But for creating a situation where people are forced to use Windows to access it and therefore creating seperation and exclusivity, thumbs down from me and no more ASUS (apart from the optical drive that's also in this box!).
I chose two Western Digital 500Gb GreenPower hard drives. WD claim these drives can use up to 40% less energy than their non-green counterpart (WD 500Gb Caviar). These drives are cool, quiet and efficient. I have one in my desktop and one in a fan-less Coolermaster X-Craft external case. It runs cold. Check the full GreenPower range here:
The right monitor took some finding, main reason being there seems to be as many on the market as stars in the sky(!). Eventually I found the Acer X193HQ 18.5" 16:9 monitor. Acer's webpage tells us the monitor uses 17W on, less than a watt on standby, is Energy Star stamped and an all round sweet view. When I got the monitor, the spec in the manual is 27Watts but the 0.64W standby figure remains the same. This could be time compressing again and Acer very well could have changed the spec on the latest model to 17W when I blinked. Drop 'em an email if you need to find out for sure.
* Update: I was so impressed that I bought two of these monitors and the newer manual does indeed state they are 17w on, 0.64w stby. They are also TCO'03 labelled and passed now:
6/ Wireless Card
Wireless was required because the distance from where the machine was going to live to the router was way too far for cable (and inconvenient). The main issue is getting a card that is going to work 'out of the box' with whatever distro you are using, and when it comes to Ubuntu, I am aware of the nightmare journeys people (myself included) have had getting wireless up. Thankfully, this situation continues to improve, but nonetheless, I researched this component diligently! To be on the safe side with the distance (and compatibility), I ended up going for the TP-Link TL-WN651G which claims to function over 200 metres:
* These cards use Atheros chipset *
7/ Colour Printer
When it comes to techno-gadget environmental footprints, colour printers leave a rather large one. They are not so bad in the electricity stakes, but they are resource hungry and feeding them causes problems to do with chemicals, paper and getting both created and to the printer. An unfriendly beast, but required for this build.
HP seemed the choice here because of their history of support for the open-source community and their stance on environmental issues regarding manufacture. HP Colour Laserjet CP1215:
The printer was bought separately and not included in the AU$1000 budget.
* Note: Even though HP claim this printer works fine with Ubuntu, the Ubuntu Compatible Printer list is not so sure (and advises the foomatic driver rather than the HP one). When the owner got the computer to Melbourne and plugged it in, the printer wasn't working (although fine here). We have tried over the phone and with emails to fix itbut to no avail. See what I can come up with when I go over there next month and update then.
8/ RAM & Optical Drive
A 4Gb kit (2 x 2Gb) of Kingston RAM and an ASUS IDE LightScribe CD/DVD combo drive. With all the components amassed on and around my kitchen table, which was covered with a protective old towel, I was ready to build and power up! How are you going so far ...?
Putting it all together
After planning, researching and selecting components, you should have a good (and comprehensive) component list. Start purchasing what you are going to need or researching what you haven't yet nailed down in an attempt to get all the components in one place. This can happen in dribs and drabs or all at once. You might see something perfect when you are picking up something else. An item might pop up on special that you just happen to be looking for. You often find the best prices as you are researching the best components for the job. Make a bookmarks folder and put all the info in there for later refinement. I make a folder for the build and folders inside that for each component. Easy to forget which page was the one when you've looked at fifty.
For me, from component list to having all the components in the one place usually takes at least two weeks. This involves tracking down the components and finding the best price, picking things up and receiving things in the mail. My own computer took about a month from component list to the magic moment when I had all the bits. You might like to build it as things arrive (usually depends on prices and availability). If so, buy the case first and add as things get there. I prefer to wait until it's all there and go for it.
I'm am not going into a 'How To ...' on the nuts and bolts of building a computer here. There are many sites that cover this better than I could. I am primarily going to cover my experiences with getting the hardware up in Ubuntu 8.04.2, and it was pretty much a breeze(y!) despite my wrestling with the monitor for four days before realising all was fine originally ...!
Once everything was in the box and connected, I booted into the BIOS a few times and let it sit for a couple of hours, checking the temperature, voltages and fan rpm every now and then. It is a good idea to boot into the BIOS and check the temperature until it is consistent (not getting higher for about half hour say), but the lengthy pre-install monitoring is not necessary. I like to make really
sure all has gone okay with the heatsink on the CPU fan and the CPU.
I have a thing about internal computer case temperatures (get a life)! Usually I use Artic Silver thermal paste and a custom fan. This time I used the thermal pad
on the AMD fan that came with the 4850e processor. One thing I can say is that it really shouldn't be sticky like that (the thermal pad, that is). You will find that Arctic Silver (and some other thermal pastes I believe) do not adhere; I've removed CPU fans without dislodging the processor underneath using the paste. Next time, I'll go for the usual with the custom fan and Arctic Silver. If you have the folding, AU$50 for a decent fan (or fanless, noiseless heatsink) is worth it. From experience I can say that it will take your CPU temperature down by anything from five to ten degrees (this depends on a few factors). The Arctic Silver thermal paste needs to get through about 50 heat cycles (max temperature to room temperature) before it reaches its full cooling potential. And less heat means ... ? I forgot, there will be questions ...
Let me just mention at this point that after humming along for a couple of hours on a 30C degree day, admittedly just sitting at the BIOS screen, the MB temp is 35, the CPU is 37 and the fans are blowing out cool air! I can hear the birds and insects outside over the faint hum of the computer. This is a cool, quiet machine.
(* Edit: I have just dropped the same Antec Earthwatts 430W PSU in my wife's desktop and the MB temperature has dropped by about 16C, the CPU about 10C - I did give it a blow out with a can of compressed air while I had the side off to install the PSU so undoubtedly that helped a, too.)
Happy with the consistent temperatures, I popped the Ubuntu install CD in to the optical drive, checked the CD for defects, then hit 'Install'. The install was fine til right at the end when I was confronted with a blank screen rather than a 'Remove CD and reboot' message. Hmm. Rather than screwing around, I re-installed with the same CD. Installed fine this time and the machine is still humming along from all reports (it lives in Melbourne, about 750kms away). Go figure.2/ Configure Hardware
* A quick word for anyone with a fresh install and using a wireless card: Make sure you have an ethernet cable plugged into your computer when you boot up first time! Setting up the wireless will be a whole lot easier.
Hard drives, most CPUs, RAM, PSUs, optical drives generally work just fine with Ubuntu, so I will only cover the components that are known to be problematic with Ubuntu installs.
Once at the desktop, I installed ubuntu-restricted-extras, I downloaded whatever updates were waiting and the wireless card was picked up. I was offered the restricted drivers for it, I accepted, installed and the card was up. Next, my AP (Access Point, my router) and another network were discovered. I selected my AP, was asked for my WEP key which I dutifully input. Done. From first boot to having the wireless card up in less than five minutes. It took me five months with a Broadcom card in 7.04 over a year ago (and I never did succeed) so this is definite progress (*Note: The Broadcom card now also sets up on a fresh install in about five minutes with Hardy 8.04 and B43).
Confirmed: TP-Link likes Ubuntu. xxx
I got the planning right. On first boot, I was online via the ethernet cable, was being offered updates and life was sweet. The widescreen was detected and filled correctly, but I became obsessed with the resolution.
The native resolution for the screen is 1366 x 768 but Ubuntu had defaulted to 1280 x 800. It looked okay but ... so I changed it to 1280 x 768 and it looked great. Not satisfied with near perfection, I literally spent four days ripping my hair out trying to get the correct resolution. I eventually did get 1366 x 768 and ... it looked terrible for some reason! So I changed back to 1280 x 768. Widescreen DVD looked fantastic so that was the main thing. Desktop looks normal, nothing stretched or distorted, so I was satisfied.
Confirmed: Acer X193HQ monitor likes Ubuntu.
* Odd thing: the two monitors I bought more recently were offered 1366 x 768 on one machine and 1360 x 768 on another first time I plugged them in. This would have something to do with the differences in the hardware and configurations of the two machines I guess, but maybe it has something to do with the newer monitor also.
Lastly, the printer. After a bit of research, I installed HPLip (available in the repositories), followed my nose and the printer was up and running and printing a colour test page in no time.
Confirmed: HP CP1210 Colour Laserjet printer likes Ubuntu (but didn't like it after a 750km drive to Melbourne ,,,)
* Update: As mentioned earlier, the printer has since be problematic and I'll post a fix when I get over to the machine in a month or so and (hopefully) find one. It did work when it was here so I don't doubt it will once more.
Final Words ...
* Why don't manufacturers label their products as compatible with Linux when they are? There is no problem emblazoning products and websites with 'Compatible with Vista' and 'Works with Microsoft this, that and the other' or 'System Requirements: Windows or Mac OS'. There are no doubt complex (or simple?) reasons for this and that question is the subject of another post. Because of this anomaly, I found out most of this stuff works with Ubuntu and Linux not from the manufacturer's websites, most of which said little or nothing about Linux, but through research and users findings posted on the web. Thank goodness for community spirit, ay? And thanks to all of you for putting your experiences out there.
* You may have noticed the absence of a PCI-E x16 graphics card in this machine. It wasn't required and can be added later if my mother-in-law decides to get into any heavy 3D gaming(!). Seriously, these chew up juice and no company has really managed to decrease the power requirements of a decent, powerful gaming/graphics card to date. Not sure one's even thought to do so. Gamers, animators and others may be able to enlighten me on this. If you have the RAM to share with it, onboard graphics chips are becoming more than adequate for most users.
As stated at the beginning, planning is key to getting your component selection right and saving some money and power. If you are running an optical combo drive, one SATA hard drive, two USB slots and a P4, you are hardly likely to need a 650W energy-guzzling silver box humming away in the corner most of the day. If this is your current situation, get the money somehow and replace your PSU with an 80plus 350W PSU immediately! Then check your next power bill. Oh, and try to dispose of the old PSU responsibly. (If you can't and it's working, give it away. By the time it dies, a more effective way of disposal, reuse/recycling or burial may have been developed.)
I hope this thread inspires users to think about what goes in the box and the effects of their hardware choices. Components are toxic, dangerous, don't grow on trees, are difficult to dispose of and consume energy their entire lifespan, from mine-site to landfill. On the other hand, conditions and awareness improves and as consumers we can make a conscious effort to minimise the environmental impact of our computing. By doing so we also demonstrate our support to/for manufacturers that make some effort toward greener, environmentally responsible component manufacture and disposal.
* Don't hesitate to post corrections, updates of green/eco-friendly/energy-efficient components, developments, comments and anything else you feel is relevant. This thread can be an online time capsule of computing hardware technology. It will be interesting to compare the machine described here with how we are computing in twelve months.
Afterthought: Building a Notebook/Netbook
About all there is to say regarding this is: Don't bother. Problematic to say the least. The parts are not easily available, if you can get them at all. Besides which, mobile computing is one area where manufacturers are making definite inroads into power saving for one very good reason: Batteries. New battery technology will one day explode on to the market with extremely long-life renewables and rechargeables (and possibly power-sources we hadn't imagined), but for now, how long you can go before recharging is everything.
Primarily, what has happened is batteries have improved a bit and the components have improved a lot. Manufacturers have a vested interest in how long their device will run before recharge; could be the difference between selling a machine or not. So components have become energy misers, out to squeeze the last second of power from your battery. Great news, because this technology can be used in other areas of computing.
As mentioned, ARM processors are creeping into netbooks extending battery life further and by the time an ARM has the processing grunt of an Atom, maybe twenty four hour turnaround will be old news; a week may not be unusual. Maybe we'll have a power source other than the conventional battery. If you couple a 2W dual-core ARM processor with a new power source, say four times more effecient than a 12V battery by today's standards ... and let's not forget the terabyte SSDs and SD cards. Is a month out of the question? Six ... ?
Basically when buying an energy-efficient laptop: Check how long the battery lasts before it needs recharging. This will generally reflect the efficiency of the components inside the device (screen, drives, graphics). Do your research and find out times users and reviewers are getting as the manufacturer's guestimate is rarely correct in the real world.
SSD instead of hard drive adds considerably to battery life, but there are other issues regarding this beyond the scope of this thread. Read more here: