Thursday, October 1, 2009

Clean Green Ubuntu Machine?

Trying to make being green a little easier...

Tired of the old shuffle with newer and newer operating systems - that cost money?

Want to run a machine that is energy efficient?

Not interested in putting one together yourself?

Want to support local small business?

Then this heads up is for you.

Announcing the Clean Green Ubuntu machine project.

I've been working with Linux since about 2000, when a smart summer undergrad intern put together our first Red Hat based box. Since then we've put together two clusters (Beowulf and Centos based) and many Intel and AMD based machines that run Linux and/or Windows. On the Windows side, we still like Windows XP. On the Linux side, I've gone Ubuntu, although the remnants of CENTOS - a very good system - are still on some machines.

Most students in the lab have Windows based laptops. So we pretty much have to have Windows available on some of the machines in the lab. One student bought a netbook last Spring on which he ran Ubuntu. I was impressed by the capabilities of this machine.

But the more I see, the more I am convinced that in the long run, for no reason other than economics, that Ubuntu will take over the educational computer market. I have been agitating for the U to officially support this distro. We'll see what happens.

For now, though, the goal of the project is to make a reasonably priced, reasonably efficient, nice system available locally. No BestBuy, no HP, no Apple - but still local sales and service.

So why not put together a system yourself and save even more? Places like Newegg have fantastic prices and state of the art hardware.

I've been putting machines together for some time in a sort of hobbyist mode. Unless you actually enjoy the stomach wrenching that goes along with dead boards and smoking power supplies, I don't recommend this route. If you are interested in using your computer as a tool and getting work done, then buy one from a reputable local place with a warranty. If something goes wrong you can take it there for service during the one year warranty period and afterwards.

This gives the background for my decision to work with General Nanosystems to put together a system that runs Ubuntu. Although this is becoming easier and easier to do, there still may be problems if you try to install Ubuntu on any old system. Typical problems include lack of video card drivers, lack of support for wireless, and possibly even lack of support for an ethernet card. With perseverance all of these problems can be overcome, but if you just want to get your work done, you are going to find this frustrating.

We've sketched out two systems - one Intel and one AMD based. I am hardware agnostic, so the first one will be AMD purely because we can put it together for less money. If someone wants or needs an Intel based system this can be done.

The basic system will be a micro-ATX board in a small form factor Antec case with an energy efficient (80%) Antec power supply. It will have a dual core low power processor and an energy efficient harddrive. The machine will have wireless and wired capability and 4 Gb of memory. The board-level graphics capability will be NVIDIA. I am being a little unspecific about hardware here because the final choice has to do with compatibility and what I'll call value.

This is not meant to be a gamer's machine. It is meant to be a reliable workhorse that should require NO additional expense for commercial software. Using Open Office, a very useable office suite, documents can be prepared that are compatible with Microsoft Office. They also allow for direct export to PDF. The Firefox browser is also installed by default. Much other software is readily installed for free. Such things as octave (a Matlab clone), Gimp (a photoshop lookalike), and full C, C++, and Fortran compilers. A geek, a grandma, a homeschooler, and a college student could do just about anything they want with this system. No spyware, no initial junk installed, no paying GeekSquad a so-called setup fee, no apple/Windows involuntary system upgrade fees, no Norton, no viruses...

Stay tuned.

[Disclaimer: I am not a consultant for Nanosystems. I have no financial ties to them. I pay the same price for their equipment as any other customer.]

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