Often times you will receive a recommendation that you should install Linux on an older PC. The thing is, Linux works extremely well on a new custom built PC, too. There are many users that are looking for a brand new Linux PC for home office use, workstation use, or other specialized uses. Here we walk you through how to build a new PC for Linux.
Let’s Talk Hardware
Linux has excellent hardware compatibility, contrary to popular belief. However, just because the kernel can recognize the hardware and report what it is, that doesn’t mean there’s a good driver for it. Always make sure there’s some kind of working driver for the device you’re looking to purchase to make sure it will work.
CPUs and storage both generally work very well, and much of the intricate controls dealing with modern motherboards are built into the firmware, but GPUs, peripherals, and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth cards (if you’re interested) can sometimes be difficult to work with.
Most of the integrated graphics in Intel/AMD CPUs work very well. If you have no need for a dedicated graphic card, the integrated graphic will work fine in Linux.
If you are looking to get a Nvida graphic card, you may have issues with its proprietary drivers. While they work fine, the Nvidia engineers don’t play very nicely with the Linux Kernel community, and that can make it difficult for Nvidia to get their drivers into the Linux kernel.
For a Linux PC, stick with an integrated graphic or an AMD graphics card. Nvidia has its place, especially with distros like Pop!_OS, but AMD and Intel graphics are much easier to work with.
Most keyboards and mice will work quite well for basic functions. For anybody who is not a gamer, you’ll do well with Logitech peripherals. They’re a part of the Linux Vendor Firmware Service, so the company’s Unifying Receiver gets firmware updates in Linux and works extremely well. The MK545 Wireless Keyboard/Mouse combo is an awesome choice for anybody with office or workstation workloads. For gamers, I’d recommend Razer peripherals. The OpenRazer project has put in a lot of work to make sure Razer peripherals work as well as you expect them to in Linux.
Wi-Fi hardware has a long and storied history with Linux. It’s one of the reasons that laptops are such a pain, along with trackpads and function key actions.
For anything to do with networking, stick with Intel chipsets. Intel is friendly with the Linux community, so its Wi-Fi chipsets are generally supported. Steer clear of things like Broadcom chips, as they will require DKMS drivers that can be difficult to manage. All of the motherboards in the builds section below will have Intel Wi-Fi built in. However, it does bear mentioning that Ethernet will always be faster than Wi-Fi, and that is recommended if possible.
Let’s Talk Software
Specifically, distros. There are generally two camps for Linux Distributions that work well with newer hardware: Ubuntu (and derivatives) with Canonical’s Hardware Enablement Stack, and distros with newer kernels, like Fedora, Vanilla Arch, and Manjaro.
Let’s Build a New PC for Linux
We’re going to build three different PCs, actually: one for home office use, one for gaming, and one for workstation workloads, with all three at different price-points. That way, you can look through the different hardware options and choose what you want for your particular PC build.
Note: all prices are in USD and are approximate as of October 2020. Your mileage may vary.
Home Office PC
- CPU: Intel Core i5-10400
- Motherboard: ASRock Z490M-ITX/ac
- RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16 GB DDR4 3200
- Case: Fractal Design Node 202 w/ Integra SFX PSU
- SSD: Western Digital Blue 500GB SATA III
- Approximate Price: $600 USD
This home office PC is a perfect balance of price and performance. There are some choices that you could make that would increase the performance of the system, but the idea here is that for a home office user, you don’t really need much of a performance system. All you really need is something that’s small and does the job without being too slow. For $600, this is a perfect machine for that. It will excel in Web browsing, content consumption, document processing, and even some very light gaming.
Basically, if you don’t have anything particularly demanding that you do with your PC, this is the best bet for you. Pair this with whichever derivative of Ubuntu you’d like, some Logitech peripherals and a business-class monitor from a manufacturer like Spectre, and you’ll have a really nice system for your home office use.
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
- Motherboard: ASUS Prime X570-P
- RAM: Corsair Vengeace LPX DDR4 3200
- GPU: MSI Radeon RX 5600 XT or MSI GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER
- SSD: Samsung 970 EVO PLUS 500 GB PCIe NVMe
- Case: Cooler Master MasterBox MB511 ARGB
- Power Supply: Corsair TX550M
- Approximate Price: $1000
This gaming PC is obviously not top of the line, but you could scale up to more powerful components after you build the rig. It is, however, going to do extremely well with many modern games. The 6 Core CPU and the PCIe 4.0 GPU will handle just about anything you can throw at it at 1080p and most games at 1440p, and with the cooling performance of the Cooler Master case, you won’t have to worry about the mid-tier components frying.
Pair this with Pop!_OS or Manjaro, some gaming peripherals from Razer and a reasonably high refresh rate 1008p or 1440p monitor with AMD FreeSync or Nvidia GSync, and you’ll have a really great gaming rig.
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
- Motherboard: ASUS AM4 TUF Gaming X570-Plus
- RAM: 32 GB G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series DDR4 3200
- GPU: AMD Radeon Pro W5500
- SSD: Samsung 970 EVO PLUS 1 TB PCIe NVMe
- Case: Fractal Design Meshify C ATX
- Power Supply: Corsair TX550M
- Approximate Price: $1500
This workstation PC is primed to be an absolute powerhouse when it comes to most jobs. Obviously, if you need more power than this, you’re welcome to upgrade. This is meant to serve as a jumping-off point for your workstation builds. If you need a more powerful CPU or GPU, more RAM, or have specific storage or motherboard needs, you can swap out components to make this build your ideal workstation PC.
Ryzen 3rd Gen (and soon to be 5th Gen) desktop CPUs are some of the best performing CPUs on the market. For workstation and productivity workloads, they’re unparalleled. AMD Radeon Pro GPUs may be a bit of a wild card, but if you don’t want to deal with Nvidia drivers, they’re the best workstation cards available. Overall, this is an incredibly powerful PC for the money. Pair this with Fedora Workstation, a couple of good monitors, a comfortable keyboard and mice and you’ll be set for whatever workstation workloads you’re managing.
It’s not hard to build a new PC for Linux – you just have to know the right tool for the job. If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out some of our other Linux hardware content, like the best laptops for Linux, how to easily check hardware information in Linux, and how to build a Linux virtualization workstation.