Oftentimes you will receive a recommendation to install Linux on an older PC. Doing that can certainly revive those old computers and make them usable today. However, Linux also works extremely well on new and modern hardware.
Knowing that, this article aims to walk you through the process of building a new PC for Linux. This includes all you need to know about hardware support and the different distributions that you can install. Further, this article also aims to provide an all-purpose setup that you can build now and use with Linux.
Let’s Talk Hardware
For the most part, Linux has excellent hardware compatibility. However, just because the kernel can recognize the hardware, does not mean that there is a driver for it.
This can be especially obvious if you are using exotic and rare equipment, such as proprietary interface cards and hardware. Despite that, any sufficiently common hardware should work right out of the box.
However, for graphics cards, networking cards, and peripherals, you may need to check first whether they are already supported by the kernel.
For graphics cards, you can either use the integrated graphics chip that comes with your processor or a dedicated graphics card. In general, the integrated graphics in both Intel and AMD processors are well-supported in Linux. You do not need to do anything else to make sure that your graphics chip works properly.
On the other hand, dedicated graphics cards can be a hit or miss. Due to the lack of proper vendor support, nVidia graphics cards can be difficult to work with under Linux.
Because of that, Linux is often behind in supporting the newest nVidia cards. If you intend on using nVidia for your new PC, you may need to use a card that is at least a generation behind.
In contrast to that, AMD graphics cards are well-supported in Linux. This is mostly because AMD actively develops an open source driver with the kernel developers.
As a result, AMD cards are tightly integrated and highly optimized for use with Linux. If you are looking to play the latest games, you may want to consider getting an AMD graphics card.
For the most part, you should not have any problem with wired networking. Almost all modern Ethernet hardware already has an open source implementation and is fully supported by Linux. This includes the built-in Ethernet port in motherboards as well as external Ethernet cards.
On the other hand, wireless networking has been one of the biggest pain points in using Linux. Most modern wireless cards either have poor support from their manufacturer or do not have any at all.
As such, you need to make sure that you are using either an Atheros or Intel-based card if you want to use wireless on your PC. These are the two most common wireless cards that Linux supports. Between the two, however, Atheros is the chipset that receives the most support.
In general, Linux has good device support for various hardware peripherals. As described above, this support will largely depend on the kind of device you want to use. Knowing that, hardware peripheral support in Linux can be split into three general categories:
- General Input devices: these are your keyboards, mice and joysticks. With these, you typically would not have any issues as long the device uses USB as its connector.
- Imaging and Printer devices: These are your scanners and printers. Unlike the former, proper driver support for these devices can be a hit or miss. For example, Canon and Epson devices often have little to no support. Meanwhile, HP and Brother do provide Linux drivers for their printers and scanners.
- Special Input devices: These are devices that perform a specific task for a specific domain. For these, you need to check with the manufacturer of your device whether they support Linux. For example, Wacom is the only manufacturer that provides a Linux driver for their drawing tablets.
Let’s Talk Linux Distributions
At its core, a distribution is an operating system that uses the Linux kernel to drive the devices of the computer. While a simple distribution like Ubuntu may appear different to an advanced distribution such as Arch, the internal machine that drives them is the same. Because of that, hardware compatibility is largely consistent between different distributions.
However, one key difference between Ubuntu and Arch, for example, is that Ubuntu is usually behind in kernel updates. This ultimately means that support for newer devices takes longer to arrive in Ubuntu than in Arch.
Finding the right distribution becomes a trade-off between two things: ease of use and frequency of kernel updates.
Ease of Use
The most accessible Linux distribution that you can get today is Ubuntu. This is a Debian-based distribution that focuses on simplicity and usability. Ubuntu is a great distribution if you are still learning the ropes with Linux.
Other than that, Pop!_OS is also a great beginner-friendly Linux distribution. It is based on Ubuntu and, as such, benefits from its focus on ease of use and accessibility. Further, Pop!_OS is optimized for multimedia. This makes it highly attractive to users who want to use their new PC to do video editing and gaming.
Frequency of Kernel Updates
On the other hand, one of the most updated Linux distributions available today is Arch Linux. It is a rolling-release distribution that focuses on advanced Linux users and bleeding edge software, so you will get the latest version of the Linux kernel whenever you update and receive immediate support for the newest hardware.
Another great rolling-release distribution is Manjaro. It is based on Arch Linux, so you will also get immediate support for the latest hardware. Unlike Arch, however, Manjaro is built for regular Linux users, making it significantly easy to install and maintain compared to Arch Linux.
Build a New PC for Linux
Knowing all of that, a modern, all-around PC setup that is fully compatible with Linux could look something like this:
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600 / Intel Core i5-12500
- Motherboard: Gigabyte B550 ATX / AsRock B660M LGA1700 mATX
- RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB / Patriot Viper 4 16GB
- Graphics: AMD Radeon RX 6600XT
- Storage: Western Digital 500GB SSD / Samsung 870 EVO 500GB SSD
- Case: Fractal Focus G ATX / Cougar Archon 2 ATX
- Power Supply: EVGA 450BR 450W / GIGABYTE GP-P450B 450W
- Price: ~$1000
Note: All prices are in US dollars as of April 2022 and may vary depending on when and where you are buying your parts.
This setup should be able to run any program in Linux without any issues. You can use this build for any computer activity, such as browsing the Web, editing documents and watching HD videos.
Not only that, but this machine can also be an affordable media workhorse that can both render video and play video games on high settings.
This all-around setup can also be a good starting point for future upgrades. Both the socket AM4 and LGA 1700 are some of the latest chipsets in the market today. Any CPU upgrade within the next few years will just be a drop-in replacement for this build.
However, one important thing of note is that if you decide to not use the Radeon 6600XT graphics card, you need to instead use the Core i5 12500, as the Ryzen 5 5600 does not include an integrated graphics chip by default.
A computer setup would not be complete without external peripherals. To use your new PC, you need to interact with it through a monitor, keyboard and mouse. For example, a basic set that you can use with the setup above can look something like this:
- Monitor: GIGABYTE G24F 24-inch / GIGABYTE G27F 27-inch
- Keyboard: Motospeed CK82 Mechanical / Aukey TKL Mechanical
- Mouse: Logitech G102 / Logitech G PRO Hero
- Printer: Brother HL-L2370DW
- Price: ~$300
Congratulations! You now know the process behind building a new computer for Linux and a decent, all-around build that will work with Linux out of the box.
If all this talk made you interested in learning more about other Linux distributions, you can check out some of the best Arch Linux-based distributions today.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. I want to use nVidia graphics on Linux. What are my options and what issues should I look for?
The nVidia cards similar to the 6600XT are the RTX 3060 and RTX 2060 Super. For the former, you need to make sure that you are using, at the very least, version 5.8 of the Linux kernel. Further, you also need to make sure that you are using the proprietary nVidia drivers for Linux.
For the latter, you need to use version 5.3 of the Linux kernel as well as the proprietary nVidia drivers.
2. Does Linux support Bluetooth? Are there any good Bluetooth receivers that work in Linux?
Yes. It is relatively easy to use Bluetooth under Linux. Common brands such as TP-LINK often offer a decent Linux-compatible Bluetooth USB receiver. For example, the TP-LINK UB400 is a small plug-and-play solution that immediately works out of the box in Linux.
3. What are the issues with using a rolling-release distribution?
One of the most common issues you may encounter is program incompatibility, mostly because programs in a rolling-release closely track their source versions. Any programs in your system that are lagging behind in updates can quickly be unusable in your system.
Another issue with rolling-release is with critical software bugs. Tracking a development version of a program always carries the risk of it not being tested enough. This can be a problem if you want to use your new PC for critical work.
Image credit: Unsplash
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