Update: See https://bluehatrecord.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/update-building-a-fedora-20-machine-hardware-rundown for the full hardware list and updates.
As I built my foundation of knowledge with Windows systems by building, maintaining, and operating a number of gaming rigs over the course of a decade or so, I figured what better way (and excuse) to hone my Linux skills for my new job than to build a gaming rig!
Fortunately, my move comes at an opportune time in the history of Linux. Valve is pushing more and more games to the platform, and with such a powerful company throwing ever-increasing weight behind the operating system, opportunity abounds for education through gaming.
So, given that I have a family and am unable to simply devote myself wholly to this pursuit as I would in the past, I scrutinized my purchasing options and decided upon the following layout for a cost-effective, yet reasonably powerful gaming machine (it helps that my friends are primarily playing Rust; I have a feeling it’s going to really take off soon, but its relatively low hardware demands help me out):
Note: All hardware was purchased from Newegg, of course. Use ’em if you don’t.
The very first thing that caught my eye as I re-entered the world of computing hardware after a brief, though not-entirely-detached, hiatus from constructing systems (having a family will do that to you) is this new concept of an Accelerated Processing Unit. I mean, I guess it’s not incredibly new, given that the Sony PS3 used a cell processor classified as such, but what’s most remarkable is that technology has advanced to the point where manufacturers (AMD, in this case) are capable of integrating a Graphics Processing Unit directly with a Central Processing Unit to produce an APU capable of running modern games (for example, BF4) at mid-range quality settings.
Integrated graphics have been around for some time, but that sort of power was unheard of until very recently. This is an excellent area in which to save some serious money on your system build. After first confirming that the Catalyst driver is (at least in theory) available for Linux systems, I chose to purchase the AMD Richland 4.1 GHz RA10-6800K. It’s socket FM2 and runs on 100W which won’t be hard to come by given the absence of a discrete graphics card from the system permitted by this bad boy.
One thing to note regarding the driver is that the AMD driver download site does not list Fedora as a supported distribution (though it does list the downstream RHEL 6.4 and RHEL 6.5). Some Googling seemed to yield that others were able to install the driver (that becomes more complicated, but possible, later on), so I ordered the chip.
I have used an AMD 64 3800+ chip which I purchased in 2005 in a gaming rig I built in college for almost 9 years now, and it has been problem-free. Combined with information from reviews, I am confident that AMD’s processor will deliver again.
I typically go with a mini-ITX form factor if I can (’cause they’re awesome) but in this case I decided upon a microATX board because of the lack of options supporting socket FM2/FM2+. I chose the ASRock FM2A55M-HD+ A55 MATX R in part for its price point (I was really trying to keep this build as low-cost as possible) and in part for its support for 2133 MHz RAM without requiring overclocking.
I have had good results with ASRock in the past (My Windows Home Server 2011 runs on one of their mini ITX boards, and a friend’s gaming rig runs on a mini ITX – neither have had any issues), so this is a confident choice.
There’s not a whole lot of deciding to do in this area, since RAM is pretty cheap and generally well made nowadays. One point of consideration for this particular build, however, is that the GPU component of an APU benefits greatly from high speed RAM. Given that the motherboard selection was made to accommodate 2133 MHz RAM, I chose G.Skill F3-2133C10D in two 4 GB DIMMs primarily on account of the price and good reviews.
Hard Disk [~$70]
I am not planning on putting a whole lot of data on my machine, and I can always purchase an additional hard disk if necessary. I decided to go with a solid state disk from SanDisk, the SDSSDHP-064G-G25 R. It’s only 64 GB, but that’s all I need for now.
Power Supply [~$20]
I decided against reusing my old power supply which has been in operation for nine years out of a potentially unsound fear of damage to my shiny new components if it dies. I tried to gather data on the real risk involved with running an old power supply, and I suspect it is quite low if extant given the modern protections against short circuits and whatnot, but I could find very little information. Given that PSUs are so cheap (you can even get a $10 PSU on Newegg), and I want a low power option anyway (my current PSU is 650 W), I purchased the Athena Power AP-MP4ATX30 RT. It’s a lean 300 W PSU for my sweet little rig.
One thing I will note here is that this power supply turned out to be incompatible with the case I will mention below. While the PSU is listed as being compatible with the microATX form factor (and, technically, it does power that kind of motherboard just fine), its dimensions are smaller than a standard power supply, so it won’t screw into my case. It doesn’t matter too much to me since I’m not moving the case around ever, but it’s worth mentioning.
I purchased the Cougar Spike R on account of the reviews and the price. It is a fine case, aesthetically pleasing, and generally worthy of the reviews.
And that does it! That’s my nifty little Linux rig, all to be had for the low price of ~$385. Don’t forget thermal paste and a monitor if you need them, but given that I still have my 23.6″ ASUS monitor from my college rig (I actually got the monitor afterwards; I used a 21″ CRT through 2007!), I’m good to go. I decided against an aftermarket heatsink because I don’t plan on overclocking or taxing the system too hard at all.
As the tone of this post has probably already conveyed, this system has already been purchased and assembled. I’ve already installed the OS, as well, though I plan on covering that in detail since I’ve made some seemingly significant discoveries and conclusions in this remarkably information-scarce environment (Fedora 20’s compatibility with AMD Catalyst drivers, for example, is not readily understood from Google alone).
And that’s really the point of this blog: I want to walk through some of the technical aspects of my projects and share the processes and findings with others. Given the relative absence of information, I hope this will actually be found by those seeking the information, and I hope to have interesting problems brought to me which I can work on resolving. It will benefit me, it will benefit you, and all will rejoice.
So, up next, notes on the operating system, software packages, and device driver installations!