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Build it Yourself Linux Super-Workstation Part 2
Power, Motherboard Challenges
September 17, 2009
In part one of this series we looked at the basic building blocks needed to put together your very own high-end Linux workstation. This time we'll finish out the actual hardware assembly and take a first look at some of the options from a software perspective.
Making choices based purely on cost can sometimes lead to even higher costs in the long run. This is especially true when it comes to the right power supply. Choosing a cheap option might work for a low-end machine but could make for real problems when building a system loaded with power hungry devices.
One of the things we didn't talk about in the first article is power. The Thermaltake case we're using does not come with a power supply, so that's something we should have mentioned. On the other hand, it gives us the opportunity to look at power supply options in a little more detail this time around. Power supplies are not the most talked about (or written about) part of a computer by any stretch of the imagination. They can make a big difference in how your system performs and how long it lasts.
Most off-the-shelf consumer desktop computers come with a fairly wimpy power supply. It really won't matter unless you start adding lots of things like additional hard drives, high-end graphics cards or an upgraded CPU requiring more power. Building your own machine from parts is an entirely different story. Not only do you have power available (measured in Watts) to consider, there are also numbers and types of connectors for you to think about. If you plan on loading up your new tower with lots of disk drives, then you'll want a power supply with lots of disk drive power plugs.
Do a Google search on "PC power supply," and you'll quickly find a wide range of products both in cost and capacity. It's at this point that you want to decide on saving a few bucks versus investing in a solid and versatile power supply. If you choose the latter, you won't go wrong with Thermaltake. For this review they provide a Toughpower XT 650W supply that is a DIYer's dream. It has a completely modular design allowing you to choose only the connectors you need. It also happens to complement their tower cases quite nicely as well.
If there's one part of the whole build-it-yourself process that frightens most people away it has to be the motherboard and CPU installation step. We were not immune to a few challenges along the way. Our first motherboard came with a stuck power button that we couldn't seem to get around. After fighting with it for several days the good folks at AMD decided to provide a second board for us to use along with an older CPU chip.
Using the latest and greatest AMD quad-core CPU chip presented a bit of a challenge with the BIOS on the MSI motherboard we had in that the original bios didn't support the latest AM3 chip. So, you can't flash the BIOS without an older CPU and hence the reason they sent one along. With the new motherboard and the old CPU in hand we were able to get everything up and running in fairly short order.
The only hitch in the BIOS flashing process was the need for a Windows-based PC to create a bootable USB disk with the new firmware. Fortunately for us, we had one available and managed to create the USB firmware updated disk with no issues. MSI also has an on-line option for updating your BIOS, but this assumes you have a working machine on which you want to perform the update. Once we were able to update the BIOS we then swapped out the old CPU for the hot new one, and everything worked great.