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Linux Desktop PC on Steroids From ZaReason

High-Powered Fun

September 23, 2010

I asked independent Linux OEM vendor ZaReason for a high-end super-powered Linux desktop PC to review, and they delivered 8-core madness right to my door.

<em>figure 1</em>
figure 1

Little dinky underpowered mobile phones, netbooks, and laptops are getting all the attention these days. Well what about us folks who still need good capable desktop PCs? So I asked for a hotrodded version of ZaReason's Limbo to review, even though the $799 base model has plenty of goodies for the demanding user. This is what I received:

  • Intel i7 2.66 CPU; four physical cores plus four virtual cores
  • 6 GB DDR-3 1333 RAM
  • 320 GB SATA hard disk
  • Nvidia 9800 GT dual-monitor digital video card
  • Alcor Micro multi-card reader: SD, mini-SD, Compact Flash, XD, MD, MMC, Memory Stick, and a USB port
  • Case by In-Win
I got this about a month ago, and the specs on the base model are now close to my review unit. How quickly these things progress.

All of this resides comfortably in a roomy case with a 350-watt PowerMan power supply (PowerMan is rebranded FSP Group, who make good power supplies), and a high-end ECS X58B-A2 motherboard. It is a tool-less case that is easy to get into, and easy to work in. The PC came with all the extras bundled with the motherboard, and was double-boxed. ZaReason's shipping department has a belt-and-suspenders mentality, which suits me fine.

<em>figure 2</em>
figure 2


I was amazed by the i7. I've always used AMD processors because they cost less and are good performers, but the i7 is in a class of it its own. I compared my usual photo editing tasks with Digikam and Gimp, and audio recording and editing with Audacity, Ardour, and other audio applications. The Limbo was faster for all tasks than my studio PC which runs a three-core AMD Phenom CPU. A lot faster. For example, importing a gigabyte-sized WAV file into Audacity on the studio PC takes about 90 second. The Limbo did it in under 30 seconds. An album in Digikam with several hundred photos opens as quickly as I can scroll the page, and applying edits to large photo files is very fast.

Multi-core CPUs are the best thing to happen to PCs, because even when applications are not optimized for multiple cores those extra cores still make everything go faster by running more processes at the same time. It's like opening more checkout stands at a busy store. The i7 gives you cores to spare and fast clock speeds.

<em>figure 3</em>
figure 3

Nvidia Graphics Adapter

As you can see from the photo, the Nvidia dual-head adapter is a beast. This is the noisiest component in the system, so if you want a quieter machine ask the nice folks at ZaReason to put in something else. It's not all that loud; I noticed it because my studio PC is super-quiet. It has two DVI and one S-Video outputs; S-Video connects to a TV or home theater system. Both the motherboard and the Nvidia card are SLI-ready, if you're into running dual graphics adapters.

One of the most significant performance enhancements you can do to a PC is replace shared video with a discrete GPU. Even a low-end video card is significantly faster than using cheapo shared video, which sets aside a portion of RAM for itself, and puts an extra load on the CPU. Modern GPUs are considerably faster than CPUs. With a high-end monster like the 9800 GT your system will handle everything you throw at it, including demanding games.

Multi-card Reader

This one is dear to my heart-- I just happen to have every type of storage card it claims to support, and by gosh it reads and writes all of them. In Ubuntu. Built-in multi-card readers are common on laptops, and much of the time they do not work in Linux, which is aggravating because they rely on dumb Windrivers. If they used standards-compliant hardware then nobody would need special drivers.