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What Linux Hardware Upgrades Make Sense?

Memory and Storage: Easy Peasey

  • August 5, 2010
  • By Paul Ferrill

While Linux runs great on most any hardware, it runs even better on a machine with ample memory and a recent CPU. Upgrade options abound for even the most hardware hacking averse. In this monthly roundup we'll take a look at options to get your Linux system running even better without breaking your budget.

If your machine is from one of the big name vendors such as Dell or HP, you might have upgrade options directly from them. Dell has one landing page to help you get a general idea on what you might be able to upgrade on your machine. If you happen to have one of their Dimension desktops, you'll want to take a look at this web page with specific information for each model. HP's home and home office shopping page has current deals plus a search tool to find upgrade parts.

Memory

If you've checked the price of memory lately you probably noticed a downward trend. Size and speed typically dictate cost with faster / bigger costing more. If you use your laptop for heavy-duty computing, like multiple virtual machines or scientific computation, you could definitely benefit from a memory upgrade.The nice thing about most Linux distros is most 32-bit versions have PAE (Physical Address Extension) enabled by default in their kernels, which means you can have more than 3 GB RAM and your 32-bit Linux will see all of it.

Finding the right memory for your system can be a challenge unless you go with a vendor that does all the work for you. Crucial's website has tools to help make the process as painless as possible. The main tool is a pick and choose drop-down menu page that steps you through selecting your manufacturer, type and model. Once you get down to the actual computer you'll be presented with a page showing exactly what options you have and what your system will support. We tested a 4GB upgrade for a Dell XPS M1330 laptop and found it super simple to install.

One word to the wise on buying memory that will hopefully save you some pain: Make sure you read the vendor's policy page on taking memory back if it doesn't work. Going with an established vendor such as Crucial or Kingston might cost you a few bucks more but will save you in the long run when you get the right part for your system the first time. Both companies also back all of their products with fair and reasonable warranty service.

Disks

Solid state disks (SSDs) provide one of the biggest performance boosts of any hardware upgrade available today. With prices continuing to fall, it really is now within the reach of even the tightest budget. For the really budget conscious you could go with a small drive size for your system disk and use a secondary conventional drive to store your data. You don't want to put your swap drive and probably not your main home folders on an SSD as they do have a limited number of read / write cycles.

Adding extra storage has never been cheaper. It's not uncommon to find SATA drives as large as 2 TB on sale for right around $100. If you choose to go the external drive route, you might want to consider a drive with an eSATA port for better speed performance. Pay close attention to the drive specs like RPM and cache. The higher the number of both means a higher performance drive. If you're just using the disk for backup or to store things like your music collection, you could stand to go with a lower RPM speed. These drives typically consume less power as well.

Seagate has recently announced another option in their hybrid Momentus XT drive. It's a combination of solid state memory and traditional spinning disk in the same package. Their product literature boasts of an 80% speed increase over traditional disk drives for a fraction of the cost of a solid state disk. The 500 GB 2.5 inch version currently retails for around $135. Not bad for the storage size and speed improvements. In fact, you might even want to consider one of these drives for your desktop machine as well.

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