Prebuilt PC suggestions?

My MythTV box died today, and I think I would like to buy a new workstation for myself, and cascade my old workstation to the MythTV.

Trouble is, I don’t have time to spec out components and build it myself this time. I haven’t bought a prebuilt PC for myself since 6 years ago, and don’t really know what’s good.

My general requirements are: works with Linux, has a flexible BIOS (many of the low-end home PCs have a limited BIOS with few options), is a quiet and energy-efficient as possible, quad-core, 2GB or more RAM, SATA. Nice to have would be fanless nVidia video, but I could also take one with cheap onboard video and move an existing PCIe card to it.


14 thoughts on “Prebuilt PC suggestions?

  1. I thought nvidia graphics cards still had proprietary-driver disease. I figure if I’m willing to run binary-only kernel code I might as well go the whole way and buy a Macintosh. Anyway I’m using a Dell 530n at work which is equivalent to a cheap white-box PC and it works fine and was dirt cheap (came with Ubuntu 8.04 preinstalled, so no Windows tax). It has a dual core Intel cpu but I think it could be upgraded to a quad core if I wanted to pay for it. Its main limitation is its four DDR2 ram slots, like almost all PC’s (well, some have six DDR3 slots, but that’s not such a big improvement).

    Next step up I think would be a Pogolinux 1U rack server which has two Opteron sockets and 16 registered DIMM slots. For about $3.5K you get an 8-core server with 64GB of ram, which is about the best value I’ve seen for a memory-loaded box. Pogolinux also has some nice desktop boxes but I haven’t looked at them too closely. I run ram-hungry applications so am always on the lookout for expanded ram capacity.

  2. I am just in the process of evaluatings things and stuff you mentioned here; maybe have a look onto my personal web page to see more about that.

    My conclusions so far:

    Case: best is anything big; more to that later
    Mainboard: Asus P5N7A-VM (integrated Nvidia 9300 graphics; more than fast enough FWID)
    CPU: I took the Intel Q8400 (same like above; fast enough)
    Coolers: here it gets interesting. I have the Scythe S-Flex 1200 as a case fan, and the Scythe Big Shuriken as a low profile CPU fan for my Antec 2480 case. Both are wonderful, but *in that case*, they are very close together – which means, at full speed there is some turbulence and interaction between the two of them. So if I keep the case, I should get a smaller CPU fan (like the Shuriken Rev. B), or I should take a bigger case.
    Hard Drive: anything Samsung; fast, cheap, reliable, and silent
    Graphics Crad: included
    Optical Drive: Pioneer DVR-216 or any LG (not the cheapest; you have to change the firmware of that one using Windows)

    On that machine (mainboard), Debian stable runs pretty well with the exception of Audio (you need either a kernel >= 2.6.27 or the latest ALSA drivers for that; Ubuntu 9.04 with kernel 2.6.28 runs perfectly on it). I’ve tried Squeeze until lately, but now the kernel was updated to 2.6.30 (yay!), but the proprietary Nvidia stuff wasn’t, so you end up with a text console.

    Oh, and thanks to you – and others – for making Debian! Hope I could help a bit here…

  3. As I read the specs you are looking for, I think you have the same simple needs I have for my MediaBitch:
    It should just play everything that hit’s my fileserver. If it’s cheap, silent and doesn’t consume a lot of energie, all the better.

    I was looking for such an device for the past 2 years and it seems like something has finally hit the market that could please me.

    The new nvidia ion chipset with a (dualcore) Intel Atom 330. There are only 2-3 vendors out yet and it’s mostly sold out but the few test boxes I could lay a finger on where amazing in real life tests.

    Here in germany the boards go between 120 and 160euros with cpu.

    hope that helps

  4. Go over to

    and pick what you want from their list. It will be slightly more expensive than buying components, but easier and cheaper than dealing with Dell or HP.

    For just under $500, you could get:

    CASE: (+ 37.00) Broadway 72-BK 420W Black Mid-Tower Case
    MB: (+ 86.00) MSI K9N2GM-FIH Socket AM2+/ GeForce 8200/ HDMI/ A&V&GbE/ MATX Motherboard
    CPU: (+ 125.00) ** AMD Phenom Quad Core Processor 9550 2.2GHz AM2+, Retail
    MEMORY: (+ 58.00) Crucial 4 GB ,2GBX2, DDR2-800 PC2-6400 Memory
    HDD1: (+109.00) Seagate ST31000333AS 1TB SATA2 7200rpm 32MB NCQ Hard Drive
    FDD: (+17.00) Apacer Embedded 8 in 1 Card Reader USB2.0
    CD-ROM1: (+35.00) SonyNEC Optiarc AD-7200A-0B 20X Dual Layer DVD+/-RW

    I’ve bought about thirty systems from them over the last five years.

  5. I’ve been extremely happy with my HP workstations. In checking their latest catalog they have a number of “small media” boxes in addition to workstations. I also have a media PC, an Asus AX1700 which I’m also quite happy with. The build quality seems amazing, it has 9(!) USB ports, and a eSATA port, for around $400.

  6. Hey John, we’ve just lost two ourselves. One I killed but think it will go again, the other is being repaired in Illinois, on extended warranty.

    Have you thought about Dell? I have a bunch of flyers around here that I could bundle up and send north. :-)

    I also have a couple of old TVs but I won’t ship them north, you’d have to come get them.

    I hear there may be a Blogstock ’10 next summer!!

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