ubuntu One of the down sides to leaving Yahoo! is that the notebook computer I've been using for last few years will no longer be mine in a few days. I'm one of those people who used their company issued computer for lots of non-company stuff too.

When I start at Craigslist, I'll be getting a new laptop running Linux. But that's several weeks away and doesn't run some of the funky Windows apps I need or want access to. So I'm going to try keeping work separate from non-work this time around.

What to do?

I have a Thinkpad T43p at home that's been used mainly as a backup sever and lightweight web browser for a while now. It has a 2GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, 80GB disk, and a kick ass screen and keyboard. But it's running Ubuntu.

So I'm planning to use the recovery CDs to make it back into a Windows box (maybe dropping in a bigger disk along the way) and using it as my personal Windows machine. But that means I need a system to take over doing backups and that other stuff that the Thinkpad used to do.

My solution is to pull a few cheap parts off Newegg.com and build a low-end (but still probably overkill) machine that'll run Linux and do what I want. Here's what I ended up with.

IN WIN IW-BT610T.300BL Black Steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 300W Power Supply$50.99
Intel BOXD201GLY2A Intel Celeron 220 SiS 662 Micro ATX Motherboard/CPU Combo$64.99
Crucial 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 533 (PC2 4200) System Memory$21.99
Sony NEC Optiarc Black 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA DVD-ROM Drive Model DDU1671S$18.99

I already own a SATA hard disk I can drop in. Same goes for the keyboard and mouse. Plus installing Ubuntu costs me nothing other than my time.

At a total cost of $156.96 plus shipping, it's not bad for under $200. It'll do the backup and other "home server" jobs just fine and serve as a web browsing station now and then if need be. I almost opted for the Intel BOXD945GCLF Atom processor Intel 945GC Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo for even lower power consumption, but wanted to stick with a Micro ATX board for now.

I'm really impressed by what you can get for a cheap these days! The CPU is even 64 bit--not that it matters in this case.


Semi-related: This old laptop: Revitalizing an aging notebook on the cheap.

Posted by jzawodn at June 20, 2008 01:07 PM

Reader Comments
# Webmasters said:

Just a suggestion... you could install a virtualbox on linux, and run windows from it... that way, you can have both OS running on the same box... ;)

on June 20, 2008 01:23 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Certainly. I've played with VirtualBox a fair amount already (the Thinkpad has it on there now). But that's not quite what I'm looking for in this case.

on June 20, 2008 01:28 PM
# Brent Ashley said:

It's only cheap if your time is essentially free - you do have to assemble and test your collection of parts and then install the OS - I'd say that's at least a half day job.

For $40 more you can get a whole computer already assembled and tested with (a version of) linux already installed and you'll have a spare hard drive to boot (or to boot with, for that matter).

One of many: http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3511118&CatId=2630
There are of course others in different form factors etc

on June 20, 2008 02:01 PM
# Clint said:

Keeping your personal data and your work data on different machines is really a hassle. It can be done, many people do it; but if you are immersed in technology, programming, the web, etc., it is really hard. I do it and I hate it. Just like I hate having separate calendars; separate email; etc. I want it all consolidated; and if I have a machine with me, I want all my data, too. It can be done securely.

on June 20, 2008 02:07 PM
# Lukas Vlcek said:

Jeremy, I am just curous about what specific SW do you need to use which does not have solid alternative on Ubuntu?

on June 20, 2008 02:14 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Brent: I'm not sure about the half day. The assembly may take an hour or so. Installing and/or configuring the OS is an issue no matter which machine I order.

Clink: Yeah, I know what you mean. Much of my data is in the cloud. And the stuff I *really* need everywhere may end up getting replicated via VirtualBox and an occasionally running VM.

on June 20, 2008 02:15 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Most of the software is related to flying: flight planning, glider flight analysis, and maybe photo management. I'm open to switching on the photo side, however.

on June 20, 2008 02:16 PM
# Toby Jungen said:

Depending on what your requirements are, you may want to check out Logic Supply's options. They build very small form factor computers with low power requirements.

For example, the Artigo might fit your need:


It's about the size of your typical O'Reilly book, and will run perfectly fine as a small server. Only limiting factor may be the 2.5" HDD requirement, although you could attach a NAS for that. Pricepoint for the barebone without HDD but with 1GB RAM is around $335.

on June 20, 2008 04:53 PM
# optional said:

i bought a used dell optiplex off craigslist which has a 1.8Ghz CPU for $50 and decided the 10Gb drive was too small so spent $65 for a 160Gb drive and swapped them out - for the OS i used FreeBSD which is as the name implies FREE!

BTW - congrats on the move to Clist - i live in the city and that is one of my fave neighborhoods as there are so many good food options like Darla's, Tasty Curry (next door), New Eritrea and Holy Gelato across the street!

on June 20, 2008 06:48 PM
# Andras said:

well, I would definetely take the oppotunity to play with solaris. zfs just seems perfect for a cheap home server ;)

on June 20, 2008 09:50 PM
# PanMan said:

One thing on replacing the laptop with a more "full" pc: Watch the power consumption. I'm not sure if you have this thing running 24/7, but if you do the power bill for the new one can be a lot higher than the old one. The laptop probably has a ~50W power supply, while the new box can use up to 300W. That can easily amount to >$200 that your spending here.
For backups you could have also gone with a NAS which runs linux, but you can't attach a screen there...

on June 22, 2008 03:04 AM
# Unixwin said:

Backups never works on a single drive when you need them.
Do drop in another sata drive and put SW Raid-1 at min, or even better add on http://www.truecrypt.org/ when the drives fail

on June 23, 2008 12:17 AM
# Unixwin said:

Backups never works on a single drive when you need them.
Do drop in another sata drive and put SW Raid-1 at min, or even better add on http://www.truecrypt.org/ when the drives fail, its much safer to have the drive unusable, since you never know what personal info you've backed up on them..

sorry about previous post, hit enter too soon..

on June 23, 2008 12:19 AM
# PissedOffAgfaEmployee said:

100 Watts saved per hour, 8 hours a day, I pay 10 euro cents a KWh (not sure what you pay), thats about 30 euros a year.

Echoing what Pan man above says, trimming 100 watts off the consumption is enough to save you 150 euros ($234) over 5 years. $500 if you can trim 200 watts off the power consumption.

Myself, at the next upgrade, I'll be switching to a tiny linux box, just don't see the point of a big box PC anymore.

on June 23, 2008 03:24 AM
# Dan Isaacs said:

I've never understood why I should consider the time putting a PC together as a cost. On the contrary, I find it to be a great benefit.

on June 23, 2008 07:59 AM
# jake said:

I recently researched and built a trio of cheap PCs for members of my family. Here's my cost spreadsheet for comparision:

on June 23, 2008 08:12 AM
# Alan Whitney said:

Just wanted to share that I had this motherboard and here is what I needed to get it to work http://www.alanblainewhitney.com/2008/07/01/intel-motherboard/

on July 21, 2008 09:58 AM
# Cheap Used Dell Computer said:

I just hope DELL offers a repair/replacement.
Is there any chance of a class action lawsuit?

on July 10, 2009 12:42 AM
# cheap laptop said:

Thanks for sharing. May this useful for me and my friends. We just learn about programming also.
cheap laptop


on February 15, 2010 06:16 PM
# cheap computers said:

It's only cheap if your time is essentially free you do have to assemble and test your collection of parts and then install the OS, I'd say that's at least a half day job.

on April 11, 2010 10:53 AM
# said:

That would be pretty cheap - I think you should go with what you have decided.

on April 16, 2010 03:31 AM
# Cheap Computers said:

I heard linux is cheap so it's nothing like that.

on May 17, 2010 03:58 AM
# Refurbished Laptops said:

Installing a virtual box is not a bad idea. You should go for it.

on July 28, 2010 12:38 AM
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