Meet my new Linux rig.

The road to running a 100% Linux shop started for yours truly last year when I dumped my MacBook for a cheap and cheerful Eee PC; it proved itself worthy of world travel during Nokia’s N97 24/7 tour.

The next piece in the puzzle was my wireless router — a ridiculously-overpriced AirPort Base Station and Express that were handily replaced by a FONERA 2.0N over Christmas.

Next up was freeing my music from the clutches of iTunes. All that remained was the computer itself.

I first saw the Lenovo A600 in Singapore last November and wanted it, badly. And when I saw that my local Tiger Direct had an insanely cheap open box deal I knew it could be mine!

So what justifies sending a $4,000 Mac to the curb and replacing it with a $750 all-in-one? Two things:

1. Like any other power user I loaded up my Mac Pro with as many internal hard drives as it could stand (in this case 4). And like any other Mac user I initialized the extra hard drives in Apple’s HFS+ format — not realizing that it was proprietary to the point of being unreadable by a Linux-powered computer.

Because I need to move my data off of the drives to reformat them I now have the opportunity to house them in a separate RAID enclosure. This made an all-in-one a viable contender.

2. Anyone cursed with a Mac tower will know exactly what I mean when I say this: Mac towers are LOUD. So loud that I can hear the screaming fans of my Mac Pro from the other side of my two-bedroom condo. From the moment I power it up in the morning the fans kick in and wail all day long. At best they wheeze like an old man in his sleep; at worst they are so loud that I cannot effectively have a conversation on the telephone while sitting at my Mac. Even with a headset.

My Lenovo, on the other hand, emits a quick grunt on start-up as it checks for the presence of a disc in the slot-loading drive, and is never heard from again.

Currently it’s running Linux Mint, with an eye towards taking the new Ubuntu for a spin when the release version drops later this month.

I’ve owned Macs since 1995 — 8 of them, to be exact. And the saying that “Macs just work”? That hasn’t exactly been my experience:

  • iMac DVSE (1999) – needed new motherboard out of the box;
  • iBook 2nd-gen (2001) – needed new speakers out of the box;
  • G5 Tower (2003) – needed new motherboard out of the box;
  • PowerBook (2003) – needed new screen out of box.

Meanwhile the Lenovo laptop I bought in 2006 is still tucked away in a closet in case I ever need (ugh) Windows for some specific task. And really, my only complaint with the A600 thus far is all the Microsoft stickers on it… πŸ˜‰


  1. AC:

    Didn’t one of your Macs or Apple monitors also suffer from dead pixels, too?

    I’ve owned 5 Macs, 3 new and 2 used, and I’m fortunate in that I haven’t had out-of-box issues. My current 2 are an aging G5 tower and an now-ancient iBook G4, and I’ll be replacing them with a new computer next year (not in this year’s budget).

    I suspect I’ll have to stick with Mac since my external and internal HDs are HFS+ and I don’t see any way to adopt them to non-Mac use without either keeping one of my Macs to manually transfer 11 years’ of video projects, thus losing any of their limited trade-in value.

    Will I buy another tower Mac? Nope. Like you, I’m tired of the roaring, the extra space needed, and, frankly, the MacBook Pros can handle the quite limited amount of video work I’m doing these days.

    Still, I’m going to look into putting an Ubuntu partition on any future Mac I own. Not the most open solution, I know, but it’s my first step away from a locked-down personal computer.


  2. Somewhat ironically, dual-booting a Windows box is much easier because of Wubi.

    “Will I buy another tower Mac? Nope.”

    At some point I hope to try out some video editing software — at which point I’ll be on your case to dump the Mac OS altogether. πŸ˜›

    And yeah, it was the PowerBook with the dead pixels.

  3. So, if you’re able to replace a $4K Mac Pro tower with a $750 AIO that’s running a lightweight Linux then I’d say your first mistake was not doing the research properly on the Mac Pro and the Mac OS to begin with.

    The fact that you were able to take a powerful tower and replace it with an AIO is telling that you took more than you needed in the first place.

    Not Mac evangelizing here, but don’t blame Apple entirely for your misjudgment of you own needs. Also, your transition to preferring open source doesn’t invalidate Apples methodology. I’m sorry, I’ve just seen too many people complain about Apple this and Apple this when they discover open source that I’ve come to realize that Apple isn’t the problem but the people who overpaid for something that they didn’t need are pissed because they didn’t do their due diligence in the first place.

  4. “Also, your transition to preferring open source doesn’t invalidate Apples methodology.”

    Really? I thought I made fairly good case the following:

    1. Apple products are overpriced;
    2. They do not “just work”.

    Your other points about due diligence prior to purchase are well taken — though in fairness Linux has come a long way in the few years since I bought that Mac.

  5. Yup, as I’ve learned on reddit since posting this. I wasn’t able to install those packages when I tested a live CD of Ubuntu Studio last year. Actually, I couldn’t even boot — I’m assuming because the drives couldn’t be read.

    But those incessant, screaming fans… is there an app for that?

  6. I’d guess there was an issue your mac pro. Mine is almost silent. The external hard drive I use for time machine is louder than my mac pro.

  7. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Just a quick question:
    How well does compiz (3d) work with the Mobile Intel GMA 4500M chip on this rig?

    I am using kubuntu karmic with kde4.4.2 and if compiz works so will kwin 3d.
    Thank you for any fedback


  8. I don’t think that’s the chip in this particular machine. I ran the lspci command in the terminal and got this:

    ATI Technologies Inc Mobility Radeon HD 3650

    Compiz works great, though — it’s fairly pointless eye candy IMHO but does look pretty cool.


  9. “Macs Just Work…”

    They do, if you’re not planning on doing anything different from what its creators have in mind. As soon as you want to veer from that, you’ll smack your face into Apple’s walled-garden mentality.

    Linux Mint/Ubuntu just makes more sense. Not just from a cost perspective, but it is flexible in working the way I want it to work.

    Great post!

  10. AC:

    The noisy fans relates to an update Apple distributed for G5s in 2004 or 2005, I think. I had one of the original 2003 1.6 GHz machines, and it was quiet prior to running that patch. Afterwards, the fan noise was really loud, with occasional bursts where the machine sounded like it was trying to take off.
    I understand Apple ran that patch because users were having heat problems with the original fan settings. For proprietary software issues like this, it’s usually one-size-fits-all type of solutions.
    My question for you and other Linux users is this–would the typical Linux user also see a one-size-fits-all fixes like this, or are there enough programmers out there that you’d just run a patch to fix your specific problem?

  11. Ed,

    my Acer netbook came with some kind of dumbed down Linux install. I promptly removed it and installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix: it’s pretty awesome. The catch? The fan ran on an Acer daemon that monitored the heat and carefully managed the fan’s speed. Once Ubuntu had been installed and the daemon wasn’t running, the Acer sounds like a small plane taxing on the runway.

    The solution was readily available out there thanks, in part, to Acer for making the software available and in part thanks to the ingenuity of other Linux users.

    I’m not a programmer. I am in fact a writer. But I can also be a reader and a tinkerer and dwell under the hood of my computer. After downloading and installing the software and finding a way for it to load automatically at startup, the Acer no sounds less like a Cessna.

    When I used to use Apple, even changing some minuscule part was a challenge and a half–assuming it could even be changed. I can appreciate the one-size-fits-all mentality that Apple throws at their users as it limits the problems that a user can encounter–or cause themselves. But I still wish there was some sort of way for a user to work around that. Hence my switch to Linux. Ubuntu, in particular (and Mint) are everything OSX is, plus have the added bonus of having an exit from the walled garden.

    But I digress.

  12. What did you end up deciding up for the RAID system? Are you going with NAS? (that’s what I’d do, if you have all those disparate systems. Also might be able to connect to it via your phone, as long as it supports WebDAV. I think some of them do. That would be cool. Hmmmm, I need to look into that πŸ˜‰

  13. I’ve got a fully open source home theatre PC.

    Started with a $300 Dell desktop with 2×1.60 Ghz Intel processors and 2GB of RAM.

    Added a 32″ Insignia LCD HDTV that displays at 1360x720p resolution.

    Soundblaster Audigy HD Sound card

    3TB of HDD courtesy of Western Digital

    3.5′ Yamaha speaker pair connected to a Kenwood receiver

    OS is Linux Mint 8 (helena)

    Favorite apps are KTorrent, SMPlayer, Rythmbox, Thunderbird and Firefox.

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