New PC with Ubuntu for the (soon-to-be) in-laws

Heidi’s parents’ PC died last week. It looks like a hard-drive failure, which could be very dissapointing if the data is unrecoverable (let’s hope not!). I’d spoken to them recently about getting a new PC and today I took the afternoon off work to buy the parts, build the PC, and set it up.

We picked the parts up from NetPlus in Osborne Park. They’re in a pretty convenient location (near the Hutton St exit from Kwinana Fwy) and I’ve found them to have good prices and prompt service in the past. The PC I decided upon is basically the cheapest decent machine I could put together from parts they had in stock… with a nice case though. 🙂

Here are the specs of the machine:

  • Athlon 64 X2 5000+ CPU
  • Asus M3A78-EM AM2+ mainboard (AMD 780G chipset with ATI HD 3200 integrated graphics chipset)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 320GB Western Digital hard-drive
  • Antec Minuet 350 slimline PC Micro ATX case
  • DVD burner from old computer

My first thought when putting the PC together with Heidi’s dad was that the Minuet case was a little larger (deeper) than expected, but it’s still much smaller than a standard tower case. It was a nice case to work with though, and the build was pretty painless.

After seeing that Windows XP would add $150 to the price, Heidi’s dad decided to try out Ubuntu (this made me very happy, although I tried to keep that on the inside). I burnt a installation CD last night and figured that I would live boot it to so that he could check it out and make sure it was really going to be okay (Windows can be a hard habit to break).

Honestly, I expected some things to require some “encouragement” to work, but everything worked flawlessly. Upon booting in Ubuntu, the machine was on the internet (via ethernet via the modem/router), the ATI graphics chip was supported (and then accelerated after the first update), the monitor was working at native resolution (1440×900), sound was working, and even the printer was automatically detected and configured. We connected his Ricoh digital camera via USB cable and F-Spot imported everything just fine.

I also had some apphrension as to whether Heidi’s parents would warm to the Linux alternatives to the Windows software they are used to. However, they seemed at home with Evolution (rather than Outlook), Firefox (rather than IE), and Open Office (rather than Microsoft Office). I think that the general feeling was that they were impressed with the ease of setup, and how everything “just worked”.

Bottom line: Good times Ubuntu. You exceeded even my expectations… let’s hope that you can keep it up (and that they don’t ask for Windows after week or so trial).

I should also extend some kudos to AMD/ATI. There was a time that I would never contemplate getting an ATI card because the Linux drivers sucked so bad, but this machine was running a zippy Compiz desktop on an integrated graphics chip. Sweet and cheap!