Building a Linux Pc for my parents

The Project

The project is to get my parents a new PC on which they can work, surf the web and read their e-mail. They wanted a small, compact and silent computer.

The Hardware

With these pretty moderate system requirements there is no need to cash out for a  high end graphics card or a multi core CPU. Computers like these often become expensive, noisy, very hot or all three. It is better to find something with moderate but high enough specifications which is silent and rather small.

Antec NSK3480 with a 380 watt PSU

I opted for the following hardware: First the Antec NSK3480 casing with a 380 watt power supply. The case is small, looks good and it is quite cheap when you consider that it has a PSU. It is however so small that it only fits micro ATX motherboards. Next I got a low power dual core AMD Athlon X2 4850e, a matching Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H motherboard with an onboard graphics chip and 4GB of DDR2 RAM. Moreover I got a Western Digital Caviar BLUE 160 GB hard disk and a Samsung SH-S203B DVD recorder. In addition to the PC itself I got a Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave (like the one I have myself) and a NEC 22WV 22″ LCD wide screen display.

In total everything cost about 5000 NOK or around 550 Euro. I think this is quite cheap when considering that you get a quite nice office machine with a LCD display and a cordless mouse and keyboard.

The Software

The first thing you’ll need is an operating system (OS). I prefer Linux because it is a very good OS with all the applications I need. Moreover, everything comes without licensing fees. So I started by downloading Ubuntu (the Linux distribution I normally use). The next thing you have to do is to make a bootable CD using for instance the open source CD recording tool InfraRecorder.

Insert the CD into the computer and install Ubuntu following the on-screen instructions. This is pretty fast and rather simple. The best thing is however that Ubuntu includes most of the applications and all the drivers (unless you have brand new and fancy hardware) you’ll need.

However, there are a few applications which need to be installed or upgraded. OpenOffice 3.0 is for instance not included in the October release of Ubuntu. The 3.0 version will be included later and I am sure 2.4 would do but there are a few additions in 3.0 which I like Luckily it is rather simple to upgrade from 2.4 to 3.0 using these procedures.

Add/remove applicaitons on Ubuntu

Next, I installed my number one e-mail client, Thunderbird. This is easily done by opening the “Apllications” menu in Ubuntu, clicking “Add/Remove…”, search for Thunderbird, select it and click “Apply Changes” like in the illustration above.

Next up is Skype. Even though this is NOT an open source application it is a rather useful tool for communicating with friends and family. Skype is pretty much installed the same way as OpenOffice, see these procedures.

Synaptic Package Manager

Ubuntu comes with a community implementation of the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). This is unfortunately a lot slower than Sun’s implementation so it is adviceable to install Sun’s JRE. This is done by choosing “Administration” on the “System” menu and then “Synaptic Package Manager”. In the Synaptic Package Manager, search for sun java and select “sun-java6-jre” and click apply, see the illustration above. To configure your system for using the newly installed JRE open a terminal window, type the following command (without “”) "sudo update-alternatives --config java" and select the right JRE.

For easy parental use I finally created launch icons for the most used applications like e-mail client, browser, text editor and spreadsheet. This is done by right clicking on the application in the menu and selecting “Add this launcher to the desktop”.

In addition to these applications you may need to install for instance the a flash player, codecs for video playback etc. However, the installation of these is started automatically when needed so the only thing you need to do is to follow the instructions.

The only thing remaing is to hand it over and hopefully not giving too much first aid when they start using it.





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