I GOOGLE around the world and try to find some introductions about how to build you own workstation. But nothing I need. So I decide to write something here…
First, what is workstation here? According to WIKI,
A workstation is a high-end microcomputer designed for technical or scientific applications.
So, the workstation here is just a computer with some software. One feature is that the computer, no matter a laptop or a desktop, should be powerful. Basically, powerful means high-end CPU, dedicated video card, huge memory, fast and huge hard disk…
Based on my experience. I build my workstation on an Alienware M17x R2. It is not necessary to be this model. Actually it is far more than powerful. You have many other almost equivalent alternatives. I am going to give an incomplete list here:
Alienware series is a very good choice, but not cheap. I am sure you can find some cheap but good ones on eBay. M18x R2 is huge but should be powerful. M17x R3 is good, not as good as M17x R2, but Okay for a workstation. M14x R2, maybe a good candidate for a real workstation.
Precision series is also very good; although not as shine as Alienware, but it is powerful enough.
The dreamcolor series is awesome, especially the Elitebook w series, such as 8760w, 8560w
The W series should be good.
Theses brands, all based on Clevo, are even more powerful than Alienware.
My strategy is to purchase one manufacturer refurbished from Dell outlet or an almost new one from eBay. This will save lots of money for you. The one I got is M17x R2 with
i7 920xm + 8gb 1066 Memory + 1x ATI 4870 + one normal 7200 HD (I forget the size and brand)
This cost me $1050 in 2011.
After the purchase, I got a sata II 128 SSD by $120. I am using GNU Linux, it does not support ATI video card very well, so I sold the ATI 4870 and changed to a 285m gtx, this did not cost me anything.
So the cost of hardware is 1050+120=1170$
Now let us go to the software. This is more important than the hardware part. Because powerful hardware without decent software is almost nothing.
I do not play game too much. In most case, I use computer to write paper, read paper, do some scientific computation, edit pictures and videos… So for scientific research, I choose GNU Linux. Some researchers choose Macbook pro. It is also a good choice, but not as powerful as PC, and more importantly, you can not do too much to configure the hardware. One advantage of Macbook Pro is that the OS X runs very well with Macbook pro, very stable.
There are tons of GNU Linux distribution in the world. The most popular one is Ubuntu, its own Unity windows manager is also very cool, not perfect, but good enough for daily work. Many scientific researchers and programmers choose this one. If you like you can follow them, easy to install and maintain.
For my personal preference, I choose the Gentoo based Calculate Linux. It is developed and maintained by a Russian group. The current version is Calculate Linux 13. I tried two different versions, one is CLS, which represents Calculate Linux Scratch; and the other is CLDG, which represents Calculate Linux Desktop GNOME. If you want to build you own system from scratch, choose CLS, otherwise choose CLDG or other versions. Check Calculate Linux website for detail.
The reason of choosing this Gentoo based Calculate Linux is as follows,
1) Gentoo Linux is a rolling system and Calculate is almost 100% compatible with Gentoo.
Sabayon Linux team also announces that they are 100% compatible with Gentoo. However based on my experience, I never successfully emerge -auDN world under sabayon. I guess the two portages are never compatible with each other. But for Calculate Linux, it always works, no pain at all.
2) Rolling system means that once you install it on the machine, you do not need to re-install the system to keep it up to date. Unlike other distributions, such as Ubuntu, you need to re-install the new version if you want to keep up to date.
3) Gentoo is source based. This means that the system will run in a very efficient way if you compile software according to your hardware. Actually you can choose the USE parameter to max the performance of the machine.
Install Calculate Linux
To install Calculate Linux, first you need to burn the ISO to a DVD or CD, depending on which version you want to install. If you choose CLS, which is less than 700M right now, you could fit it in a CD, for other versions, you might need to choose a DVD. Personally, I choose to install it from a USB flash driver. Because this will be much faster then the CD or DVD in the installation.
dd if=cldg-13-x86_64.iso of=/dev/sdX bs=4M
You need to change cldg-13-x86_64.iso to the iso you have, sdX is your USB driver.
After that, keep the USB driver connected to your computer, reboot and make sure it boots from USB driver first. Usually it can be changed in the BIOS setting. In my case for M17x R2, I press F12, it goes to the menu of booting choice. Wait for a while, you will see the interface of installation. Choose the first one, wait for a while. If everything goes well, you will see the graphic interface, in my case, the Gnome shows up. If you use CLS, you will not see the graphic interface, but the text mode with framebuffer.
Today, Feb 14 2013, something bad happens. I try to emerge -auDN world, but several gnome packages blocke the updating process. I checked the Calculate Linux community, it looks that they are also get stuck with gnome3. They suggest to use Xfce version. Therefore, I plan to switch back to CLS and block gnome software by USE=”-gnome” or try Calculate linux with Xfce.
After trying out the Calculate Linux with Xfce, I think I find the new operating system I am going to use from now on.
There will be a new post to discuss how to install Calculate Linux Xfce. In the next step, I suppose you already get the system running and we only need to choose some software.
To be continued…