Linux hardware requirements
the do's and don'ts.

Linux hardware requirements are modest, but picky. In this tutorial we discuss alternatives for having a PC working without problems with Linux. You do not need to have the most advanced and latest model PC to run Linux, but since the development of device drivers is primarily done by volunteers, you need to have devices in your PC for which device drivers have been developed by the Net community.

There are three main alternatives for obtaining a PC to run Linux:
  1. Buy a PC with Linux pre-installed

    This is the best alternative if you need a business server or high precision workstation. You can have brand-name machines from Dell, California Digital, IBM mainframes and workstations, Compaq, HP and many other PC manufacturers. The only argument against this alternative is that you will pay closeto the price of a Windows PC for it.

  2. Buy a new PC and you install Linux

    With some PCs selling for $400 you may be tempted to buy one of them and install Linux in the new machine. Be careful when you follow this route because some of these new cheap machines have devices for which no device driver exists in Linux. I will not be surprised if in the future some of these machines will either be Linux certified, or will come with Linux installed.

    If you decide to build your own PC, you can buy a "barebones PC" for about $150 (see for example Magicmicro) and then you can buy locally a video card, network interface card (NIC), sound board, hard-drive and monitor. The motherboad and video cards are the key items you need to be concerned, for the others are easy to add to the basic configuration. Read the next alternative for details of the basic specifications.

  3. Upgrade an existing or old PC and install Linux

    If you are not afraid of opening your PC and doing it yourself this is the best alternative to have a client installation of Linux, dual-booting in Windows and Linux. You can use your current PC, add some new devices, or replace older ones, and install Linux. If you have an old 486 of Pentium that you are no longer using, you can upgrade it and install Linux. This is even better, for you will end up with two machines you can easily network and share one ISP connection, all for under $300.

    Your main source to learn how to upgrade an existing or old PC is the The Cheap Linux Box page. It contains not only information on how to do it, but also links to places you can buy on-line the devices you need. You can have additional information on the various devices from Tom's Hardware Guide. If you plan to install RedHat check the hardware compatibility list.

    Specific information you may need regarding your existing hardware can also be obtained (if available) in the Linux HOWTOs page. See also Modem-HOWTO, Sound-HOWTO, Video Card (compatible with X11, the GUI of Linux), Ethernet-HOWTO (for your NIC).

Do not take lightly your decisions regarding the hardware for Linux. If your hardware has device drivers in Linux your software installation and use of Linux will be trouble free. In my experience most of the problems I had installing Linux where related to devices for which no, or limited, support were available. You can buy a good motherboard for only $40, a new 16 MBytes video card for $35-50, etc. It is not worth to cut corners in hardware with the current prices, which are constantly declining.

This page is maintained by Al Bento who can be reached at This page was last updated on October 12, 2003. Although we will attempt to keep this information accurate, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.