Building a Linux PC comes with a slew of benefits. From working with hardware and software to monetary savings, it’s a gratifying experience.
However, a do-it-yourself (DIY) Linux computer has its downsides, while a pre-built Linux PC offers its advantages. Learn the reasons why you should or shouldn’t build a Linux PC!
Reasons Why You Should Build a Linux PC
Building a Linux PC, whether a full DIY configuration or simply installing a Linux distro on a laptop or desktop, you’ll find a bevy of advantages. Lacking a paid license, you can save money.
A self-built Linux PC provides ample opportunity to reuse parts. With lightweight Linux operating systems, it’s feasible to increase the longevity of aging hardware. You’ll benefit from total control with tons of choice in hardware and software. Certain Linux OSes even require compiling a kernel.
Additionally, Linux fosters a fantastic learning space for delving into basic programming, or learning about how computer software and hardware components interact.
Reasons why you should build a Linux PC:
- More economical
- Reuse old hardware
- Total PC control
- Educational experience
- Software flexibility
Let’s look at these benefits in more detail.
1. Monetary Savings
Linux devices aren’t cheap. You can traditionally build a computer for less than the price of a pre-built system. Because the cost of an off-the-shelf system includes parts, labor, and software, you’re paying a premium. However, when building a PC, you merely pay for the components. Since you can shop around for parts, you can purchase parts on sale and shop for deals. Plus, you can snag second-hand or refurbished hardware.
Granted, there’s more work involved. Not to mention the ample troubleshooting which may be required. But the monetary savings make building your own Linux PC totally worth it.
2. Recycle Old PC Parts
Similarly, you may reuse old components or even full rigs. This further adds to the financial savings reaped by opting for a DIY Linux PC. When I purchase a new computer, I typically relegate my previous computer to a Linux machine. After upgrading to an HP Omen for a Windows machine, I designated my aging HP Envy notebook as a dedicated Linux laptop. Ubuntu installed like a champ!
As such, you can squeeze more life out of your PC. I took an ancient Asus Aspire One netbook which was utterly unusable with Windows 7, and successfully breathed new life into it with Lubuntu. Lightweight Linux distros offer the potential to rejuvenate aging hardware.
My first ever Linux PC was an ancient Shuttle XPC which was slated to be scrapped. I rescued the Shuttle which I discovered lacked an operating system. Whether utilizing your own hardware or parts upcycled from various sources, building a Linux computer affords the opportunity to reuse components.
Though this is fantastic from an environmental perspective, it yields monetary savings as well. You can still recycle with Windows, but because of the numerous flavors of Linux, it’s easier to accomplish.
3. Total Control Over the System
With Linux operating systems such as Gentoo or NuTyX, users benefit from complete control over their OS. Likewise, when building a PC you can choose your hardware and tailor it to your needs. For instance, you can create a gaming PC, server, cryptocurrency mining rig, or general use computer. Your needs dictate what hardware you select.
Therefore, you can pick out the proper parts for specialized builds. Maybe that’s a RAID array, crossfire multi-GPU set up, or water-cooled system. Regardless, you have complete control over your computer hardware.
When running a Linux distro, hardware compatibility is essential. Though you can purchase a pre-built Windows or macOS computer and dual boot, you may run into compatibility issues. Thus, building lets you create a customized PC and find the best parts which remain in harmony with your Linux software. Specifically for Linux, hardware and software compatibility means that total control is essential.
4. Linux Is Educational
Getting hands-on with hardware and software is one of the best methods to learn about computers from a software and hardware perspective. There’s no substitute for a tangible look at how parts fit together and interface with software. Since Linux operating systems often require a bit of fiddling with drivers, you gain a better understanding of how the software and hardware interface.
Moreover, with projects such as building your own laptop or making a PC out of a Raspberry Pi, you can use the process as an educational experience. In this way, a DIY Linux PC is much more a maker project than a Windows-based build, since you’ll likely dig into the command line almost immediately post-installation.
If you’re not already a Linux command line master, you’ll quickly learn your fair share of Bash.
5. Linux Distro Flexibility
When it comes to flexibility, building a Linux PC is unparalleled. There’s the choice in hardware, but specifically for Linux, you get tons of choice with distros.
Although many companies provide pre-built Linux computers, even vendors that provide a choice of Linux operating systems don’t offer the full slate of Linux OS options. When building a Linux PC, you can start with a barebones desktop or laptop (which just requires an operating system), build from the ground up, or anything in-between.
With Windows, you’re limited to a few options. The choice of Linux operating systems you can install makes building a Linux PC a truly customized experience. You can find everything from Linux server operating systems to gaming distros and everything in between.
Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Build a Linux PC
While building a Linux computer carries a slew of benefits, a pre-built system is sometimes the way to go. Notably, for troubleshooting you’re on your own, warranties can get confusing, and it’s far simpler to purchase a machine that’s ready to go out of the box.
Reasons why you shouldn’t build a Linux PC:
- Lack of tech support
- Complicated or non-existent warranties
Though building a Linux PC is basically as easy or complex as you make it, you’ll want to think about the downsides prior to investing the time, energy, and finances.
1. Troubleshooting Difficulties
Whether you’re starting with a prebuilt system and installing Linux on it or a complete DIY configuration, expect some degree of troubleshooting. This might be as simple as installing a few drivers or a complex problem which requires a romp through forums. While an off-the-shelf Linux PC often comes with a warranty, you’re on your own with a do-it-yourself machine.
Though I’ve predominately experienced nearly flawless compatibility with Linux, a few devices required much delving into subreddits and forums. Notably, an HP Envy notebook’s Wi-Fi card simply wouldn’t function with default drivers in Ubuntu.
Eventually, I remedied the connectivity problem but it required a few hours of searching online until I discovered the relatively simple fix of blacklisting a driver while downloading another. Once I spent two hours attempting to fix a non-responsive track pad, spending hours in the forums… only to discover the ribbon cable was disconnected.
Prepare to ask friends, post on forums, and inevitably be called a noob over and over again.
2. Lack of Warranties
Similarly, there’s no warranty. Though individual components may arrive with some basic warranty, it’s not all-encompassing. Moreover, while a manufacturer’s limited warranty may apply, most of the time you can’t purchase extended warranties for single parts. I’ve successfully RMAed parts and even a laptop which I used as the foundation for a Linux PC. But particularly when buying refurbished or used parts, and especially with a full build, warranties can get pretty complicated.
You might encounter a hardware-software compatibility issue because you’re using a Linux OS. It can be tough to return parts on the grounds that they don’t function with open-source software.
Although you may save money, learn much about Linux hardware and software, plus gain control over your PC, building is far from the most convenient option. If you seek a Linux computer which works out-of-the-box, a pre-built system is the way to go.
Even for hardware with dedicated Linux images such as the Raspberry Pi, you may encounter problems. For example, when switching to a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ board from a Raspberry Pi 2, I was unable to use the RetroPie Jessie release I’d been using. Instead, I had to seek out a beta Stretch iteration. Sure, it was easily diagnosed but a Linux computer with a pre-installed operating system comes immediately configured for first use.
Building Your Own Linux PC: Final Thoughts
Ultimately, building your own Linux PC is an incredibly rewarding experience which can save money, educate, and afford maximum control. However, there are certainly some cons. Building a Linux computer isn’t for the faint of heart or those without patience. I’ve cobbled together several Linux PCs, from Raspberry Pi boards running Raspbian to Linux laptops, and my beloved Plex server.
If you plan to embark on a journey to build your own Linux PC, select the proper hardware. Just as important as picking the right physical components is choosing the best Linux distro for your needs.
Need some help finding the right Linux operating system to use? Check out these Linux distros for every kind of user and get started building your Linux PC today!