Hardware Information

Linux runs on almost any hardware, from a PDA to an IBM mainframe. If your organization is very large, and you plan to run Linux on a mainframe, your IBM salesperson will be happy to help you select and integrate your hardware. On the other hand, if you're like most of us, you will run Linux on PC hardware. If you assemble your own server from PC components, a few rules of thumb will help you avoid hardware problems during the installation:

• Check the "Linux Hardware Compatibility HOWTO." Also, check the home page of the Linux distribution you plan to use. See if the vendor lists any hardware incompatibilities before you buy. When possible, stick to the hardware list provided by the vendor.

• Don't purchase the very latest model of any piece of hardware. Most adapter cards are delivered initially with Microsoft Windows drivers. It takes awhile before drivers are available for other operating systems, including Linux. Avoid newly released hardware unless you know there is a fully functional Linux driver.

• A network server does not need high-performance graphics. You'll use the server console to run administrative applications, not video games. Don't invest in the latest high-performance 3D graphics or the largest high-resolution monitor. Purchase a well-established video card and monitor that are documented to work with Linux. Use the money you save for more memory or a faster CPU.

• Don't buy things you don't need. For example, network servers don't require sound cards or speakers. Avoid buying equipment that complicates configuration and adds no value.

• Never buy any "Win" hardware. Some internal modems are called "Winmodems" because they are designed to work with Microsoft Windows. Some printers, called GDI printers, depend on the Windows Printing System. These devices are so dependent on the Windows operating system that they cannot work without it.

• Sometimes, the best deals on PCs are on systems that come preconfigured with lots of features. If you find yourself with such a system, remove all of the unneeded equipment, and use it to enhance your desktop system. A cool sound system is a nice addition to your desktop, but it is unnecessary on a server. Superfluous equipment is just a source of trouble on a server system.

If you select your own hardware, you will know all you need to know about the hardware. Many times, however, someone else asks you to configure a system for them that you know very little about. Look at the documentation that comes with the system and, if Windows is installed, use the information from the Microsoft Windows configuration to learn about the hardware. If you have problems installing Linux with the information you gleaned from Windows and the documentation, don't be afraid to pull off the system case and examine the cards and devices installed in the system.

Linux properly detects most hardware. Generally, you can let Linux configure the hardware for you. However, there are times when some piece of hardware is not detected. Here is a list of the hardware information that is useful to have on hand if you encounter a hardware detection problem:

Hard drive characteristics Know the make, model, and capacity of each drive; and the drive geometry, which is the number of cylinders, heads, and sectors. Know whether it is a SCSI or IDE drive. If you have an IDE drive, know if it runs in Logical Block Addressing (LBA) mode, which maps the physical sectors on the disk drive to logical sectors. The documentation that comes with the disk drive should provide all of this information. If yours doesn't, check the settings in the BIOS setup program. If all else fails, you can always remove the drive from the PC to see if the drive characteristics are printed on the case— they frequently are.

SCSI adapter information Know the exact make and model of the adapter.

Ethernet adapter information Know the make and model of the Ethernet adapter. PCI adapters require no additional information. If it is an ISA adapter, however, you should also know the Interrupt Request (IRQ) number, the I/O port address, the adapter memory address, and (if used) the Direct Memory Address Request (DRQ) number. The documentation of an ISA adapter will show the default settings; Windows can tell you the current settings.

Video monitor characteristics Know the make and model of the monitor, and its technical specifications, including the monitor's horizontal and vertical sync ranges, as well as its maximum resolution. The monitor's documentation will provide the technical specifications.

Video interface characteristics Know the make and model of the video card, and the amount of video memory on the card. Additional information that may prove helpful is the make and model of the video chip set used on the card, and whether the card has a clock chip (and if it does, the model of the clock chip). (Separate clock chips are rarely used anymore.)

CD-ROM characteristics Know the type of interface: SCSI, IDE, or "other." If an "other" interface, such as a sound card, is used, the make and model of the CD-ROM is also needed. (Again, "other" CD-ROMs are extremely rare these days on any system, and should never be used on a server.)

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