New Dell XPS 420: Linux Dream Machine?

One week before Christmas my beloved Thinkpad T42 started having motherboard problems. After a little looking around I found that the problem was common. I don’t know what the deal is exactly, but pressing on the keyboard or touchpad too hard causes the display to flicker and the system to freeze. As a bonus it will also freeze at completely random moments. No more reconditioned laptops for this kid.

So I just finished ordering my first Dell desktop. I have been looking around at the Circuit City, Gateway, NewEgg and System 76 sites. They all have great Core 2 Duo-based systems at good prices. I applaud what System 76 is doing selling Ubuntu pre-installed systems only. Unfortunately it looks like they can’t compete with the buying power of the much larger discount computer manufacturers. I can’t deny my financial situation. The price difference is just too great. I even looked at building my own machine with pieces from NewEgg, but after talking to a friend I swallowed my former-Apple-promoting pride and gave Dell a try.

First I looked at the Ubuntu Pre-installed systems that Dell offers. Much to my disappointment the offering is very limited and not high-powered. To me, I would think that Linux users are generally advanced computer users that buy fairly high-end systems. I’m sure they did a lot of market research to determine what systems to offer, but this looks like a misstep to me. Perhaps their target isn’t people that know how to install Linux on any machine. Perhaps their target audience are people looking for an inexpensive alternative to Windows. However, if that indeed is the goal why aren’t they selling the Linux systems along side the Windows systems?

I decided to just shop at the regular Dell store and install Ubuntu myself. From what I’ve read, there are Linux drivers for most of the hardware provided, albeit ‘restricted’ drivers provided by the manufacturer. I don’t have a problem with installing these drivers. I’m grateful that the manufacturers even bother to provide them. Also, the companies will respond to increased demand for their product. They won’t necessarily respond to an extremely small group of people bitching about their drivers being open source. That’s how I look at it.

I settled on the XPS 420 because of its price range and power. Here are my new machine’s specs:

  • Intel® Core 2 Q6600 Quad-Core (8MB L2 cache, 2.4GHz, 1066FSB)
  • 128MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 PRO
  • 3GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz – 4 DIMMs
  • 320GB – 7200RPM, SATA 3.0Gb/s, 16MB Cache
  • CD/DVD Burning Optical Drive
  • External speakers with sub-woofer
  • FINAL PRICE: $974 (after $100 savings, before tax/shipping)

The video card is supposed to be capable of outputting to two displays. However, I am prepared to buy a second video card later if that doesn’t work under Linux. I know that my Apple G5’s video card doesn’t successfully accomplish dual-display under Linux even though it works fine under OSX. Maybe xrandr is more capable with this particular video card. I am very impressed with the potential of xrandr, especially after my S-Video Out setup from a few weeks ago.

I’m expecting this machine to be everything I could ask for in my own personal design/development system. It should be delivered before the end of the week, but with the New Years holiday it might be next week before I can get back to working in Linux. I will report on the outcome asap.

Homework assignment:
If anyone can explain exactly how many ‘cores’ are in the above listed processor, I’d love to know. Due to the 4-DIMM ram setup I am guessing the magic number is four. However, the title ‘Core 2 Quad Core’ is confusing. If a Core Duo has two cores, a Core 2 Duo has four cores, then a Core 2 Quad Core should have eight cores, right?