Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

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Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:25 pm

Hey there,

Was hoping to get some feedback from the learned Linux crowd :). I'm six weeks into a new job in software development, and we're doing lots of WFS deployments onto a Linux box running JBoss and Tomcat. I've next to no experience of Linux apart from a bit of Cygwin command line stuff on top of Windows, so I'd like to build a little box to play with Linux on (as I don't trust Windows 7 to play happy with it on my big PC).

Although I've built tens of PCs over the years, I'm kinda stumped as to whether to go for an Intel or an AMD box for running Linux. I'm not looking for anything really firebreathing - it'd be something like an A6 or an i5, maybe even an A4 or an i3 if I decide that extra RAM is more important than CPU oomph (Java development on top of Oracle dBases y'see...it's a hungry thing :P). Probably going to go with integrated graphics for now, which is where I start pondering. Have heard rather negative things about ATi's Linux drivers, and generally good things about Intel - does this still stand as true? Also realise I can't overclock a low-end Intel chip, but can the A4s be tweaked up a bit if I get bored on a weekend? Also tempted by being able to use ECC on the low-end AMD boards, just because I like the idea of an ultra-stable Linux box that I rarely reboot. However, I appreciate the general quality of Intel chipsets, and have had bad times with some AMD motherboards in the past. Gah, conflicted.

So basically, should I put AMD or Intel top of my list for a medium-power Linux box? :)
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:36 pm

In general, either one should work well. If you go with Intel, just make sure the CPU you choose has hardware virtualization (VT-x) support; this is one of the features Intel has tended to disable on many of their "consumer" CPUs, to force people who need it to buy the more expensive Xeons. AFAIK most of their current lineup includes it, but it is definitely something to check.

Hardware virtualization isn't needed to run Linux per se, but being able to run multiple distros by loading them in VMs could be very handy, especially given that you're building this box as a Linux learning aid.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:39 pm

Either is fine if you plan on running an Nvidia GPU. If not, my recommendation would go for Intel. AMD's Linux graphics drivers have always been....lacking.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:40 pm

well since it doesn't sound like you need high end graphics i'd say go with the i3 or i5 because performance power wise they are better. the main thing to look out for though is Linux doesn't play consistently well with Realtek Nics so make sure there is an intel LAN port on the board or buy an add on card.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:40 pm

ATI's Linux drivers are miles better than they used to be. I got given a Radeon 4870 last year and put it in my machine with some trepidation only to find no obvious difference between it and the 860gts it replaced in terms of stability. I've even got multiple monitors running on it (with only a couple of annoying bugs :wink: ).
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:44 pm

A few more thoughts...

I'm pretty sure AMD APU motherboards/CPUs (Socket FM1) don't support ECC. If you really want ECC you'll need to go with an AM3 board... probably something from Asus.

Yes, ATI's Linux drivers have a somewhat checkered past. This seems to have improved lately though. I'm currently running dual-head (one DVI and one VGA) from my AMD motherboard's IGP, using ATI's drivers. No problems to report.

Don't skimp on the RAM. RAM is cheap these days, and you'll want a buttload of it if you ever run those VMs I mentioned in my first reply.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:50 pm

Yeah, AMD's video drivers have gotten a lot better than they were back in the early '00s. I'm now using the open-source driver on my 4850, which is especially nice because it uses the kernel-mode switching feature that lets me open up a TTY at full resolution with no further action.

You might not need that function, but it feels nice to someone like me who lived in the console for a few years. :D
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 4:06 pm

Depending on what gen IGP you get, you may need to use the proprietary drivers to get full functionality (3D acceleration). Not sure if the latest IGPs are supported by the current Open Source driver or not.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 4:07 pm

I recently ran a Linux (Mint 10, Suse 12.1, Kubuntu 11.04, and Mint 11)box that consisted of:

Athlon II X4 630 (quad @ 2.8 GHz)
12 GB of Mushkin's value DDR3-1333
Gigabyte AM3 with AMD 770/SB710 chipset
AMD Radeon HD 5450
Integrated Realtek gigabit
PCI Realtek 10/100
and the usual assorted drives

No issues at all. I even ran XP in Virtualbox, as well.

A decent Linux play box will cost less than $400, easy.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 5:23 pm

Why not just run Linux in a VM using VMware Workstation on Windows 7? If its just to play around/learn the commands I think this would be the easiest, quickiest, and cheapest solution. Not to mention should you break something, its far easier to recover from in a VM.

Ive run Redhat/Kubuntu in a VM on top of Windows 7 in the past, and provided that your current PC has enough juice to do it smoothly, it's definitely the path I would reccommend.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 6:17 pm

You could run a VM to start with. VirtualBox is nice. What distro are you thinking of running? Scientific Linux and Fedora have good KVM support.

You don't really need to worry about the CPU as much as the NIC, Video Card, and age of the hardware.

In general, hardware six months to a two years old works the best with Linux. The brand new stuff may or may not have drivers yet, or they may or may not be in the kernel. Don't be shy about buy last years model; it'll probably work better then the newest one.

Intel NICs have good support, but Broadcom and Realtek can be problematic. For a newbie, it's much easier to pull stuff from a repo on the Internet rather then a flashdrive.

Video cards can influence quite a few things. You'll need to decide if you want to run the proprietary drivers or the FOSS drivers. The proprietary drivers will give you 3D support, but they work best when packaged by the distro. AMD and Nvidia are the two options for use with proprietary drivers, and Debian, and it's derivatives, package the drivers in the repos. The FOSS drivers are good and getting better. They don't have 3D support, but if you don't care about that, they're more then adequate. As a plus, you'll get fun stuff like kernel mode setting and a graphical boot screen with the FOSS drivers. Intel has had problems with the graphics driver for the GPU integrated into their CPUs, but that's getting worked out.

UEFI has been known to give Linux some problems, so I would think about that as well. Actually most consumer motherboards

All distros should have kernels with TRIM support.

Linux has enough knobs to tweak, if you really want to get into it, for any performance nut. :) You could tweak the sysctl settings, tweak the filesystems, or tweak the applications. Then there is Gentoo which lets you recompile everything.

My personal pick in hardware would be a Tyan S8010 with a Opteron 4234 or an Intel BOXDH67CLB3 with an i3-2130 and a Radeon HD 6770.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 6:33 pm

EsotericLord wrote:Why not just run Linux in a VM using VMware Workstation on Windows 7?


This is probably the most sensible thing to do at least for the initial fumbling about. Recovering from a hideous mistake is a lot easier if you just have to go back to your previous snapshot. Though I'd probably use virtualbox instead of VMware.

There are definite advantages to having it as a stand alone machine if it's going to be a long term project though.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 7:15 pm

Yeah, I'd really quite like to just make a proper job of it, hence the seperate box :). Thinking of the following:

Asus Maximus IV GENE-Z/GEN3 Intel Z68 MATX motherboard
Intel Pentium G630 2x2.70ghz
16gb Corsair Value Select

I've already got a 750gb Samsung HDD sitting here, and a MATX case/PSU and DVD-Rom. Getting the Maximus because I've been toying with the idea of moving my big PC into a smaller case (as I recently moved to the other end of the country, but am still having LAN events up North when I get the chance!), and it has an Intel NIC and nice VRM cooling. This'll keep the option of swapping motherboards open if I want. The G630 is a little pokey compared to some of the Quads, but I think it'll be enough for me, and has VT-x. RAM is so cheap there's no point skimping really.

Not really decided on a distro yet - we run Red Hat at work, but I'm not gonna pay for Linux :P. Thinking either Ubuntu or Debian, but I really didn't like the new UI in Ubuntu when I tried it a coupl've months ago (for all of 3-4 days). I guess Fedora might be the logical choice if not Red Hat ...*shrug* :)

P.S thankyou for all the comments :) I appreciate them! Hadn't thought of Virtulisation to start with, nor had I considered the NIC.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 8:44 pm

Flatland_Spider wrote:Intel NICs have good support, but Broadcom and Realtek can be problematic.

I've not had any issues recently with Realtek wired NICs. Realtek WiFi can indeed be a bitch.

Flatland_Spider wrote:My personal pick in hardware would be a Tyan S8010 with a Opteron 4234 or an Intel BOXDH67CLB3 with an i3-2130 and a Radeon HD 6770.

Nice Opteron system, but probably overkill in this case!

Mentawl wrote:Yeah, I'd really quite like to just make a proper job of it, hence the seperate box :). Thinking of the following:

Asus Maximus IV GENE-Z/GEN3 Intel Z68 MATX motherboard
Intel Pentium G630 2x2.70ghz
16gb Corsair Value Select

Personally, I'd probably spend less on the motherboard and more on the CPU. Aside from that, this looks reasonable.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 9:01 pm

ATI/AMD's proprietary drivers have improved quite a bit in terms of stability. Running a Radeon 5850 and earlier 4850 here with no stability problems so far and several OpenGL programs I had a chance to work with also worked fine. So don't be scared of a Radeon card if you happen to have one. Though if you are not going to use anything graphics heavy, then might as well go with the Intel IGP as it will be sufficient to drive any display and the driver should work out-of-the-box.

As for desktop environment, you might want to check out KDE 4 (for example in Kubuntu) if you did not like Unity. KDE 4 is much more configurable, is familiar-looking and is relatively stable as it has seen several years of development now.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 10:08 pm

Mentawl wrote:Hadn't thought of Virtulisation to start with,

VMs rock. You already have a kick ass system. Why not spend the money on a second display/more memory.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 10:20 pm

End User wrote:
Mentawl wrote:Hadn't thought of Virtulisation to start with,

VMs rock. You already have a kick ass system. Why not spend the money on a second display/more memory.

FWIW a second display works really well with virtualization. You can full-screen the VM on the secondary display while the primary display still shows your native OS; the guest OS gets an entire display to itself, and switching back and forth between the host and guest OS is as simple as moving the mouse pointer.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Fri Jan 20, 2012 11:06 pm

just brew it! wrote:
End User wrote:
Mentawl wrote:Hadn't thought of Virtulisation to start with,

VMs rock. You already have a kick ass system. Why not spend the money on a second display/more memory.

FWIW a second display works really well with virtualization. You can full-screen the VM on the secondary display while the primary display still shows your native OS; the guest OS gets an entire display to itself, and switching back and forth between the host and guest OS is as simple as moving the mouse pointer.


Hrm, I've already got a pair of Dell 2408WFPs hooked up to the big PC. Maybe I should just grab some more RAM for the big box ... I'll sleep on it :). And download a distro overnight, can always try the VM option out tomorrow.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 3:31 am

If you're used to Red Hat at work, I'd recommend looking into CentOS. IIRC it's just a downstream version of Red Hat and doesn't require you to pay for support. Fedora is more of a desktop oriented downstream version of Red Hat, so would also be a good choice.

That being said, a VM should definitely be your start point, then go from there if you like it.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 7:02 am

lonleyppl wrote:If you're used to Red Hat at work, I'd recommend looking into CentOS. IIRC it's just a downstream version of Red Hat and doesn't require you to pay for support. Fedora is more of a desktop oriented downstream version of Red Hat, so would also be a good choice.

That being said, a VM should definitely be your start point, then go from there if you like it.


Ah, cool, thankyou :). I'll give CentOS a try!
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 9:31 am

Another thing you could try instead of (or after) a VM is Wubi, which is Ubuntu's special installer for Windows systems. It sets up dual boot using Windows' boot manager, and instead of partitioning the drive it creates a virtual hard drive using a single large file on your Windows partition, /and/ it can be removed from Add/Remove Programs. The only real downside is that disk i/o is a bit slower than using a native partition.

When you run it you can choose which of the desktop environments (Unity, KDE, Xfce, LXDE) you want and 32- or 64-bit.

Maybe there's some project like that for Redhat-based distros.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 10:02 am

For the lowest price and best overall performance/price ratio, then a lower-end AMD Phenom II + a low to midrange graphics card from either AMD or Nvidia if you want the best GPU performance at a low price. Substitute in an appropriate Intel CPU if you want some more oomph on the CPU side for a little bit more money. Using a discrete graphics card, however, you'll need to install the closed-source graphics drivers if you really want to be able to take advantage of the GPU. The open-source graphics drivers in the Radeon & Nouveau projects are still very much beta-type products. If all other factors are equal, I'd recommend the Nvidia card since I have had a long and happy experience with Nvidia drivers on my system. If you need the highest GPU performance and a discrete GPU is out of the question, then Llano is the choice *BUT* you'll need to use the closed-source Catalyst drivers since Llano's open source drivers are not really that good.

If you are REALLY wanting to use an all-open source system, especially at the kernel-driver level, then you really have to go with Intel graphics. Get an i3 or i5, and if possible try to get the HD 3000 graphics. AMD is right when they say that Llano has much more graphics horsepower than Intel, but if you don't care about playing games, then the open source Intel drivers are the best available. The main reason is that Intel actually writes the paychecks for basically all of the people who do the Linux DRM system and write the X.org server. In fact, the next-generation Wayland display server is being developed by Intel employees. Bear in mind that I have an old laptop with the 4500HD chipset graphics (vastly slower than what you'd get with even a low end Sandy Bridge) and I'm able to use a composited desktop under KDE, pipe HD 1080p video and audio out over HDMI to my TV, and even play some casual games like World of Goo under Linux. You ain't gonna play Crysis with it, but I doubt that is your overall goal.

Please let us know how things go for you. I've been using Linux heavily since 2000 and it has become much more capable over time! If you have any questions about software or setup, keep posting here too.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 10:07 am

lonleyppl wrote:If you're used to Red Hat at work, I'd recommend looking into CentOS. IIRC it's just a downstream version of Red Hat and doesn't require you to pay for support. Fedora is more of a desktop oriented downstream version of Red Hat, so would also be a good choice.

Nit-pick: Fedora is closer to being an upstream for Red Hat, not a downstream. Fedora is where they try out all the new bleeding edge stuff; the features that make the cut eventually find their way into RHEL. Though I suppose since Fedora is sponsored by Red Hat, maybe it would be even more accurate to call it a sidestream? :lol:

lonleyppl wrote:That being said, a VM should definitely be your start point, then go from there if you like it.

Yes, if you haven't gotten the message already, VMs rock! :D

bthylafh wrote:Another thing you could try instead of (or after) a VM is Wubi, which is Ubuntu's special installer for Windows systems. It sets up dual boot using Windows' boot manager, and instead of partitioning the drive it creates a virtual hard drive using a single large file on your Windows partition, /and/ it can be removed from Add/Remove Programs. The only real downside is that disk i/o is a bit slower than using a native partition.

When you run it you can choose which of the desktop environments (Unity, KDE, Xfce, LXDE) you want and 32- or 64-bit.

Maybe there's some project like that for Redhat-based distros.

I'd skip Wubi and just go straight to VMs or real hardware. Since he actually wants to learn about Linux, IMO there's not much point in running a hybrid environment that is specific to one distro.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 11:08 am

just brew it! wrote:
lonleyppl wrote:If you're used to Red Hat at work, I'd recommend looking into CentOS. IIRC it's just a downstream version of Red Hat and doesn't require you to pay for support. Fedora is more of a desktop oriented downstream version of Red Hat, so would also be a good choice.

Nit-pick: Fedora is closer to being an upstream for Red Hat, not a downstream. Fedora is where they try out all the new bleeding edge stuff; the features that make the cut eventually find their way into RHEL. Though I suppose since Fedora is sponsored by Red Hat, maybe it would be even more accurate to call it a sidestream? :lol:



Thanks JBI. That makes a bit more sense to me as I've always known Fedora to be bleeding edge with a lot of experimental features while RHEL has to be stable. I should've looked it up, but I was on my phone at the time.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 11:11 am

chuckula wrote:If you are REALLY wanting to use an all-open source system, especially at the kernel-driver level, then you really have to go with Intel graphics.

It really depends on what the goal is here. Since it's explicitly a "learning" box, I'm kind of figuring that learning how to deal with the ins and outs of proprietary video drivers should be on the table, since that's what you're going to encounter out in the "real world".
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 1:37 pm

just brew it! wrote:It really depends on what the goal is here. Since it's explicitly a "learning" box, I'm kind of figuring that learning how to deal with the ins and outs of proprietary video drivers should be on the table, since that's what you're going to encounter out in the "real world".

Good point. You really don't get your hands dirty with VMs as far as drivers go. I have a Asus 1201N with ION that is my dedicated distro/Nvidia driver testbed. I test new stuff out on the 1201N before I update my workstation. There is nothing worse than booting my main workstation after a kernel update and having to install updated Nvidia drivers from the command line when I should be working on something else. You don't get that dose of reality with a VM.

If you end up running a dedicated Linux box with a Nvidia GPU I can give you some pointers that will make your life easier. As an aside, VDPAU on Nvidia is cool.

You can have your cake and eat it too. Build a dedicated Linux box and then run VMs on that box. That would give you real world Linux experience with the flexibility of any distro you want whenever you want it.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Sat Jan 21, 2012 2:19 pm

End User wrote:There is nothing worse than booting my main workstation after a kernel update and having to install updated Nvidia drivers from the command line when I should be working on something else. You don't get that dose of reality with a VM.

My previous build had that issue. At least it isn't bad once you know the drill... Ctrl-Alt-F1, log in, become root, run nVidia installer. I kept a copy of the nVidia installer in the root account's home folder to deal with this situation!
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Mon Jan 23, 2012 11:56 am

just brew it! wrote:
Flatland_Spider wrote:My personal pick in hardware would be a Tyan S8010 with a Opteron 4234 or an Intel BOXDH67CLB3 with an i3-2130 and a Radeon HD 6770.

Nice Opteron system, but probably overkill in this case!


Indeed it is, but pretty air-tight as far as AMD Linux support goes. :)

just brew it! wrote:
chuckula wrote:If you are REALLY wanting to use an all-open source system, especially at the kernel-driver level, then you really have to go with Intel graphics.

It really depends on what the goal is here. Since it's explicitly a "learning" box, I'm kind of figuring that learning how to deal with the ins and outs of proprietary video drivers should be on the table, since that's what you're going to encounter out in the "real world".


I would save the proprietary drivers for a little bit down the road. Conquering proprietary drivers is fun, but not until you kind of know what's going on.

lonleyppl wrote:If you're used to Red Hat at work, I'd recommend looking into CentOS. IIRC it's just a downstream version of Red Hat and doesn't require you to pay for support. Fedora is more of a desktop oriented downstream version of Red Hat, so would also be a good choice.

That being said, a VM should definitely be your start point, then go from there if you like it.


I concur. You should try Fedora, CentOS, or Scientific Linux at home if your work is using Red Hat.

Fedora is pretty much Red Hat's development sandbox, and it will have more recent, and more, packages in the default repo then RHEL, CentOS or Scientific Linux. It's not 100% the same as RHEL since it uses fresher code, and it's not guaranteed to be 100% stable since the code is fresher. I like Fedora as a desktop/workstation distro since it the code is pretty fresh.

CentOS is a community recompile of RHEL minus the RH logos. It's 100% RHEL as long as the CentOS Extras repo isn't enabled. Patches may take a while since it's dependent on whenever the community has time to recompile them. The packages aren't going to be as fresh as Fedora, and you'll have to manage 3rd party repos more then Fedora as well. The code will be stable though.

Scientific Linux is another recompile of RHEL for Cern and Fermi labs. It has some enhancements that make it easier to work with, like it has packages for 3rd party repos while CentOS relies on the user adding them manually, and it's supported by some large scientific labs. I happen to like this RHEL clone better then CentOS.

All three have support for KVM built in, which will save you from having to setup something like Virtualbox or VMware Workstation. Fedora will have newer features, but it's not tested as much.
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Mon Jan 23, 2012 7:15 pm

I actually forgot to mention Oracle Enterprise Linux. Basically RHEL, but I believe it might have some extras to make working with Oracle Databases easier. I've only used it for working with Oracle databases and only a little at that. Maybe that's what I'll do with my Linux box when I bring it back to college with me...
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Re: Intel vs AMD for a Linux learning box

Postposted on Mon Jan 23, 2012 8:38 pm

Flatland_Spider wrote:All three have support for KVM built in, which will save you from having to setup something like Virtualbox or VMware Workstation.

...not that VirtualBox is particularly difficult to set up. Oracle provides pre-packaged binaries for all the major distros if you want the proprietary features (still free for personal use), or you can install it from your distro's repository if you want to keep the box pure Open Source.
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