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Rolling your own starts to make more sense

When I first started working at my school, I walked into a mess of Dells, Compaqs, and a lab of computers that had been built from scratch by the previous system administrator. The latter had no warranties, were running Windows 98 (let's say that they were licensed, shall we?
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Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributing Editor. on

When I first started working at my school, I walked into a mess of Dells, Compaqs, and a lab of computers that had been built from scratch by the previous system administrator. The latter had no warranties, were running Windows 98 (let's say that they were licensed, shall we?), and were starting to limp a bit.

By the time we were ready to send these machines packing, lease deals from 1st-tier OEMs were mighty attractive, nobody was ready to run "not Windows", and my time for hardware concerns was at a bare minimum. Enter Hewlett Packard and a nice lab of slick desktops (not to mention all of the thin clients and servers) was born.

No doubt about it, this setup has served us well, but we are always trying to add facilities district- and school-wide, not to mention planning for future refreshes and deployments. When I read articles like Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, "Build a Vista-compatible office PC for $305 (software not included)," I have to wonder if we might not be able to save a lot of money if I could just find the time and enough student help to roll my own desktops.

It's quick and easy to shoot off an email to my Dell and HP reps. However, TigerDirect, NewEgg, and their ilk are only a few clicks away. More importantly, perhaps, is the "software not included" piece of his article. Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Mandrake, and Fedora (among many others) are all so good and user-friendly at this point (more so than even a year ago), that it may be hard to justify not building PCs from commodity components. The $305 price tag can remain intact, without adding software licensing costs. That's cheap even by Dell standards.

There are many users who don't require specialized educational software (that often only runs on Windows or OS X), but for whom a thin client may not be the best choice. In my situation, teachers, support staff, administrators, and secretaries largely fall into this category. Is it worth my time to save the money and crank out a bunch of cheap PCs for them as their existing machines head for greener pastures?

How about you? Are you rolling your own to save money (and take advantage of cheap, commodity parts, FOSS, etc.)?

[poll id=46]

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