Computer hardware

The following is my hardware shopping list, more or less. Observations and rants are included.


(Low-end) Intel Xeon processors are generally nice and suitable for a workstation: ECC memory support, fine TDP, and all the perks of being mainstream. Though there are security vulnerabilities, potential backdoors (particularly enterprise features, ME), vulnerabilities in backdoors, and numerous backwards compatibility warts, but there are comparable ones in other affordable and suitable for common computing tasks CPUs (PSB in AMD CPUs). Though as of 2019, it seems that AMD CPUs may be a generally better option: ECC is not disabled even in Ryzen (desktop) CPUs, and they seem to beat Intel in benchmarks/specifications at the same price. Threadripper CPUs support it officially, though their TDP and prices are a bit high; and then there are "embedded" EPYC and Ryzen CPUs, officially supporting ECC and having low TDP and prices, but apparently not being as commonly available in stores. As a side note, some suggest to choose by performance/watt, rather than by announced TDP, and then possibly throttle a CPU with software.
Software keeps eating all the available memory, and even if one manages to avoid memory hogs, it's still nice to cache more. So it's usually a good idea to have plenty of memory (either maximum supported by CPU and motherboard, or at least aiming upgrades to a maximum size). Kingston seems to be relatively reliable and produces ECC memory; Crucial and SuperMicro seem fine too; personally I've only had issues with Corsair (which makes non-ECC memory anyway). Apparently all DDR5 memory will have in-chip ECC.
Probably it's the time to move to SSDs, but I'm still using HDDs. There are reliability statistics around (usually it is, from least reliable to most: Seagate, WD, Hitachi and Toshiba, which is also reflected in prices); it's hard to deduce reliability by a vendor, but WD Red disks work fine for me: by 2024, I only had one faulty WD disk, after about 15 years of regular usage. RAID and/or backups are nice to have anyway.
Graphics card
Integrated CPU graphics are useful as a backup. As for discrete video cards, the primary issue for me is software support (both drivers and higher-level software such as X compositors). NVIDIA is most problematic: proprietary drivers are not supported for long, and reverse-engineered libre ones are not usable at all for some cards, and slow for others. AMD is better: in addition to prprietary drivers, there are mostly working open ones. Integrated Intel graphics seem to be the most reliable. listing alone does not guarantee that drivers will work any smoothly.
ASUS workstation motherboards seem to be fine, and usually there is a few to choose from. Non-workstation ones tend to come with Wi-Fi, LEDs, and other things one may prefer to not have. Though generally it's better to check reviews and benchmarks for motherboars on a chosen chipset at the time of buying.
CPU heat sinks and fans
Noctua is nice. Painless CPU mounting is great, it's silent, and cools CPUs well. Newer AMD stock coolers are not so bad either (except for LEDs), though still behind Noctua.
Power supply
Since a PSU malfunction can fry a motherboard and components on it, it may be a good idea to get a nice one, which would easily handle the used hardware. "80 Plus" ratings can be consulted, and Thermaltake PSUs are not the worst, though their newer models are covered in gaudy LEDs.
Full-tower metal cases are good for building and for cooling, and often come with handy features that are less common on smaller cases (e.g., front panel ports for SATA HDDs and other I/O, large/slow/silent fans), though tend to be heavy. Thermaltake ones are fine, NZXT looks nice too. Unfortunately annoying and ugly LEDs are common on full-towers. Maybe smaller and lighter cases would be fine too.
APC by Schneider Electric is nice (except for its software, which is awful, as usual for software shipped by hardware vendors, but it is usable without that software). An RBC7 battery lasts for about 3 to 5 years (and it is recommended to change them every 3 years), though it is a pain to recycle one properly. I hear Falcon Electric and Eaton are nice as well. But APC ones tend to make beeping noises, and may not be quite suitable for bedrooms. Also heavier ones are quite inconvenient to deal with: even if you rarely move them or their batteries, it happens sometimes, and it is nice to have something more manageable then. After my larger APC UPS started malfunctioning (after about 15 years of usage), I switched to more home-oriented, quieter, and lighter CyberPower (1300 VA, which is still an overkill). This model (CP1300EPFCLCD) was handled by Debian 12 easily, without any tweaking, and estimated to keep my computer setup (85 W) running on battery (while it is new) for about 40 minutes.
The "Truly Ergonomic" keyboard has a relatively nice layout, though custom keyboards may suit one better (and are fun to build). Split keyboards seem nice too, but I haven't tried them yet.
Gaming hardware tends to be unreliable, but mice advertised as gaming ones tend to be handy. Logitech mice seem to live longer than others (and particularly than those made by gaming companies, like Razer). They have gaudy LED lights, but those can be controlled with Piper (available from Debian repositories), at least on G102.
Home router
So far I had D-Link and ASUS routers that died, Linksys that lived until it got outdated, and TP-Link router that lives, though it's not much of data points. Apparently Zyxel shipped backdoored firmware, so it may be better to avoid. LibreCMC and OpenWRT maintain supported hardware lists, which are handy for choosing from. OpenWRT seems to be better at supporting router models long-term, while LibreCMC drops support sooner and supports much fewer models. And there are interesting router projects like Turris Omnia (open and quite overpowered, by CZ.NIC).
I don't have a printer, but apparently Brother makes nice and inexpensive black-and-white laser printers with working Linux drivers. And there are horror stories about HP printers.
Computer speakers
I'm not using anything fancy: only trying to avoid particularly heavy computer speakers, since I don't like to move heavy things. Smaller and lighter ones are certainly better for moving them around.
While not using a dedicated microphone, I've investigated those. Apparently (and as one may expect) decent microphones are standalone (not embedded into headsets, cameras, etc) and fully analog (that is, don't include sound cards and USB interfaces, but just focus on being microphones, usually with an XLR interface). Dynamic microphones are said to be more suitable for non-studio setups, and condenser/capacitor ones -- for studio setups. Condenser microphones require phantom power, so a suitable audio interface is required; for dynamic ones one may get away with just an XLR-to-TRRS cable (although a preamplifier is commonly recommended, so it may be better to get a basic audio interface anyway). The popular options (for speech, basic and inexpensive ones) seem to be Shure SM58 for a dynamic microphone, Audio-Technica AT2020 and plenty of others for a condenser microphone, Focusrite Scarlett external audio interfaces.
Power cords
Apparently accidental unplugging is a fairly common issue, so IEC locks may be nice to have (even though the IEC 60320 appliance coupling has no interlocking, unlike the industrial IEC 60309): locks on C13 work like finger traps, on C14 they work like tension sleeves, but perhaps they are better than nothing. APC also makes cords, but they come either with no locking at all, or with non-standard interlocking locks (requiring support on both ends). It also seems that contacts become loose with older female connectors, so occasionally replacing those may be useful. They all are supposed to handle 10A, but one may also check current-carrying capacity tables, as well as their claimed certification (some companies, including Cablexpert/Gembird, violate the standard and make C13-C14 cord versions for other maximum currents as well). Apparently APC cords are good and expensive, Cisco ones are similarly priced, Tripp Lite is inexpensive and seemingly okay, others (not counting weird audiophile ones) are inexpensive and their quality varies.
Since C13 and C14 connectors can be rewirable, one can also acquire those and make cords of a desired length (and potentially be more picky about the connectors and wires themselves, paying more attention to plating, insulation, etc), but they can be fiddly, and it may be challenging to find good ones (just as with premade cords).

Generally it is a good idea to look up the models on websites of vendors in order to get accurate and complete specifications, though it doesn't guarantee availability in local stores, and may take a few iterations. As of 2019, tech companies didn't adopt structured/machine-readable data exchange/publishing, so hardware search/picking services tend to provide and use incomplete information. Though they still may be easier to get information from, since official websites tend to be infested with JS and marketing. I've considered composing a table with various vendors, indicating whether they cover hardware in LEDs, make websites unusable and drivers hard to download, etc, but it's basically as bad as it gets for every major vendor.

One can also get a small server rack and server hardware, which generally aims reliability and is less prone to silly designs, but it may be more challenging to keep it quiet than a desktop computer, and there are likely to be minor annoyances: for instance, usually there's no analog audio I/O in server motherboards.

Media/gaming/entertainment centre

A basic setup can be quite similar to that of a workstation: a computer, a screen, speakers, some input devices. The major issues are content retrieval and manipulation (documented separately, in the Home entertainment centre note), and awkward hardware (documented below).

A computer

It is much easier to begin with giving up on workstation priorities (such as ECC memory and not having gaudy LEDs), since there are plenty of compromises to be made even without those. In the end of 2019, I went for a build with Ryzen 7 3700X (because of a relatively low TDP, and a stock cooler), ASUS TUF GAMING X570-PLUS (WI-FI), HX432C16PB3K2/32 memory (which seemed a bit strange, with my workstation from 2012 also having 32 GiB, though this memory is faster), GV-R57XTGAMING OC-8GD graphics card, Corsair HX750 PSU, a couple of NVMe SSDs, and just a voltage stabilizer instead of an UPS (which probably was a mistake: brief power cuts happen quite frequently here; or possibly it's just voltage going too far down sometimes, but either way it's not quite fixable and leads to computers losing power). Finally tried an NZXT case (H710); it's indeed quite nice, though heavy for a mid-tower.

Input devices

The Xbox One controller works easily with MS Windows 10 over Bluetooth (though the batteries only lasted for 40 hours of gaming, and one has to select "mice, keyboards, etc" when adding a device, despite MS Windows suggesting to pick a separate option for Xbox controllers) and over an USB cable (micro-usb). For some reason (which I have no idea how to debug with a reasonable effort, and likely it would violate long and unreadable game licenses) games lag when it vibrates, but disabling vibration gets rid of the lags. Seems to work well on Linux as well.

Wireless input devices may be particularly convenient for a setup like that, but one should keep in mind that they tend to use proprietary protocols, which are almost always insecure (see, for instance, Penetration testing wireless keyboards from 2022, and HN comments, though I think it was pretty much common knowledge before that).

M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3 is an inexpensive MIDI keyboard; I don't have other MIDI keyboards to compare it to, and only played a regular piano before, but it seems fine. Both Yoshimi and LMMS work easily with it, on both Windows and Linux. Synthesia mostly works with it on Android too (though apparently misses some events, especially key releases, and then almost hangs; no idea where the issue is). Z-shaped keyboard stands are sometimes recommended for their stability and independent height and width adjustments, which indeed seem nice (I went for an OnStage one, which seems nice -- but once again, I don't have much to compare it to). I've also acquired an M-Audio SP-2 pedal, with its switch either being broken before it arrived or breaking on the first attempt to use it (and given that it's pretty cheap, attempting to replace it looks like more trouble than it's worth); fortunately a MIDI pedal is just a basic on-off switch, so one can try to replace it with a paperclip or two, but that's rather junky.

A screen

OLED matrices seem to be used relatively commonly for media-oriented "TVs", but modern "TVs" are monitors with built-in computers, loaded with proprietary software, malware, and even advertisements (see also: HN thread discussing spyware on smart TVs). Apparently there are similar screens marketed as "conference room" or "commercial" ones, and perhaps non-OLED can be fine too. With comparable specifications, regular screens seem to be quite a bit more expensive than TVs; possibly that's because TVs can feature frame interpolation and double frame rate in their specifications, and/or advertise resolutions with interlacing. Though it's commonly suggested that preinstalled spyware and adware lead to lower prices as well.

I went for a gaming LG screen (32GK850F-B, VA matrix) in 2019, which seems rather nice and not particularly expensive.

Old cable television

While OTT services may make more sense these days, one may want to preserve regular TV (such as DVB-C). There are receivers (aka "set-top box") that can output video over HDMI and sound separately (e.g., over RCA), as well as speakers with dual inputs (e.g., also RCA), and computer screens commonly support multiple inputs, so that both DVB-C receiver and a computer can be connected to both a screen and speakers (so that TV can function independently of a computer). There are PCI and USB TV tuners too, but according to comments on the Internet their quality is very low (both hardware and software), so solving it with additional wires seems like a better option. See also: MythTV, LinuxTV, DVB-C devices in LinuxTV wiki.