October 9, 2003

Linux hardware upgrades: short and sweet

- by Joe Barr -
I recently upgraded my desktop PC with a new mainboard and CPU. It was a remarkably easy and pain-free process -- including getting the new devices I was adding running under Red Hat Linux 9. I've never quite forgotten my first such upgrade back in the late '80s. I made the wrong connections on a new power supply I was installing and it blew right under my nose. It scared me witless.

I wasn't worried about the hardware side of the upgrade this time around. I've built enough systems since then to learn that even I can install and replace PC hardware, and I'm not exactly gifted in the handyman department.

My new mainboard (an Abit KD7A) has an on-board 10/100 NIC and an AC 97 sound controller. That means that in addition to a new video card (a GeForce 4 MX replacing my trusty old GeForce 2 MX) I would be throwing a new Ethernet card, sound device, and CPU/motherboard at Linux all at once. I admit I was a little nervous about about starting it up for the first time.

It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. Red Hat's kudzu hardware monitor/configuration utility handled everything I threw at it with aplomb and savvy. During my first boot with the new equipment, kudzu noted each missing item that had been present before (video card, sound card, NIC, and USB ports) and asked if I wanted to remove its configuration. I did. Then it asked if I wanted to configure the new devices it had found. I wanted that, too. That's it -- the end of the upgrade process. It just worked. That's the way it is supposed to be.

When I recently put my SB Live! audio card back in the system and disabled the integrated sound controller on the Abit motherboard, kudzo hardly blinked. It just asked, "Want to remove this old thing I can't find? Want to add this new one I found?" Nothing to it.

This is not all about Linux, of course. The hardware itself is better and smarter and more user-friendly than it was 15 years ago. And I've gotten a little better with hardware, too. But it's comforting to know that upgrading a Linux system can be just as easy as it should be.

Joe Barr has been writing about personal computing for 10 years, and about Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus, LinuxJournal.com, and VARLinux.org. He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer, home of the official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army, an organization in which he holds the honorary rank of Corporal-for-life. No IBM money-trees were killed in the preparation of this bio.

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