PogoLinux Kona Workstation Review
It's not too often you hear of a pre-built Linux machine, right? Sure some major vendors (brand-name PC manufactures) are starting to jump on the Linux bandwagon to offer their own "Linux solution" with their own fabricated components and pre-installed distribution. But from my experiences, brand-name PCs are nothing but trouble. Often opting for cheap, generic, run of the mill components just to save a few dollars and give the illusion the consumer is getting "more bang for the buck".
This is where PogoLinux differs. Every workstation & server is forged from high-quality third-party hardware chosen by their engineers, specifically for the Linux OS. Personally I like to build my machines from scratch, picking each component individually. But some people may not be comfortable in doing so and that is why I was quite please with PogoLinux and how they handle business. Offering a default configuration of quality brand-name hardware for the new-users and also alternative hardware choices/upgrades for the experienced user to pick from, for each product line. It's like building your own Linux machine from scratch, but with suggestions.
Recently, I had the opportunity to review the PogoLinux Kona workstation at its default configuration. I was quite pleased with the hardware inside the Kona; frankly, I was expecting less, given this machine's low price. So I'll begin with a general overview of the hardware on a basic Kona machine. (Note: Default configuration has changed, this review has been delayed since Aug 24th 2000)
- Dual Pentium III (Coppermine) 600MHz Processors
- Tyan Tiger 100 (S1832DL Dual Processor ATX form factor)
- Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM Hard Drive
- Matrox 32 MB Video Card (G400)
- 256 MB PC 100 RAM (Default is 128 MB)
- 3Com 10/100 Ethernet Card (3C905C)
- Samsung 52x CD-ROM
- Sound Blaster 16 PCI Sound Card
- Midtower 3 5.25" bays, 7 3.5" bays (5 on bottom, 2 on top)
- 1.44 MB Floppy Drive
- Logitech Deluxe Keyboard
- Logitech Cordless Wheel Mouse
- MLi-460 Speakers & subwoofer
- RedHat Linux 6.2 (zoot) GPL
Overview of Key Elements
What comes to mind when I say "Intel, Tyan, 3com, Creative Labs, Matrox, Seagate, Samsung, quality hardware, right? Comprised of first-rate elements from these major manufactures, you know there weren't any cutting corners during engineering of the Kona. Even though the Kona is far from being deprived in this realm and as much as I'd like to go into detail on each component we'll keep this to a minimum due to the nature of the product (Hardware isn't manufactured by PogoLinux, but wisely selected).
Intel Pentium III Coppermine
I will spare you the technical mumbo-jumbo and assume you know what a processor is. As with any machine (Desktop/Workstation/Server) the CPU is the lively hood.
Intel's latest Pentium III Cu mine processors are manufactured using the advanced 0.18-micron process, and with the power of two CPU's you can put your system on steroids. Seriously though, Linux has great support for multiple processors (SMP), so taking advantage of this support is a great asset of the Kona.
Tyan Tiger 100 (S1832DL)
The Tyan Tiger 100 is a quality, high performance dual processing solution which supports Celeron & Pentium II/III microprocessors. This mainboard utilizes the Intel 440BX AGPset and can support CPU speeds of 233Mhz though 800Mhz (100MHz FSB on Rev. F Only), and host bus speeds of 66Mhz to 100Mhz.
This intergraded system board achieves high reliability with numerous features and yet is small enough to be supported in an ATX form factor. Some of the features included are onboard dual channel PCI PIO, Bus Master IDE and UltraDMA/33, and onboard high speed I/O.
Flexibility and expandability have been considered when designing the Tiger 100. With I/O and drive controller support built in, the Tiger 100 allows many upgrade paths not found on other boards. With four 168-pin DIMM sockets, the Tiger 100 can provide a very flexible memory configuration of up to 1 GB SPD SDRAM or SDRAM+ECC.
- Dual processor support (Up to 800 Mhz)
- Four (4) DIMM RAM sockets (max. 1 GB RAM)
- One (1) 32-Bit AGP slot, five (5) PCI and two (2) ISA
Seagate Barracuda ATA II (ST320420A)
Seagate's Barracuda ATA II ST320420A disc drive delivers 7,200 RPM and up to 20 GB for mainstream and high-performance workstation applications. The Barracuda ATA II features superior performance, Ultra ATA/66 interface, 300 Gs non-operating shock protection, 2MB cache buffer and quiet acoustics, not to mention the outstanding reliability we can expect from Seagate.
Matrox Millennium G400 SH (Single Head)
Some technical specs, courtesy of Matrox:
- 0.25-micron, 5-layer metal process technology
- 256-bit DualBus architecture
- True 128-bit external bus to memory
- Full AGP 2X/4X device with Multi-Threaded Bus Mastering
- 8MB to 32MB frame buffer technology supported
- True Environment Mapped Bump Mapping
- Vibrant Color Quality (VCQ) Rendering
- 32-bit Z-Buffer including 8-bit stencil buffer
- Symmetric Rendering Architecture
- 300MHz RAMDAC w/ UltraSharp RAMDAC technology
- Display up to 2056 x 1536 @ 32bpp
- Bilinear, trilinear and anisotropic filtering
This card is great for business applications, offering an amazing top resolution of 2056 x 1536 @ 32bpp. This is not the greatest card for the gamers though, and if you are a gamer we suggest taking the upgrade option and choose an Nvidia Geforce2 based card. It should be mentioned that to get the best performance out of this card we recommend upgrading to XFree86 4.0.1(or higher) due to better 3d accelerator support.
As usual our review focus isn't on the actual benchmarks of the hardware, but it's stability and performance under Linux. So we'll leave it at that for technical specs. Besides, the main focal point here is the package as a whole, not just the hardware components that make up the unit. There is a lot more here then just a selective pre-built system; it's about user friendliness and ease of use also.
The case for which the Kona is based on is quite nice. With numerous drive bays (3 5.25" bays, 7 3.5" bays - 5 on bottom, 2 on top) and a 250-watt power supply, it ought to handle almost any upgrades you can throw at it. This case also has terrific expandability for the cooling fanatics out there, as it allows for the addition of two 80mm fans (not included). Its "screw-less" design allows for quick access to your components, either panel by panel or the whole chassis cover and surly takes the chore out of hardware upgrades.
Well, as previously mentioned before, the Kona comes by default with an installation of Redhat Linux 6.2 (zoot). Looking over the system, it seems quite normal, with the exception of the partitions. As it stands here an approximation of the partition table for the system we were sent:
/ 17000MB (17GB)
Now, I am a stickler for how my system is partitioned, I am not happy until they are perfect, and I'm definitely not one to use a default setup. In my opinion, these tables do need to be changed, especially with a drive this large (20GB).
The following express my own opinions, and are totally dependent on how you want to use your own system. But for the most part they should be pretty standard.
- For one, we definitely need a /home partition so we can upgrade or change distributions without sorry of data loss. For a drive this size, I would suggest a size of 8-12 GB.
- The /boot partition given here (23 MB) is a good size.
- If you want to have a separate /tmp partition, I don't think it needs to be almost 1GB. For the most part I include /tmp in the / partition.
- For a system that is always on, I would make a /var of 300-500MB and a / of about 500MB. This might be overzealous, but we have quite a bit of space to play with and as you should know it's better to be safe than sorry.
- Last of all, make a /usr partition where all of our software binaries will be stored. I usually use whatever space is left, which is usually close to the in size to /home. Again, I'm being safe and allowing for future software installs and upgrades. The /usr should fill whatever space is left, in this case around 6-8GB. Don't skimp on /usr !!! You will be sorry!!!
To change your partition tables you will have to re-install your distribution, and make the changes during the install. Not a big deal, but still something that needs doing.
Small Company, Big Time Support
There is a sense of liberation knowing PogoLinux has researched and tested different hardware configurations to make sure the best suited components go into their machines. This isn't something you'd get when building your own and is certainly an advantage for our new users. On more then one occasion I've saw individuals purchase new hardware for their Linux machine only to have problems further down the road due to lack of research. It eases one's mind knowing you're not alone running the same configuration and it's had hundreds of hours of testing by qualified engineers.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying the Kona will never have a problem. But, if you ever do experience difficulties, PogoLinux has great "personal" technical assistance, which isn't typical of these other large vendors. If your hardware is acting up they want to respond fast! PogoLinux have provided you with a large list of options and resources when it comes to fixing and working with your system. Your concerns are their concerns. Aside from documented resources, their technical support hot line is a colossal asset to you as a customer. Bottom line is, need help? Give them a call!
Speaking of help, the Kona comes with a 37-page beginners/novice users manual (typical for every PogoLinux machine), which contains helpful information for users just getting started under Linux.
Proof is in the Puddin'
When the Kona arrived, we noticed the shipping box had huge gashes, tears and indents in it due to mishandling on the part of a courier company whom will remain nameless (PogoLinux has halted all shipping services with them since and is currently using another courier/shipping service). Upon opening the box, we saw one of the processors out of it's retention module laying on the bottom of the case, with the brace (lock) just sitting there tangled in the power supply cords.
We could only assume the Kona endured a rough ride from the PogoLinux facility and were very skeptical towards the functionality of the machine after this evident abuse on behalf of the courier. Anyway, to make a long story short, we decided to check the system out before calling PogoLinux to inform them of the mishandling.
We booted the Kona, only to see a black screen, so it was time to call Pogo and inform them of the situation. We were assured everything would be taken care of and the shipping method (Name of courier withheld) would be changed immediately. An hour later I received a call from a concerned technical support representative wanting to trouble shoot the problem. Based on my own knowledge of hardware I already narrowed it down to the motherboard and within minutes we found the problem (Damaged motherboard) and I was then told we would be contacted at my earliest convince to schedule a replacement. We did so and the board arrived the next day!
Why am I telling you all this? Well because I feel PogoLinux has exceptional customer service, something you don't find often these days. I've had numerous run-ins with other companies only to be put off for days or ever weeks!
Linux is quite often overwhelming to the new user and PogoLinux understands this. The Kona was pre-configured and ready to go, straight from the box. All you need to do is plug it in, boot up and open your PogoLinux users guide for the root password. I was impressed with the over all configuration of the product, hardware and software. This system leaves plenty of room for future upgrades and quite honestly a steal for its price.
- Excellent hardware configuration
- Great price
- Default drive partition could be more thought out
A great system for the money and best of all it runs Linux!