HP Slimline 450 Desktop PC and Debian GNU/Linux Jessie

After 12 years my DELL Poweredge S400 tower server which has served as my main desktop finally developed both a screen fault and a CPU fan problem in the same week I decided the time had come to move on. CPUs have also gained virtualisation instructions since I bought the DELL, so I figured it would be nice to run virtual machines for trying stuff out.

I purchased an HP Slimline 450 Desktop PC with the intent of installing Debian. I swapped out the standard monitor for a cheaper larger one from ACER, but I recommend against this.

The PC arrived with Windows 10 Home edition, which lacks things like disk encryption, and is stuffed full of trial software for NetFlix, Antivirus, etc. So whilst technically Windows has closed some of the practical security gap, they still see things like disk encryption as a value add, and the vendors resell your custom to keep the price down.

To install Jessie you need an Internet connection using wired Ethernet (you could do it on WiFi by copying relevant drivers but life is short), and a blank CD. These days Windows 10 has learnt to burn an ISO without extra software finally so download the netinst image and burnt it to a spare writeable CD using IE and Windows

On rebooting, press ESC and in the BIOS settings disable UEFI secure boot setting. This restricts the machine to booting only operating systems with HP approved. Also if you want to run virtualisation software like VirtualBox or Xen you want to enable virtualisation under the Security Configuration settings, this is disabled as it is a way for malware to potentially establish itself away from the gaze of the operating system, so best disabled if you don’t need it.

I needed a cold reboot after changing the BIOS settings as it beeped a bit after changing the virtualisation setting and the Debian installer ran through normally. I installed a KDE desktop because I wanted to try the included KDE Office suite before I inflict LibreOffice on the box.

Free software purists should stop here, it is perfectly workable system. Once installed I logged into KDE and used the System Settings menu, to find Software Management. Click the spanner for settings, and added in Debian’s “non-free” and “contrib” repositories, and installed:

firmware-linux-nonfree – needed for better graphics card support
firmware-realtek – needed to support the Realtek WiFi card.

Those wanting Virtualbox will want the non-free

virtualbox
virtualbox-dkms
virtualbox-qt

Note you have to install the kernel headers and dkms bits to get it to automatically build and maintain the corresponding virtualbox modules. Virtual RMS (vrms) also notes that the Crafty chess software is under a weird license.

Aside from the 2 BIOS settings, and the non-free firmware preventing installation over WiFi the process was straight forward, error free and entirely graphical. I installed with the full disk encryption and guided partitioning so Windows 10 is gone (including the recovery partition). You could probably shrink Windows and install alongside it. Still wouldn’t recommend it for the beginner, but if you know you want a GNU/Linux desktop, this is excellent combination.

Everything (network, WiFi etc) can be configured under KDE with the default install. Having been away from KDE and Kmail for a couple of years, but they seem to have resolved all the issues that made me switch to Icedove (aka Thunderbird), and seem to be getting very slick. I put in Iceweasel as a browser, as Konqueror lacks plugin support for my password manager, but otherwise looked perfectly serviceable.

Only thing that stands out compared to Apple Mac OS X is I don’t immediately see a backup tool comparable to Time Machine in KDE, but then I already had a couple of backups scripts that did what I want so I haven’t tried to solve that one.

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