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Rebuilding my home PC for Linux and Windows: What works best?

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Readers' corner We return from our regular trawl of El Reg Forums with this nugget from Bronek Kozicki, who is rebuilding his home PC "for serious use". He wants your advice on which combo of Linux distro and virtual machine would work best.

The time is slowly approaching for me to rebuild my home PC, Bronek writes. Since I've been using Linux at work for the past few years (ssh only, and happy with it), I want my new machine to be running Linux as a host system, and Windows on top of it. Not full migration because I've invested good money into software which is Windows only, also want to play games (which aren't ported to Linux yet). Also I find Windows GUI more ... attractive than Linux windows managers.

Pretty standard so far. What's different:

  • I want to use PCI passthrough for AMD GPU; possibly also for LSI MegaRAID (unsure about this)
  • I want to be able to give exclusive access to selected USB ports to Windows (to use devices I do not need Linux to know about)
  • I want Windows to start automatically "as if" it was regular Windows-only machine, with the host OS not much different (for layman - i.e. family) from BIOS. In particular: no manual interaction needed to start Windows full screen with access to all the hardware I've given it.
  • I will be using Linux from Windows guest over virtual network almost exclusively, i.e. ssh and possibly X sessions (X-server being Cygwin)
  • I'm fine to put good money into hardware, 32GB RAM and 2x Xeon are not out of question. Also happy to split resources in half - Windows does not need to have all the goodies.
  • I will be using Linux for some performance sensitive stuff, although nothing critical. Almost always related to programming in C++ (I wrote some patch for gcc in the past, want to do more of this, and gcc build takes lots of resources).
  • I'd like to be able to buy support for my Linux installation, so distros such as RHEL or OpenSUSE are in
  • I'd like to be able to use btrfs with confidence (strong point for OpenSUSE but I can wait few months for official support in official release of RHEL7). Specifically, I want self healing on RAID with checksums.
  • I'd like to share filesystems between Linux host and Windows guest - if there are options better than SAMBA4 I will be happy to learn.
  • I do not want to run Linux full screen GUI. I dislike windows managers in general, and also prefer tools like ssh/tmux/vim for work; on the other hand running Linux full screen in text mode is just waste of space and I do not need it. Putty ssh is best tool for me, for actual physical screen I can put Linux in picture-in-picture, second input on main monitor (as long as its text only).
  • I do not want second keyboard, no space on desk for it, but how will switching of focus work? My keyboard has no special functions whatsever (but I love it because it's mechanical)

This is not for playing with or learning VMs: this is for serious use where VM is supposed just to stay in background and let me do my work. I have some experience with VMware (and old license I could upgrade - but they do not support PCI passthrough last time I checked).

So, which combination of distro and virtual machine would work best for Bronek? This way to the forums!

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