There is a lot of hardware that is supported by free software drivers. Unfortunatly, there is also lot of hardware that is difficult, or even impossible, to create free software drivers for. Hunting for a good computer that is entirely compatable with free software can be a daunting task. But fear not, it is not impossible to have a powerful modern computer running entirely on free software! Actually, most of the computer you are using right now is well supported.
With the help of many users, the Free Software Foundation has created a directory of hardware devices that support GNU/Linux. The directory lists all sorts of hardware that has free software drivers available. Check it out to see if your hardware is supported.
Another good place to look for free software friendly hardware is Graziano Sorbaioli's free devices page.
Some hardware is well supported by free software. This includes almost all processors, memory, hard drives, network cards, CD and DVD drives, USB storage devices, (digital cameras, thumb drives, and card readers) and mice and keyboards.
Some hardware will run well with free software, even though not all of the features will be supported. This includes things like motherboards, (for example, built in networking and audio may not work) and video cards and monitors. (for example, you may be able to use it, but maybe not be at the optimal resolution)
Some hardware is still in early stages of support by free software. This includes wireless network cards and some special hardware for laptops.
Testing My Hardware
The easiest way is to get a copy of gNewSense and start it up! You can try out gNewSense before you even install in on your computer. Simply put a gNewSense CD in your computer and turn it on to try it out. After you finish, you can eject the CD without harming the contents of your computer. So simple!
Getting New Hardware
If you are building a computer, look for user reviews from free software users or check out the website of the company that makes the hardware. If you insist on only buying hardware that is supported by free software drivers, then more companies will be inclined to release hardware that is well supported by free software drivers!
What is the benefit of using free software drivers? Free software drivers are small, often much smaller than non-free binary drivers. You can have support for your hardware regardless of operating system or processor type, be it x86, 64-bit, or PowerPC. If a bug is found, they can be fixed and installed as soon as possible. Free software drivers are designed to work with the other free software you use. You can be guaranteed that your hardware will not become obsolete simply because the company decided to stop supporting it. These are the kind of benefits you get by not using non-free binary drivers that are provided for some hardware.
With new hardware coming to market and drivers being written all the time, the list of supported devices is constantly changing. If you are using gNewSense with a hardware device that isn't listed in the FSF hardware directory, please send them the information. It only takes a minute and is useful to anyone who is using or considering using a Free operating system.
Here you can find more information on hardware that is supported by free software.
http://kmuto.jp/debian/hcl/ - GNU/Linux device driver check page
http://free3d.org/ - A list of the most powerful video cards that have free software drivers
http://www.dracoware.com/ppl/rtwomey/inventory.shtml - a (free) hardware inventory program that attempts to report driver names and licenses