Itís been about 8 years since I built my first PC which was a small project back then, nothing fancy. After that first PC I went for a Dell Dimension 5000 which have had for the last 4 years and running linux for at least 3. Overall the dimension has served its purpose, it was the family PC during its first year until my wife got her own laptop and after that it became the only linux box around the house. Lately I started to have problem with it (failed PSU, Monitor wonít turn on, broken printer etc Ö) so I decided to start a new project and build a new system.
There were a few things that were frustrating about this system e.g. couldnít monitor important HW components like temp, fan speed etc Ö Also with the P4 I didnít have HW virtualization capabilities so it always felt I couldnít get the most out of virtualization products like VW or VB.
With the new project Iím looking not only to cover the above issues I mentioned but also to have a centralized solution for most of my (our) technology needs. I have decided to start build a small rack mountable server solution hoping to host my desktop, a couple of personal websites, an asterisk pbx for just a couple of low volume lines, personal email server, main RAID storage and maybe a media server to stream content on the internal LAN (but just a maybe). What Iím trying to build is a solution that will serve my needs for the next 4 years so I think the possibility for expansion is also worth to consider.
Putting together this project will take me sometime but at the moment where I have real concerns is in selecting the right hardware. As you can see Linux will be the foundation of this system so compatibility is important thatís why Iím writing here.
The only things on what Iíve made my mind up is the case (iStarUSA D-300-PFS) and the size of the rack (no bigger than 12 U). Next week Iíll be visiting the US where prices are certainly cheaper than in the UK and Iíd really love to get key components like the mobo, processor and maybe a video card and here is where any advice you may give will come very handy.
The firstís questions that come to mind are:
For the mobo, what would be the differences between makers (e.g ASUS vs. Intel)? what are they offering over the other?
What would be the right processor for this project? Remember my current PC is a P4 3.0 Gz with ht so the multiple cores concept is fairly new to me.
Any advice or model suggestions are highly appreciated.
You might want to stay away from Asus, they've recently begun spreading anti-Linux propaganda and I've seen a few reports of shoddy hardware.
I can't really recommend a processor either way (haven't bought any Intel ones recently except an Atom), but pretty much anything will blow away that P4. I replaced mine with a Phenom II and it's both faster and cooler. You can get the same result with Intel if you're willing to spend a bit more.
My best advice would be to get as much RAM as the mobo will take. You don't gain much with DDR3 over DDR2, so either is fine.
If it wasn't for the RAID I'd suggest an Atom for a relatively low-load server, but you're going to need more disks than it can handle (and I've no idea whether it has hardware virtualisation support).
I've been looking at upgrading my Atom server so that it can support a decent RAID setup and the Athlon 2 and low-power Phenom II chips look the most interesting, though the low-end i5s may be a decent option too as Intel seem to have gone to some trouble to reduce idle power in this generation. A home server is going to be idle most of the time, so a low idle power is good to have.
Performance-wise, an Atom 330 is close to your P4 3.0 when running multithreaded software, and any of the other CPUs mentioned would be way ahead of either of those.
For motherboards, most take pretty much the same chips and put it onto similar boards; the big differences are build quality and BIOS/driver support. The main AMD and Intel chipsets are generally well supported, but you may find the motherboard manufacturer adds a LAN chip or whatever which isn't properly supported in Linux (e.g. getting my Asus motherboard LAN working was a bit of a pain when I first installed CentOS on it).
Well, I guess it depends on what you're going to do with the box. If you're for ultra low power you'd have to wait until these ARM CPU boards (or similar embedded CPU) finally get some storage option. Low power can be reached probably with Intel's Atom and VIA's C7 ones (or successors, though be warned, their CPUs are okay but the other chips vary in quality, esp. when it comes to driver problems). If you need some more computing power something like the AMD 4850e/5050e does a fine job, though they should be quite rare today. But look around their successors, the Athlon2, there should be some models with nice low power consumptions available. I got my box with onboard (AMD-ATI) GPU and 4850e and a Seagate 7200.12 and 2x1GB RAM to consume about 45W idle and 75W max.
Maybe the new cores can go down even more, I guess you can have unused cores switched off (CPU hotplugging) and seperately downclocked. Should you still need more computing power look a class higher to the Phenom 2 or some intel device.
I must say that I'm very pleased with my 4850e as an allround machine. Passively cooled btw.. But I guess the next generation Athlon is even better and, not unimportant, available in stores.
I'm not familiar with RAID and I don't have a good opionion about RAId (esp. mode 1 and 0) but if you'd like performance look for a hardware solution.
Asus ... phew. I'm not so sure about them. Gigabyte offers also fine boards afaik, and if you look for a pro board go for Tyan. But take some money with you.
Multicore is nice in any case since you're going to use Linux so it will make use of it. And the new CPUs can have their cores clocked individually which is a good thing. Still, if you just use it as a file storage server you won't really need multiple cores unless you have a really high throughput of data.