Jason Lindquist (jlindquist) wrote,
Jason Lindquist

Performance rises, prices fall

My home server has gone through three iterations. In 1997, I bought a secondhand 100 MHz 80486DX2 system for about $200. It wasn't near top of the line. My office machine was a Pentium 90, and the cool kids with boatloads of cash were just starting to build P5/166's. But it was good enough to run Slackware 3.1, and was up and running just in time for Time-Warner to deploy its first cable modem system in San Diego. I got to ditch dialup to run Phil Karn's rrlogin to keep my connection running unattended. My IP stayed stable, enough that I felt comfortable registering figure1.net and pointing it at that 486 and directing all my personal mail there.

The particular motherboard I had didn't let you use all the mounting standoffs, and was poorly supported around its slots. After the second board flaked out from flexing, I moved up to a Pentium 100. I gained a couple of PCI slots and lost the VESA LocalBus of the 486 board. I added a real IDE CD-ROM drive (a 4-disc changer, at that) instead of the flaky proprietary soundcard interface Pioneer, and a 4.3G disk to replace the original 550 meg drive I had once wiped Windows 95 from. That P100 lasted a while, from '98 until I finally decommissioned it in late 2001.

At the end of 2000, the speed and memory capacity (64M) of that P100 was getting tight. I looked about piecing together a replacement, and a twin of it to use for Windows gaming and work software development. It was better than what I'd assembled before, but still not top of the line. I paid $190 for a 1GHz Athlon. A 1.1G chip would've cost almost $400, if I recall correctly, and the 1.2's that were just hitting the market were astronomical. I hung it on an ABit KT7A motherboard, with a pair of 45G IBM DeskStars hung mirrored off a 3Ware 6400 IDE RAID card. Half a gig of RAM was nearly as much disk as I had on the first incarnation of the box. I rounded it out with a D-Link DFE-570TX quad Tulip ethernet card. One interface for the outside world, one for the house network, a third planned for the eventual wireless AP, and a fourth for future expansion. Altogether, that was $1774. A little hefty compared to consumer boxes of the time, but your $1000 Dell or Gateway systems lacked the slots or datacomm infrastructure I needed. I acquired the parts just before Christmas, finally built the boxes in late February, and was installing the Linux system, preparing to migrate data and operations over, the week of September 11th. I still have my upgrade notes, and the page with the disk partitioning plan has the flight numbers of the planes and the sites where they crashed, written across it. They were on my desk as events unfolded on TV.

That system is running pretty much as-is six years later. I've dropped the SCSI peripherals out of it... I never did set up a proper tape backup plan, for which 4G DDS3 tapes are too small anyhow. The Toshiba DVD drive grew as flaky as its IDE cousin in the Windows box. Otherwise it still fills my needs fine, except its motherboard's days are numbered, a victim of the counterfeit capacitor scams of that era. Electrolytics all over are bulging and leaking. The slot where the RAID card lives died a couple of weeks ago. So before it goes kaput and leaves me with no server, I've ordered the parts to build the fourth iteration of the home Linux server.

This one's going to be a 1.86 GHz Core 2 Duo, the Conroe chip. It's costing me $10 less than the Athlon did. The top end would cost me four times as much, but this time would give me twice the performance instead of a measly 20%. It's sitting on an Asus P5W-DH Deluxe motherboard, which builds in the two wired ethernets (gig, this time) and the sound I once needed PCI cards for. I'm going with software RAID on this box, after a scare that my RAID card was dead and the drives weren't readable without a like replacement. I'll bring over the 8-port Multitech serial card and the DVD drive. $40 buys a modest ATI-based video card, dual-headed to match my Macintosh and anything that replaces it. Sometime I'll spring for a second LCD the three systems will share. (I'm holding off upgrading the Windows box until it's neccessary.) Two gig of memory to start with, an 11-bay case to allow for expansion, and a pair of 200G SATA-II drives comes out to $1009. Just over half the money buys comparitively far, far more machine than six years ago.

What I'm also impressed with is how the industry has shaken out. In 2000, you really had to jockey PriceWatch to find deals. I bought parts from nine different vendors. The two systems' DVD drives were identical except for interface, but were bought from vendors half a continent apart. One of them came from the same vendor as the motherboard and disks, under different business names and phone numbers. Most of those vendors are long since gone, their domain names claimed by search engine squatters. This time, it was hard to justify buying from anyone but NewEgg. The price differences now are much narrower, often wiped out by shipping charge changes, or not worth the added risk of a lesser reputation. So everything will come from the same place (and not far, up in LA) and arrive at the office together.

The question is, how long is it going to take me to migrate this time? I barely had time to write this entry.

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