Building up a new Linux server

I built a simple PC yesterday. The server that hosts this site is just too overloaded, and I was getting ready to order some parts when I spied a Celeron-366 board and CPU sitting in a case under my desk. I had trouble getting it working reliably, but I figured I’d give it one more shot. I’d used Hyundai memory in it previously; I slipped in a stick of Crucial, and it fired right up. Interesting.
I watched the temperature monitor in the BIOS and wasn’t too happy to see the Celeron-366 running at a nearly constant 60 degrees Centigrade. Modern CPUs typically run about 40-50, and each 10 degrees halves life expectancy. So I put a beefier CPU cooler on it, but the chip continued to run at around 60. So I looked up the Celeron at Intel’s site, and found the maximum temperature for Celerons is 85 degrees. So I was running a good 25 degrees below max, and it looked like I wouldn’t get below 60 degrees without active cooling, so I put the cheaper CPU cooler back on. Out of curiosity I overclocked the chip to 550 MHz for a while to see what would happen. The temperature rose to 65 degrees within seconds but stayed fairly constant. So it would appear that running at 550 would be safe, but I stepped back down to 366. I don’t want to overclock a system that I’m depending on for anything. For a few minutes I stepped it down to 330 MHz (using a 60 MHz bus) but it didn’t cool down any more after doing that, and running on a 60 MHz bus would give me a serious performance hit, so I stepped it back up to 366.

I scrounged around looking for parts and found enough to assemble a computer, but not a very good one. Being this close, I didn’t really want to do mail order and wait for parts to come in. So I checked CompUSA’s web site to see if they had anything competitive. Indeed they did–a 50X Delta-brand CD-ROM drive for $20 after rebate. Seeing as CompUSA always has some hard drive for $99-$109, I figured I’d make a trip over there. Sure, I could order a hard drive for $82 online, but a CD-ROM drive would cost me $40, so I’d make up the difference and have something that day.

When I got there I found another special–a 20-gig CompUSA by Maxtor hard drive for $99 with a $50 mail-in rebate. A lady was there examining the drive’s packaging. I picked one up. “4500 rpm, 128K buffer,” I read. “Where’s the speed?” she asked me. I pointed to a sticker on the side. “Wow. And I thought 5400 was slow enough.” She set the drive down and went looking at the drives on the shelf.

I was impressed. That was the first time I’ve ever met someone in person who was concerned about hard drive speed.

Now, about that speed… Yeah, it’s slow (I suspected the package actually contained a Quantum Fireball lct–Maxtor and Quantum have completed their merger) but it’s a cheap way to store a mountain of data and in an emergency it can boot an OS. At $2.50/gig, why not? So I grabbed one. I also grabbed the cheap 50X CD-ROM. I poked around the store a while, didn’t find anything else that caught my fancy, so I checked out. The cashier offered a replacement plan on the two parts. I declined–on stuff this cheap, I’ll just bank that money and take my chances.

The Fireball lct is indeed a poor performer. It would have been a middling performer in 1997, but this isn’t 1997 anymore. But I can live with it. It has one distinct advantage: It’s whisper-quiet. This PC makes very little noise. A fanless microATX box with a VIA C3 processor and a Fireball lct would be nearly silent and still fast enough to be useful. My other PCs sound like wind tunnel fans in comparison to this. And this drive will do for a testbed, if not as a production server–it’ll still be far faster than the P120 I’m using. I’d say there’s a 75 percent chance that system will end up hosting this site. The hard drive isn’t the bottleneck here–my DSL connection and CPU power are. The Celeron will solve the CPU problem, and hopefully with enough power to spare to run Mod_Gzip so that Apache can send compressed data to recent Web browsers, and thus solve the bandwidth issues too.

Anyway, I went ahead and put the 50X CD and Fireball lct in an old AT case, along with the Celeron-366 motherboard and 128 MB of RAM, a Cirrus Logic-based AGP card only a server could love, and a D-Link PCI 10/100 NIC to give myself a very basic meat-and-potatoes system. I noted the CD-ROM drive doesn’t fit as snugly as a Toshiba or an NEC and it definitely looks cheaper (but I’ve seen cheaper-looking drives still), and for 20 bucks I won’t complain. Mandrake 7.2 installed in about 15 minutes, but I found I was too aggressive–Mandrake’s hard disk optimizations and this motherboard’s chipset don’t get along. So I reinstalled with less aggressive settings. I made the mistake of doing a kitchen-sink install so it doesn’t run as well as it should. Basically at this point I need to tear it down and install, I dunno, BIND, Apache, Samba, and the kernel. That’s enough for what I want this machine to be able to do. I should probably look into building a kickstart script to do the job so I don’t have to answer any questions.

But that’s a project for another day.

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