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I am thinking about building a machine to use as a linux or Solaris development server (for running a database, application servers, etc.). I would like it to be as portable as possible without it being too expensive. Looking for suggestions on parts to build a small and inexpensive (less than $1000) quad-core machine.

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3 Answers 3

Don't build one. Subscribe to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) service. Prices start around $20-$30 per month. You can buy a few years of service for $1000. A VPS gets you out of the business of supporting hardware.

I subscribe to a Linux-based VPS and for $30/mo I get a quad-core 2.5GHz CPU, 540MB RAM, and 24GB of disk space -- plenty for web and database hosting. That's not even their cheapest plan.

Unless you are doing some serious number-crunching, CPU isn't going to be your bottleneck. It will be the disk. There's nothing you can do (on the cheap) to give you dramatically better disk throughput on a DIY system. Consequently, you shouldn't be focussing on the number of cores. Even a dual-core or dual-processor system will be quite sufficient.

As an example, for years I ran an audio-streaming server which regularly hosted dozens of simultaneous streams, provided web service, and a database on a dual-processor 700Mhz Pentium III with 1GB of RAM. Typical load average: 0.01. The CPU was 99% idle most of the time.

Ask yourself this: is building and maintaining hardware a core aspect of your business? If it's not, outsource it and focus on what makes you money.

(This thread should probably be migrated to serverfault.com)

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I am familiar with VPS services and they are not an option due to the sensitive nature of the environment I work in. My idea is sort of a one-off kind of thing, and I do want multiple cores due to the kind of software development that is going on. It's not just web sites and audio streaming. –  Ken Liu Aug 23 '09 at 4:39

there are numerous mini-ITX and micro-ITX motherboards and cases that can take quad-core CPUs.

e.g. the Gigabyte GA-G31M-ES2L (about $70 AUD - 1 AUD is approx $0.80 USD at the moment) is one of many.

for cases, something like the Antec NSK1380 ($159 AUD) or Lian Li PC-Q07 ($85 AUD)might do.

however, i'd be a bit concerned about cooling in such small cases. if the machines are mostly idle (i.e. not constantly running lots of computationally-intensive processes like number-crunching or video transcoding) then they'd probably be OK.

if not, go up to a mini-tower case and an ATX motherboard. you'd have a larger selection of motherboards to choose from, and some come with convenient handles for transporting them.

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You can get 16 cores (4 CPUs) in a 1U server just fine; cooling is solvable, but loud. –  derobert Aug 23 '09 at 9:08
    
@derobert - You also probably have a vented cabinet and heavy AC in the room its in. Servers can pack that much in reliably because of the environment that they are kept in. –  MDMarra Aug 23 '09 at 13:13
    
I wouldn't be putting this particular machine in a proper server room. –  Ken Liu Aug 23 '09 at 22:31
    
another thing you can do to control heat and power usage is (if using linux) to use the cpufreq tools. set up the system to use the "ondemand" governer. that sets the CPU freq on each core to it's slowest setting until there's significant demand, then it bumps up the frequency as needed. –  cas Aug 24 '09 at 9:04
    
one more thing - with a nice machine like that, it's worthwhile using linux w/ KVM as the host OS, then you can run Solaris or Freebsd or whatever as guests. without spending a cent on vmware. –  cas Aug 24 '09 at 9:06

Check out some bare-bones systems from Shuttle. They make nice and quiet SFF cases that have a lot of bells and whistles usually including Gbe and decently rated PSUs in some models.

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