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I'm interested in building or buying a task-specific computer for my brother. His requirements are ridiculously simple: the machine has to be able to wait in hundreds of web-based virtual waiting rooms at once and not crash. To be competitive, he needs to be able to enter the waiting rooms an dauto-refresh them faster. My question is, what priority do I give the different specs? My initial surmise is this:

  1. Connection speed (nothing to do with my build, but I kind of think this will be more beneficial than anything I build for him)
  2. Memory size -- I don't usually see firefox taking up more than a gig, even when heavily tabbed, but I think one gig for the operating system and two gigs for the browser are necessary.
  3. Processor speed -- I think the processor will affect performance, but even something out of date will do what he needs
  4. Memory speed/RAM bus -- I doubt this will matter much, but it seems just on this side of irrelevant.

Everything else is a non-issue for him. Does this seem to stack up correctly?

Also, since he's looking to stay on the cheaper side, and I might end up recommending a refurb to him, is there anything particularly egregious that Vista would do if it came pre-installed? If I build it myself, I'll give him linux, but if I have it shipped to him, I'm not sure I could walk him through the install process for linux, but I probably could walk him through the process to upgrade to Windows 7, if it were somehow worth it.

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I'd say you need more screens and not more ram ;-) – Ivo Flipse Apr 23 '10 at 5:58
I take it your brother is a ticket re-seller? – Hugh Allen Apr 23 '10 at 6:08
up vote 1 down vote accepted

What are these "waiting rooms"? Flash, Java, AJAX?

I think you have the priorities straight, just there's a little confusion.

Processor speed -- I think the processor will affect performance, but even something out of date will do what he needs

As mentioned above, it depends on the technology. If it's Java or Flash, something "out of date" probably wont do actually. Java applets and Flash objects can take up lots of CPU, especially when dealing with hundreds of instances. Definitely don't skimp out on the CPU.

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the machine has to be able to wait in hundreds of web-based virtual waiting rooms at once and not crash

Sounds more like a candidate for automation such as Selenium or WWW::Mechanize, but if you must use the browser manually you could make Firefox use less memory and run faster by blocking any unnecessary adverts and Flash:

Also FaviconizeTab might make it more reasonable to have hundreds of tabs open

alt text

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IF you could build a Linux installation for him that will run Firefox on a large Ramdisk it would be quite fast. Here is an ArchLinux reference for a tmpfs trick I have been planning to work on.

You could also just package the installation in a small USB flash-drive and just mail it to him. He can then use it on his machine (straight off the USB too). That way, the machine can have another installation for regular use and this USB boot path for the purpose.

I am targeting to do this with Ubuntu.
But, you could also check the PuppyLinux edition which comes ready in this form.
The only catch there is, you may have to do with the packaged browser (which is not Firefox).
The advantage to get this working properly with Ubuntu is its fantastic Debian support.

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That may actually be super helpful! I have a feeling he'll be irritated by linux in general, but if I convince him it's faster for this task, he'll get used to it. I've thought a lot about PuppyLinux, but these transactions have a funny way of failing at random places with less popular browsers. – David Berger Nov 19 '09 at 19:50
Yes, Which is why firefox-off-ramdisk. – nik Nov 20 '09 at 3:55

Further to Matthew Lock's ideas, another tool to reduce the memory usage and leakage in Firefox is AFOM. Might not be suitable to your brother's specifics, but might help.

Also, vacuuming the databases can help.

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