Originally Published: Wednesday, 22 December 1999 Author: Luke Groeninger
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Waste Not, Want Not

As computer hardware becomes faster and cheaper, I have found that people always want to go to the cutting edge of hardware and find the best computer they can. Instead, I propose an idea that seems to have been forgotten: reuse old hardware. Although this concept is not a new one, and has gone hand in hand with the Open Source and Free Software movements, it seems to have been forgotten in recent times....

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As computer hardware becomes faster and cheaper, I have found that people always want to go to the cutting edge of hardware and find the best computer they can. Instead, I propose an idea that seems to have been forgotten: reuse old hardware. Although this concept is not a new one, and has gone hand in hand with the Open Source and Free Software movements, it seems to have been forgotten in recent times.

For instance, I have seen an abundance of used motherboards and processors for a lot less than what a new one would cost. Would you buy a sub 200mhz processor and motherboard for less than 100 to 150 dollars and turn it into a Linux workstation or server? If you said yes, I applaud you, because in this instance it could have been a dual Pentium Pro 200mhz motherboard and processor, the same line of chips that was used to power Walnut Creek's ftp.cdrom.com and allow it to serve 5000 users at the same time. Quite respectable, seeing as one Pentium Pro chip has been known to outperform a Pentium II 350mhz chip. Yes, this was possible. The fact that they run with a full speed level 2 cache versus a half speed level 2 cache on the Pentium II means that a 200mhz Pentium Pro chip has the same speed level 2 cache as a Pentium II 400mhz.

Need a dedicated file and/or print server? Need another computer to run your Quake 3 server? Need a gateway so that you can put your entire network online through that brand new ADSL connection you just bought? What do you do with the computer that does not quite have everything that it needs, or maybe is just too slow to use? Well all you need is a 486 motherboard and processor, and I know I have way too many of those lying around. Just install Linux on it and make it a dedicated server or gateway! Don't install X on it, because chances are you will never need it. You don't need a keyboard, mouse or monitor once it gets set up. All it needs is a network connection and power, and you now have a good dedicated server.

Need a new usable workstation for testing your latest networked applications? Take that old computer in the corner and buy a newer motherboard and processor for it. The Pentium 166 MMX chip sitting on the desk next to me runs X and GNOME great, and with the help of a Voodoo 3 it can even run Quake 3. As long as you have enough RAM, any Pentium processor of 133mhz or higher can be used as a good workstation or testing platform.

But perhaps you need more than just a workstation or dedicated server. Perhaps you need something with a bit more bite to it. Perhaps you even need supercomputer level performance. The Beowulf Project has been allowing Linux users to make supercomputers out of those old 486's, Pentium's and Pentium Pro's. By passing process information from a host node to the various segments of the cluster through a network, it has allowed Linux to scale to powering one of the top 500 supercomputers in the world. All of this on old hardware that people did not want any more.

Do you need to go out and buy a new server or workstation just to run the latest software or the latest development tools? Not really, since you can pick up hardware that offers good performance for dirt cheap. Even if it is not the cutting edge of technology, does it need to be? Linux was developed to run on a 386; a Pentium will handle it without any problems.

Luke Groeninger is currently on vacation from school, so he no longer has to actively run servers and as a result has been working more. Fortunately though, he can only work so many hours of the day and now has more time to read things like email. Feel free to write him at dghost@linux.com with suggestions and comments, but flame will probably be laughed at publicly.





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