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feldux 10-28-2005 02:09 PM

entry-level self-made linux workstation ideas
So upgrade time is quickly approaching (well, the computer's only 2 years old and runs about 2.8ghz, but I feel the need to make the leap from Intel to AMD as well s to beef up my ability to do more scientific computing (read: processor intensive calculations) and I'd like to venture out of the game/graphics-centric world of the athlon/p4 into the more work-centric world of the opteron. As a result I'd like to build a "workstation." while I realize this word gets thrown around to refer to everything from a mac-mini sitting in a study-caroll to a multi-monitor 4+processor dual-SLi Quadro behemoth with close to a TB of SATA and 16gigs of RAM, I'm thinking with the working-definition that a workstation is a multiprocessor machine with pro-grade components built for a balance of performance and durability, and probably a healthy Raid setup

I'll be pulling a few of the newer components from my old PC:
Audigy2, DVD-ROM, Nic, 80g sataI drive, 200g sata1 drive (both WD) maybe 512m of DDR400 if the next board supports it.

My current guess at the needed components is:
2 low level socket 940 opteron 200s to be upgraded to the dual-cores when they drop to more like $1k/pair
dual-socket motherboard capable of scaling from these chips to the 270-280 dual core, 4 SATA ports
buy duplicate models of both of my other hard drives, set the 80's on striping and the 200s on mirroring. (i never remember which is raid1 which is raid0)
1 PCI-x Nvidia card (not interested in sLi, not terribly concerned with graphics, but i'd like to run UT2k4 and maybe even its successor) and I think my AGP gfx card probably won't work with this scenario.

My biggest areas of confusion are 1) the scalability of the motherboards from like a 240 to a 280
(what is the lowest speed opteron that would be compatable with the boards compatible with the 270/280 class dual cores?)
2) RAM:
a) does dual-processing require even numbers of ram-modules?
b) I'm guessing dual-channel ddr400 is what these will be wanting, in which case does dual-channel have to be purchased in matched pairs? (I'm guessing yes)

I'm pretty happy with linux kernel RAID, so I don't think I want to invest in extra RAID controller cards or a specifically good hardware-raid enabled motherboad. (of course if its the only board meeting my other requirements and it has it, I'll take it)

also, a linux friendly DVD burner, preferably with lightscribe, but at this point i'd probably rather have linux compatability over that particular feature. Of course I assume it will eventually be implemented, so if some of the LS drives work all but that function, even better.

Any help would be welcome. I've googled some of this but there don't seem to be "Workstation construction for non-IT people" howtos out there. I guess most other people that need them just buy OEM/Custom-contracted.

nonzero 10-29-2005 10:48 PM

Okay, so you are going to be calculating hurricane trajectories, maybe some wind tunnel analysis of the newest supercritical airfoil? Sorry to be a smartass.
The anchors of my network are two 5 year old Compaq Proliant's at 200 MHz, I am writing this on a PIII of a speed I am not sure of (though well below the 1 Gig mark). I don't reboot it so I don't get to see the BIOS screen much. But, by current standards ancient. The only reason I have RAID setup at all is that the Proliant's came with it and some nice DLT tape drives. Okay, it takes around 2 hours to recompile a new kernel on this machine and slightly longer on the Compaq's. About the most computation intensive work I do is some SPICE simulations which complete quite quickly.
You've got to know what you want to do. I might like to have a new Tyan motherboard for the dual-core processors but I am a miser and until something breaks my Visa card stays in my pocket.
So, when you get the new machine could you send me your old board and CPU?


Electro 10-30-2005 02:37 AM

Audigy2 and any that Creative Labs makes is not pro-grade. They make kiddy-grade devices. What is pro-grade is Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1 or Audiotrak Maya.

GIGABYTE GA-2CEWH seems like a good motherboard. The PCI slot does not get taken over from PCIe video cards, so you can use pro-grade sound cards in this slot. It also come with two PCI-X slots for 64-bit boards such as 3ware 8000 or 9000 series SATA hardware controllers. The problem with this is board is it uses active heatsinks for the two nForce chipsets. Opterons require ECC. If you are getting multi-core processors, ECC is definately require. It may help you buy memory that comes with two in a package to give reliability and stability. I suggest PC3500 (433 MHz) memory, but there is no ECC models for this speed yet.

I do not know if SLI will work in Linux, so you are on your own.

I suggest using Western Digital Raptor series hard drives. People said they are very fast.

The power supply have to be at least 450 watts or more. A 500 watts is preferred. It have to come with a special connector. Tom's Hardware state Seasonic model S-12 power supplies are good and quiet up to 600 watts.

feldux 10-30-2005 03:43 AM

Hurricanes? no. Monte Carlo / Density Functional Theory / ab initio atomic-molecular physics calculations? yes. I spent a summer doing some 3 summers ago and molecules with upwards of say...5 atoms start taking a long time (many were 10+ hours), even using 4 nodes of an HP-UX superdome cluster (though from the opinions I've heard on HP-UX, that could have been for other reasons :D ) along with the occaisional bit of my raytracing hobby.

That said, nonzero, recent research has led me to agree with your miserliness. I'd been seeing most of my current system's performance through my windows install. (I took a brief break from linux this summer after spending the previous semester fighting with linux over what wound up being a bad piece of memory which I only discovered thanks to windows even less capable handling of it.) The last few days of renewed linux use have reminded me of just how well it uses hardware. For now I'm going to enjoy the stability I have and get to know linux better. For some reason I never got past a good week of working with it before the memory error did awful things to either my filesystems or something else.


Audigy2 and any that Creative Labs makes is not pro-grade
True. That's actually one place I don't really expect pro-grade since I don't work with audio. Most computer audiophiles don't even consider them to be good budget-solutions. Until the most recent line (something past the audigy) they didn't even output bit-perfect, and the DAC's on the secondary channels were inferior to the main stereo (aka front l/r) out. They were still a huge upgrade for me since I'd never heard 24 bit pc sound before.

I about kicked myself for buying the WD 80gig sata instead of the raptor when I heard about them.

For the record: SLI is capable of working in linux, but its waiting on the drivers from nVidia.

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