Building a Linux developer workstation

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neilgunton
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Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Fri Jan 07, 2011 1:16 am

Hi, I'm in the process of speccing parts for a Linux developer workstation for myself. I'm interested in the Antec Solo and Mini P180 cases, and finding it hard to choose between them. The motherboard I am looking at is an Asus Micro ATX, nothing special, but it was recommended when I asked for advice over at the newegg forums. I don't really need anything all that special here - this is not a gaming machine. I'm probably looking at an AMD Athlon II X4 quad core processor, 8 GB RAM, a single Samsung 1TB Spinpoint hard drive, and a single DVD reader/writer. I'll just use the onboard video and sound, since I don't have heavy graphics demands.

One of the most important aspects of this to me is reducing noise, since I seem to be very sensitive to hum (in particular the type of hum caused by hard drive spinning). and I'm going to be sitting next to this thing all day long. In the past I've used a suspension system, though now I'm using a rubber bung based thing (can't remember the name) on my old Dell. It seems ok, but the old suspension system was the most effective at isolating the hard drive hum from the case. It went bad though when the elastic straps decayed over time. Also, I had a suspicion that my hard drive failed prematurely perhaps because the drive wasn't getting the heat sink benefits of being attached to the case.

So the Antec Solo has suspension built in, which is nice.

I am also interested in the Seasonic SS-400 fanless PSU, and it seems like it would be best placed at the bottom of the case. The Solo has the PSU at the top, and I'm not sure that the Seasonic would get enough ventilation in that position. Can anybody confirm whether this PSU would work well in a Solo case?

Also, I have read some reviews talking about the Solo having a somewhat defective design for the power button (it's hard to operate, and apparently breaks). Has that been fixed now?

The alternative case is the Antec Mini P180, which looks nice because it has the PSU at the bottom, which seems good for that Seasonic; however it doesn't have hard drive suspension, and I'm not sure about having an open vent at the top of the case (surely dust will get in there), and it sounds like maybe the 200mm fan could be noticeable to me, sitting right next to the thing all day long.

Given my desire for silence, which case might be better for my needs - the Solo or the Mini P180?

Does the drive suspension mean the hard drive will heat up any more than it would in a more conventional mount?

Thanks for any insights,

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Sun Jan 09, 2011 12:35 pm

I'm surprised nobody has anything to say about this!

I called Antec for some help in helping to choose between their cases, and they gave me an interesting tip: There is a new version of the P183 coming out, which has USB 3.0 for the ports. Apparently this should be on newegg within a few weeks.

I think I have eliminated the Mini P180, as I really have no reason to use a Micro ATX motherboard. So currently I am trying to choose between the Solo and the new P183 (when it comes out). I asked if the Solo was also going to be getting a new version with USB 3.0, but he said no. I guess it will eventually, but it's not imminent.

I like the P183 for the greater wall insulation (3 layer as opposed to 2 layer on the Solo), and the fact that the PSU bay is at the bottom, which definitely seems more natural for the Seasonic fanless X400. Also, the P183 has an additional fan at the top, which would seem to increase cooling as a whole. The main advantage of the Solo, for me anyway, is the drive suspension.

My biggest concern in choosing between these is the rubber bungs that the P183 uses to dampen hard drive vibration, versus the bungee suspension that the Solo uses. I really don't like the hum that happens due to vibration of the drive. Can anybody give me an idea of how the P183 compares to the Solo with regard to hard drive isolation?

And does anybody have any other insights into how these two excellent cases compare?

Thanks,

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by tay » Sun Jan 09, 2011 1:21 pm

On the P180, the rubber grommets are decent for noise, I'd rate them about a 6. I'd rate suspension an 8. A suspended enclosure would get a 10. Not sure how much better the P183 rubber grommet things are than the P180 but I doubt they're much better.

Think about getting an SSD for your main drive. If you are compiling programs or using virtualization, it will be the best upgrade since the switch to multi cores. Plus you don't have to worry about noise & isolation.
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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Sun Jan 09, 2011 1:33 pm

Thanks for those tips. Do you have any links to good suspension enclosures, and good SSDs?

Actually I don't think an SSD would be practical here, since my workstation serves as a backup to my production server. It has to handle mirroring more than 150 GB of pics, steadily growing, and the MySQL databases etc. This isn't just a dev workstation, it has to handle quite a lot of data too.

Thanks again,

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Mon Jan 10, 2011 12:00 am

Well, I think I'm pretty settled on the Antec Solo. I've been looking through the various reviews and builds that people have posted, and it just seems like a highly regarded case. I think I prefer the general design, and the drive suspension being built in is the clincher. It would be nice to have the USB3.0 in the upcoming P183 update, but I'll still have the USB3.0 ports on the rear of the box (straight off the motherboard), so it's not a showstopper if I come to want USB3.0 speeds down the line.

Regarding the Seasonic fanless power supply, SS-460FL (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6817151099) - there is a 400W and this 460W version. Would it be ok to get the 460W version to allow for growth down the road (e.g. if I get a better graphics card), even if I'm not using it anywhere near capacity now? I think I will be mounting it inverted in the Solo, so that the honeycomb is facing downward.

Here's my current shopping list for this workstation, for anyone who's interested:

http://www.eggxpert.com/forums/permalin ... spx#676945

Please feel free to critique...

Thanks,

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by HFat » Mon Jan 10, 2011 2:48 am

400W is already overkill.

A 7200 rpm drive would consume more power than a 5400 rpm drive and be a bit noisier. Any decent low-capacity SSD would be faster than a 7200rpm for anything but sequential writes. You would often choose to do the sequential writes to the spinning drive anyway because of its higher capacity.
It is difficult to recommend a SSD at this point (new models are coming out). You usually can't go wrong with Intel. The peformance of their 40G is poor but it's not such a big deal if you pair it with a hard drive and configure/use your system right. Crucial/Micron seems to have a partnership with Marvell for SSD controllers. Their C300 has good performance and seems fairly solid but you need to make sure your OS, drivers and hardware support the TRIM instruction if you want that drive to perform. Or you could go for the classic 80G Intel which is a bit slower but well-tested and apparently very reliable. All other drives are at least somewhat dubious or unproven in my humble opinion.

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Wed Jan 12, 2011 9:59 am

Ok, I am still working out this build. I am with you now on the PSU - I've looked at a couple of calculators and it looks like the SS-400FL will probably do just fine.

Will this PSU be ok mounted at the top of the Antec Solo case? I assume it'll have to be inverted. Surely all the heat from inside the case will be rising up into it, which doesn't seem right somehow (especially with no fan). Has anybody else here used one of these fanless PSUs in that configuration (at the top, inverted)?

I am currently vacillating on which CPU to go for. There are 45W, 65W, 95W and 125W versions of the AMD AM3 processors. A safe bet in terms of silence would probably be to go for the 45W Athlon II X4 610e, but it only runs at 2.4 GHz. I'm really tempted by some of the more powerful ones, but the faster they get the more power they use, and (presumably) the more fan they'll need.

Does anybody here have any experience running one of these 95W or 125W AMD AM3 CPUs in a quiet PC? Is it possible to keep these chips at a healthy temperature, without making a lot of noise all the time from the fan? I would be ok with some slightly increased fan noise from the cooler occasionally, if doing particularly hard workloads. But normally, I don't think I would be putting much strain on an X4 or X6.

I'm also curious about the difference between the Athlon and Phenom lines. It seems that the main difference is the L3 cache. A really interesting comparison can be made between the Athlon II X4 640, which runs at 3.0GHz, and the Phenom II X4 820, which is 2.8 GHz. They are both 95W, and both exactly the same price ($99.99) on Newegg. Which would have more of an impact on everyday workstation responsiveness and speed, I wonder - an additional 200 MHz, or that L3 cache? Anybody have a clue?

I'm thinking that quad core (or even 6 core) is the way to go if I want to run Windows 7 in a VM from Linux. It would be nice to be able to dedicate at least a couple of cores to the VM so I don't see system slowdowns when I'm doing other things in Linux. I think 2 cores is definitely useful for any OS, because it gives you more responsiveness (one for the OS and GUI, one for whatever foreground task you're running). So two for the host (Linux), two for the VM guest (Windows 7) - I'm not sure if an X6 would give me much more bang for the buck.

If it were possible to keep the 125W reasonably cool while still being fairly silent (inside an Antec Solo, or possibly a P183), then I might go for one of the faster ones - e.g. the Phenom II X4 970 runs at 3.5GHz, 125W. What do you think?

Thanks again,

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by m0002a » Wed Jan 12, 2011 10:19 am

I already have the hardware, but I would interested in knowing what software configuration you will be using for running Windows 7 and Linux with virtualization.

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Wed Jan 12, 2011 10:24 am

I'm planning on running Debian Squeeze as the main OS, with Windows 7 running in Virtualbox. Is that what you're asking about, or was it some other aspect of the config?

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by quest_for_silence » Wed Jan 12, 2011 10:59 am

neilgunton wrote:Will this PSU be ok mounted at the top of the Antec Solo case? I assume it'll have to be inverted. Surely all the heat from inside the case will be rising up into it, which doesn't seem right somehow (especially with no fan). Has anybody else here used one of these fanless PSUs in that configuration (at the top, inverted)?

I think it might work fine (even) in the straight position.
However, though that position is the least favourable to the X-400FL, the X-400FL is the most suited PSU to work in that position as it is the best performing unit in SPCR hot-box torture test.
If you want to be (psychologically) safer, go for a fanned X-560 (inverted): you won't regret and also spare some money.
neilgunton wrote:What do you think?

Among my critties I have a pair of EE Athlon II (605e and 420e), but if I were paid the full money I would have never bought them (I also have an unlocked 740BE, if you mind), they are too slow (even if you may OC them, crankin'em up by 4-500MHz with about 10W more). FYI you may give a read to those articles:

AMD Refresh
Mainstream Processors
High End Processors

and IIRC further considerations of cores vs speed vs cache are on TechReport and AnandTech, in the latest articles on Sandy Bridge CPUs.

However, you may run any of the mentioned AMDs in a Solo in a inaudible way: it's just a matter of heatsink (see the relevant SPCR chart), the more performing is the heatsink, the slower can be its fan, and the lower will be the noise.

Moreover, despite the TDP the latest (C3) iteration of X4 and the new X6 are quite efficient. I guess your system won't pull more than 120-150W at load, with the CPU around 80W: so, don't worry.
Regards,
Luca

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:05 pm

Thanks for those articles - just got through the "AMD Refresh" one and that X4 970 is looking pretty attractive! If it's possible to build a quiet PC using this CPU, then I might just go for it. What cooler do you think would go well with this processor in an Antec Solo box?

The Athlon X4 640 also comes out looking very good. But the 970 seems to have the edge... it's $186 over on newegg right now, as opposed to $100 for the 640. I'm sure the 640 would do the job just fine, but the 970 would have that little bit of extra zip. Both seem to hit a bit of a sweet spot.

Thanks again!

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by quest_for_silence » Thu Jan 13, 2011 2:38 am

neilgunton wrote:What cooler do you think would go well with this processor in an Antec Solo box?

The best bang for the buck is probably the CoolerMaster Hyper 212+ with a new fan (something like the Nexus Basic or the Scythe Slipstream PWM).
But if you buy on NewEgg, then its costs will come close to the Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B's one, or even higher, so I would rather this latter as it's substantially better.

Please take note that the Solo exhaust fan is way louder at any speed, you should swap it with a quiet one.

If money is not an issue I would try (check the physical measurements) a semi fanless setup with a Thermalright HR-02 ducted to a medium speed exhaust like a 1200rpm Scythe.

Another thing to check is if fancontrol works on your board, as no fan (except some 500rpm one) may be really quiet when running at full speed (currently the only BIOS fan control that actually works is the Q-FAN you may find onto premium ASUS): as an hardware alternative you may consider a rheobus like the Scythe Kaze Server (which has several automation features).
neilgunton wrote:the 970 would have that little bit of extra zip. Both seem to hit a bit of a sweet spot.

If you're going to spend near 200USD (however, the 965BE C3 should be 30 USD under the 970BE) for the CPU, then I think that AMD is no more the way to go, as an Intel Sandy Bridge (a quad one) will be far more performing (and cooler) than any AMD CPU (even an X6) for about the same money (even if an Intel P67 mobo will be noticeably costlier than any AMD 880/890 one).
Regards,
Luca

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Thu Jan 13, 2011 7:33 am

Thanks again! That's very interesting. I have to make a decision about whether to stay basic and just go with the Athlon II X4 640 ($99.99 on newegg), and end up with a total machine cost under $1000, or get more ambitious, in which case your thoughts on sandy bridge seem to make sense - although I like AMD (always like the underdog, they usually try harder), you're probably right that for $200 the sandy bridge processor makes more sense at the moment. It'll be interesting to see what AMD comes out with in the Bulldozer line - I've seen lots of conjecture, but few hard facts. Some seem to think that AMD might actually regain the upper hand there, but we'll see.

Right now I'm thinking that the Athlon might be just fine for me. After all, this isn't a high end PC by any means, at least not in terms of graphics. The motherboard I'm looking at is the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO. It has onboard graphics, though not very good apparently (ATI Radeon HD 4290), probably good enough for what I do in reality (development, watch the occasional video). I don't know if this board has the fan control you talk about, how would I find that out?

If I go with the Athlon then I probably won't even need any aftermarket cooler, since they apparently run pretty cool. I could just see how the stock cooler and fan do, and replace stuff as needed. I'm sure the Athlon II X4 640 3GHz will be such an improvement on what I am using now (a 2 GHz P4 with 1 GB ram) that I'll be able to do whatever I want without hindrance. With 8 GB RAM I should be able to run the mysql slave, and run Windows 7 in virtualbox whenever I have to without breaking a sweat (I hope).

I think what you said makes sense - if I'm going to go budget then I get the most bang for the buck with AMD still (hopefully - at around $100?). But if I decide to go higher then I need to re-evaluate and start from scratch pretty much with Intel-based system. My gut tells me the 640 will be more than enough for me, though. And it's upgradable, the AM3 board can take the X6 chips too, which should come down substantially in price once Bulldozer appears. So find out if the budget Athlon works for me now, not a big gamble at $100, and if it works, great - if not, then get the X6 sometime down the line for less money than now.

Anyway, thanks again! Good food for thought there.

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by quest_for_silence » Thu Jan 13, 2011 2:35 pm

neilgunton wrote:It'll be interesting to see what AMD comes out with in the Bulldozer line

There are just so many months before Bulldozer come out.
neilgunton wrote:I don't know if this board has the fan control you talk about, how would I find that out?

Go to the ASUS site and download the relevant manual, where there are well described the hardware headers and the relevant BIOS section: unfortunately I guess the AMD boards won't have the UEFI one seen on the Sandy Bridge P8s, which should give access to fan control with even more ease.
neilgunton wrote:If I go with the Athlon then I probably won't even need any aftermarket cooler, since they apparently run pretty cool. I could just see how the stock cooler and fan do, and replace stuff as needed.

Absolutely no. Even if the AMD stock cooler is not as earachingly as the Intel stock one, the current one is however rather inefficient and pretty loud. You can't bank on it at any extent.
Even in a budget system, go for the Mugen 2, it's a future-proof investment, even upgradable (with a second fan).
neilgunton wrote:My gut tells me the 640 will be more than enough for me, though. And it's upgradable, the AM3 board can take the X6 chips too, which should come down substantially in price once Bulldozer appears.

If you are going along this path, an Athlon II X3 445 is even better suited: it's still enough for your need, you got a substantially higher clock speed, you may gain the fourth core for free, and you subsidize the aftermarket heatsink purchase.
Last edited by quest_for_silence on Thu Jan 13, 2011 4:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Regards,
Luca

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by HFat » Thu Jan 13, 2011 3:50 pm

neilgunton wrote:It would be nice to be able to dedicate at least a couple of cores to the VM so I don't see system slowdowns when I'm doing other things in Linux. I think 2 cores is definitely useful for any OS, because it gives you more responsiveness (one for the OS and GUI, one for whatever foreground task you're running).
It doesn't work that way. Running multiple VMs on a dual-core CPU works just fine.

As to the stuff about hardware providing more "zip" and whatnot, this subjective stuff is:
a)meaningless
b)unaffected by marginal changes such as an extra 400Mhz of CPU clock or an extra meg of L3 cache
Moving from not enough RAM (as in lots of swapping) to enough RAM, from a hard drive to a SSD or from an obsolete single-core CPU to a decent dual-core might provide an obvious change. But most people are unable to reliably detect any other effect on regular computing. If they're told a system is faster or more expensive, they'll usually be able to convince themselves it performs better even if it's actually slower. I'm speaking from experience (*evil grin*).

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Thu Jan 13, 2011 10:06 pm

Thanks again for all the tips. Luca, you now have me thinking again about my choice of platform. It sounds like you might favor the new sandy bridge architecture, and I have to admit it does sound very capable. I like AMD, but I am not wedded to any particular brand or platform. The nice thing about this build is that it's a blank slate - I can go in pretty much whatever direction I want (provided it works with Debian Squeeze, or even better Lenny). So given that, do you have any suggestions for a CPU/motherboard combination for my purposes - i.e. good bang for the buck, good for doing some heavy lifting in the performance area (for a developer - compiling, running a MySQL slave for a fairly busy website, some graphics processing etc), good for the odd video, no gaming, good for running Windows 7 in a VM while not dragging down the rest of my system responsiveness, trying to keep the CPU down to under $200 or so, and likewise motherboard... would you go for sandy bridge at this point, or wait a while? The AMD processors just seem like a really good deal right now, but I'm seriously open to other ideas. Most useful would be both the CPU and motherboard combo, because there are frankly so many out there that it's very hard to narrow down the choices. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Right now I think I'm ok with the AMD Athlon II X4 640 - it's under $100 and runs at 3 GHz, I don't think I need the L3 cache of the Phenoms, the Athlon should be more than enough for me. I probably don't even need four cores right now, but it can't hurt if I'm running several different things at once - MySQL slave, desktop, dev Apache, Windows 7 in virtualbox. I'll probably spec this machine with 16GB just to have plenty of breathing space.

I'd be fine with getting the Mugen 2 rev b cooler, that sounds fine. I'll also replace the stock fan on the Solo case with a nice Nexus.

Thanks again,

Neil

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by quest_for_silence » Fri Jan 14, 2011 1:11 am

neilgunton wrote:you now have me thinking again about my choice of platform. It sounds like you might favor the new sandy bridge architecture, and I have to admit it does sound very capable. I like AMD, but I am not wedded to any particular brand or platform

Well, we're going towards more a computing-oriented talking, than a silencing-oriented one.
Generally speaking, I think each of us is fully able to wrong by itself, without needing any advice by other people to do so: therefore I hope you'll understand me if I would rather to slip myself off by such a talking.

If my advice about ASUS UEFI may have misleaded you, please take note that I'm not leant against Intel: in favour of Intel currently a mere economical argument serves, with Sandy Bridge the upper range of AMD line-up sounds now less meaningful.

According to me, a more capable platform has probably a greater longevity as its main advantage.
If a long operating life were a specification, then probably Sandy Bridge would be a more favourable option, even if at a cost (you can't have a good board for cheap, at least).

Without such a requirement, I've already made my suggest, a triple core $75 Athlon II X3, to be swapped if in case by an around 3GHz Phenom II X6 (roughly doubling the processing power), but if and when this latter will be much more affordable in a next future (within 6-9-12 months? I dunno), and just if and when the actual use of this machine should suggest to walk along this way.
If you're confused by the plethora of motherboards available, again I've just made my quick recommendation: go for a good ASUS with a good Q-Fan implementation (I also prefer MSI over Gigabyte, at least for AMD), and I add: which is nearer to the 100 marks (even below) than the 150 ones (IMO it would be a bit odd save on the CPU and not on the mobo).

My usual favourite sites to gather information about hw (apart SPCR) are: AnandTech, The TechReport, XBit Labs, iXBT Labs, Hardware Canucks, MadShrimps, BeHardware, LostCircuits, TechPowerUp!, Au-Ja!, HT4u.net, jonnyGURU, some china-news as EXPreview, and maybe a few others which now I can't recall correctly. You may check by yourself, if you mind.

You might argue that the final amount would be close to a Sandy Bridge while being less capable, but it's a mere possibility and however you should have diluted the investment over a year or so about: and who can say what the tide may bring over a year or so (There won't be those X6 any more? Bulldozer? The LGA1366 heir? The "20-12-2012"?).

And that's all I have to said about (or so I guess): have a good luck!
Regards,
Luca

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by quest_for_silence » Fri Jan 14, 2011 6:43 am

Regards,
Luca

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Re: Building a Linux developer workstation

Post by neilgunton » Fri Jan 14, 2011 6:58 am

Ok, thanks again. The CPU thing is a constantly moving target, obviously... the one that everybody was salivating over last year as being the best of the best is now old hat and bleh, if you chase after the best then you'll either be paying through the nose for 10% better or always waiting. I think I should be ok with the AMD Athlon II X4 640, it hits a sweet spot for me in terms of balance between price, speed and power consumption. And if I need more, then the X6 should have come down in price by then. Anyway, those charts and all the advice are much appreciated, thanks.

Neil

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