Hardware we like and use

Here at Hedtek have a hardware thing going on, and have various faves. Sanity warning: This post is only meaningful to certain kinds of geeks!

Laptops: We used to like Macbook Pros, mostly becase they run OS X, but really they have a very poor build quality – one ours has started falling apart with a hardware fault that should never have happened (internal frame for the screen broke without any maltreatment).

For build quality our hearts lie with Lenovo Thinkpads, and the X series is particularly good for lightweight portability. Mark’s six year old x40 is still great, and more recently a bit of nosing around on ebay has supplied an x60 and an X200 that are both destined to loose Vista and gain Ubuntu desktop.

Desktops: We have a couple of desktop format machines, although one of them doubles as a demo server, and the other is permanently running server software. Our mantra for desktop format machines is small and fast. Ours are built around Intel processors (dual core i5 and quad core i7 chips). We did flirt with the idea of six core AMD Phenoms, but their performance was less than somewhat-equivalently priced  i7 processors.

Our smallest desktop uses a mini-ITX format and contains a  Zotac H55-ITX mother board (see this arbitrary review). The motherboard takes 1156 pin Intel CPUs with integrated graphics which is handy when we take the machine out as a demo server.  In the office it runs Ubuntu desktop we fill its single expansion slot with a large and fast Nvidia graphics card that gives us two DVI signals to drive two of our favourite IPS monitors for a rock solid display. Finding a nice case for this machine was a bit of a sweat; we ended up with a Silverstone mini-ITX case with replacement fan from silentPC.com.

Our second desktop sized machine runs a Ubuntu server install and the Manchester PLE all the time, and is about to be pulled apart to become a rack-mount server, but for all of a few days it still exists in desktop form. It has a slightly larger micro-ATX format motherboard, which gives us more expansion slots than the miserly single expansion slot offered by a mini-ITX mobo. We’re using an Asus GENE Rampage II motherboard (arbitrary review), a quad-core i7 processor, and 6G of memory that occupies half the available memory slots. For a while we overclocked this machine and stuffed a larger Silverstone case full of yet more silentPC sourced fans to keep the beast cool, but the radical overclocking we were trying was more hassle than it was worth, and we are back to close to stock speeds.

There are a couple of Shuttles knocking around from pre-Hedtek days, but really the joy of Shuttles has waned. They’e cool if you want to start with a barebones machine, but not that much fun to build compared to other alternatives.

Mini-tower servers: Well what’s cheap currently at Insight UK? Actually, we have an HP ML110 G5 that has stood us in good stead running Redmine and a few other useful bits of software for a while, with a bit of extra memory and a replacement CPU, a quad-core Intel Q6600. And we are about to buy a couple of the G6 versions for various uses, Dave to run a work server at home, and Mark to dedicate to our processing our accounts. IBM do a nice line in mini-tower servers, but they tend not to be as cost effective as the HPs unless Insight is doing one of its occasional deals.

Servers: Supermicro, Supermicro, Supermicro. Did I mention Supermicro? We have a few second-hand Supermicros, and have speced and ordered a big fat fast one with dual quad core processors and 76GB of memory for the fishDelish project, where it will run triple stores, execute SPARQL queries and do a bit of web page construction via our Ruby-on-Rails systems. Actually we don’t and won’t own this server, but we are doing all the implementation that is going to happen on it.

And we’ve picked up a few Chenbro rackmount cases with eight hotswap drive bays each that we will use with the above-mentioned Asus motherboards to run the Manchester PLE. When we build these things its gonna be with hardware raid and quality power supplies; the only way to go. Actually, one of us is itching to use something like these Chenbro cased machines to start to play with dbdr to build a high-availability database server.

Blade servers:  ebay is big in our lives. We have three Hewlett Packard BL-class blade server chassis and a variety of BL-25 and BL-35 blades bought on ebay  for the very miserly sums of money. Only one of these blade servers is in use, populated with three blades that we are using to run the infrastructure for our agile development course, to wit, Git, Hudson and Redmine. The blade server is front ended by a Supermicro server that insulates the blade server’s integral ethernet from external ethernet traffic, and we VNC into the front end to access the bades’ ILOs (to turn the blades on and off as need be) and to SSH into the blades for diverse reasons. Perhaps one day we’ll have a play with Hadoop and Lucene on a second blade server.

Hardware RAID arrays: We know and like Adaptec 3000 and 5000 series cards which we typically use configured to provide RAID 6 arrays, which provide for two simultaneous disc failures in an array. For these RAID arrays we use enterprise h SATA drives, namely 500GB Western Digital RE3 drives. These provide certain RAID-related advantages over other SATA drives.

SSDs: Only one way to go at the moment in the SSD market: OCZ Vertex 2 SSDs do something like 50,000 IO operations/second.

Monitors: Gotta be IPS or PVA film LCDs for superior viewing experiences, none of this cheap TN matrix stuff 🙂 we spend hours each day looking at displays.

That’s it folks!

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