The Little Engine that Could…

March 23, 2012 | Hardware | By: Mark VandeWettering

In my home office, I have a machine called “fishtank”. I realized that I first bought it back in 2002, and since then it has been running various flavors of FreeBSD (probably beginning around 4.6 or so, currently running 7.2). At various times I’ve added or upgraded disk drives to it. While a power failure just two weeks ago reset it’s uptime, it’s had uptimes in excess of six hundred days on at least two occasions. I use it as an ssh server, file repository, and generally just a net accessible resource for generic computing tasks.

But the other day, I wanted to generate some new maps for my website using some code that I had never tried before, the Matplotlib Basemap Toolkit. There were already port files in FreeBSD, so I thought I’d try it out. So, I set it running with portmaster, and walked away.

The build failed.

Digging in, I found that it failed while building gcc (why it needed to build a new version of gcc I’m not sure, but it thinks it did). And it turns out it just flat ran out of memory.

I asked the quite natural question, “how much memory does this thing have?”

The answer: 256 megabytes. With less than 500 megabytes of swap.

I think it’s time to consider an upgrade. I could put 1G of memory in it, but that seems pretty lame. I think I’ll replace it with a small mini-desktop. I’m looking for an inexpensive, relatively low power and most importantly quiet server box. Anyone have any recommendations?


Comment from Ricardo – CT2GQV
Time 3/24/2012 at 7:24 am

I would go for the Via Mini-ITX regarding Net-Open-Free-BSD comparability, for extreme low power there are now some “nano” boards that look very nice but don’t know how support is for BSD’s…
By the way 256M on a 2002 machine looks nice, I used to compile kernels in a 486 with 64M while running “Doom” on another console 🙂
p.s. your captcha is hard to see

Comment from Dave G1TVL
Time 3/25/2012 at 4:58 am

If you don’t need out and out horsepower, the HP N40L Microservers are excellent value. Very cheap (130GBP with HP cashback deals in the UK), near silent, and very nicely built. Only 2Gb RAM and 250Gb HDD but easily upgraded when HDD prices fall again.

Comment from David
Time 3/28/2012 at 5:52 am

Try one of these ($104 USD):

Stick FreeNAS or PFSense into it and plug in a removable drive. Done. Low power consumption, always on, no fans, don’t bother messing with WOL or power management problems.

Man, your reCAPTCHA system is a hassle!

73’s David

Comment from Mark VandeWettering
Time 3/28/2012 at 2:00 pm

Thanks David, I was trying to remember who manufactured those. I have a slightly different solution in progress (expect a post about it shortly), but I may keep this in mind for a future project.