An Upgrade to Biscuit.

- -

Many of y'all are familiar with my home server, Biscuit, which I've had in her current form for almost three years. What started as a humble MicroCenter bare bones PC has now become an indispensable home file server that is integrated tightly with my Xbox 360 and my two laptops. After many hard drive and memory upgrades, it's time for a new motherboard and CPU.

The old setup only had two SATA ports on the motherboard. For most people this is fine but for a server that's just not enough. There are presently three hard drives in Biscuit, one of which is IDE. The new motherboard would allow me to have up to six. Eight if I can figure out what the two green SATA ports are for. Not sure what the story is with those. Six regular SATA ports though! It is a huge upgrade. Additionally, there are the same four SDRAM slots on this motherboard—so my RAM will migrate to the new board—but I also bought an AMD Phenom II 64bit processor, clock speed 3.0GHz. That's 200MHz slower than Biscuit's current Celeron D processor, but the Phenom II is a quadcore CPU with 8Mb of cache (compared to the Celeron D's paltry 512Kb), and I am expecting some significant performance upgrades here. The 64bit processor will allow me to upgrade Biscuit's RAM from the current 2Gb to as much as 16Gb (4Gb is the upper addressing limit of 32bit processors).

The current hard drive configuration will not really be feasible at first and I want to preserve the existing configurations and home directories without needing to take the time to back them up, so I will be installing 64bit Ubuntu Linux on a virgin hard drive.

I thought I'd explain here why I decided to switch. First of all, the upgrade to 64bit means that I'd need to install a fresh operating system meant for AMD64 architecture anyway, so I could've gone with Gentoo's AMD64 version. I didn't, and the reason I didn't is because Gentoo is just getting a little too unwieldy for me, and I'm not getting any younger.

Gentoo Linux is a linux distribution for tinkerers. It allows incredible latitude in the way of customization, with no two installations being exactly alike. It's perfect for anyone who has very specific needs, as with the use of USE flags and systemwide compiling options, a system's performance and running processes can all be very exactly optimized. With the USE flags, you can eliminate the dynamic or static inclusion of excessive libraries, so your system is leaner.

But there's a problem. All of that customization takes a lot of forethought and a lot of time, and the administration of a Gentoo system is a bit of a labour of love as a result. It's arguable that the effort is worthwhile since what you get is a more optimal system, but I've reached the point in my life where I can look at the Gentoo install process—that I've done many many times in my life by this point—and, being honest with myself, say that I don't have time for it. If maintaining servers was my job and I needed a one-size-fits-all solution for linux on an IT infrastructure, I might turn to Gentoo linux and fine-tune a configuration then automate it later. The larger scale would make the optimization worthwhile, and it could have a tremendous effect organization-wide, but for just my apartment and just my file sharing and web hosting needs, it's really just too much.

By this time, I've become very familiar with Ubuntu linux, as well, and I really like it. I use the netbook remix version on my eeepc and I have a VM on my mac that runs Ubuntu Desktop for testing purposes. Also, Leila uses Ubuntu linux. Biscuit, being set up three years ago when I loved Gentoo a lot more, was the odd one out. Well, no more!

Okay I've procrastinated for long enough. I'm gonna do this! Wish me luck, space cadets.