Ultimate Linux Box 2005
Cases capable of accommodating and doing justice to Ultimate Linux Boxes are rare. This year, only one alternative would work: going full custom. This year's case has acrylic windows to show off the cooling system, integrated supports for the three Reserators and a mounting place for the RME Multiface.
Difficult as it might be for us to believe right now, many real-world systems don't need both 52-channel audio and Fibre Channel. But unusual combinations of hardware are what enable creative projects, and we're happy that Linux stays out of our way and lets us hook up what we want.
When you start with what's possible and take out what you don't need, you'll be confident that you can build a machine for your needs. We hope that whatever class of system you decide to build, you'll get some ideas out of this year's Ultimate Linux Box.
Ultimate Linux Box 2005 Parts List
Motherboard: Tyan Thunder K8QS Pro (S4882)
CPUs: 4 x AMD 846HE Opterons
RAM: 8 x 4GB Registered ECC Samsung DDR PC2700 CL 2.5 DIMMs
Power supply: 510W Custom harness PC Power and Cooling Turbo-Cool 510 ATX (modified)
Case: Custom, designed by Matt Fulvio, constructed by Trevor Sherard
Fibre Channel: Qlogic 2342 dual-port, 133MHz, PCI-X, 2Gb Fibre Channel adapter
Boot device: Sandisk 256MB CompactFlash card, DCFB-256-A10
Storage: nStor 4320F Fibre Channel RAID enclosure
Hard disks: 2 x 18Gb Hitachi DK32DJ-18FC 10KRPM Fibre Channel drives in a RAID 1 array (OS install) and 6 x 73Gb Seagate ST373405FC Cheetah 73LP FC 10KRPM Fibre Channel drives in a RAID 10 array
Graphics card: PNY NVIDIA Quadro NVS 280 PCI
Displays: 2 x ViewSonic VX2000 20" 1600x1200 LCD displays
Audio card: RME HDSP9652 PCI audio card
Audio I/O: RME Multiface 36-channel 24-bit 96-kHz I/O box
Cooling system: 3 x Zalman Reserator 1s.
CPU waterblocks: 4 x Zalman ZM-WB2 Gold waterblocks
P/S Cooling HW: Custom-designed and machined by Global Precision.
Hardware of the Future, Lawyers Stuck in the Past
It never fails. New products that we'd like to try in the Ultimate Linux Box come out right when we're in the middle of building this year's.
Too late to make it through our thermal testing, AMD introduced dual-core Opteron processors, which let you build an eight-way system on an existing four-socket motherboard with a BIOS upgrade. Today, that means spending $10,000 on processors, but (all together now) we expect prices to come down.
We're watching the progress of the LinuxBIOS Project (see page XX) and are planning to get a supported motherboard for next year. We know patience is a virtue, but booting in mere seconds is cool for its own sake.
This year's system sounded so nice that we'd like to do another quiet machine next year. That means we have to pick a storage technology, and added to next year's list of alternatives will be ATA over Ethernet, as covered in Ed Cashin's article in the June 2005 issue.
Video is still a weak spot, not because of hardware problems, but because of the vendors' lawyers. Everybody doing 3-D is infringing everyone else's patents, and burying the driver code behind a proprietary EULA with a no-reverse-engineering clause is only slowing the industry down. When the normal kernel development process frequently breaks the driver for commonly used hardware, that hardware needs to get with the program.
Graphics vendors, please get together, cross-license the patents for hardware, and come up with a license for software and documentation that lets developers release the new code that makes people want graphics hardware in the first place. It'll help everyone in the long run—NVIDIA maintains an entire parallel software distribution system just because of its licensing decision. Why not get that cost center out of the budget?
Pessimists will say to be “realistic” and accept the proprietary drivers. But realistically, the UNIX vendors of the mid-1990s weren't about to support Linux, either. Today, every UNIX vendor is out of business or supporting Linux. I'll put reality up against “realistic” any day.
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