Ye Old Laptop as a Server
Configuration is everything in a server. To milk some more speed from your server, you will want to configure it to your needs. Turn off all server modules you don't plan to use. Apache limits the number of users that can connect to the server at one time to around 5,000 clients. For a laptop with such limited capacities as the one used in this article, you most likely will want to lower this to 500–1,000 clients, depending on what kind of content you will be serving. For best results, eliminate unneeded features from the SQL Server and languages such as PHP, Python, Ruby or Perl, by recompiling from source, if need be.
SQL Servers can be resource hogs, so if you want to extract the most speed from your computer, you should configure the SQL Server to your needs. Both PostgreSQL and MySQL have pages on speed optimization on their Web sites (see Resources). In addition to functioning as Web servers, old laptops are great Voice-over-IP servers as well.
TeamSpeak is proprietary VoIP software that works similarly to a telephone conference call. Like IRC, users connect to a TeamSpeak server and join different chat channels. Its primary target audience is gamers, but it can be used for meetings and discussions or just to chat. Unlike Asterisk, TeamSpeak was designed for networked computer-to-computer voice calls, and it does not interact with the SIP protocol or any type of phone. It has similarities to IRC, such as channel administrators, protected channels and voiced channels. TeamSpeak can give various abilities and privileges to clients, ranging from server administrators who control the way the server or channel operates to anonymous users who have no privileges and can only chat.
The TeamSpeak Web site explains that the current game communication services, such as Roger Wilco or Microsoft's GameVoice, did not fulfill the creators' needs. Some of the primary problems with these services are the lack of Linux compatibility and the issues with high-bandwidth utilization and routers. The TeamSpeak server, however, runs with surprisingly low system requirements—a minimum of 32MB of RAM and a 100MHz CPU. With TeamSpeak on a laptop, you can have a LAN party and move from house to house to improve team communication while playing games such as Warsow, Tremulous or even console games. Another possibility is to meet with a few people at someone's house and have a meeting over the Internet with a few others around the planet.
Installing TeamSpeak on Xubuntu, Vector Linux and DSL was a piece of cake. I downloaded the server from its Web site, but ran into some dependency problems. I then stumbled across a how-to on the site that gave me a link to a version on an FTP site and included dependencies.
In the Open Source world, myriad choices exist. The tests performed in this article cover different file sizes on two different Web servers running on three different Linux distributions.
The winner for the 1MB file tests is Lighttpd on Vector Linux. The transaction rate was an average of ten transactions per second and a throughput of 9.7MB per second. Damn Small Linux came in second place with an average of 9.3 transactions per second and a throughput of 9MB per seconds.
The competition for the 5KB file resulted in a tie between Apache on DSL and Lighttpd on Vector Linux. Both Lighttpd and Apache had average transaction rates of 14.2 transactions per second on Vector Linux and DSL, respectively. Throughput was the same for Apache on DSL as it was for Lighttpd on Vector Linux, weighing in at 0.07MB per second.
So, with all the different options and servers, making a selection boils down to three criteria: your machine, your needs and your abilities. When it comes to servers, Apache is an 800-pound gorilla that can do almost anything. Its extensibility through a variety of modules has made it the most common Web server on the market. If you're not looking to run a hosting service for Web developers on a laptop, Lighttpd's smaller size and simplicity could fill the bill. When it comes to Linux distributions, the three factors to take into consideration are size, simplicity and speed. If you are looking for speed, explore Vector Linux. If ease and simplicity are your highest priorities, try Xubuntu. If space is a problem, consider Damn Small Linux.
If you want a the fastest Web server that is also mobile, combine TeamSpeak with Lighttpd on Vector Linux. If you want to display LAN-party score results or serve pictures and short videos while maintaining communication with teammates anywhere in the world, or if you want to have a central meeting place and wiki or content management system with a few people around the globe, then Lighttpd, TeamSpeak and Vector Linux are right for the job.
Even though they have slower hardware, old laptops definitely can be used in place of desktops—so long as you don't expect very heavy loads. Figure out your priorities of speed, simplicity and size in distributions; then simplicity or speed in servers; and finally, simplicity, frugality and speed in VoIP. Resurrect ye old laptop, blow off the dust, and give it new purpose in life.
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