Build or buy a server cluster.

Being quite old now (relatively) I have now been through several PCs. My first custom build, a rebuild, and several other pcs that have made their way into my collection. They are all previous generation intel Pentium 4’s and Celerons. They litter corners of rooms, lofts, cupboard, and garages. The question is what to do with them?

At first I did some research to see what it would take to remove the motherboards and turn them into a single rack server cluster. I figured I could buy some rack server cases, build my own rack out of MDF, and then network them all together.

The next question would be – why?

Well, why not, they’re just sitting there doing nothing except gathering dust. I could use them as a lab to experiment with distributed computing, or a file server, or to host web-based applications, and who knows, might even get a processing boost for processor intensive tasks (assuming they are suitable for distributive computing). And just because, server clusters and having a personal rack mounted servers are cool.

However, after a bit of shopping around I learned that it would cost me about £150-£200 to refit each computer into a server case. £70-100 for a case, 4-5 silent fans, a smaller silent 478 socket cpu fan, RAM upgrades, and possibly PSU upgrades to fit into the 2U server cases. Would it be worth the cost? Unfortunately no. The old P4’s and Celeron PCs are very inefficient in modern terms, they’re noisy, they run hotter and need extra cooling, and they’re slow, much too slow for modern software requirements.

In comparison, a cheap Intel i3 motherboard would cost £35-50 and an i3 processor would cost about £80. The workhorse i3 processor is faster and more efficient than the old Pentium 4’s. And for the same price of refitting an old PC I could have a new one instead. Sure there may be some additional costs for a new pc but not much, just some RAM I believe.

Now consider the cost of a new i3 computer, built from scratch would cost me in the region of £200-300. Much better value for money than converting an old pc into a rack mounted server. It would have better performance, compatibility with modern software and peripherals i.e. USB 3.0, HDMI, and of course more energy efficient.

After a bit more research (all this research took up several hours of my Saturday morning), I came across this:

d54250wyktop

The Intel “Next Unit of Computing” or NUC. It’s small, it supports Intel i3 or i5 processors, it’s tiny, it’s energy efficient, it’s quiet, and it’s affordable – costing just £250-300 for a barebones unit. A stack of these NUC’s, or hooking them up to TV’s and monitors dotted around the house – the latter being infinitely more practical, networked together and you have a home server cluster with plenty of processing power.

In terms of value, there doesn’t seem to be any in re-using old Pentium 4 computers, which is a shame. I guess the only thing you can really do is send them off for recycling. I wonder if they have those cash for old electronics schemes for old Pentium 4 computers.

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