Where can I buy an $800 Linux Server?
May 10, 2007 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy a server for around $800 ($1000 as an absolute maximum). It will be hosting a website with a (PostGres) database that will start at around 4GB and grow slowly (so would like at least 2GB of RAM). It must be able run Linux, preferably Ubuntu or Debian.

I go to college in Kentucky, where I work for Radio Free Lexington. I am now home in the DC area for the next three months, during which I intend to develop a custom CMS/Radio Station Management/Playlist tracking system. The problem is, I have nothing to run or develop it on.

Before I left Kentucky, I had ordered a Dell Optiplex 320. It arrived two days before I had to leave, and what I thought would be a quick and straightforward install turned out to be extremely difficult (see this thread). Even if it is possible, I'm now out of town and can only ask the minimal effort of the person who has graciously volunteered to help me out of this mess and install the replacement machine in my absence.

So I'm looking for recommendations for a "server" (whether it is billed as such by the manufacturer is not important to me) that is comparable or better to the Optiplex machine, but is well documented as being trivially Linux compatible (no kernel patching) or ships with a Linux distribution installed. It must be something I can order in the next two weeks (I know Dell is promising Ubuntu systems... but I can't wait). Dell is not out of the running, but I'm highly suspicious now.

Here are the specs of the last machine:

P4 Processor 641 (3.20GHz, 2M, 800MHz FSB)
80GB SATA HDD (the SATA controller is actually what caused the problem, so I'm somewhat wary)
$643 before shipping.
posted by phrontist to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Dell SC430 servers are completely linux compatible... we have several, they start around $450. You'll have to install it yourself though at the moment.

Keep in mind from the specs that with the new dual core Xeon architecture, 1.86GHz is roughly equivalent to your old 3.2GHz machine.
posted by chundo at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2007

Is noise an issue? If not, then an older Compaq Proliant might be a decent choice. I ran a database server on one of them for years, and it worked great. Can't remember how much memory it had, though. I think it ran Fedora, not Ubuntu.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2007

Oh, we're running stock Ubuntu and Debian installs on them if you're wondering.
posted by chundo at 11:39 AM on May 10, 2007

Response by poster: Chundo's response looks great, we get a break from Dell, and they've currently got free upgrades on both processor and RAM options.

This machine will be in the on air room of the station, so it can't be deafeningly loud. There will be a desk and racks of equipment between it and the nearest microphone though.
posted by phrontist at 12:01 PM on May 10, 2007

If you're interested in an older Proliant or Dell, I'd suggest browsing through some of the used/corporate-surplus places; sometimes you can get some very good deals. Now, they probably won't come with support agreements, but if you're technically competent, you can use the savings in purchase price to buy some spares in advance, or get a support agreement from a local company which might be better anyway.

I have done a fair amount of business with RetroBox, now renamed Intechra Outlet, and just can't say enough good things about them. I've bought several x86 "workstations" (an HP and an IBM) and they've both worked well. Just be sure to research before you buy; they give you a fair bit of info so it's generally pretty easy to Google.

A quick search of their site shows a number of Proliants in the $300 - $600 range. Most of them would need RAM and HD upgrades, but you'd have a lot of money to work with in your budget.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2007

i was able to get compaq dl580, quad 800 xeon with 4 gigs of ram for like 300 bux on ebay a year or two ago. acpi controls are gone so that sucker is loud but it's a work horse!

another recommendation for old compaqs
posted by killyb at 1:08 PM on May 10, 2007

If you need something in the short term to develop on and are currently on a windows machine then I highly encourage you to use Windows' VirtualPC. I've stopped using the sandboxes here at work for anything except final stage validation.

My deployment is typically on Fedora rather than Ubuntu so this may be different for you, however the only issue I determined in my first setup was that the X-based install didn't recognize the video emulation correctly. Running the text-based install resolved the problem just fine. (I could have gotten the X working if I cared to figure out what params to feed it but since I prefer a text-based server anyway it didn't bother me...)

I realize this doesn't address your deployment problem but I think you'll find the simplicity for development very attractive. Once you do that initial install you can stop the virtual machine, make a backup copy of the vhd file and be able to have a clean starting point for any future development.
posted by phearlez at 2:25 PM on May 10, 2007

I ran FC for a test deployment of postgres with several gigs of data on a box not too different from the ones chundo spec'ed. no problems to speak of with the hardware config. so yeah, seconded.

also, the project sounds like a good (and useful) one. I spent my undergrad years working techside and talent/airside of a commercial-driven (but nonprofit) station...and I'm still in contact with those folks. I'd love to play with / pass along a test release. email in profile, etc etc.
posted by theoddball at 9:29 PM on May 10, 2007

If you don't think you need the very latest processor, you can get some 2 year old Dell PowerEdge servers (PE 2650, 2 x 2.3ghz Xeon) for around $800.

I'm thinking that you might like the Ultra320 SCSI drives and RAID.

I run Gentoo Linux on Dell boxes. So, Ubuntu oughta work just fine on something that's 1.5+ years old.
posted by drstein at 10:01 AM on May 11, 2007

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