cheap high perf HW

Thomas Waldmann @ EuroPython 2018

moar power wanted!

  • have a powerful development machine
  • test on all operating systems / platforms:
    • linux, BSDs, macOS, OpenIndiana, Windows
    • test on misc. releases of these
    • 64 bit and maybe some 32bit also
    • little endian and big endian (e.g. ppc qemu)
    • use vagrant and VMs on a powerful machine
  • experiment with multi-server setups using VMs

used workstation / server

  • workstation class hardware is usually rather expensive (2K - 10K EUR) -- except when you buy refurbished!
  • workstation:
    • high performance PC for workplace, Tower
    • few disks, many PCIe slots, may be quiet
  • server:
    • rather for computing center, 19" rack mount
    • many disks, PCIe slots?, may be loud
  • often better build quality than PC hardware
  • find the sweet performance / price spot:
    • might be ivy bridge (4yo) or
    • sandy bridge (5yo)
    • (as of 2018, subject to change...)

DELL T3610

DELL T3610 Mainboard

DELL T7610 Mainboard


  • S2011(-0) machines come for 1, 2, 4 Xeon CPUs
  • Ivy Bridge "E5-[124]6xx v2" Xeons (~4yo):
    • price new, back then:  ~ 250 .. 2500 EUR
    • price used, now:  ~ 20 .. 400 EUR
    • few cores, highest clock (4c 3.7 GHz, 6c 3.5 GHz)
    • medium cores, high clock (8c 3.3 GHz)
    • many cores, medium clock (12c 2.7 GHz)
    • check CPU cache size, it's important
  • Sandy Bridge "v1" Xeons (~5yo) even cheaper
  • S2011 Xeons take DDR3 ECC/reg memory DIMMs

CPU: Xeon E5-2667v2

RAM, lots of it!

  • DDR4 is expensive right now (>10EUR/GB)
  • used DDR3 ECC/reg is cheap (<2.5EUR/GB)
  • used servers and workstations take DDR3 ECC/reg
    (you can not use ECC/reg memory in a normal PC)
  • S2011-0:
    • 4 RAM channels per CPU
    • 8+ DIMM sockets per CPU
    • so 64, 128 or more GB are possible / affordable
  • ECC is nice, no worries about undetected / uncorrected memory errors

RAM: DDR3 ECC/reg.


  • older machines need a SATA device to boot
  • for a higher performance extra device, use:
    • a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot to M.2 NVME adapter card
    • a fast M.2 PCIe NVME SSDs (like Samsung Pro 970)
    • great for vagrant, docker or other busy FS
    • workstations usually have quite some PCIe slots with many PCIe lanes (unlike PC hw)
  • for even more performance, there are:
    • PCIe 3.0 x16 slot to 4x M.2 NVME adapter cards
    • but they require PCIe bifurcation support in BIOS and hardware (so x16 slot == x4 x4 x4 x4)
    • this is rare and often badly documented

SSDs: M.2 NVME PCIe x4

Power consumption

  • Recent CPUs are better with power saving
    (but new machines are expensive / need DDR4).
  • Ivy Bridge is already decent (22nm), while
  • Sandy Bridge draws more power for less performance


  • If you need it 24/7 on, newer is maybe better.
  • If you need it now and then, doesn't matter much.
  • Use Wake-on-LAN (WoL) to power it on when needed, even from remote (ssh).
  • high TDP, high load = hot and loud




  • refurbished workstation class laptops
  • e.g. Lenovo Thinkpads (W or P series)
  • there are some 4core machines (Xeon or i7-xxxxQM)
  • workstation laptops might have 4 DIMM sockets,
    so usually up to 32GB with DDR3.
  • usually only SATA SSDs here except for very recent machines.


By Thomas Waldmann


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