Planet Fox > Computer World > The MAINFRAME > Parts, Assembly, and the Nwtwork

Parts, Assembly, and the Network


I had an ancient ACC "Nile" router from circa 1993 that I'd bought for $5, mainly for the sturdy aluminum enclosure. After removing the electronics I had plenty of room to build a new server. I had to saw out a section of the back to make room for one of those snap-in I/O plates, and install self-tapping spacers to attach a mainboard to. It already had a case fan, and 3.5" bay that would fit a hard disc, for some reason.

I got all of the parts from Newegg, Amazon, and eBay, and altogether I think it ended up costing me less than $200. It's built on a tiny micro-ITX mainboard from ASRock. The board isn't ideal, since it has onboard graphics and sound, which I don't really need since the only connection this machine will have is to the network. But hey, the price was right, at $50, which included the CPU.

Since I don't really plan on upgrading this thing or really messing with it at all for at least ten years or so, and since it will be running 24/7 I wanted it to be as cool, quiet and reliable as possible. The CPU is an AMD e240 clocked at 1500 MHz, a low-power 64 bit processor that runs cool enough that it doesn't require a huge fan or elaborate cooling. To complete the mainboard, all I had to buy was memory. I went with a single 1GB DIMM of DDR2-1066 RAM from my favorite memory manufacturer, Hynix. There's still an open slot, so I can add more if the need arises. The power supply is a micro-mini design meant for cash registers, etc... that outputs up to about 200W and only cost $29.

I wanted mondo reliability when it came to storage, since that would be it's primary function. The mainboard didn't have a built in RAID controller, but FreeBSD has provisions to setup software RAID, so I'll discuss that later. Storage consists of two server-grade Hitachi Ultrastar discs, 1TB each, with a SATA 3Gb/s interface running at 7200 RPM. They only cost me $58 each, because I am a bargain hunter. The mainboard included a single Realtek gigabit ethernet connection, but I wanted two so I added another one via the PCI-express slot. The only slot available was a 16-lane (meant for video cards, etc...) but forunately you can insert a single lane PCI-express card and it will work fine.

My only regret is that I didn't get a mainboard with at least one 32-bit PCI slot and that my case doesn't have a 5" drive bay. I backup everything to tape, because no one has ever made a hard drive that I fully trust, and writable CDs/DVDs don't last very long. Of course this doesn't mean I can't back it up to tape, it just means that I have to do it from my desktop, which is only slightly annoying.


Since I'm in the middle of the internet backwater, my phone company is still using G.dmt first generation DSL hardware, and I'm still using the same Alcatel DSL modem I bought in 1999. According to the phone company, I'll be getting ADSL2+ shortly after Satan begins ordering antifreeze, so it looks like I'll be using it for some time to come. On the plus side, I have never had an outage in the entire 15 years I've had DSL.

Previously I'd been using a cheap D-Link wired router and an elaborate system of access points for connection sharing, this wasn't really that reliable, so the first thing I did was order a new 16 port gigabit switch from TP Link, and a WS-1000 wireless switch with four AP-300 access points from Motorola/Symbol.

The WS-1000 is a type of managed switch that provides six fast ethernet ports, four of which can supply PoE. The AP-300 access points are multiband APs with support for 802.11a/b/g and encryption up to WPA2/PSK. The access points are entirely powered and controlled by the switch, making them a snap to configure and administer. The switch has a built in web GUI based on Java that lets you configure every aspect of the system, even individual transmit levels for each radio on each AP. I actually thought about setting up RADIUS, since the switch supports it, but since I live in the sticks that's probably overkill, even for me. I am still really paranoid though, so my pre-shared key is a 64-digit random hexadecimal number.

The TP Link gigabit switch forms the backbone of my network. Each room in my house has two Cat 5 jacks that terminate at a patch panel in the middle of the basement. Only a few of those go to computers, most are connected to things like printers, satellite receivers, projector, DVD player, etc... These days pretty much everything has a network connection. I'm currently using 10 ports, which means I'll have plenty of room to add more gear later. It has auto MDI/X and supports 10/100/1000 so I can essentially plug anything into it and it will work.

The MAINFRAME has two network cards, one of which will be connected to my ancient DSL modem, the other to the switch. The MAINFRAME will act as a router, forwarding packets between my network and the internet, as a firewall keeping unwanted connections out, and will also be responsible for assigning IP addresses to network devices.

Sudden losses of power and power surges are very, very hard on computer hardware. All of the networking hardware, the server, and the DSL modem are powered through a 500W uninterruptable power supply from APC. My power goes out pretty often, so the UPS will keep everything running for the 30 or so seconds it takes for the generator to start.

Powered by FreeBSD
Valid HTML 4.01
Site Map
©MMIX-MMXIV Planet Fox