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AMD AM2 motherboards for Linux 64-bit

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January 19, 2007 10:06:30 PM

Cross-posting in General Motherboard and Software/Linux

I have a project that needs a lightweight pre-production server running 64-bit Linux. I haven't bothered to build any 64-bit Linux machines, so I'm a little bit leery, and I'd like to hear opinions from anyone who has assembled such a system.

Background:

The software is a custom modeling and prediction application that scrutinizes traffic and shipping. It's running on an HP p-Class ProLiant Blade server, the server uses three Opteron 2-processor blades, the OS is 64-bit, but the current production version of our application is 32-bit.

We're updating the software for 64-bit and a lot more threading, but the development guys have been banished from doing testing on my production systems. Since the application tends to hog their workstations I'm building a 'test-server' for them to run their beta software on. Although I'll be building a bigger test environment this summer, right now I'm not looking for anything amazing - I just want a motherboard that can support a single dual-core AM2, 4GB of RAM, RAID 0, 5 and 10, and 3 useable PCI slots. And any PCIE video that supports 64-bit Linux.

The key here is getting 64-bit Linux running. I'm not worried about building a Linux box, but I am afraid about ordering $3,000.00 worth of parts and then going through weeks of driver hell. Our procurement and budgeting people hate it when I piecemeal a system, so my build proposal needs to be pretty finalized.

I'm skeered...

So - all you 64-bit Linux folks, what do you like, and what do you avoid?

(For everyone who is going to suggest an Intel C2D system, please don't... I love the Core 2's, I use them at work and at home, but this needs to be an Opteron build, not just because the production server is an Opteron system, but because current beta builds are gacking on EM64T...)


-- Seanreisk

P.S. And what flavor of Linux do you prefer for 64-bit? The server needs to run Apache and Oracle, but it doesn't need to do any file or print sharing.
a b 5 Linux
January 20, 2007 6:13:45 PM

Basically, I haven't heard of too much difficulty getting 64bit linux onto newer am2 systems. Nforce chipsets seem to be well-supported and have nice features, generally speaking. As for graphics, just stick with Nvidia or Intel Integrated as ATI unfortunately still lacks comparable Linux driver support. If you need sound, just use the onboard (AC'97 is well-supported, if it's something special like the newer "HD" integrated dealies, check into it first) or an older soundblaster Audigy as the newer XFI cards aren't supported (but you shouldn't need that kind of card anyway). Pretty much any other on-board stuff should be well-supported, especially if you choose one of the more popular boards.

The main thing is to find a few boards that have what you're looking for and then just make sure no real problems exist for the boards, see which is best supported, etc.

As for flavors, I have used and can vouch for the *buntus (I used Xubuntu and Ubuntu 64-bit) and I personally use a 64-bit Gentoo system, but I understand any of the prevalent distros' 64bit release is well-supported.
a b V Motherboard
a b 5 Linux
January 26, 2007 1:37:47 PM

Here's what I recommend:

1. Motherboard: Basically any AM2 motherboard will work just fine with 64-bit Linux. The units I've built with AMD CPUs in them have NVIDIA chipsets (NF4, NF 550, 570) and they work perfectly. I've not laid hands on any AMD (nee ATi) boards so I can't tell you much about them other than they'll probably work fine, but the non-IGP ones are all high-end boards that would not really be appropriate for you.

Most AM2 motherboards don't have more than 2 PCI slots. If you want 3 or more PCI slots on a production-quality board, look at a socket AM2 server board like Tyan's S2925. Even though it says that it uses socket AM2 Opterons, the AM2 Athlon 64 X2s will work fine as well.

2. If you want to run 4GB RAM, run 2 2GB sticks rather than 4 1GB ones. AM2 boards only have 4 RAM slots and filling them all up now probably won't be the wisest move. Also, the memory controller performs a little better with 2 DIMMs rather than 4.

3. If you want to run RAID on a Linux box, use md to set up a software RAID. It's much faster and configurable than motherboard-based RAID and doesn't require any add-in boards. However, RAID 5 performance using NVIDIA NForce SATA ports stinks, so I put an add-in PCI Express SATA controller into my 64-bit machine and used the SATA ports on it with md to create my RAID. Performance is excellent and drivers for SATA controllers for 64-bit Linux are plenty.

4. Any NVIDIA or ATi PCIe video card will work fine with 64-bit Linux as both vendors release 64-bit drivers that work. NVIDIA's are a little better than ATi's, but ATi's drivers still work pretty well on Linux. I had an NVIDIA 6200TC PCIe card and it worked fine, and the ATi x1900GT I replaced it with when I went to a dual-head setup works well too. The ATi card has better image quality than the NVIDIA one, but both were fine.
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