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Old 05-06-2013, 08:43 AM   #1
kyle62
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Rackmount PCs/old servers for live recording...

Ok, I'm currently assembling a live recording 'tower of power' in a wheeled ATA rack case. The idea being to have a live mixing desk, interface and tracking PC all in one handy box (as well as a few drawers of mics and cables).


I'm not a fan of laptops at all - tiny, underpowed, overpriced little things.

So I'm thinking of either buying a cheap used server, or a rackmount case for one of my existing ATX PCs. I can get a cheap little 15" LCD for 15 or so and keep it in a rack drawer or something, none of that is a big problem.


Every time I see this question posted, I see people saying they're 'completely unsuitable for audio work'...but with little to no justification.

The obvious problem is cooling - the smaller form factors have lots of small, high speed fans which understandably make a lot more noise than a larger, slower one in a consumer case. I have an XLR multicore stagebox, so I can keep the computer some distance from the recording area with no issues...so noise is not an issue. Also, a larger 4U case would be enough to fit standard CPU coolers and fans, or even my watercooling system, making it no louder than a typical desktop.

Obviously they give off a fair bit of heat too, but since this is by design I really don't see it being an issue. I'll probably leave at least 1U of space either side for maximum heat dissipation anyway.


Other than that, I don't see any problem with using an old server as a rack recording system.....any thoughts?



Just to give you an idea of value....on eBay you can easily get an old Proliant or Poweredge server for around 30-60 with these kind of specs:

- 2x dual-core 3ghz Xeon CPUs (similar to Core 2 Duo)
- 3GB DDR2 RAM
- 5x 72gb hard drives (RAID array)
- Dual PSUs
- Multiple cooling fans
- Solid metal rackmount chassis with lock

For tracking up to 16 channels of audio at 24/48k, I think four 3ghz cores is way more than enough power....for 30 you really can't complain.




Pros:

- Rackmount form factor
- Multiple CPUs
- Support for huge amounts of RAM
- High-speed HDDs (generally 15000rpm), usually in a RAID array for high performance and data backup
- Extremely high durability and reliability
- Very decent specs for dirt cheap

Cons:

- Very noisy compared to typical desktop
- Generates quite a bit of heat
- Considerably less I/O like USB ports etc
- Little space for PCI cards etc
- Expensive to repair/replace
- Older CPU architecture
- SCSI hard drives and EEC memory are more expensive to replace



Anyone with experience in this field want to chip in?
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Last edited by kyle62 : 05-06-2013 at 08:44 AM.
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Old 05-06-2013, 08:58 AM   #2
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The biggest problem I see is that server CPU's and Memory are designed with stability and error reduction as the primary aim. What this means is that they will be slower than their consumer counterparts because of all the extra error checking they do.
I would like to know why you list multiple CPU's as a pro rather than a con though. Having two dual cores means there is more distance to travel between them so that would make them (marginally) slower than a quad core, not to mention it's a second point of failure. I mean, sure it can run on 1 CPU (or it should be able to) but you'll also lose half the memory you have available.
Remember to think about failure when dealing with RAID. A RAID 1 array of those would be likely no faster (unless it's one of those fancy RAID chips that can read from all drives in the array giving you 5x read speeds), A RAID 0 array would have 5 times the chance of losing your data. I would guess that with 5 drives it's probably a RAID 5 or 6 array, but remember the more components you have the more likely they are to fail. Especially when we're talking older hardware.
Then again at the price you can hardly complain
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Old 05-06-2013, 09:03 AM   #3
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There are a few issues that I could see arising.

1. Does this server come with an OS (operating system)? if so it would be a server OS, and your DAW/software may not be compatible with it. If not, then you will need to purchase an OS and that cost will make the price go up.

2. Drivers for the hardware on the server, may be in compatible if you end up with a OS like windows 7 / 8. That hardware was made for a server, and will probably only have drivers that are made for server operating systems. I could see that being an issue.

3. I could be wrong, but windows 7 will only allow for 1 CPU, so the other would not been seen by the OS

Overall I think it would be way more trouble than its worth.

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Old 05-06-2013, 10:06 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BeeScreamer
There are a few issues that I could see arising.

1. Does this server come with an OS (operating system)? if so it would be a server OS, and your DAW/software may not be compatible with it. If not, then you will need to purchase an OS and that cost will make the price go up.

2. Drivers for the hardware on the server, may be in compatible if you end up with a OS like windows 7 / 8. That hardware was made for a server, and will probably only have drivers that are made for server operating systems. I could see that being an issue.

3. I could be wrong, but windows 7 will only allow for 1 CPU, so the other would not been seen by the OS

Overall I think it would be way more trouble than its worth.

Windows 7 Pro and upwards can take advantage of multiple CPUs, I believe.

To be honest the chances are I'll be using a Linux distro with Ardour (or maybe even Mixbus) for this PC anyway.



I'll probably be using RAID 6...the performance of server-class drives is generally good anyway so I'd rather go for maximum redundancy.



That said, right now I'm leaning towards a 4U ATX rack case I can fit one my existing PCs into, just to simplify things.
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Old 05-06-2013, 10:33 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chatterbox272
The biggest problem I see is that server CPU's and Memory are designed with stability and error reduction as the primary aim. What this means is that they will be slower than their consumer counterparts because of all the extra error checking they do.


I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you or trying to start a massive debate but Avid does recommend either an HP Z800 for Windows or a Mac Pro for Pro Tools HD which both run on Xeon processors. I'd find it a little hard to believe that Avid would want their top-end program to run on a processor that's slower than its consumer counterpart unless they did a lot of optimization specifically for the Xeon processors (which could easily be true).

Like I said, not trying to start a massive debate, just pointing out something.
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Old 05-06-2013, 10:41 AM   #6
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I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you or trying to start a massive debate but Avid does recommend either an HP Z800 for Windows or a Mac Pro for Pro Tools HD which both run on Xeon processors. I'd find it a little hard to believe that Avid would want their top-end program to run on a processor that's slower than its consumer counterpart unless they did a lot of optimization specifically for the Xeon processors (which could easily be true).

Like I said, not trying to start a massive debate, just pointing out something.

Yeah totally valid point, I didn't know that. I would think maybe it might be something to do with the accuracy? but you could be well and truly right I don't know.
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Old 05-06-2013, 10:54 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by chatterbox272
Yeah totally valid point, I didn't know that. I would think maybe it might be something to do with the accuracy? but you could be well and truly right I don't know.


I don't know either. I don't have access to anything with a Xeon processor unless I wanna make up with an old friend running an 8-core dual Xeon setup (He does 3D Modeling so he needs the power). Though at 30-60 for a decent setup like that, even if it ran at a Core 2 Duo speed, I think he'd be fine for live tracking.
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Old 05-06-2013, 11:15 AM   #8
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You guys are off the mark on a few points. The ECC overhead is like 1-3% performance loss, and thats only if the CPU isnt doing any work on error checking, which these days, it probably will be.

As for Avids recommendation, of course they're going to recommend consumer hardware, I doubt hardly anyone runs it on server hardware; doesn't mean you shouldn't do it or that you'll have issues.
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Old 05-07-2013, 12:51 AM   #9
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ECC is not an issue in any way for performance mainly just cost related
we only have ECC on are muilt cpu xeon machines ( the mother board seem to require it )

Don't touch Old Gear it's not about the Single number CPU Ghz it's about the whole
package.

i7 cpu is Faster GHZ 8 cores is cool, but it's the rest of the motherboard that give you most of the speed.

Faster Ram speed ( this is a Major bottle neck in old computers and still is today as cpu cores are going up )

Faster Harddisk standards SATA 3 ( there is no reason to get SSD hardrive if you Don't have Sata 3 ,.we have a machines with Sata 2 PCI cards that are SLOW,... compared to the SSD Drives using the Sata 3 standard)

USB 3 is just unbelievable ( the first time you use it you WILL transfer 2 or 3 times just to make sure )

then there's graphic card standards No big for recording but still an issue

PLUS you have very limited upgrade paths when product "X" comes out next year.

I work in 3D and we get a new computer every 6 to 12 months the Jump in speed is always related to the WHOLE package NOT just the CPU.

Check out the drop in speed (or increase in TIME to render using different hardware ) Here
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Old 05-07-2013, 01:59 AM   #10
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I'm pretty sure I've seen some guy build a custom Hackintosh in a rack form factor. In fact, considering doing that myself. So maybe it is somehow possible to custom build a computer this way without server components?
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Old 05-07-2013, 02:22 AM   #11
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you can build new computer inside OLD server rack cases Very cool infact
BUT all the internal components should be new ( maybe save the power supply there pretty good on servers )
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Old 05-07-2013, 02:27 AM   #12
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http://www.amazon.com/Logisys-Black...ds=rack+pc+case

Looks like they come straight out of the box too. Really might just go for this...
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Old 05-07-2013, 05:55 AM   #13
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http://www.amazon.com/Logisys-Black...ds=rack+pc+case

Looks like they come straight out of the box too. Really might just go for this...


Nice find! That is very tempting...
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Old 05-07-2013, 01:17 PM   #14
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Posted this in the computer thread but thought you guys may have some answers too:


Been thinking about using a rackmount form factor for one of my computers. So far I've learned that one of the primary rack form factor is known as 4U. But these are all pretty bulky. Are there other chassis that are slimmer?

Or at least, what's a really good 4U case? Also why is it called 4U?
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Old 05-07-2013, 01:18 PM   #15
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Nice find! That is very tempting...

Yeah, I've been looking at this one....

http://www.ebuyer.com/134806-4u-bla...-hdd-slots-4-up

4U is at least as big as a normal ATX case so I reckon I'll have plenty of room for my graphics card, water cooling radiator etc. Certainly beats lugging round my enormous NZXT Phantom case that looks like something a Stormtrooper would piss in.
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Old 05-07-2013, 02:00 PM   #16
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Also why is it called 4U?


It is a unit of measurement for Racks, and the U is for Rack Unit (ie. 4 Rack Units). Basically 3 screw holes in a rack makes 1U which IIRC is roughly 2 inches high. From there you can start planning your rack space in an easy to use standard.
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Old 05-07-2013, 02:26 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by BeeScreamer
It is a unit of measurement for Racks, and the U is for Rack Unit (ie. 4 Rack Units). Basically 3 screw holes in a rack makes 1U which IIRC is roughly 2 inches high. From there you can start planning your rack space in an easy to use standard.




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