Server or Gaming Machine (or Both)
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Feature Article
Server or Gaming Machine (or Both)

June 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

I have been trying to plan my next computer. I am wondering if I should build one or two computers. The main reason is networking. I plan to network all my computers. So far that includes my in-law's and my sister-in-law's computers, my wife's laptop and my computer that will go to the kids. Since I will definitely build myself another computer after building my house, that is 5 computers on a network.

The Network

Currently I have two computers networked together. I initially networked them together with a CAT 5 crossover cable. It was the most inexpensive solution at the time, but this did not work very well. More and more, if a problem came up on one computer both computers needed to be reboot to get everything working again.

To eliminate the problems I bought a Router/HUB to share the internet connection. I still share resources between the computers; disc space and the printer from the desktop.

Things are much better now, and I plan to expand this network to all the computers. But I wonder how important it is to have a true server on such a small network.

Server And Gaming Machine

If I build one computer should I build it as a regular gaming PC with Win 9X, or should I consider the crash protection of Windows 2000 Professional. With Win 2K I might lose some driver support and game compatibility. With Win 9X I may have trouble letting my machine act as a "server" of resources to everyone else.

I plan to have plenty of disc space on my "server." Even if that server is my own computer. I want to setup a network that would have all the computers using central disc space for easy backups. Ideally I would create shares on my disc, one share for every computer's My Documents folder. This way I could backup everyone's data with little or no trouble.

If my main machine is the server to all the workstations will Win 9X be reliable enough to to act as a server, albeit a simple one. Probably not. This means I would either need to load Windows 2000 Professional and lose some functionality, or build a dedicated server.

Server Or Gaming Machine

What about building a dedicated server? I could build a cheap server and run NT or Linux on it. It would not need to be a super fast machine. After all it would act as a file and printer server, and maybe a domain server that everyone would log onto. It would have a lot of disc storage, and some device for backups (tape or CD-RW). It would also have all my printers attached. If running NT 4.0 I would have to use the parallel port to network my HP P1000 Photo Printer (a USB device that also has a parallel interface), since NT 4.0 does not have USB support.

By building a dedicated server I could build a Win 9X gaming machine for my main machine. At this point I would just wonder if the network and server could feed data to my main machine fast enough that I could keep most data on the server. This would reduce the disc capacity needs on the gaming machine.

I have copies of Windows NT 4.0 Server & Workstation. I also have Windows 2000 Professional. However, I do not know how much server capabilities are in Windows 2000 Professional if loaded to a machine that will act as a dedicated server with 5 or more clients. I know NT 4.0 does not have USB support for my printer.

Mail Server

Ultimately I want to setup a mail server. Unfortunately I don't think this will be possible. Even if I registered a domain name, I don't think my ISP would let me be the host of that domain from my house. That sucks, especially for mail servers. This would not hurt the ISP in any way, unlike a guy that sets up a porn web server. However, I don't think a distinction can be made between allowing a mail server and allowing any kind of server.

The reason for setting up a mail server is so that your mail follows you if you go from one machine to another (in my private network). If my server ran Exchange and collected everyone's mail, then I could configure the workstations with Outlook to read mail directly off the server. When you go to another machine your profile would still connect you to the  Exchange server and the same mail box. Cool.

If anyone has experience using Exchange in this manner I would greatly appreciate it if you could let me know if it is possible to use Exchange to collect mail from various sources and route the mail to the appropriate "user" on the network, no matter what workstation the user was on.

Raid

I was hoping to give IDE RAID a try. I don't want to spend a ton of money on SCSI. I don't think I need that kind of performance for keeping copies of My Documents folders and storing MP3, JPEG, etc. Would IDE RAID provide enough of a performance boost in such a small network to justify its cost, or is this overkill for my needs? What kind of performance can I expect from IDE RAID on a Win 9x machine?

Conclusion

Actually this is not the conclusion. I still don't know what to do. I would like to build two machines, but that would cost much more than building one machine. Will I be able to run a server and gaming machine in one computer? What would it take to get e-mail the way I want it?

Too many questions, not enough answers. Does anyone have any experience with this kind of networking?

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