Where CPU power matters, and where it does not

The other day, I was thinking about 3 systems, 2 with modest specifications, and 1 system with great specs.

A 2009 desktop old Vista-class class core 2 duo 4GB RAM 120GB SSD

A 2018 netbook Celeron CPU (more like an Atom) 4GB RAM 64GB eMMC

A 2016 laptop core i7 with 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD

It would not be a difficult quiz were the object to identify the good system vs the bad one. Hint: it’s the i7.

However, I have learned that some tasks run quite well on limited hardware.

The 2009 desktop was never designed to run with 4GB of RAM and a 120GB SSD from my junkpile, but they certainly have the effect of speeding up the system. This machine, running Fedora Linux, is a VPN server, a file server, a web server, a database server, and can play back 1080p video beautifully over a DVI connection.

The 2018 netbook which costs less than US$200 new, is essentially a Chromebook case with modest Wintel guts. Its CPU is called a Celeron, but given its clock speed and meagre 2 cores, it may as well be an Atom. And yet, this netbook is able to run Fedora Linux and Windows 10 Pro, quite well. It can even run Photoshop.

I have tried to run virtual machine emulation under both of these systems. Even with a stripped-down OS installer, the results were not pretty. For some applications, specs matter.

Although I have not yet spent serious time with a Raspberry Pi device, the full support in Fedora 29 has made me take a serious look at the platform. I predict results similar to those on the systems I described earlier.

Of course, if you throw good specs at a problem, like a recent laptop with a core i7, 8 cores, 16GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD, a lot of other things are possible. I am able to run multiple virtual machines under KVM, and have had a situation where a Linux guest was connected to one VPN, a Windows guest was connected to another, and the main desktop (“baremetal computer”) was on the main network connection, not even slowing down while the virtual machine guests did their work.

A recent sighting of a 13″ MSI and a sale for a Dell XPS 13 made me long for a small, but powerful computer. However, for travel, all I need is that little netbook. In theory, it would be fun to virtualize a few server environments for portable LAMP development, but I have been exploring “containers” like Docker that will allow me to isolate the systems with different PHP/MySQL versions without the overhead of a full virtual machine.

So the question is not whether you need more power. The question is how much power do you need for a specific use?

The containers thing is getting important – my goal will be to build 2 containers – one with mysql and php 5.x, and one with mysql and php 7.x

The Linux dialup WIFI server, part 1

My mother has a great cottage on a lake. There is no cell phone service for a few kilometers around. There is a landline. There is a form of rural data wireless that is often down. Thus the need for a dialup wifi server as a backup, for when rural data wireless service is unavailable. Too slow for web surfing, but enough for email and texting. This seems like a perfect task for Linux. After all, Linux is usually a good foundation for web servers, email servers, vpn servers, file share servers, voip servers, and more.

I started this project last year, and found that although Windows could drive the built-in 56K modem on a circa 2009 laptop, Linux could not. Fortunately, I have a US Robotics USB 56K modem, which is recognized by Linux.  I got as far as a dialup connection without DNS.

This year I learned how to override some settings in wvdial to enable dns. So i was able to surf on fedora 28 via dialup. However, I was unable to share the connection via the GUI networkmanager.

To explain why, let me tell you a few stories:

I should point out that sharing a connection like this is something that Windows can do without breaking a sweat. I first installed such a gateway, albeit dialup shared as a NAT over wired Ethernet, on a Windows 98 box in 1999.

Last year (2017), while on vacation at a hotel with a 2 device limit, I confronted the dilemma: how does one choose between a laptop, an iPad, and 2 cell phones? Answer: use a laptop with a second wifi adapter to provide a repeated hotspot under my control.

NetworkManager on Gnome 3 on Fedora offered to share a wired Ethernet connection as a local WIFI hotspot, but was unable to do other permutations — like a second wifi on usb sharing a first wifi connection to hotel wifi. Fortunately, the machine was able to dual-boot into Windows and share the  hotel wifi via a second wifi usb adapter.

Back to the Linux dialup wifi server project.

It would seem that I must configure hostapd, in order to create a hotspot that can share the dialup connection. I have followed the instructions, but have not succeeded so far — there are some things i can try. I find myself consulting blog posts from 2002-2011. I suppose that is the kind of deep time audience that reads these blog posts, a few at a time, in the future.

More to follow at the beginning of October when I return to the cottage to take another run at the problem. for now i will simulate the hostapd problem with a test machine here, then bring that solution to the cottage and test the integrated solution with the already-working dialup connection.

I suppose I could try to test the dialup connection via a voip analog telephone adapter device, but that seems wrong.

[edit 20180924] My brother had a somewhat similar but more successful experience in 2015: http://www.malak.ca/blog/index.php/2015/03/05/having-to-find-multiple-levels-of-internet-access-oh-fun/