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