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I've been asked whats the cheapest/easiest/most reliable way to use Linux as a webserver/mysql DB machine. Is it going to be buying a really old PC and putting Linux on it or what i'd rather do is get one of these SBC (single board computers) to cut down on cost and just house it in a casing. This is going to sit on an ethernet network and be UPS'd up. But i'm just wondering from a hardware point of view what people would/have done?

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Using an old PC for a low-computing-power application is often a false economy. You're likely to have to do a lot of maintenance as part fail (and direct costs to replace these parts if you can't find spares). You'll also be using ~100W of power where a single-board computer might use ~10W.

If you already have an always-on modern PC, and your application doesn't need to be physically separate, running it in a virtual machine is the cheapest solution. Failing that, go for an ARM-based appliance (usually ends up cheaper than Intel, especially if electricity is expensive in your locale).

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If you use an old PC it is more likely to fail at some point because of its age. If it is not very heavy work what you are going to do on it then I would suggest an atom nettop like the acer aspire revo or the msi wind box. They are cheap, I've got one running here also (debian, motion webcam server). Maybe you could look at a VPS, those are also not more than 10-20 dollars/month. You then don't have the power cost.

Overall Linux runs fine on almost everything, but if you want reliable hardware then I would suggest something modern (with warranty :P)

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PC engines have very nice embedded boards: pcengines.ch/alix.htm . I have a good experience with the alix3d3 – Raymii Dec 2 '10 at 6:36

If you do want to use an old PC, get 2 with the same specs. You not only can use them in a redundant mirrored mode, but you can replace parts from the others to keep 1 running if (or when) failures occur.

to be fair, I've only seen failures from HDDs generally. Old PCs just keep on running, but I have had a motherboard fail on me once in all my years of playing with old PC kit. RAM has never failed, nor has a graphics card. You'll want to RAID your HDDs, and run with relatively modern units.

Otherwise, if you're buying new or need reliability/support, it's probably better to go with the other answers given: ARM or Atom based mini/htpc style PCs.

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