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I'm manhandling my old computer with Ubuntu server and I noticed that i have an extra (old) 80 gig drive. The machine has 8 gigs of ram and its pretty ancient (i7-860 processor) and I was wondering if there was any benefit or drawback to having that drive as dedicated swap. my use case for this server will likely often be running very intensive code (machine learning crap that can easily fill the 8 gigs). from the several similar questions I saw it seems that mostly it wont help because you don't need more memory, but I'm pretty sure i need more memory and I'm not sure whether it will slow down normal operation

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Technically, you can. Keep in mind, though, that if the drive is too slow, it will possibly slow down your whole system as it will take some time to write and read on it, and if you have to rely on your swap, there can be a lot of reads and writes.

Check out this answer for some related info : https://superuser.com/questions/834588/create-linux-swap-on-external-usb-3-hard-drive

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