Hey everyone! As I said in my previous post about this server – you can go read it here – I will try to install some OS on Neptune (this is the name I gave this server) and see where the limits are in terms of performances and real world applications. And of course, I’ll be trying to game on it !
Let’s see how it goes!
Table of Contents
- Installing Hard Drives
- Installing OS & Performances
- Linux Mint 21.1 (with Cinnamon)
- EndeavourOS (with LXQT)
- Windows Server 2008
- Windows Server 2003
- Ending Note
Installing Hard Drives
To remind you about this server, it has a total of 3 GB of DDR2 ECC RAM (with 6x 512MB sticks) and two single core Intel Xeon 3.00GHz processors (with multi-threading). The only “GPU” is some old Radeon 7000 thing with 16MB of VRAM. So, this experience will be interesting!
The first step before installing anything is to install some hard drives. This step was pretty easy to do, I found some old 250GB HDD and an extra SATA cable laying around, and decided to use these, I might upgrade them to two 500GB or, maybe, two 1TB drives later but we’ll see.
You might also notice the bit of tape on the informational LED at the front, this is because the LED is very bright and it wouldn’t stop blinking orange (although no problems could be found for now..) so I decided to hide it by putting tape on it, pretty effective if you ask me!
Installing the drives
Back to installing them! After opening the server, installation was pretty easy. I just unscrewed both drive bays with the light blue screw on the side, then slid the bays to the back of the server and it pops right out!
After popping these out, I grabbed my bag of screws and found my best 8 HDD mounting screws, because no screws were inside the server for mounting the drives. And thanks to the multiple systems I took appart in the past, I already have a nice set of screws!
Note how the hard drive are upside-down, which is the first time I installed hard drive this way, but it shouldn’t affect perfomance as they are already pretty old and rusty anyway. I also noticed that the second hard drive SATA power cable had a cute cover on it, to prevent damage when not in use. I keep getting surprised on how the server is still in a good shape after all those years, it must have been handled carefully!
To put back the bays, I just repeted the removing process backwards, sliding them back into place and then screwing the only screw and then, I just had to plug them in. I really like how the included SATA data connector is just the right length to plug in the hard drive (on the left), not more, not less, just the perfect amount of cable. As for the other SATA connector, this one I got from remiving things in old computers and I tried to cable manage it as much as possible using what was already inside the server and it fits really well!
Nothing else to do really, other than putting the lid back on and turning on the server, but before I could do that…
A cute visitor
…Something caught my eyes at my door before I could plug the server back in.. It was a cute cat, and of course I let her inside! I do not know her name, she does have a collar, but without any informations on it – please, if you put collar on your pets, make them useful! I hope she isn’t lost and her owners are in the neighborhood!
So, I just took a break from everything I was doing to pet her and watch some stuff on my Jellyfin server. I really feel like cats are the best pets for a Homelabber, except when they jump on your keyboard while you are writing a blog post I suppose!
Installing OS & Performances
Once she wanted to leave, I let her go back outside but it was starting to be pretty dark outside, dispite this, I turned on the server and tried to install Linut Mint on it.
Linux Mint 21.1 (with Cinnamon)
You might think that Linux Mint is a weird choice of OS for a machine with 3Gigs of RAM and a few CPU cores. And you might be right! But I really wanted to see if we could have a modern desktop experience on this thing!
I put Linux Mint on a USB stick, plugged it in the rear of the server and waited for it to boot up! I was able to boot Arch Linux in my previous blog post, but only in CLI, I didn’t know if Xorg would accept to launch on this hardware… But it did launch! And to my suprise, it defaulted to 1080p too!
The performances however.. weren’t great at all, it was really laggy at 1080p so I scaled it down to 800×600 which made thing a little bit better, enough to install the OS and check that the drives were detected, and they were!
I started installing the OS and it went pretty smoothly, it took its time to install but it was expected, and after a bit of time I rebooted, removed the USB stick and I was on the desktop after a few minutes! It defaulted again at 1080p, so I scaled it down to make the experience a bit smoother and I also disabled all animations in the settings.
To compare it to something almost everyone know, would be to say that it was feeling like a Windows 10 on a 10 year old machine, but at least the start menu opens on here!
I tried to game on it right after installing the OS, but after installing Steam and Half-Life, Half-Life would boot up but, when in-game, it would just freeze. Even though all settings were at the lowest. So instead, I took another version of Half Life which was a pretty old version, and to run it under Linux I needed a software called dwarfs. This is a read-only file system that allows games to be run right from a file without compromising on speed. I often see this used in cracked Linux games.
But this is a pretty new software and it was not in the official repositories and I couldn’t find any PPA to install a pre-compiled version on Linux Mint… So… Do you know what this means ?
Yep! I’ll be compiling a 2022 software on a 15 years old machine and oh boy it went slowly… Well, installing the dependencies went smoothly and pretty fast, but after that, compiling the software was painfully slow, with all cores at 100% it took around an hour to fully compile and install this thing. A full hour where I couldn’t do anything on it and with the fan noise driving me crazy…
But after that, I did it! The software installed and compiled without any error – I don’t want to imaging getting an error at 98% and having to redo all of this. And then, it was time to launch Half-Life.. and.. it didn’t work, it wasn’t launching.. I probably missed something or forgot to install something – maybe I forgot wine? – but it was getting late and I couldn’t bother with this slow system… I decided to turn everything off and that tomorrow I would install a lighter system.
EndeavourOS (with LXQT)
Here comes tomorrow and a well-rested self. I wanted to install an Arch Linux based OS, because I knew that dwarfs had an AUR binary version that I could install without any compiling. So I went with my favourite Arch-based distro, EndeavourOS. But before that, I moved the server from my kitchen table to the top of my existing servers so it wouldn’t take so much space, so don’t be surprise if the next screenshots doesn’t show the same setup as in the first blog post!
EndeavourOS is pretty neat as it asks you which desktop environement you want to install, and I knew it would have really lightweight stuff on there, this is mainly why I chose this distro. I booted up and went straight into BIOS to change the boot order, and I noticed that a new option appears when you have multiple boot option, this is not shown when you only have the hard disk or the USB! I put my USB at the top and rebooted.
It then booted without any issue and the default XFCE desktop of EndeavourOS was already more responside than the Cinnamon desktop, even at 1080p. I started installing and I faced the desktop environement options pretty quickly, and after a few minutes of thinking I chose to install LXQT which I think would be the fastest from all the options, I could have tried XFCE, LXDE or even i3 – but I do not know how to use i3 to be frank. After that it installed perfectly, I rebooted, removed the USB stick and I was back again in front of a new desktop!
It still defaulted to 1080p and after changing this to 1024×768, it was way more responsive and it was actually usable – not the fastest by any means but still usable.
Firefox & TILDvids.com
I tried to launch Firefox and after waiting a minutes or two it loaded up, I loaded up a website and it was mostly smooth, and then I tried to watch a video from TILvids.com and the experience was… meh… I mean, there isn’t any way to get sound on this server except if I find a PCI sound card later. And the playback wouldn’t stop buffering at 1080p – even though I have a fiber networking – and I was forced to use lower resolution, and even 360p was a bit laggy.
Half Life & Half Life GOTY
I tried again to run Half Life on this server, the Steam version was a no go again as it would just freeze when starting a new game, and then I installed everything required – including wine this time! – to run the second version I have, and it didn’t work either… So as a last bit of hope, I grabbed another copy I had of Half Life, this was the Windows GOTY version of Half Life, so I installed it manually using wine and this time it did work and the game launched! However, the menus of the game were missing some texts, mainly, the “New Game” text was missing, but I was able to click where it was supposed to be and I was able to choose difficulty and play Half Life at 15/25 fps.
Yeah.. while it was definitely playable, it wasn’t that great, the Steam page for Half Life recommend 16MB of video memory (on Windows), which is the exact amount this server has, but I guess the Wine overhead is too much? I’ll definitely try to run it on Windows next!
18 Wheels of Steel: Haulin’
I had a few older games on hand that I used to play back in 2007 and I thought that they might run on Neptune, so I tried to install 18 Wheels of Steel: Haulin‘ and it installed perfectly and I was able to launch the game in a matter of minutes!
But in game, the experience was not great once again. In the option menu it was not lagging at all, but when you get in game, it was very laggy, I’d say around 5 to 10 fps, I was able to get trucking a bit but it was not fun with all this lag.
18 Wheels of Steel: Pedal to the Metal
The 18 Wheels of Steel: Haulin’ was released in 2007 and I had one of the game released prior to this one, 18 Wheels of Steel: Pedal to the Metal. It was released back in 2004, so I thought “maybe it should work better ?” Well, let’s take a look.
I installed the game with no issue, until I launched it, I couldn’t move the mouse, the game was so laggy there was a 5 seconds delay between my mouse mouving and the cursor moving in game.. Which is a shame, I really wanted to get some trucking done! I’ll also try those games again on Windows, maybe it will work better – I strongly doubt it, but I can always be wrong.
Minecraft beta & Minetest
I then tried to run Minecraft on this, I knew that newer versions of minecraft would run way too badly on this, so I tried the beta version of minecraft, the version beta 1.7.3. I installed it using my own Minecraft Linux launcher made specifically to run this version, which also has Optifine and a few other QoL mods on it. I launched it, and it was running at around 5 to 10 fps. Once again, the experience was not great and the whole system would freeze from time to time and I had to kill everything using the power button.
After that I wanted to try Minetest, the open source Minecraft. I installed it using flatpak, and then after launching it it run as good as the normal Minecraft around 5 to 10 fps. I also tried the MineClone 2 game type on MineTest and this one was way better and very playable ! It was running at 15 to 20 fps!
I also used Geekbench 5 to benchmark this system, this is a CPU benchmark and you can see the full results here. It managed a single-core score of 222 and a multi-core score of 486. To put in perspective, this is the same than a Raspberry Pi 4 in single-core performance, but it is slower in multi-core performance. But, to remind you, this server takes 130 Watts at idle… Efficiency is definitely not the point here, even for a free server. This is definitely not worth it to run it 24/7, just buy a Raspberry Pi instead.
Windows Server 2008
After all of this testing, I wanted to try and install a Windows Server version, and I tried with a version higher than this server officially supports. However, I could not get Windows Server 2008 to boot, I tried multiple images, they all worked fine inside a virtual machine, but the server would just hang on the windows logo when booting. And, as windows doesn’t give any logs what-so-ever, I gave up using this windows version and tested the officially supported version.
Windows Server 2003
Windows Server 2003 is officially supported on this server, I wanted to install it to the second hard drive, so I could have both system, Windows and Linux, which would be easier to compare things between the two OS – As I wouldn’t have to reinstall each OS every time I wanted to test new things.
I made a bootable USB stick with WS 2003 on it, but it would always get stuck in the first step of the setup as it “was unable to find the EULA” and therefore, the setup would not go any further… After a little bit of digging, it was because I had the two hard drive enabled in the BIOS, after disabling one of them – I disabled the HDD with Linux on it and installed WS on the empty hard drive – the setup would allow me to keep going and install the OS. I started the installer, and formatted the hard drive and rebooted, I had to select the hard drive in the boot option while keeping the USB stick plugged in! If you unplug the USB stick before, the setup would be unable to continue when you reboot until you plug it back in – It’s not over until Windows says it’s over!
After a bit I was able to get into the desktop and start testing things! And it was quite funny to see a Windows 98/XP style OS running at 1080p!
After putting a better resolution of 1024×768, I installed a few games to test, and I also installed the video card driver that I found on the official Dell website. And now I was ready to test some games!
Almost ready! Before anything I needed to download a software to mount my ISO files under this old system as it wasn’t capable of it by default. I found an awesome piece of open-source software called WinCDEmu, which I absolutely recommend for anyone trying to mount ISO file under old Windows versions!
Half-Life, Half-Life: Opposing Force & Half-Life: Blueshift
I installed the same version that worked back in EndeavourOS, and I must say that the experience on Windows was impecable! Running at a really high frame rate, gameplay was really smooth.
Well, I run a game from 1999 in an OS from 2003, so of course it would work better than on a 2023 OS! The game does show an error at startup, complaining about the fact that there isn’t any sound card. But after clicking “OK” the game runs perfectly well and without any visual glitches, I even cracked up the resolution to the maximum of 1152×864 and it worked like a charm and it was a very pleasant experience!
18 Wheels of Steel: Haulin’ & 18 Wheels of Steel: Pedal to the Metal
The same cannot be said for most of the next games, as none of them wanted to launch.
Both 18 WoS games refused to launch, one complaining about missing drivers probably and the other just wanted to shout out its name. – Thanks game devs for this error message! –
MS Train Simulator
Train Simulator would not launch either, complaining about missing hardware acceleration. Which I kinda understand on this weird and slow graphics card. It also installed Adobe Reader 4.0 during the install setup, for some reasons?
Driver: San Francisco
I also installed Driver: San Francisco, this is a game released in 2011, so I had no expectation to see it run on this machine, but I had the game, so I decided to try it. But, with no surprise, this game would not launch, it would just keep saying that Driver.exe has crashed, without any specific reason stated.
This is another game I played when I was younger, that I actually played on Windows XP back in the days, so I though, this game should work, right ? But unfortunately, no. Tonka Workshop absolutely require a sound card to even install. I tried to install some weird virtual sound card but with no effect, the game would not stop wanting a sound card. Maybe I needed to find some weird settings to enable the virtual sound card I installed ?
And oh god it was awful to even find a free virtual sound card for Windows XP/2003, everything was paid proprietary crap back in the days. Thank god we have the awesome open-source community we have now…
Anyway, this was the last game I tried on this machine. I might try again if I find some solutions to all of those issues, maybe I should have installed Windows XP directly and not a server OS, but I really wanted to see the Windows Server 2003 gaming experience!
Upgrading the BMC
As a bonus, while I was browsing the Dell website for drivers, I noticed an executable to upgrade the BMC on the server, I downloaded it to try to upgrade it while I was in Windows Server 2003. And yes, the server was not up-to-date, it was running v1.52 while the newer version was 1.84, and so I started installing.. and then, the server suddenly took off and became louder than an aircraft, all fans at 100%. Hopefully the update took only a few minutes and it calmed down pretty quickly. I did not notice any fan noise difference after the update unfortunately, which means the server will stay as loud as it was before.
I also installed Dell SUU utilities, this is supposed to notice you when something is not up to date on your server. It detected that my network drivers were not present, but it refused to install them. It also wanted me to downgrade the BMC to a 1.7X version for whatever reason ?
The BIOS was already up to date so I didn’t try to update this, and as for the network driver, well, I wouldn’t even dream of a Windows Server 2003 on my network anyway!
This server is definitely not capable of doing any sort of Gaming on Linux and on the Windows Server side you can definitely play some games but you will run into issues, but I want to try more! And I will try to find a PCI graphics card to put in that thing and see if I can get much better performances and do some real gaming.
I’d love to try to play Terraria with a GPU in this server!
And as always, thank you for reading and I wish you a very pleasant day!