Friday, September 6, 2013

On the previous chapter I briefly introduced that the machine you were to run your Magic Online stores on was one of the largest initial investments. Thus, I think it is important that you only spend the money you need on this so important device. In this chapter I will give a few tips on how to decide what elements are the most appropriate ones for a computer to install bots Magic Online according to your needs.

Step 1: Shall I use an old PC or a new one?

If you do not have enough money to afford a new one as I discussed in the previous chapter, you can recycle an old one. For me the only advantage is the short-term savings, but some of the drawbacks I see include the following:

  • It is more likely that an old PC gets suddenly broken in the short term. Typical desktop systems are used to be voluminous and make a lot of noise due to de forced convection (fans). 
  • They have a higher power consumption.
  • They are not fast nor they have enough memory to run some Magic Online bots at once. Memory can be easily substituted, but this does not happen with the CPU.
If you have no other option you can use an old PC, but this article will probably not be of much interest for you. However, my suggestion is to buy a dedicated PC. If you choose this option, we will continue evaluating which features your new computer should have.

Step 2: Intel or AMD?

AMD CPUs are significantly evolving over the last years, with up to 12 real cores per processor at the professional range, and APU for the domestic sector. All this new technology is offered at a relatively competitive price compared with Intel, its main adversary.

However, I would choose an Intel processor for a computer which has to run Magic Online bots. The most important reason is the relation between performance, number of cores and the power consumption. It is clear that we always want the fastest speed possible and in this respect both AMD and Intel do a good job, but it is the relation with the power consumption and the number of cores what makes the difference.

Each CPU core will be configured to run a store, so the more we have the more bots we can install on the same computer. It is more likely that you initially only open 1-2 stores, but for a small extra charge I think it’s a good idea to overstate this device, as it is the most expensive and difficult to replace in the future (brands switch the socket of the new CPUs, you have to change the motherboard…)

I want to say that I have had personal experience of AMD CPUs and they usually break sooner than the Intel ones. I guess this is because they consume more and therefore heat up but I could not contrast this assumption with any specialist. With this I mean that although initially AMD could be cheaper, eventually you will have to change it sooner than an Intel. Of course this is my personal experience and maybe some of you have had just the opposite.

Step 3: Barebone as the basis system

The computer will be on 24 hours a day, so one of the main goals consists of minimizing its power consumption to save money on electric bills. Fortunately you do not need the ultimate in performance because you are not going to use the computer for playing. Thus, the best choice for the box+motherboard set is a barebone.

These computers usually lack of fans and overheating because consumption is very low, and they are also smaller than traditional desktop PCs. This is an additional advantage for zero noise (you can place it in the hall and, for example, use it to watch movies on TV) and lower accumulation of dust inside the computer itself.

Although there are many models on the market, I will show you a small list of what are the ones that I would consider buying when replacing my current computer.

Model Technical Features Estimated Price
 Gigabyte Brix
Gigabyte Brix
Dimensions: 29.9×107.9×114.6 (mm)
CPU: Intel® Core™ i7-3537U (TDP 17W)
Memory: Up to 16 GB DDR3 (not included)
Hard Disk: mSATA (not included)
Connections: 1x mSATA; 1x Wi-Fi; 1x USB 3.0; 1x HDMI; 1x Mini DisplayPort; 1x Ethernet RJ45
Operating System: Not included
 539 €
Intel NUC
Intel NUC Kit
Dimensions: 39x112x117 (mm)
CPU: Intel® Core™ i5-3427U (TDP 17W)
Memory: Up to 16 GB DDR3 (not included)
Hard Disk: mSATA (not included)
Connections: 1x mSATA; 1x Wi-Fi; 1x USB 3.0; 2x USB 2.0; 1x HDMI; 2x Mini DisplayPorts; 1x Ethernet RJ45
Operating System: Not included
 378 €
Shuttle Slim DS61
Shuttle Slim DS61
Dimensions: 43x190x165 (mm)
CPU: Intel® Core™ i3/i5/i7 (not included)
Memory: Up to 16 GB DDR3 (not included)
Hard Disk: mSATA (not included)
Connections: 1x mSATA; 1x Wi-Fi; 2x USB 3.0; 4x USB 2.0; 1x HDMI; 1x DVI-I; 1x Ethernet RJ45; 1x SD Card Reader
Operating System: Not included
 200 €
Mac Mini
Mac Mini
Dimensions: 36x197x197 (mm)
CPU: Intel® Core™ i7-3615QM (TDP 45W)
Memory: 4 GB DDR3 (optionally up to 16 GB)
Hard Disk: 1 TB 5400 rpm (optionally SSD 256 GB)
Connections: 1x mSATA; 1x Wi-Fi; 1xBluetooth 4.0; 4x USB 3.0; 1x HDMI; 1x Mini DisplayPort; 1x Thunderbolt; 1xFirewire; 1x Ethernet RJ45; 1x SD Card Reader
Operating System: MacOS X
 849 €

Prices may have big variations depending on the content. For example, the Shuttle Slim does not include CPU whereas the Mac Mini has RAM and hard drive included, in addition to some extra connectivity and the host operating system license. As I said, I recommend any of these computers with an Intel Core i7, but if you do not have plans to install many shops on the long-term it may be better a barebone like the Intel NUC due to its lower price.

I have not talked about the graphics card because it is not a top requirement to install bots on Magic Online. Besides, you usually do not have to watch the screen of the computer where you install your stores, so it is not something to worry about. In fact, the less this device consumes the better because you will save more energy. The only minimum requirement is to accept a resolution of at least 1280×1024, which almost all current graphics cards of the market allow.

Step 4: RAM memory

Each store will use a minimum of 1 GB of RAM if run under Windows XP , although it is recommendable to have at least 1.5 GB. Each of your stores probably will work with virtualization (we will see what is virtualization in the next chapter of this series), but all virtual systems are managed by another host operating system.

Furthermore, depending on the host operating system, it will require more or less memory. You shall usually leave 2 GB of RAM for Windows 7/8 or MacOS (I even would keep this quantity for usual Linux desktop distributions like Ubuntu). However, there are special operating systems that only serve to manage other virtual systems. These special OS, like ESXi, have a very low memory consumption but only work on computers with a very specific hardware due to the limited number of drivers available. You have a very good series of articles devoted to this operating system through this link.

With these assumptions in mind, I would recommended a minimum amount of RAM of 4 GB (2 for the host OS and another 1.5 for the first store), and 1.5 GB per additional store. As each module of 8 GB can cost around 60 euros, I would suggest you to directly install 16 GB of RAM to have no problems in performance. because this component is one of the most importants to run Magic Online bots.

Step 5: Hard Disk

Some users have studied the impact on performance when using fast or slow hard drives, even by installing virtual machines on the RAM memory. The results indicate that the impact is rather small, so this component is not critical for performance, at least with one bot.

Let me explain the final assertion. The study referenced above is based on the use of a single bot. However, when you have multiple stores on the same computer, the hard disk must probably access to different parts of the disc itself that can slow down your system. In this situation it may be preferable to use Solid State Drives (SSD) over traditional hard drives (HDD) . They are more expensive but the difference is not outrageous. There are also an intermediate solution, the hybrid discs, which are being analyzed by another expert user at MTGO Library.

Anyway, as I have said the hard drive is not as critical as the other components so you can save money in this case. In addition, this device is probably the easiest one to be replaced from the hardware point of view, and obviously after backing up all your data.

Conclusions and some future sight

According to everything we have seen on this article, what computer would best fit your needs? In my opinion the Samsung Brix would be at the top in terms of price-performance ratio. Adding the price of a typical hard disk and all the 16GB RAM it supports, you can install up to 8 stores for around 750€, i.e. less than 100€/store. The Mac Mini can be deceptive at a first sight, but the unofficial memory expansion leaves it pretty close to the price of the Samsung Brix. So, if you are a Mac fan this is definitely your choice. In my opinion, the quality of the assembly and component durability of the Mac Mini cannot be compared with the others, of course if you can afford the extra price.

I have not talked about the new micro-computers of very low consumption like the Raspberry Pi, because unfortunately they use ARM processors. Truth be told, some systems allow installing modified Ubuntus that can run virtualization software, but surely the performance of Magic Online would be insufficient and it is not a real option for the moment.

I don’t want to finish this article without commenting you an option that I find rather curious. It consists of installing Magic Online stores on a Windows tablet Surface Pro. This Tablet/Notebook hybrid has all the requirements for our bots: Windows 8 desktop (allows virtualization), FullHD screen resolution and 4GB memory. The main drawbacks I see for the moment are the high price of this system and its low autonomy. However, the advantage of having no extra equipment for your stores if you use only one tablet at home can be very interesting. Who knows which new technologies are to come that will allow us to install our Magic Online bots…

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