All the software in the world won't mean much unless you have some hardware on which to run it. From desktops to laptops, single servers to Beowulf clusters, hardware is both diverse and important in the department. Though as of right now we have mostly PCs running Linux, there's a few Mac OS desktops, a lot of Mac laptops, and things could change tomorrow if the needs of the people require it. This article aims to answer questions you may have about computer hardware in the building.
Here's some FAQs regarding computing hardware, and their answers (or links to their answers).
What machines are available?
There are not many "public" machines available for general use. For the most part, if you're working with a specific group they will have computers set aside on which you can run your processes (or if you're doing a lot of work, it may make sense for you to have one yourself to not only run your jobs but store data local to the CPUs). While you may be able to login to the non-public machines, you should not run anything there without clearing it with the machine's owner or group liaison.
|VM for NON-COMPUTATIONAL work
|Read-only home directories - login/email service only
|Dual E5-2680 v4 "Broadwell"
|Dual E5-2680 v4 "Broadwell"
|Quad Platinum 8268 "Cascade Lake-SP"
|Quad Platinum 8268 "Cascade Lake-SP"
Many department members utilize high performance computing resources maintained by Research Computing; you can see information about them, and how to request access to them, at the Research Computing website.
What is supported?
No laptops are directly supported by the department. Though many people use them for their everyday work, there are too many hardware and software variations for us to fully support them without making them "department machines" (which would also mean the end-user would not have administrative access to it, so we can ensure that things don't get changed that break its functionality). However, if you're having problems with your laptop, feel free to contact us and mention it. We may be able to give you some pointers that will get you up and running again, before you have to resort to calling the hardware/software vendor for service.
What is recommended?
In either the case of a PC (Windows-based) laptop, or a Mac laptop, there's too many variables to really recommend anything. As of when this article was written, one particular model or brand could be the best thing going, but that can change within hours. The best laptop is really whatever is the best for what you want to do with it.
If you're comfortable running Windows, then just about anything you can buy with Windows preloaded is probably the best bet for you. If you want to run Linux on the laptop, things have gotten a lot more friendly for Linux in recent years. Members of the department have generally been happy running Lenovo or Dell laptops with most recent distributions. If you want to ensure it'll work, Dell and Lenovo do have specific models that ship with Ubuntu or another mainstream Linux distribution.
If you want to get a Mac, there's a general guideline for new laptop purchases. Still not a recommendation (nor a rule) since we do not support them, but we've been recommending that people get Macbook Pros for a few reasons. One is the fact that much of the Unix software you'd want to run on a laptop is either already installed, or readily available. Also, you don't have the problems that tend to associate with trying to get Linux to run properly on a laptop (for example, configuring wireless drivers, tweaking X to run just right, making it not crash when you close the lid, etc). And lastly, you're not running a Microsoft laptop, which if you're anti-MS or pro-security, is a Good Thing.
Recent Macbooks come in various sizes, with displays comparable to most PC laptops. All models have decent speed processors, and can handle quite a bit of RAM.
We've also found that in more cases than not, the people using Macs have fewer problems with the machines. After helping to install X11, Macports and some other packages, we generally don't hear about them anymore.
Regarding accessories, I tend to recommend an additional power adapter for the laptop. Then you can leave one in the office, and one at home, and not have to carry the brick with you between the two locations or plug it in every time you get to work/home. If you're the type who frequently takes long airplane trips, you may also want a second battery for the laptop which you can charge before leaving on your trip so you have more runtime for working (or watching your own DVDs) while at 30,000 feet. A snug-fitting case for the laptop, with plenty of padding, is also essential for its safety, and a plan for backing it up regularly is required (either over the network somehow, or with an external drive that you plug in to copy your data; see Backups).
How do I register my device?
- We may first need to activate an additional network port in your office. This requires OIT to come out to turn it on, and may take a few days.
NOTE REGARDING WIRELESS:
- If you want to register a wireless-only device (and it will never connect to the wired network either directly or using an adapter), then you do not need to register your device. Please use eduroam to connect to wifi using the instructions found here.
The short version
For those too much in a hurry to read everything below (and we strongly suggest you do, lest you not know how to get this information), here's what we need:
Do not send wireless MAC addresses. We do not register your wireless MAC address. If you need wireless access on a device, please use Eduroam
- The wired MAC address. If your laptop doesn't have built-in wired ethernet and you use an adapter, you generally must connect the adapter to the computer in order to get its MAC addresss. If it shows one while disconnected from the computer, it may be incorrect.
- The desired name for the computer in the database
- Your location (office number) in the building
- Your Astro user id (if you have one)
The following items are only needed if you are visiting (ie, you not faculty/staff/postdoc/fellow/a Princeton University student) If you *are* visiting, please consider whether you need to actually register you device, or if you can get away with using Eduroam
- How long you need your device to function on campus (if visiting -- if you're here for a semester or more, this isn't needed)
- Who is sponsoring your visit
Failure to provide the details we need to register your laptop will delay registration. Help us help you by providing everything above
If your laptop is not already registered, then there's a couple pieces of information we need from you. One will be the computer's name, the hostname it will have on the network. This can be different from what you call it, since for the most part they are mutually exclusive (except in the case of Linux, which can complain if misconfigured, and is given a different hostname from what it expects). To check to see if the hostname is taken already, login to a Linux machine and type 'host [hostname]', where [hostname] is the name you'd like to use. For example:
$ host xanadu xanadu.astro.Princeton.EDU. has address 188.8.131.52
You now know that the name 'xanadu' is already taken, however:
$ host foo Host foo. not found: 3(NXDOMAIN)
'foo' is not taken (at least at the time of this writing).
Another thing we'll need to know is the network card's MAC address. MAC stands for 'Media Access Control', and is like an IP address, only on a different level. MAC addresses are also called "ethernet address", "physical address" or "hardware address". An example MAC address is 00:B0:D0:3E:0F:80. MAC addresses are sometimes separated by colons (as above), or dashes, or represented as a long hexadecimal string as in '0x00B0D03E0F80'. You get the MAC address from the computer differently, depending on the operating system it runs:
- '/sbin/ifconfig eth0' - look for line that starts "HWaddr"
- Alternatively, 'ip link'
- Windows NT/2000/XP
- Start -> Run -> 'cmd /k ipconfig /all'
- Mac OS
- Click the spotlight icon (magnifying glass in the upper-right corner of the screen) and type in "Network Utility" and hit enter. You can usually find the wired network device in the drop-down list on the Info tab. Ignore anything that just says "Thunderbolt", but it may be called "Thunderbolt Ethernet" or "USB Ethernet" or similar.
Once you have the desired hostname and MAC address, contact us to get the process rolling. If you're a visitor to the department, we need to know when you anticipate leaving as well, so we can set a proper expiration date on the record. If your device has a wireless interface, we'll need to know the MAC address for it as well (if you want to use it). The process is similar for each OS above; the device will just have a different name.
We've been purchasing desktop (and server) machines from ASL Inc. They have wonderful support and warranties, and their hardware will definitely run Linux - unlike some other computer vendors, where you may have issues getting Linux to run on the hardware because of proprietary drivers required and such nonsense. While we could possibly support hardware from other vendors, we will definitely need to see reason why some other vendor would be preferred - and support may be limited in the case of hardware failures or conflicts and diagnosis.
The only officially supported configuration for a Mac in Peyton Hall is one configured similarly to our standard Linux setup. User home directories will be mounted from our central NFS server, and the systems administration staff are the only ones with administrator (root) access to the machine. From the end-user point of view it'll work just like any Mac, but with the added advantage of having your network home directory available to you and, once it's available, standard licensed software (such as Mathematica and IDL) available for use right on your Mac.
Due to the nature of the changes needed to integrate the Macs with our environment, there are a few caveats to be aware of. If you are considering a Mac, please keep these issues in mind during your decision, and as always feel free to contact us with your questions or concerns.
- Microsoft Office extension issues
- Microsoft Office (at least in versions 2001 and 2004) has an issue with home directories running off NFS. It's a minor issue, but it can cause Office applications to not find extensions such as the equation editor after the first time you run them. We have a workaround that has to be applied to an individual user's profile, so if you encounter this issue please let us know. The only issue with the workaround is that it will cause Office applications to have to search for extensions every time you run them. This will add an additional 20-30 seconds to the time it takes for Office programs to load.
- Apple Mail issues
- Apple's standard Mail application (aka Mail.app) appears to have some issues running off NFS home directories. While we have some theories as to what is happening exactly, we don't have any concrete workaround as of yet. As such, we don't recommend using Mail.app, and instead recommend using Alpine or Thunderbird.
- Automounts/NFS Exports
- Peyton standard automounts, such as /peyton/scr/machinename1, don't work on the Macs. We'd like to implement something comparable, but right now, it's not possible. Additionally, Mac drives aren't NFS exported.