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    PlanetQuake | Features | Tech Tips | 7-13-99
   

So you Want To Run A server? Part I

Frequently here at the techtips we get requests on how to run a server, what makes it fast, what mod should run, etc. In this three part series we're going to pass along information on what you need to set up a server, setting up a couple of mods, how to setup a sample stats program, and tips on making your server popular. One of the things that has helped make Quake and Quake 2 so popular has been the abundance of free places to play. The plethora of servers combined with programs like Gamespy have made it simple for even the newest player to get speedy online game play. But where do all these servers come from? Well, people like you! If you own Quake 2, have a good connection to the internet and are willing to donate your blood, sweat, tears and PC, it can be a very rewarding experience. And no, your 33.6k modem will not make a good quake server. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, what do you need? This depends on how many people you want on at once and what kind of system you're going to be running the server on:

ISDN - You're looking at 2 modem players at a time at most. Really not suited well to be a server, but great if you have a couple of friends that you want to play a lot.

Cable Modem - This is a little tricky. Due to the nature of the cable network, you can host anywhere from 8-16 lag-free clients (if you've got the hardware, more on that in a moment). Why such a disparity between the number of clients? If you're wanting other cable modem customers to play on your server, and they're on the same "cable network" as your server, 16 will be able to play no sweat. If they're on another cable modem provider, or coming in from outside your net you'll do good to get 8. Several cable modem providers have also recently added a 128kbps cap on the uplink side of the cable connection. This further complicates things such that you may be in the same boat as the ISDN servers. To make matters worse, several "unnamed"* cable providers have also oversold their bandwidth, resulting in packet loss for everybody that's not on your service.

*The unnamed cable modem provider is Intermedia@home. They're rat bastards. For more information on why they're evil, incompetent jerks, check out Lowtax's rant on them (issue #4).

xDSL - This newer technology shares some of the disparities of cable servers, but not exactly on the same scale. Since the "same network" problem generally doesn't come into play, it's more like an ISDN or regular modem in that the paths to the Internet are generally shorter. So far we haven't seen the bandwidth saturation problems with xDSL that we have with cable modems, but time will tell if the xDSL providers have learned from cable modem providers mistakes. In general you can run 8-16 clients if you have the hardware.

T1 - Now you're getting serious. If you want a truly successful server, you're going to need this kind of dedicated bandwidth. We know, xDSL and cable modems are also high bandwidth, but that's not the whole story. When you're paying for xDSL or cable, you're not guaranteed a set bandwidth rate. The provider may put on their glossy brochures 2.5Mb download rates, but try and get them to guarantee that bandwidth rate 24 / 7. There is a reason T1's cost anywhere from $800-$3000 a month - it's that guarantee. You'll be able to host anywhere from 16-40 players before anybody begins to lag.

>T1 - You're talking "da bomb" connections here. These connections are generally really close to the backbone, and have real low latency. If you have this kind of access at your disposal, well you shouldn't have to read this document. (:

The server itself.

So you've got the pipe to the 'net. Now you've got to have something to connect to it. That Pentium 100 you've had laying around? You can leave it as a doorstop, it won't do; you're going to need some muscle. In fact, you're going to need a generous amount of muscle. You can get by on as little as a P150 if you have a boatload of RAM, just don't expect to be able to host any 32 player LMCTF games without everybody seeing big red lines. We'll provide a simple guide to give you some idea of what you can do with the hardware you have. We're providing broad outlines here, so don't email the techtips team saying: "I'm running a 32 player WOD server on my 150 Mhz 95 box!" We're more interested in conservative estimates for people, not seeing how many people we can overflow.

CPU RAM Windows98
max clients
WindowsNT
max clients
Linux
max clients
P1 150-233 64 5 n/a 5
P1 150-233 128 8 6 12
P2 233-333 64 10 8 16
P2 233-333 128 16 16 20
P2 333-450 64 16 20 24
P2 333-450 128 16 24 30
P2 333-450 256 16 32 40

If you have a P3 or quad processor system with incredible amounts of RAM, well, you can put as many players as you damn well please. You may have noticed we capped Windows 98 at 16 players. It has been our experience that Windows 98 just can't handle the network traffic involved in a good dedicated server beyond that point. You may also have noticed RAM makes more of a difference than CPU. This is because each client task connected to Quake 2 eats a little more and more RAM. This combined with the fact the server's going to be up all the time, ensures you're going to need alot of RAM.

So how much of the processor is dedicated to each player? Here's what Bongstalk from Kannibas.com had to say:

"The 'rule of thumb' that id once stated was 8Mhz per player, but I've found that on my NT servers it's closer to 10-12Mhz per player. This may be due to NT, or the background apps (Nuke Nabber and Net Medic). Memory isn't as critical since I unpak all the pak files. The problem on NT is that it will cache the entire pak file even though you only need the maps. Unpacking the files allows the server to cache only the files it's using. I once had a P233 w/64MB that was able to support 30 clients with ease (Lithium and CTF) and there was no server side lag. Windows 98 for a server? No way. I tried a 98 box once and anytime I moved the mouse, the util would shoot to 100%. I guess you could run one on a dedicated 98 box, but any maintenance or UI interaction would cause lag. I'd say a good average number to use would be 10Mhz per player plus any additional usage. I've also found that keeping it below 80% keeps server-side lag to a minimum. Also, SCSI helps the load times of maps and when running multiple servers on one box, the loading can slow down the other servers."

So in conclusion, you're going to need a good PC for your server, and enough bandwidth to handle the clients. As the old saying goes, experience is the best teacher.

Our general guideline is just that, a basic guide to give you an idea of the horsepower you're going to need. However, not all mods were created equal; some are more prone to eat up CPU and RAM resources, and others get laggy after 14 players (it shoots a red hook and has diamond shaped powerups). So what do you do if you want to have lots of people on the "laggy mods"? Run multiple copies of the same mod, but on different ports (think of a port as a doorway to enter a given service - you can have more than one door in a house, just not more than one door per place in the wall).

We'll explain how to start the server with various mods, multiple copies of a mod, or different mods next week.

Feedback? Questions? Comments? Submit them all here!




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