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I know things like bandwidth allotment and hard drive space means, but how do things like CPU speed, RAM, and Front Side bus speeds actually affect my website? I know the bigger and faster is better, but how do these things actually affect my site? And what's a good baseline?
This is what I'm looking at:
Operating System: FreeBSD 6.2
Processor: Core 2 Duo E4400 (2GHz)
Front Side Bus: 800MHz
Memory: 1 GB DDR2 ECC 667
Hard Drive: 120 GB
Traffic: 1000 GB
Having said that, your spec may well be more than adequate and if the price is right, it may be a good deal. You should also consider other factors such as reliability and backup procedures, etc. not to mention contract length i.e. do they want 12 months up front.
RAM is dirt cheap these days. It works out about £10 / $10 a gigabyte to purchase outright. But beware of webhosters ripping off customers by charging £10 / $10 A MONTH for a 1Gb upgrade.
I would recommend at least 2Gb in there. If you are serving loads of content then 4 would be better.
It is always best to have two hard drives. You can either use both in a raid array for either speed or reliability (mirroring) but IMO the best use of two disks is to use one for the O/S and serving the data, and the other for ancillary stuff like daily backups, log files. This will give much better performance as the disk does not have to fight between running the o/s, reading data and logging.
For a small single site I would expect a spec like this:
Entry Level ~ £50 per month
Intel Core2Duo E4600 2.4Ghz
1GB DDR RAM
160GB SATA HDD
Medium Level ~ £75
DualCore Xeon X3065 2.33Ghz
160GB SATA HDD
High Level ~ £100
QuadCore Xeon X3360 2.88Ghz
2 x 250GB SATA HDD
There are much higher spec machines than this but these are good starting points for a first dedicated server.
What traffic level do you have, and what sort of load does your application and type of traffic generate?
As an example, a website with 10k pageviews a day where each visitor is randomly pulling 10 records out of a 20GB database for each page view, is much different from a mostly static site with 100k page views per day.
Speaking from experience, are there places in your website where implementing some caching at key points could drop your system load by 90%?
The right server for you really depends on your site. With more details, you can get a much more informed response.