Building a file server with W7 and core i

I am new to servers. I am trying to build a server for a small office with total files less than a few GBs, mostly documents. Currently, we have three computers on a network but might expand in the future, including to a remote location connected via VPN. My goal for this server is to also have it as a usable computer in case it is needed. So my questions are these:

1. CPU: I read that Xeon handles heat better and that supposedly it works faster in server situations by having more "doors." Will I lose anything by selecting i3 or i5 instead of Xeon? What about i3 vs i5 vs i7?

2. RAM: I know I need at least 4gb for W7. Will 6gb or more improve server function? How?

3. OS: Are there any clear advantages to using Windows Server 2008 instead of Windows 7? I am planning on getting W7 Home edition 64-bit to be able to use more than 4GB ram in case it is needed in the future.

4. MOBO: Are there any features I should look for in a motherboard for a server? I saw this "dual LAN speed" Newegg, but I don't know if that's supposed to provide faster share speeds or not. Our network is 10/1000 gigabit. Will selecting a motherboard with dual LAN speed significantly improve the speed of the server (write and read)?

5. HDD: So I want the server to be as fast as possible. For this reason, I was considering 4x1TB of raid 0+1 to achieve speed without increasing the probability of failure (since raid 0 is worse than no raid at all). Are there any pros of using raid 5 instead? I am going to have a separate HD for daily backup dumps.

Furthermore, will file sharing gain any speed if I choose 10K or 15K RPM HD instead of 7.5K? What about 32mb cache vs 64mb cache?

4. TOWER: I was thinking that it is going to be tough to fit everything in microATX, so I have to go larger. But if I'm wrong, let me know.

I would appreciate your advice. If I would get better answers in a different forum or a subforum here, please let me know. I couldn't find a forum dedicated to servers.
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  1. Honestly i'd either go w/ a Windows Home Server w/ an Atom processor, very inexpensive.
    Then just buy a computer for what you want.

    or you can also get a NAS box, to hold all your files.

    The Home Server has the advantage of doing automatic backups. You can set it to do daily backups, so you'll never loose anything
  2. Your environment of only a few computers and a couple GB's of files doesn't require ANYTHING like you're listing. That is small potatoes in the server world. A low end Core 2 Duo, a couple gigs of RAM, onboard gigabit ethernet, and maybe a couple descent drives in a RAID 1 would be more than enough to serve up documents to 3 computers. Xeons, RAID 10's, 6gb RAM, Core i processor, 15k hard drives..... that's all overkill for your situation.
  3. I understand. But the point is also to have a system that can handle applications and usage, whenever necessary, without affecting file sharing. We actually have an older PC with core2duo on it, so I guess I can turn that into a server and just build a new replacement for it for regular usage. But I want to be sure because I want a very low possibility of system failure and high speeds of operation.

    So you're saying that raid1 will not decrease the read/write speeds for our purpose (as compared to raid 0+1)? I know it will, per architecture, but I think you're saying that for small files this doesn't matter. What if I want to do a system backup of 40GB on the server? Would the server hardware come into play then?
  4. A RAID 1 would be slower than a RAID 10, but in a file serving environment with 2 computers and gigabit ethernet, a RAID 1 would be more than capable of keeping up. If you're moving data between arrays or to an interface faster than gigabit ethernet, then a faster array might be needed. However, you mention a seperate HDD for daily backups. Unless this is a terribly fast HDD or a seperate array for backups, the RAID 1 would be fast enough. But if i were you, i'd repurpose that C2D you mention into a server, drop in a RAID 1, and be done with it. Generally you don't "use" a server for daily use. It's purposed to do it's job and left alone. It's a bad idea to make a critical server also function as a workstation.

    So unless you're going to be serving up heavy-use databases to a dozen+ workstations, or file sharing to a network with a connection faster than GbE (like load balanced GbE, fiberchannel, or 10GbE) then just go with a RAID 1.
  5. Yes, I decided to use the C2D available to build a 4GB RAM system. Unfortunately, there are some cost andspace limitations, so using the server as an occasional workstation is really important. This is why I wanted to build a fast system. There is no reason why a fast computer should be used only as a server. I am not going to use it as a regular workstation and there will be no monitor attached. It's just there so I can remotely connect in and manage network driver, etc, without having to use up a workstation in use. If windows allowed to use two accounts on the same machine at once, I would not have this problem. I do have VPN, but sometimes I need to use the remote desktop.

    I was also thinking computer could serve as a scanner/printer hub. Not all the equipment in the office is network ready (like that $800 scanner), so connecting them to this computer would save a lot of headache.

    I will go with RAID 1 and see how the speed is. If it's not as fast, will upgrade to RAID 0+1. Is there a good way to test the speed? What speeds should I expect? From what I know, it seems the speeds should be somewhere between 60 and 100 MB/sec. So if the speed was much lower than that, could I safely assume that the RAID 1 is slowing the system down?
  6. Using the server to also do print serving / remote desktop sessions is fine. Lots of people do that. When i say "workstation", i was refering to adding a keyboard+mouse and having someone using it daily. That's generally a bad idea. You mention cost and space limitations, but still mention that you wanted to build a faster system? A RAID 1 with descent drives (like WD Blacks) will easily sustain 90+ MB/sec. A RAID 1 won't "slow" anything down, as long as the RAID array is made of identical drives. A single drive compared to the same drive, with one more in a RAID 1, would be almost identical in speed. To test speed, use a program like HDTach or similar to benchmark the hard drives / array.
  7. Oh yeah, I would not do that. We already have a server/workstation. That's what I am trying to get away from.

    Now would you also say that I would be fine with WD green drives or should I go for at least 7200 RPM? And what about cache?
  8. The WD green's do technically reach 7,200 RPM, but they also reduce their speed to 5,400 RPM when the situation dictates. They are not a performance drive. They're designed for quietness and energy savings. They're also not recommended for RAID setups because they do not have TLER, so if one of the two drives begins an error recovery cycle, the controller might time out, and boot the drive out of the array.

    If i were you, i'd go with a WD RE4 series drive. They're 64mb cache, 7200RPM, 5 year warranty drives. Like this one....

    A pair of these would give you good speed, 1tb of space, and very good reliability. While it is possible to use WD Black drives in a RAID array, they can tend to drop out of the array if one of them ever goes into an error recovery cycle, because the black series drives don't have TLER, the controller will boot it after so many seconds. I've personally never seen it happen, but it does from what i've heard.
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