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Server-type Rig : Opinions please

EDIT: Changes to rig from suggestions in blue
The typical use this machine will see:

* Will be left turned on for the next 3-5 years running Linux
* After initial config, will have no monitor or keyboard
* Eventually ~6 hard drives, more via eSATA or USB externals
* Typically have 5-10 remote ssh users running jobs
* Host intranet sites that spawn cpu heavy jobs
* Run 5-10 cpu heavy jobs for days at a time
* Support medium overclocking to speed up the jobs

I plan to buy the machine pre-built from cyberpower.com because it is for work. They won't let me buy parts from newegg and build it myself. Besides, it's too risky if I screw up while building the machine. I'd reserve that for a home desktop. Sorry for the lack of newegg links.
Here are the rough specs I've come up with:

* CASE: NZXT Beta Gaming Mid-Tower Case
This is the most sedate-looking case I found. I could get a full tower case on second thoughts. Need at least four 5.25" bays for installing an additional hard drive bay. This one seems like a reasonable sedate case with enough bays. I can't stand anything with blinking blue LED's.

* CPU: Intel® Core™ i7-860 2.80 GHz 8M L2 Cache LGA1156
* MOTHERBOARD: MSI P55-GD65 Intel P55
* FAN: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V CPU Cooling Fan
(replace standard 120mm fan with Scythe high MTBF, thx Wathman)
Now I really want to overclock the cpu as much as possible, while being rock stable, maybe up to 3.8Ghz as in some reviews. Don't want liquid colling because that might have reliability issues. This machine will see a lot of sustained cpu use. Think running 8 folding@home processes 24/7 for years.

* HDD: RAID-0 1TBx2 7200RPM Western Digital RAID 0+Short Stroke SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 2x1TB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache (thx Wathman, x2)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6822152181

SSD's would have been nice, but too expensive for this.
Would 2x1TB Spinpoint F3 be good too? They are only slightly more expensive than the 500GB, and more easily available.

* Data Storage: RAID5 array with 4 consumer drives. Probably 4x1TB Spinpoint F3 too. (thx for the reminder, WR2)

* 2GBx2 DDR3 1600MHz Kingston HyperX
Want some fast and decent RAM for stable overclocking.

* Corsair 750 Watts CMPSU-750TX
This should be more than enough power since I don't have a beefy GPU. Even if I stick 6-10 hard drives in the case it should be OK I guess.

* NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 512MB
Don't really need a graphics card, but need something to connect a monitor to. However, I might port some code to OpenCL or CUDA down the line, so a cheap 200 series sounds ok. Will upgrade GPU later and SLI if necessary.
14 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about server type opinions please
  1. Best answer
    A couple of questions. Since this a system for work, what kind of budget are you working with? You make valid points for buying a pre-built machine as this is going to be a system vital for production, but then why are you going with cyberpower for the build? They design and build systems mainly for gamers who do not run mission critical applications. While I'm sure what they could build is capable of meeting your needs, but they are far from the level of service you would get with an IT infrastructure company as with Dell, HP, IBM, etc.

    Another thing I'd be concerned about is using a RAID 0 array for demanding workload for 5-7 years. Does CyberPower give you the option of using the higher quality RE4 Edition drives over the consumer grade Caviar Blacks? If your business need can withstand possible downtime in the case of drive failure, then you will save a bit of money by going with consumer grade drives.

    Another smaller point to consider is upgrading the case fans and the cooling fan for the Xigmatek. Most of those included fans typically have MTBF of 30,000 - 50,000 hours, so I would consider it a worthwhile upgrade to fans that have MTBF ratings of 150,000. When you look at 120mm fan prices, they can range from $8 to $30+, so good fans are a worthy investment.
  2. hyperblaster said:
    Now I really want to overclock the cpu as much as possible, while being rock stable
    Rock stable and aggressive overclocking don't usually show up in the same sentence.
    How will you mitigate the risk of going with a RAID0 setup?
  3. The budget upper end is $1500, though cheaper is definitely better. This machine will be replacing a dual cpu Xeon Pentium4 3.2Ghz Dell SC1425 server. Dell doesn't make any Core i7 servers or allow overclocking. This machine will be for internal use in our research lab. Occasional downtime is OK, but data loss is not. I want this machine to do data analysis on, and I'm sick of the slow P4 machine. However, since this is meant to be a proof-of-concept sort of thing, budget is limited.

    I think running a RAID 0 array for years on consumer drives is a bad idea too. I basically want a fast OS hard drive, with the actual analysis data being stored probably on a RAID 5 array on the same machine. The motherboard has 6 SATA connectors, so I figured two for RAID 0 OS drive, and remaining 4 for a RAID 5 data array. Ideally I'd want a Intel X25-M or WD Raptor for the OS drive, but that would push the budget out of range.

    I had no idea about the case fan or cooler MTBF's. Could you recommend a better alternative? The CPU cooler is a concern, though if the case fans break down they can be replaced later.

    I selected Cyberpower simply because they are cheap. I bought a personal gaming desktop from them earlier this year, and the overall cost of the components after coupons was actually a few $$ cheaper than newegg prices (not counting shipping). I am aware that they have unreliable customer service though. However, I'm certain I could get them to RMA a broken part.
  4. I like this article
    Accelerate Your Hard Drive By Short Stroking
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/short-stroking-hdd,2157.html

    Perhaps I could use 2x250GB HDD's in RAID 0 short stroke and use for the OS drive instead of spending money on a good SSD or Raptor? Though I'm not convinced from the article that the minor speedup is worth the extreme loss of capacity.
  5. As for your question on the CPU cooler, that Xigmatek should be fine as a heatsink, it's a mid-range performance product so the included fan is a standard 120mm size. This is easily replaceable/upgradeable to any other 120mm fan with a longer lifespan. The included Xigmatek fan actually isn't too bad, it has a MTBF of 50,000 hours. Scythe makes very good fans that aren't too expensive. Their high performance fans aren't the quietest ones out there, but they have long operational lifespans. If noise is a concern, Noctua fans are a good choice, but they tend to have a premium price. Here's a sample of Scythe's Fan line up, complete with MTBF specs. http://www.scythe-usa.com/support/support_temp/002/fan_spec.html

    Also, forgot to mention that the recommended RPM for most CPU coolers is 12,000 so that helps narrow down choices some.
    As for short stroking 2 250 GB hard drives... it would depend on the drive. If you were to do this with 2 Samsung F3 500 GB drives in RAID 0, I would think it would have very impressive performance. Completely forget about Raptors and Velociraptors, they are old tech and run very hot. If you look at any performance benchmarks, almost every single performance level 7200 RPM drive released within the last year will beat Velociraptors in just about every benchmark, and do so at a fraction of the price.

    SSDs are a promising option, though as you noted, expensive. There are a few performance issues with SSDs even now, so I'd wait a generation before considering use in a work machine.
  6. hyperblaster said:
    I basically want a fast OS hard drive, with the actual analysis data being stored probably on a RAID 5 array on the same machine.
    That's more like it. And if you're running a testbed I see no reason not to test overclocking as well. Run benchmarks at stock settings so you can judge the effects and benefits of running RAID0, overclocking and short stroking. Performance enhancements don't always give linear improvements so you'll want to know where the most benefits are coming from if you go from testing to production systems.
  7. wathman said:
    Scythe makes very good fans that aren't too expensive. Their high performance fans aren't the quietest ones out there, but they have long operational lifespans. If noise is a concern, Noctua fans are a good choice, but they tend to have a premium price. Here's a sample of Scythe's Fan line up, complete with MTBF specs. http://www.scythe-usa.com/support/support_temp/002/fan_spec.html

    Noise is not a concern. Nothing could probably beat the noisy Dell servers we already have. Thx for the Scythe fan recommendation. Looks like I might be able to get a decent fan MTBF upgrade for $20. Might even consider one of their faster 3000rpm fans.

    wathman said:
    If you were to do this with 2 Samsung F3 500 GB drives in RAID 0, I would think it would have very impressive performance.

    SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822152181
    I like the recommendation. That will give me OS drive great for $110 total.
  8. WR2 said:
    That's more like it. And if you're running a testbed I see no reason not to test overclocking as well. Run benchmarks at stock settings so you can judge the effects and benefits of running RAID0, overclocking and short stroking. Performance enhancements don't always give linear improvements so you'll want to know where the most benefits are coming from if you go from testing to production systems.


    Actually there will be only one system for now. Right now we use server-class Dell machines for analysis. I want a fast machine that I can overclock and tweak as much as I like, and then use to analyse my data as much as possible. Management is not willing to put in too much money into this because it's not from an approved vendor. Also, the machine has to come in as one purchase order from a single vendor. I can do minor upgrades (like cooling fans etc) off the books, but those come out of my own pocket :sweat:
  9. hyperblaster said:
    However, since this is meant to be a proof-of-concept sort of thing, budget is limited.
    So its more of a one-off thing than a proof of concept.
  10. Server grade fans are designed for moving as much as air possible, as fast as possible, so quiet operation goes out the window. They have airflow ratings well above 100CFM and as you know, get very loud. Your system won't require this kind of airflow, so I'd say all of the fans from Scythe will be quieter than what you are used to.

    Also, since you are concerned about overall I/O performance for your data, with RAID 5 you really don't want to go with an onboard RAID controller. A Software RAID setup for data might do fairly well, but depending on what the load is, might start using a significant fraction of your CPU cycles. http://www.maximumpc.com/article/reviews/highpoint_rocketraid_2640x4

    The high point rocketraid is an interesting option for high end consumer use, though I'm mainly including that link since it has some performance data on the adaptec host controller RAID 5.
  11. WR2 said:
    So its more of a one-off thing than a proof of concept.

    lol. The idea is to prove to management that an overclocked consumer-class machine from a "no-name" vendor can be much faster and cheap too; the cons being somewhat less reliability and lack of support. They are willing to humor me as long as it's a small budget.
    The bottomline is I want a really fast machine to get my data analysed :)
    If someone else likes the idea too, and gets a similar rig, all the better for them!
  12. hyperblaster said:
    lol. The idea is to prove to management that an overclocked consumer-class machine from a "no-name" vendor can be much faster and cheap too; the cons being somewhat less reliability and lack of support. They are willing to humor me as long as it's a small budget.
    The bottomline is I want a really fast machine to get my data analysed :)
    If someone else likes the idea too, and gets a similar rig, all the better for them!


    I like your idea, and you should have great performance and efficiency results. Be sure to make note of how much less power your system is using compared to enterprise servers, ongoing power costs really add up. For small scale or special case usage, it will really cut costs. Problem is with support as you said, and scalability. Not sure what your IT needs are like, but multiply your setup x100 with minimal support, and it really becomes an issue.
  13. wathman said:

    Also, since you are concerned about overall I/O performance for your data, with RAID 5 you really don't want to go with an onboard RAID controller. A Software RAID setup for data might do fairly well, but depending on what the load is, might start using a significant fraction of your CPU cycles. http://www.maximumpc.com/article/reviews/highpoint_rocketraid_2640x4

    Think I'll leave off the dedicated Highpoint RAID card for now. I honestly didn't consider software RAID, but with the sort of CPU muscle I have here, it sounds like a viable option. This machine would typically rsync several GB-sized chunks of data from an off-site supercomputing cluster and analyse them locally. My guess is that Sequential read and write performance might be the limiting factor. Data reliability is not a huge issue with this machine. I might consider using RAID 0 for the data as well, without the short stroking.

    As an aside, we use consumer hard drives as backup media in hard drive docks for backup. Make the backup, and then the drive is put back in the anti-static packaging and stored.
  14. Saw you added a new question to the OP, there shouldn't be a large performance difference between the Samsung F3 500GB and 1TB versions, both are built using 500GB per platter densities, though the 1TB version does come with a larger 32MB (vs 16 MB) cache. This may have performance implications for short stroking, but other than knowing what the concept is, I don't know much about the details on what affects the performance. As for general availability of the F3 drives... they are very popular right now for the high performance and lower price point. A week or two ago when I was looking at drives, the 1TB F3's were nowhere to be found, and the 500GB versions were available in stock at newegg.
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