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My Very First Server Build Plan - Advices Wanted

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October 20, 2011 10:14:54 AM

I'm looking to build my very first server at home. It will be used to host my website(I will prepare my own WAMP for it) and do some home file sharing/backup. I'll probably use Windows server 2008 r2 or windows home server 2011 for it. I want my server to be cost-effective, reliable, green(consume less power than average) and quiet. I would like to start with a 3TB HDD first(I will expand the server storage capacity to about 9TB in 5 years). There will be about 4 users accessing my server(visiting my website hosted on the server, accessing and putting files on the server) for 30% of the time, for most of the time there will be only 0-2 users accessing it. Also the server will sometimes download big files(like a few GBs) from the Internet automatically. Now I would like to ask for some advice:

*I want the server to consume as less power as possible, but not to make it too slow.

1. Which form factor is best for me? (ATX or micro-ATX etc)
2. Is 4GB of RAM enough or too much?
3. For the HDD, should I get three 1TB HDDs or get one 3TB HDD instead?
4. For the HDD, 5400rpm or 7200rpm is better for my situation?
5. I want to use intel CPUs, getting an i3 is enough or too much, or do you recommend other intel processors to me?
6. I want to use gigabyte motherboard, can you suggest me one(base on the form factor you chose on question one)?

Thank you very much, any help is greatly appreciated! :D 
October 20, 2011 10:39:13 AM

ATX is always nice just because theres more room for expansion. And you actually might NEED 8 GB of RAM (or 16) because servers are actually something that use up a lot of RAM. And, if you want to be power efficient, you'll want something like the WD Caviar Green which is a bit on the slow side but is power efficient, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... and its just preference on single or multipule HDD. I just like having one big one so you can expand to more later. An i3 2100 should be enough because it's just storing files, moving, downloading files. Maybe i5 2300 if you can afford it. This is a pretty cheap Z68 mobo which is nice with the features but mainly I picked it out because it was the cheapest GA mobo with 4 dimm slots http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... , if on a tight budget, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... but you WILL have to get a GPU along with either one of these because theres no integrated one on H61 nor the Z68. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
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October 20, 2011 11:11:13 AM

Dear samuelspark,

Thank you very much for your quick and detailed help!
I would like to know what's the main difference on a 3GB/s and a 6GB/s HDD? Will a 3GB/s use less power since its slower? Thanks!
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October 20, 2011 12:07:11 PM

Hi there. I think I might be able to give some valid input.

First up, if you're planning on using the same machine for 5 years as a 24/7, high-availability server, you might want to point yourself to server-grade hardware, namely on the motherboard front. Supermicro is usually very well recommended. Also, you probably want a Xeon CPU, if you're going the server motherboard route.

Now, that being said, it should be noted that I had an ASRock 945GZ-based motherboard and a Pentium D 805 as a 24/7 server for almost 4 years, with power outages comprising about 75-90% of all server downtime for all those years. So you might be able to pull it off with regular consumer hardware.

As far as storage goes, if you think you'll need 9TB in 5 years, I'd re-think your strategy. As a rule of thumb, at least double what you *think* you'll need. My data storage needs went from <1TB to 3TB in just a bit over a year, and I'm stretched REALLY thin with my current 6TB of storage, only a year later. Even my planned 10TB upgrade (long overdue, I might add, and it was just last year I upgraded to 6TB) is making me feel uneasy, it will be only a stopgap solution... Data storage needs do NOT grow linearly, it seems there is a really big data hoarder inside each and everyone of us.

Also, a single big disk/array for OS and data might not be a great idea. While I do run a WHS machine with a single large OS disk, which has yet to show signs of any aging problems, one or two smaller (maybe even 2.5'') OS drives (RAID1 if two, for improved availability) might allow better I/O results and lower power use when idling (since the big data drive(s) might be able to spin down). It all depends on how much you want to spend, though, multi-HDD solutions are inherently more expensive.

Now, for the specific answers you need:

1) ATX or uATX is primarily a question of taste. It should be noted, though, that while ATX boards tend to be more expensive, they usually have more expansion capabilities, both on the add-in card and storage controller departments. You'll be hard-pressed to find a cheap uATX board with 6 SATA ports (and good luck finding one with 8 or more...), while most ATX ones with less than 6 ports are rather rare.

If you're lucky, you'll be able to get a uATX board with two PCIe 4x+ slots, plus one PCIe 1x slot, which can boost your maximum number of SATA ports to at least two dozens (6 on the PCB, 8+ on each long PCIe slot, plus two more on the PCIe 1x slot), so uATX might be enough, but plan accordingly. I didn't, and as so my current low-power NAS is limited to 4 SATA ports on the PCB, one PCIe 1x slot and a single PCIe 16x slot I don't even know whether it supports non-GPUs or not.

2) RAM is cheap nowadays, and provided your software can handle it, more RAM will allow less HDD access. 4GB is what I use for my WHSv1 machine (I don't use WAMP, btw, only storage and downloading services), no complaints there, though it limits how much data I can move around before caching sends LAN transfer speeds to the ground (around 3GB).

3) It depends on what you want to do. Since I'm using WHSv1, I use file duplication to handle availability, so single drives are fine. RAID or JBOD have their inherent benefits and downsides (though if you go RAID5 or RAID6, you definitely want a dedicated *REAL* RAID card, software RAID on Intel/AMD chipsets and cheap controllers gives lousy speed results). Read up a bit on RAID.

That being said, I'd still stick to the small OS+big data drive combo.

4) 5400rpm is fine for serving files (even over the Internet, to 4 different users simultaneously), and from my WHS experience, streaming locally to 2 PCs at the same time doesn't really pose a problem, even with high-bitrate content. Plus 5400rpm drives have lower power requirements.

7200rpm+ (or SSD, if you can fit your database inside of it) is better for database accesses (and booting an OS), because of lower latency and better I/O per second performance. Though since it's not a critical system, nor over-accessed, and you don't mind waiting a bit more for the OS to load, you might be able to get by with all-5400rpm drives.

5) Besides the XEON idea up above, an i3 might be enough, though an i5 will give you two extra real cores, twice the cache (probably good for the webserver part), Turbo Boost and the AES instructions, which might be used on your WAMP (not sure on that one, though). But, for the record, my Celeron E3200 doesn't really feel limited on my current server, so on light loads the i3 should suffice.

6) H67 or Z68 motherboards should be fine (so you don't need an extra GPU). Maybe this (H67, should be cheaper) or this (Z68, 7 SATA ports!)? I'm a uATX fan, so those are uATX, and based on a quick look around (I'm more of an ASRock guy).

Phew, that was one long post. Hope it helps, though.

Cheers.

Miguel
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October 20, 2011 12:51:15 PM

Best answer selected by iExchange.
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