Choosing Home Server Hardware

I spent time on Wednesday evening picking out components for my future home server. When it’s released later in the year, some of the major OEMs will be releasing what looks like very cool hardware developed specifically for Windows Home Server, but I thought it would be fun to build my own. I’ve not built a server before (I have built a desktop PC – it’s a great project if you have some time), so i did a little reading around on the web, and here’s some guidelines I pulled together:

Barebones (Case, Motherboard etc)

Given that this home server is going to sit in my spare room, near my broadband router, along with a whole heap of other stuff (Desktop PC, Printer, Monitor, Digital Camera dock, Tom Tom Dock, Telephone) I wanted something that would be relatively small and quiet, but still let me install at least 2 hard drives. I settled on the Asus Pundit PH4 (check out the newer Asus Pundit PH5) – a relatively small case (certainly thin), lots of storage expandability, and it has integrated sound and graphics (no need to spend here). 6 USB Ports (2 front, 4 back) for those extra External USB hard drives you may need in the future, and an integrated  10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet port for connecting to the router. All for about £99 at e-buyer. I’ve read conflicting reports of how noisy it is, some say pretty silent, others say noisy, but the noisy reports were subsequently corrected by the users either clipping the fans in properly, or finding a BIOS option to reduce the fan speed. Anyway, we’ll see.

My choice: ASUS Pundit P3-PH4 Intel Socket T(LGA775) Barebone

So, all we need to do now is sort out a Processor, RAM and Hard Drives.

Processor

You don’t need a really super fast processor for your server – save your money. Something like a Pentium 4 or its AMD equivalent (pinched from an old computer) would be fine – your home server isn’t going to be encoding video or working with massive graphic files in photoshop. So something cheap, with a little oomph, but not too much is great.

Also think about heat – the server’s going to be on all the time, and you dont want it to build up too much heat, or else those fans will be loud.

My choice: Intel Pentium D 820 (2.8GHz) Socket 775 FSB800 2x1MB Cache Retail Boxed Processor

I was going to go originally for a P4, but saw that the Pentium D’s do run cooler, and there was £3 difference, so what the heck.

RAM

Again, you don’t need to blow out on Gigs-a-plenty like you’ve just done for your Windows Vista machine! WHS is built on Windows Server 2003, so doesn’t require mega amounts of RAM. 512Mb should be fine.

My choice: Crucial 512MB 240-Pin DIMM Unbuffered DDR2 PC 4200 533MHz CL4

Hard Drive

Here’s where to invest – hard drives are becoming cheaper seemingly by the day. My advice, if you’re going for new hardware, purchase as much internal storage as you can afford. Windows Home Server (according to what I’ve seen) does a very clever job of utilising external hard drives, but they will mean more clutter in the house. Go large.

My Choice: 2 x Western Digital 500GB Raid Edition SATA II 7200RPM 16MB Cache – OEM

The “RAID Edition” labelling is a bit of a red herring – we’re not going to get into RAID with Windows Hom Server (which is great, as it looks pretty complicated and far too much hassle). Apparrently, this drive is very stable, used for “enterprise level storage”, all of which basically means, it isn’t going to die on you quickly.

Everything Else

Make sure your server has an internal (or external) DVD drive – you’ll need this to install Windows Home Server in the first place! Don’t worry about purchasing an extra monitor, keyboard or mouse, if you aready have these in the home (which I guess you will!) – you’ll only need these when initially installing WHS, so just use what you have, then unplug them. When you need to use WHS in the future, you will access it through your other PCs.

So, that’s about it! I’ve placed my order and it should all arrive today, so I’ll soend some time on Saturday building my new home server.

17 comments

  1. I wouldn’t use these RAID edition drives for normal PC usage. They’re designed to have limited error recovery times because in RAID applications you’d rather have the drive time out and rebuild the data from the array than to wait for the drive to go through its error recovery procedures which can take up to 30 seconds, an eternity on a storage array. WHS isn’t RAID, so I don’t know how the system would handle the apparent hard error on one of the RE drives (in reality, the data may be perfectly readable).

  2. Greetings All,
    As a recent edition to the WHS Beta Test, I wanted to post my server build list and network configuration:
    ASUS T3-M2NC51PV Barebones PC
    AMD Athlon 64 3000+ AM2 CPU
    2x 512MB Kingston PC2-5300 DDR2-677 RAM
    2x 500GB Maxtor Maxline Pro 500 SATA2 16MB 7200rpm HDD
    IDE DVD Player
    on-board Gigabit NIC
    My home network consists of a 8 port gigabit switch attached to a broadband router.
    The two workstations consist of high end Intel Core2Duo and AMD Opteron rigs.
    I like the fact that the platform offers plenty of connection options, expandability, and legs.
    The parts budget for the server came in just over $600CAN. It’s somewhat more than I had initially planned on spending but the resulting server should be good to go for some time to come.
    I’m very much looking forward to the whole process and appreciate the opportunity.

  3. I would suggest having 1Gb of RAM if you have a lot of machines on your network and/or run a bunch of add-ins. I have WHS running on an old Sony Vaio mini tower and I use it as a uTorrent gateway as well as some other add ins and 512Mb is stretching it, for example I moved a bunch of data from my old Maxtor NAS unit to the WHS and it spanked the memory and it was swapping out constantly.

    1Gb is so cheap these days so splash out! 🙂

  4. My hardware:
    AMD Athlon 64 3000+ 939 CPU
    ASUS A8N SLI-Premium
    FSP 350W
    4X512M Corsair DDR400
    Maxtor 120G IDE
    CM Hyper6 without fan

    all staff come from my old pc

  5. RAID implementation is not complicated at all.
    If Windows Home Server is based on Server 2003, then you could very easily implement a Software RAID1 Mirror of the two drives for fault tolerance within Server 2003’s Computer Management console.

  6. RAID implementation is not complicated at all.
    If Windows Home Server is based on Server 2003, then you could very easily implement a Software RAID1 Mirror of the two drives for fault tolerance within Server 2003’s Computer Management console.

    As mentioned by other people, Server 2003 is much better than Vista, but regardless, I will still run it with at least 1GB of RAM.

  7. I have WHS OEM currently running on a 1.6GHz Pentium M (Dothan) with 512Mb of RAM. (Mini-iTX setup). Works nicely.
    Have had it running on a 1GHz VIA C5 (EPIA M1000 with 1GHz embedded VIA CPU) with 512Mb of RAM – worked well on that also.
    Haver to say RAM usage is much higher than I’ve seen compared to XP or 2k3 server, but easily fits in the 512Mb I have installed.
    I have a huge selection of lower powered mini-iTX gear to play with and it works well on it all. Have to say I think I’ll hold out for the HP WHS hardware as it is much easier to add HD’s internally.

  8. Just to add another hardware post:

    Amd xp2200!
    Asrock K7nf2 raid )although I am going to replace this with an ASUS A7N8X-E Deluxe which is being repaired by ASUS (great customer service!), primarity for the gigabit NIC
    1024 (2*512) “generic” ddr 400 (i.e. from pc world – )
    nvidia gforce 440mx
    Samsung spinpoint 500gb SATA
    300 watt power supply

    runs very well, relatively silent, doesn’t get hot and hasn’t let me down once!
    Only thing I’m concerned about is whether the power supply will cope with another hard drive and whether I should go with a 64bit processor

  9. Can I use a hardware raid card . I’m looking at 3ware/amcc sata card with 5 bay sata cage for data and a boot disk ( non raid ) .
    Thanks

  10. Hi Mohammed,

    RAID configurations are not recommended for Windows Home Server – the WHS software itself can duplicate shared folders to multiple hard drives.

    Best wishes
    Terry

  11. In relation to my earlier post, got my ASUS A7N8XE- Deleux back – re-assembled and re-installed WHS. It seems to be running about 10c hotter, even though withy the same heat sink and fan (and new arctic silver compound). I wondered if this was because of the ASUS board itself, or because I intalled the NVIDIA drivers for sound, gart, the “enhanced” IDE SW driver etc. Would these drivers make the cpu run hotter? Should I remove the nvidia drivers anyway – do they add any value or for that matter detract?

  12. Hi Winston

    I’d check whether the heat sink is positioned correctly first. Couldn’t see a reason why the drivers would hit your CPU, unless they were causing lots of CPU activity (check in Task Manager). You shouldn’t need to use the sound card in your home server, so you can uninstall them no problem.

    Terry

  13. Thanks Terry – checked CPU heat sink and it is positioned fine. I actually uninstalled the nvidia drivers (apart from the ethernet) and it does seem to run cooler! As a final hardware question – I now have 2 sata disks running well with fle duplication active but I also have a third IDE 250gb drive I though about adding. Is it a good idea to mix sata and IDE with a view to speed and secondly is is worth running defrag on the WHS system before adding another disk?

  14. Hi Winston

    That’s great news, glad it’s cooling down. With regards to the IDE drive, as long as your motherboard supports this configuration, you should be fine. The IDE drive will be slower, but it shouldn’t be too noticeable bearing in mind the extra storage benefit you’ll get.

    However, *do not* run the internal defrag application on your WHS box – it’s absolutely unsupported, and may corrupt the drive. WHS spends a lot of time working our where to place files physically with its Drive Extender system. The last thing is wants is for the defrag app to move them all around again!

    Diskeeper 2008 HomeServer is compatible with Windows Home Server’s DE/VSS system, so is wirth checking out if you need to defrag (I think they’ll have a free trial available shortly).

    All the best
    Terry

  15. Thanks once again Terry. Will let you know if I get any problems using the IDE drive with the two SATA. As for defrag, I might just leave it for the time being. The less things running the better for a cooler cpu, right?!

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