March 28, 2008

In search of an eco-friendly economical Home Server 2, Electric Boogaloo

This is part 2 in a series about building an Eco-Friendly Economical Windows Home Server.
Part 1: In search of an Eco-Friendly Economical Home Server
Part 2: In search of an Eco-Friendly Economical Home Server 2, Electric Boogaloo
Part 3: A Cheap and Green Windows Home Server
Part 4: Ordered parts for Eco-friendly Economical Windows Home Server
Part 5: Can I get a Mulligan on the Case Order?
Part 6: Adding a 1TB Drive to my WHS

This is my second take at virtually building my new Windows Home Server. You can see version 1 here.

My main reason for the reconfiguration was that I wanted to use a SeaSonic power supply. I could have just added it to the previous kit, adding only $40 to the total price, and chucked the one that came with the barebones Asus case/motherboard. I really like the small form factor of the Asus case, but it only supports two SATA drives. While I'm only buying two now, having room for another two would be great. That way if I happen to catch a couple of 500GB drives on sale I could upgrade from 1TB to 2TB on the cheap. Fitting two additional drives means getting a bigger case, though. I chose the Silverstone model below because it fit the bill, was still fairly small (a little bit wider, but still short), and it was on sale. Going with the black case meant that I could save an additional $10 on the DVD drive by not having to find one with a white bezel.

Going away from the barebones kit meant that I lost a level of abstraction (the barebones kit had case, motherboard and power supply). So now choosing a motherboard and the power supply was on me.  I settled on the Gigabyte board below because it supports 4 SATA drives, has 6 USB connections, will handle up to 16GB of RAM and a more powerful CPU if I choose to repurpose it later. Oh yeah, and it was cheap.  I "upgraded" from a 2.2Ghz CPU to a 2.4Ghz, not a big deal, but it was part of a combo deal with the motherboard. I'm still sticking with a single core mainly for the power savings of 45W vs 65W. The SeaSonic power supply is the cheapest one that NewEgg carries, but it is also the only 300W one they have without committing a lot more money - and it's still and 80Plus efficiency unit. With only running the 2 power saving drives, the low power CPU, and really no other accessories (the DVD is really just for installing the OS) a 300W psu should be fine. The RAM was pretty much a wash, $2 increase.


case SILVERSTONE SUGO SG02B-F Black Computer Case


powersupply SeaSonic SS-300ES 300W Power Supply $41.99
harddrive Western Digital Caviar Green Power 500GB 3.5" SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive x 2 $94.99 x 2
RAM Kingston 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Desktop Memory $19.99
cpu AMD Athlon 64 LE-1620 2.4GHz Socket AM2 45W Processor $50.50
motherboard GIGABYTE GA-MA69VM-S2 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard $64.99
dvd LITE-ON Black IDE DVD-ROM Drive Model DH-16D2P-04 $16.99


I was pumped because the total price for this kit before shipping was nearly the same as the previous one, but I was getting a better CPU, better MB, and a much better power supply, and a case that was still smallish but would hold an additional two drives. Darn it, I still like the looks of that Asus case, though. Oh well, I'm a practical person. If I wanted design I'd be buying a Mac anyway, right? However, the shipping for this kit is about $20 more because there was a free shipping offer on the previously chosen case.

The above kit comes in at just over $470 including shipping. I'm really pleased with that and I think I'll order it this weekend. It is pretty eco-friendly, will look okay sitting on a shelf somewhere, and the price is pretty nice, too. I would have have been ecstatic if it would have been closer to $400. If it was closer to $400 then adding the cost of WHS would put everything right at $550, which is the price of the cheapest HP MediaSmart Home Server, but having more memory, double the drive size, more energy efficient and just better all the way around. By the time I add the cost of WHS to what I've spec'd out it comes out to about $620. That still ends up being about $80 cheaper than the higher end HP unit (about $700). Both have 1TB of storage but mine has a little faster CPU, double the RAM, and still better in most areas. Some people will say that it's not really worth the $80 considering I have to actually build and test the PC and they're probably right. I knew I wouldn't save a lot of money, but building the computer to my specs is more important.

Of course you could do something much cheaper than I have here, especially if you have an older PC or parts laying around. Even if you don't you could easily pick up a decently powerful refurbished IBM ThinkCentre or HP or other desktop from MicroCenter for $199, add another drive, install WHS and be off and running. You can probably find one with a pretty small form factor that looks pretty good, too. Something like this would work fine - I don't know if it supports SATA, but if not you could easily add two 250GB IDE drives for about $100. Not too shabby.

I have to thank Jay R. Wren (@sillyevar) and Tom Lynch for their feedback on my initial post. Jay reminded me about the power supply and Tom got me thinking about supporting four drives rather than two. I'm glad I went down both those roads, I think I ended up with a better system because of doing so.

Once again, what are your thoughts? Anything you would do differently? Do you have some different priorities or a different wish list?


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  1.  avatar James Shaw says:

    Seriously? I didn't think building your own was a great idea nowadays - and it seems like you're confirming that. what support comes with your box of parts? :D

    If it's a hobby, that's cool. But if not, then your time is valuable too - how many other mashup sites could you build in the time this has taken? lol

  2.  avatar Tom Lynch says:

    Have you thought about the 500GB HP model + 1 of the WD 500GB drives you have in your post?  This is around $655.  

    Either way you will be glad you got room for more drives.

  3.  avatar says:

    James, building your own to save money is not really a good idea - and as you've said, I've proved it. However, building your own to meet your specific requirements is always viable, especially if it ends up being cheaper than what's available off the shelf.

    I have no idea what parts and pieces HP is using to build their stuff. It could be proprietary sizes, etc. By choosing standard off the shelf components I can easily replace something that breaks with another off the shelf piece, and I won't have to wait to send it to HP and have them send it back to me.

    I had to look to find it, but HP offers a 1 year limited warranty on the home servers hardware. I, of course, do not have an all-encompassing warranty, but I do have a 1 year warranty from the manufacturer on the board and on the CPU, and I have a 3 year warranty from the manufacturer on the power supply. I'm sure some of the other pieces have warranties as well, but they don't mention them on the NewEgg site and I don't feel like doing a bunch of research to find them.

    Not really a hobby, but I've built most of the computers that I have running in my house right now. I wouldn't want to provide support for anyone else running one of my machines, but I have no problem supporting my own hardware. It's actually quite simple for me - kind of like diagnosing car issues probably is for you. If a car won't start it's either fuel or spark and you just need to troubleshoot and eliminate the obvious from there.

  4.  avatar Kevin says:

    Wow, that looks really close to what I have done too. Been running WHS at home since Beta 2, and it rocks - totally love it. I started (with the beta) on an old obsolete tower I had laying around, but once I was sure that I liked it I built a custom machine by ordering the components from NewEgg just like you are considering. I've been meaning to blog about my whole experience and the parts I chose, but I'll leave a brief overview here.:)

    I went with dual core AMD, 2 GB RAM, & nForce motherboard so I could use it both as WHS and as a local dev server to run SQL Server and anything else. Also went with a big case so I could add in extra SATA drives in the future (have 3 now, two new and one old one). But in hindsight wish I had considered power efficiency more and gone a little smaller on case and power supply.

    I build another custom PC for my kids using that same ASUS T3-M2NC51PV barebones kit you posted in your first version. It's a great small cute case - but I wouldn't use it for a server. I think the Silverstone one looks great for a WHS.

  5.  avatar Rob Streno says:

    A year or so ago, I built a home server out of a mini-ITX board mounted in a decorative wooden box.  The board came bundled with processor for about $120 at the time.  Paired it up with a drive and a linux freeNAS distribution, it has worked wonderfully for at least 18 months.  It uses a notebook power supply and a single 80mm fan for cooling.  Plus it has a tiny footprint.

    The processor on the board I got is a 1 GHz processor, but I think they have faster ones now.  If all you're doing is running a server you're going to RDP into, that's all you really need, anyway.

    FWIW, if you're just looking to use it to serve up files, FreeNAS is a nice Linux distro to look at.  It provides a web-based administration console, and has a small footprint.

  6. Thanks, Rob. I had not thought about a mini-ITX board. That certainly would fit the small and quiet requirements.

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