Server Build 2015

by fwhagen Mon, 27 April 2015

intelxeonfeb3-775x437Back in February 2008, I was forced to quickly upgrade my home server due to the (very) old PII motherboard dying.  I selected a very low power Celeron as the replacement with only a couple GB of RAM because I was really only doing modest things with it; file server, web, netcast downloads, etc.  Over the years, I have found MANY more uses for it.  So I have been planning to upgrade it for a while.  A two-year long divorce proceeding and its subsequent financial beating have delayed that for quite awhile.  But I have finally been able to execute.  This time, it’s a server class Xeon processer with 16GB of memory, and room for 16GB more.

Claymore_CpuZI started with a Xeon E3-1231V3 Haswell CPU.  It’s the 4-core version of the latest architecture running at 3.4GHz.  Mounted it on an ASRock H97 Anniversary Motherboard with 16GB of G.SKILL DDR3 RAM.  I hooked it all up to a Corsair RM Series PSU and a WD Black HDD and ran it on my desk for a month.  I am very happy with the design.  This weekend, I put it all in a beautiful Fractal Design case with a WD Red series HDD for working storage.  The almost completed design is nearly silent, extremely powerful, and only pulls 48 Watts under resting load.  Resting load, by the way, includes 2 active VM servers running, 1 with Windows 2012 and the other MineOS, a Minecraft specific build of a Debian derivative Linux.

Here’s the configuration:

Case Fractal Design Define R4 Black Pearl
PSU CORSAIR RM Series RM450 450W
Motherboard ASRock H97 Anniversary LGA 1150 Intel H97 Intel Motherboard
CPU Intel Xeon E3-1231V3 Haswell 3.4GHz Server Processor
Memory G.SKILL Ares Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600
Cooler Zalman Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler CNPS90F

R4The case was better than expected.  I bought it on a whim and a NewEgg sale.  I was originally planning on reusing the old case, but my son wants a computer at my new place and I really wanted a case that can handle more storage, so I splurged.  First of all, the thing is mammoth.  It comes with 2 140mm fans and I added a third (not pictured below), and yet, has room for 2 more, plus a smaller CPU fan.  None of the fans is cramped in any way, and the spare slots are covered with sound material to not harm good airflow.  Two hard drive racks, one 3-drive and permanent and another 5-drive that is both removable and 90-degree rotatable, depending on whether you want pretty, or good cooling.  There is at least an inch of space behind the motherboard plate, with lots of cable grommets so things are very well organized.  I only have 1 cable running across the front of the board, and that because I chose to place the large high-capacity drive in the upper drive cage oriented for cooling.  The sides are very thick steel with built in sound baffling.  The already quiet system is completely silent in operation.  I am very happy with this item, even though it is a bit large.

I have a Corsair VX series PSU in my workstation and I have loved it.  Reasonably quiet, good efficiency, and so far extremely reliable.  So when a RM series 750W went on sale, I picked one up before I started this build.  I had the PSU, MB assembly, and boot drive running on my desk for a few weeks.  The fan on the RM750W is configured to not engage until under load, so it never did.  In other words, completely silent.  Of course, 750W is extremely overkill, so I decided to hold on to it from the rebuild of the Beast, my aging workstation, and went with a 450W model.  Still incredible.  I highly recommend these PSUs to anyone looking for one. 

WP_20150425_002The ASRock motherboard pairs very nicely with the Xeon processor.  It’s Haswell capable and supports up to 32GB RAM.  It has good overclocking support, but that is not applicable with the Xeon line at all, so I can’t say anything about that.  Great USB3 and SATAIII support.  A solid board with UEFI bios, which is also very nice.  Not exciting, but very capable.  It does look tiny in that massive case though.

The processor, however, is very exciting.  An E3 series Xeon has virtually the same architecture as the i7 Haswell line, but without the built in GPU.  For a server, I don’t need the GPU (and in fact, I will be getting the i7 Haswell-E for the Beast without the GPU also).  It has outstanding virtualization support (I already have 4 VMs running), 4 multithreaded cores, and support for insane (for 2015) amounts of RAM.  For cooling it, I used the Zalman cooler listed above that I originally bought for my MediaPC, which turned out to be a bit too large for the HTPC case.  At rest, which is not exactly idle with 2 VMs running, but not under heavy load, in the case with 2 drives and 2 fans, the whole system only draws 48 Watts.  Amazing.  I am looking forward to really taxing this CPU in days ahead. 

For the future, I will add 2 more very high capacity drives in a RAID configuration for large, redundant storage.  I am currently running a WD Black boot drive, a 1TB WD Red operational drive for active IO data like A/V transcoding, internet services, etc., and a 4TB WD Green drive for media storage on the network.  Eventually I will double the RAM to support even more VMs.  And in the long run, I’d like to get everything in a nice rack-mount chassis.  Short term, I am moving all my automation tasks, which are spread out across 3 different systems to this monster.  Maybe I can get that PSU fan to actually run!

This was a fun build that I did over a 6 week period.  It was 2 years overdue.  With the upgrade possibilities and the seriously overpowered CPU, I don’t think I will ever be executing a server build like this for myself again.  I anticipate this lasting a good ten years, since the last one, that I built with a completely different set of requirements and very limited upgrade potential, lasted 7.  I finally have a capable domain controller, VM host, file server, internet appliance, media storage, Minecraft server (Alex says: “YAY!”), automation controller, development repository, backup server, and on and on.  It’s name is Claymore.

1200px-Scottish_claymore_replica_(Albion_Chieftain)2
"Scottish claymore replica (Albion Chieftain)2" by Søren Niedziella - File:Scottish claymore replica (Albion Chieftain).jpg.
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Update 07/27/2015: I already updated the RAM to 32GB this past weekend. I ran out of memory trying to run too many VMs. And memory is pretty cheap. $90 for another pair of the above.

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