It’s been well over two months since my last entry in this Server series (or any posts for that matter), and almost 3 months since I built the thing. So, it’s time to move on. I’ll give a quick summary for each of the remaining components (for continuity’s sake) and move on to a new topic for the next entry. This is also the first post that I am trying to sync with Facebook, with the hope that I might garner more readers than, well, myself.
So, without further ado, here’s the rest of my server:
Asus P5Q Intel P45 motherboard
This motherboard supports any of the Core 2 line of processors (including the Quad series), up to 8 GB of RAM, and the Intel ICH10R SATA chipset. Obviously, the processor compatibility is trés important for the Q9400 I purchased. And having 8 GB of RAM is definitely a nice flexibility (more on this later). But what is probably the key option on this board that makes it so special is that it supports 6 SATA devices on the ICH10R (Input/Output Controller Hub, version 10 with RAID). This is what has allowed me to connect six 500 GB hard drives in a RAID 5 array for a total of 2.3 TB of storage space (more on this later). This board has PCI-express (useful for the graphics demands of Vista), as well as onboard Gigabit ethernet.
4 GB (2×2GB) of DDR2 800MHz RAM
The motherboard supports dual-channel DDR2 RAM, so it only made sense to buy at least two sticks for the memory bandwidth advantage. I had to have at least 4GB to ensure available memory wasn’t the bottleneck for system performance. But rather than buying just four 1GB sticks, I opted for two 2GB sticks, which will allow me to add two more 2GB sticks at a later time to increase the system memory to the maximum of 8GB. Since Windows Server 2008 is a 64-bit operating system (at least the version I have), I will be able to make use of all that sweet, sweet memory. I’ll wait until I start adding virtual machines that will use more memory before I add the additional 4GB of RAM, though.
nVidia GeForce 8600GT (with Silent Pipe design)
This graphics card was actually the left-over from a failed upgrade to my original HTPC (it was the limitations of the TV itself, not the computer that caused the upgrade to fail). I originally selected the card with passive cooling to eliminate noise for a HTPC solution. But for use in a server, it works pretty well, too. This card has the one of the lowest power consumption levels of any DirectX 10 graphics card (important for a 24×7 server), and has plenty of capacity for handling any GPU tasks a server can throw at it. The air flow in the case for my server is adequate enough to cool the card sufficiently.
650W Antec EarthWatts power supply
This power supply has an 80+ rating (meaning at least 80% of the electricity drawn from the wall goes directly to powering the computer and isn’t lost as heat). For a 24×7 server, that’s important. A 120mm fan provides excellent cooling without a lot of noise, which is also good for a server (you wouldn’t want to listen to the power supply fan running all the time). The 6 SATA power connectors are a perfect fit for the 6-disk SATA RAID array as well, and the 650 watts of available power ensures my system will never demand too much power from the power supply.
Antec Three-Hundred Case
This case is probably the best budget case I’ve ever purchased. It runs very quietly, with a rear-mounted 120mm fan and a top-mounted 140mm fan. Both fans are Antec TriCool fans that have switches that allow you adjust the speed (high, medium, low) and are legendary for their reliability; again, important for a 24×7 server. There is a side vent for cooling the CPU and GPU, and the front has two spots for additional 120mm fans. I haven’t needed to add any yet, but it’s nice to have the option. This case has the added advantage of mounting the power supply below the motherboard, so that the rear and top case fans can move lots of air over the CPU fan and GPU. Their placement also make a lot of sense (hot air rises), so it’s actually a very efficient and cleverly designed case. Too bad Antec’s innovations with this case have largely been ignored by other manufacturers and even a lot of Antec’s other cases.
6×500 GB hard drives (in RAID 5 array for 2.3 TB of redundant storage)
Yes, you read that correctly. 2.3 Terabytes of redundant (failure-resistant) storage. I already had all the drives in different computers or external enclosures, so it was just a matter of collecting them all together. The drives are setup in a RAID 5 array, meaning that if any one drive fails, the data is backed up across the other disks in the array and can be reconstructed once the failed drive has been replaced. There is some performance degradation when writing to the array because of the parity data that has to be written (the information that allows the data reconstruction for failed drives), but this is largely mitigated by the use of a hardware RAID controller as opposed to software RAID. The system drive is just a 250 GB hard drive that is connected to the 2 SATA port Silicon Image controller.
Windows Server 2008 (full-feature promo version)
And finally, the reason for all the high-end hardware: the operating system. Windows Server 2008 is based on Windows Vista, with all the hardware requirements of that OS. But they’ve dropped the Aero eye candy and assured stability by releasing it with Service Pack 1. There are a lot of features with Server 2008 that I haven’t even started to play around with, so I can’t speak to much besides performance and stability as a file server. And in that regard, it has performed flawlessly. I’ve been running the server 24×7 since early November, and had no problems with stability whatsoever. I have NEVER had a bluescreen or critical error that has required me to troubleshoot it. Automatic updates run every night and automatically restart the computer if needed. And even for very large video files (10 GB sometimes), the fast hardware-RAID array can allow any movie to begin playing within about a second or two of being accessed from another computer. To save power, though, I’ve set the hard drives to spin down when inactive for an hour.
All in all, I’ve been very pleased with the way this project has turned out: a rock-solid and high performing server that can store all my movies and TV shows (without fear of data loss from hard drive failure). Feeling kinda bad that such a powerful machine goes unused most of the time, I’ve installed Folding@Home to crunch numbers for protein folding calculations. It’s a really neat project to distribute these very complicated and CPU-intensive calculations out to willing volunteers (or at least their computers). The results are used in medical research, where the physics of how certain proteins fold can determine genetic diseases . . . or their cures.
I can confidently say, having two months’ worth of usage with this server, that it was a good and hopefully long-lasting investment.