Two events recently took place that have markedly altered my plans for a Mac Mini running Snow Leopard Server:
- LEMON #1 – I received my copy of Snow Leopard Server in the mail! Only to find out that along with the serial code provided is an expiration date: November 30, 2009. That’s right, only two months’ worth of a free trial. Not the unlimited trial version I had hoped for.
- LEMON #2 – I accidentally ruined my media/file server motherboard in the process of downgrading the processor from a quad-core Q9400 to a dual-core Celeron (since it would only be a file server). In the process of prying off the adhesive backing on the massive Typhoon heatsink I had previously installed, I scratched the motherboard surface enough to damage the circuitry. Now the server will not even POST with that motherboard, which was purchased less than a year ago for $120. Now it’s a shiny piece of junk.
So, needless to say, I’m pretty bummed about the dual-dilemma. Not only was my design for a new server OS crushed by the fact that Apple’s ‘sounds-too-good-to-be-true’ was indeed too good to be true, but also the motherboard for my main file server no longer works. Let me explain why the motherboard failure is such a big issue.
Getting to know the second lemon:
A motherboard has a few features that makes it unique to a particular system. The “socket” is the type of interface between the motherboard and the processor. With Intel processors, one type of socket fits only one type of processor. My server’s motherboard is a Socket 775 type, which means I will need to buy another Socket 775 motherboard in order to use the processor I already have. Fortunately, Socket 775 is fairly widespread, so there are lots of options out there.
The other relevant characteristic of a motherboard is the “Southbridge Chipset.” Bascially, the layout of a “chipset” is as follows: the CPU connects directly to the Northbridge Chipset (also known as the MCH or “Memory Controller Hub”) for very fast, high-bandwidth access (things like RAM and graphics cards). Items that require less-speed and bandwidth (hard drives, optical drives, sound cards, USB, LAN, etc) are all housed in the Southbridge Chipset (also known as the ICH or “Input/Output Controller Hub”).
In the specific case of my recently deceased motherboard, the Northbridge Chipset was P45, while the Southbridge Chipset was ICH10R (remember that the “ICH” part stands for “Input/Output Controller Hub,” the “10” simply designates the version of the chipset from Intel, and the “R” stands for “RAID” edition). I’ve highlighted the relevant components in the following diagram: CPU on top, Northbridge in the middle, Southbridge at the bottom, and the accompanying SATA interfaces on the right:
Those 6 SATA ports are the key component of the motherboard, in my case. I setup a RAID5 array using the ICH10R chipset with six 1TB hard drives, giving me 4.5TB of available redundant storage. The great thing about RAID arrays is that you can get faster access speeds, data redundancy, or a combination of the two. The downside is that a hardware RAID (as I have) will only work with that particular RAID controller. I can’t just hook up my six 1TB hard drives to any old motherboard. I have to connect all 6 to an ICH10R motherboard. Otherwise, my 4.5TB of data is as good as gone.
So, I need to scrap my plans for a non-expiring version of Snow Leopard Server, and I need to buy a new motherboard to get my server back up and running. Is all lost?
And now for the twist:
So far, the situation has been pretty much bad news all around. I’m without a long-term server OS and now even my file server is out of commission. But here’s where the two create an interesting potential combination.
- I need to purchase a new motherboard for my server.
- I need to use my copy of Snow Leopard Server in the next 2 months
As you might recall from my prior post about a Hackintosh Snow Leopard Server, I was considering the possibility of running Snow Leopard Server on a Hackintosh. I eventually came to the conclusion that a Mac Mini would be better suited (and more stable in the long run) than a Hackintosh. But given that I have to replace the motherboard anyway, why not replace it with a Hackintosh compatible one? As it turns out, several P45/ICH10R motherboards from Gigabyte are Hackintosh compatible. So why not get a replacement motherboard that can double as a Hackintosh?
As you’ll recall, I reasoned that a Hackintosh wouldn’t be the best solution in the long run because any patch or update could break it completely. However, given that I am only going to be able to use the license of Snow Leopard Server for two months, why not take advantage of that time and experiment a little bit?
So here’s the plan. Purchase a replacement P45/ICH10R Gigabyte motherboard. Install the trial license of Snow Leopard Server as a Hackintosh. When the trial ends on November 30th, I will have had 2 months to play around with Snow Leopard Server and determine if I want to actually go down the road (eventually) of purchasing a Mac Mini for full-time server duty. And by early November, I will have become eligible for full licenses of Windows 7 Professional through the Software Center at work, and can replace the incredibly bloated Windows Server 2008 that was running on my server with a much leaner OS for media/file server duty.
It’s not my original plan, but I think I can make the most of it . . .