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Home server build, part one - specifications (stochasticgeometry.ie)
23 points by markdennehy on July 27, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

That's way more CPU & RAM than you're going to need. 850W is A LOT for an idle machine. Fortunately, you won't draw anywhere near that without a graphics card.

Let's do some math.

Say your machine draws 250 Watts (~2 Amps). That's 6 KilowattHours(kwh) per day.

The US. national average for electricity is $0.112/kwh (as high as $0.31 in Hawaii) http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table5_6_a.html

Electricity for your machine will cost 6 * $0.112 = $0.67/day (on average)

That's $245.28/yr

These days you can get integrated Atom boards with up to 8 SATA ports.

Less power, less heat, less space. http://www.mini-itx.com/store/?c=2

Kev, I could definitely do this on less CPU, less RAM, less power, and possibly less money (some of the parts for the custom small atom boards are more expensive, pound-for-pound, than their mainstream desktop counterparts). But the moment I hit any extra task, my spec would be all out of whack and I'd have to rebuild the box. No thanks, I'll accept a higher initial spend and a less-than-optimal running cost as insurance against the time and effort I spend keeping an infrastructure box up and running over that time period.

To give you some math back, my time on salary comes to a net of (approximately) €20/hr (and yes, it'd be far higher if I was contracting, thanks). Lets say a hard drive goes because I bought a different PSU which was closely matched to the spec but it's a friday model so the 12V line was kinda struggling. Now I have to buy the new hard drive, have it shipped, install it and rebuild it; that's going to come to 1-2 hours of my time in total on repairs, and probably three to four days where I don't have my infrastructure here which comes to around 24 hours of my time where I'm being put out because of a hardware failure. That's €480 worth of my time, against about $163/yr in running costs (because I really doubt this will be pulling 250W continously). Think of it as health insurance - yeah, odds are you'll never get back services equal to what you paid for, but that's not really the point...

It only costs you €480 if you lose time that would otherwise be spent at work. But I understand (and agree) with your point of losing time. If you use it for as your media library, 4 days with only standard TV broadcasts can be boring :-)

Even more boring when you don't have a TV in the house qw :)

also i don't have health insurance.

Yup, that thing is way too big and expensive for what it is. I get the same functionality (NAS, media server, torrent machine, small DB server, small web server, FTP, git, SSH, remote desktop, caching proxy, print server, UPS monitor) from an $100 Atom mITX system with 2GB RAM that draws 50 Watts. I get 5TB of storage, available at 85-90MB/s through Gigabit. Why would I need more?

Also a benefit of the low power draw, a 700VA UPS can keep that thing running for about two hours.

250W is already pretty high, i think you can get away with 150-180W for that machine and 4 disks, which would bring costs down to ~$180/yr or $15 a month. Depening on what you do with it thats fair i think. If you just need media storage an atom or similar cpu will work, but if you need/want to run a couple of VMs a Server like this one is the better choice.

Definitely agree. I'd be more inclined to go for a sandybridge processor http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/sandy-bridge-efficienct-...

320GB drives dedicated to the OS seems like a bit much, no? The power supply is also overkill, you don't need anything close to 850W to run that box. This could certainly be a lower cost build.

320Gb is definitely more than needed, but look at the disks on the site; the smallest drive there is an 80Gb Western Digital, but it costs £29.10; the 320Gb Seagate costs £28.66. /shrug Hey, if they want to charge less for a 320Gb than a smaller drive, I'll take the 320Gb.

As to the 850W, darn right I don't need all of it right now, but (a) I want the PSU nowhere near its limits when running two RAID arrays; and (b) I'll be adding in disks in the future to increase storage space as needed; I don't want to have to buy another PSU or worry about stressing the PSU at that point. It's relatively cheap future-proofing.

Few notes from someone who's built way to many home, and other, servers.

You made the right call on the drive, low end hard disk prices hit a wall pretty hard which leaves them looking a bit silly.

You're vastly overestimating the amount of power required to run the disk arrays, even at peak spin-up loads. The only way you could fit enough hardware into that chassis to come near using that PSU is multiple high-end GPUs.

If you're going to build a home server it's almost always worth investing in an AC power meter if you don't already have one.

Nearly every PSU operates most efficiently somewhere in the middle of it's power range, operating a high power PSU at 20% capacity will use notably more power than a correctly sized one. Take a look at any PSU review over at silentpcreview.com, they do good efficiency testing.

> Nearly every PSU operates most efficiently somewhere in the middle of it's power range, operating a high power PSU at 20% capacity will use notably more power than a correctly sized one.

One note from a physics major who's first job out of college was a the electrical officer on a frigate: this applies to all electrical devices. This sort of "over-supply solves all problems" attitude is quaint when it's a home server. It really sucks when under-loaded 1MW diesel generators shit the bed almost weekly on deployment in the summer. Any idea how much hot-dark-and-quiet sucks when you're bobbing like a cork in the middle of the ocean in the summer? Now imagine you're the person that 250 hot, cranky people expect to fix it. Why? because some "contracting expert" in the Pentagon decided to "over-spec" the generators 25 years ago.

Niels, the PSU in this build actually does operate most efficiently in the 40%-60% load region according to its specs; it wasn't just a rule-of-thumb.

Also, the lower you load it, the easier it gets to cool, according to its own specs. Which I take as a nice bonus.

Do you really save anything significant by purchasing less than 320GB, these days?

It's gone up - you're talking a difference of pence between the 320Gb and 500Gb versions of the same drive these days.

I've been shopping, recently, and while I'm not looking in that size range, the prices in that range that I've happened to notice align with what you're saying, the the extent I recall. (For me, in the U.S.)

The exception, I guess, might be for extremely fast platter drives or for SSD's. (And with platter drives, you're still to some extent up against speed by virtue of rotation speed versus speed by virtue of data density.)

FreeNAS works really well on a little 1GB USB stick - dedicating ALL of the SATA connectors to disks.

Won't the write load of log files and things eventually kill the flash chips? USB sticks are made from pretty bottom-of-the barrel parts...

This can be dealt with by putting /var on the SATA disks, but at that point I wonder how much you're saving using the USB stick rather than a mirror on the cheapest drives you can find of reasonable quality.

FreeNAS actually recommends you install the OS on a flash disk (whether that's a 3.5 or a USB stick doesn't matter) so that the disks can be reserved entirely for storage.

This seems like a waste of money and environmentally unfriendly for little gain especially with the given list of taks from the article.

Ex-enterprise gear or a retired/second-hand PC would be a lot easier on the wallet (and much higher quality for enterprise gear). Add a couple new drives in a mirror and you're good to go.

Low power 1U atom or amd fusion builds are the one place new hardware makes sense to me for a home server.

Ex-enterprise gear or a retired or second-hand PC would indeed be easier on the wallet and able to do the job. However, since I had neither, nor a way to get either...

And yes, Atom builds could handle NAS loads easily enough, no disagreement there; but add in the backups and other tasks, and you'll start reaching the limits of the platform. This isn't just a NAS box, this is the main server for the house.

You are willing to ship things based on this build, so don't be to quick to dismiss. eBay, Craiglist, and other regional list sites are the go to places. Say you spend $400 USD equivalent on an older Opteron system and a generous $200 to ship it. You're still coming out ahead and would have a higher quality engineered system IMHO. Just something to consider in the future.

NAS, backups, web development, etc aren't going to stress an atom. I/O will be your enemy far sooner in most conceivable server scenarios until wide RAID arrays or SSDs enter the picture.

In the US, I'd definitely be going with newegg, craigs and other places kev; but in Ireland, well, places like scan are about as good as it gets. Ebay is an option as well, but the build takes longer; I have a week's vacation to get this done in for various personal reasons - so having the parts here now is worth the 10% I'd save on average if I spent a month hunting down bits on ebay and shipping them seperately.

And buying an older system on ebay and shipping it... er, no, I wouldn't be doing that locally in Ireland. I'd get an overpriced, heavily kicked system unless I was very lucky, and to quote a google sysop, hope is not an acceptable plan :D

that icy box thing looks cool. I have been looking for something like that for a while, trying without luck to use some other non-backplane devices that haven't fit properly in the case, or have pieces broken off after very light use.

As for the other comments about environmental friendliness, well it's not that bad. Running old enterprise gear will more than likely use a lot of power. The processor and power supply in that build are a bit overkill, but I think it is overall ok. You could get a 45W version of the processor and I bet that power supply won't be using more than 10% of its capacity, so yes it might have efficiency issues. 80Plus certification only measures efficiency at certain loads, 20% being the lowest, so who knows how efficient that will be at 10%. But of course you could add a GPU in there, or run a few virtual machines. I still don't think Atom's are worth it for general computing, as the platform is pretty limited in terms of expansion (no PCI, seriously limited RAM).

What could inspire somebody to buy 8TB of storage today for ~100GB storage requirements? It'll be half the price in three months.

It's 1-200Gb of live data, but about 1.5-2Tb of data that's currently sitting offline on DVDs which are a pain to access. I generate a fair amount of video data when training. Plus, as I said, future-proofing. I'm old enough to remember the "Who'd need more than 640k of RAM?" comment from the first time around...

Future-proofing is a bit of a myth. You're spending a lot of money on a machine (and the electricity to run it) in order to have some tangible benefit a year or more down the line. But by that time, you can buy hardware that outperforms and costs less than what you bought now.

Additionally, what you want in years to come might not even be the same thing that you want now. Two years ago, I sure couldn't predict what I'd like my machines to be able to handle today. "What? A web server? Whyever would I need that?"

When it comes to hardware, buy what you need right now and no more. Let future-you worry about himself.

Unrelated tangent: why is this text area so small, anyway?

Okay, at least in the ballpark then. But I think you missed the point— you're paying today for storage you won't use until God knows when. How do you justify that with HDD prices per GB dropping dramatically every few months?

I understand not wanting the hassle of buying a new drive at some point in the future, but I've a hunch that this is the sort of "future proofing" that makes your system seem charmingly quaint a year from now.

It's not the drives I'm future-proofing guys, it's the entire box. And "future-proofing" doesn't mean "I'll never need new hardware ever again", it means "I won't need to worry about the hardware in this box again". So I come back in two years, swap out the 2Tb drives in the RAID array for 4Tb drives and it costs me half what I'm paying for them now; but I don't have to go spending extra on a new PSU, case, etc - the stuff whose prices won't have fallen by much.

I think that's what other commenters and me are getting at, though. The responsible way to not need to worry about the hardware in the box is to purchase only as much capability as you're going to to need in the time it takes before you want to replace it.

But you're wildly overengineering for your needs; you could literally spend half as much on a system which isn't "future proof", and in two years replace the entire thing for half again what you paid. So my question, which seems to be the common one, remains, why?

(a) I don't agree that that's what I'm going to be spending money on in two years, or that costs will have fallen that far for the entire box (CPU, RAM, yes; physical box, PSU, no), or even that that money will be available (I'm in Ireland - check out the news on our economy :) Right now, whether it's better to keep euros in the bank or to spend them while they still have purchasing power buying things that will last and can be used seems like a terrifyingly close decision!

(b) This box's destiny is to go sit in a room quietly and just work. Any time I spend on it after it's in that quiet room is time wasted, and I'm willing to spend a bit more (though not a huge amount more) now to save a lot more then. If I was a postgrad again and my time was low-cost and I wasn't hosting data I really worried about, sure, I'd pick the newest, shiniest toy and try to make it work and if it didn't, oh well, I learnt something; but that's not the case here, I just want a solid box I never have to worry about no matter what else we throw at it. This ain't the project car in the garage being endlessly worked on for fun, this is the family estate wagon that's used for the shopping and getting the kids to school, if that analogy makes any sense.

(And I will have to buy new drives in the future. Hard drives fail, that's a fact of life - hence the RAID array, so that when they fail, I can just swap them out instead of having to spend a day reinstalling and recovering).

personally, my home server is a "Seagate Dockstar Network Adapter", a 1.2GHz ARM box that can run Debian, with some USB disks, and a USB sound card so I can stream pulseaudio stuff to my larger speakers. Speedwise, the network is the bottleneck, so having USB disks for everything works fine. I suppose if you have your stuff wired up for gigabit and really need that much more speed, going for a box with faster interfaces would make sense, though you can get ARM plug computers with SATA or eSATA, iirc.

Things it does: NAS for large file storage and backup, pulseaudio sink, transmission w/ webclient, IRC client (ssh/screen), light home webserving.

I used to have a more serious box, but I found this runs silently, very low power, does everything I need, and is tiny. Also I got it on woot for $20. I'd strongly advise a similar setup for home stuff.

I like your line of thinking. I just ordered a BeagleBoard today that I plan to use as a static HTTP server. You've found the Debian ARM port to be stable and complete? I was pondering giving Angstrom a go first.

I also love the fact that it also runs on less than 12.5 watts!

I've got an Alix parked under my router and it uses about 0.07A http://cgi.ebay.com/270782068385

haven't run into any problems with debian on it

I would buy a machine with ECC memory, see djb's rant http://cr.yp.to/hardware/ecc.html I would also add another 2tb drive and mirror them.

I love the idea of a home server far more than I do using typical "end-point" electronics... But one thing I'd love to see a hardware manufacturer make is a wifi monitor that functionally doubles as a tablet.

Just a light, wifi, touchscreen (with mic, speakers, and cameras) that uses my desktop, and just streams content to the device. A smart charging stand that hold it vertical, and you could use it in place of a traditional monitor too. (Pie in the sky territory: awesome remote abilities that let you control your desktop over wifi from anywhere.)

The ethernet port on that motherboard is horrible, especially if you plan on streaming video or moving lots of data onto or off of that server. I strongly suggest you get either a different motherboard, or buy an Intel card. Given your design goals, it's worth it, as you'll see significant performance gains in throughput and cpu load.

Too much storage in the short term, considering a 1.5TB drive has dropped like $50 in the last year alone. Why 320GB non-SSD for the OS? Seems like a lot of money for a home server. I spent a little more than that and built a work horse that I use for data crunching and running VMs to do my day to day development.

Oh come on downvoters. We're talking about $1300 for a glorified print and file server. Please tell me I'm not the only one that finds that surprising.

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