WHS System Build: Motherboard/CPU/RAM

GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3I wrote about the Cooler Master RAF32 case that I ordered for my next system build earlier this week. Now I’ll go into the motherboard I plan to use and why. I already have the motherboard in hand, purchased earlier so I could take advantage of a discount. I just placed the order for the CPU and memory.

I picked the GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3 LGA motherboard. I forget exactly what drew my attention to the board. I came across a mention of it someplace and it seemed like a solid, if unspectacular, board. Anything with 8 SATA ports at a price under $150 gets my attention. Of the 28 mobos with 8 or more SATA ports listed at Newegg this is the least expensive.

The motherboard has decent specs:

  • ATX form factor
  • LGA 1156 CPU socket for i3/i5/i7 CPUs
  • 4 DIMM slots supporting up to 16GB of RAM
  • Intel P55 Chipset
  • No Onboard Video
  • One PCI Express x16 slot,
  • Another PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot but running at x4. With a caveat in that the PCIX1_2 slot has to be empty. If it’s used then the this slot runs at x1
  • Two PCI Express x1 slots. Although as the above bullet points mentions, using both will affect the PCI Express x4 slot. In addition the PCIX1_1 slot can only handle shorter cards. So using PCI Express x1 slots will be complicated
  • Three PCI slots
  • 8 SATA Ports
  • The P55 chipset support RAID 0/5/1/10 for 6 of those SATA ports while a Gigabyte  SATA2 chip supports RAID 0/1/JBOD on another two. The Gigabyte SATA 2 chip is reported by others as a rebadged JMicron chip.
  • There’s on onboard LAN thanks to Realtek but I like to use Intel NICs so don’t plan on using it. I’ll probably do some testing on it to see how it compares if only to satisfy my curiosity.
  • It’s got a whopping eight USB 2 ports and two USB 3 ports on the rear panel. I don’t need a lot of USB ports in my Windows Home Server. Just a couple available for when I need to hook up a keyboard an mouse. The enhanced backup features of Vail may may me actually use it to backup to an external drive so USB 3 may prove useful, although I have no USB 3 devices to test it with. It also has 4 onboard USB connectors for hooking up to my cases front panel.

There’s no SATA III connectors which are starting to appear on newer motherboards. But I don’t see a use for SATA III at this time. To be really useful I’d need it for all drives and that upgrade would cost me a fortune.

My concern was with the available expansion slots due to the inability to share the x4 and one of the x1 slots. So in mapping out the slot usage I came up with the following:

  • The PCI Express 2.0 x16 for the video card during the installation and if needed in the future. It’s convenient to leave the card in so I may buy a cheap card and do that.
  • The PC Express x16 slot running at x4 for a SATA controller to be named later. I’m still researching controllers but will need four more parts to get to my 12 drive requirement.
  • One PCI slot reserved for future expansion with my Norco 4-port external SATA controller. I use this on my current windows home server to connect four external drive in a Sans Digital enclosure. I don’t plan to move this anytime soon, but will keep it available for the future.
  • One PCI slot for an Intel Nic. If space or some other consideration crops up I can use a PCI Express x1 slot instead and still not step on the PCIX_2

So it looks like I’ll be fine with the expansion slots.

Before picking the motherboard I’d all but decided on a Intel Core i3-530 but the selection of this motherboard sealed the deal. I keep the server strictly for server type activity, serving files and video. I imagine I’ll use a few add-ins but my history is to be conservative on them. I won’t do DVD ripping on video encoding directly on the server. The i3 may actually be more than I need but it lets me use a motherboard that can handle some serious CPU upgrades if needed.

As for RAM I went with two sets of the G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Model F3-10600CL8D-4GBHK. The memory has slightly faster timings so I’ll need to manually set the configuration in the BIOS. I’m not sure it’s really going to matter in a home server (kind of doubt it will). But the price was good so I figured I’d give it a try. At 8GB I’ve maxed out what Vail can support and it’s probably about twice what I’ll ever need. But I wanted to make sure the memory was matched properly and figured I’d be safe and do it all now. This is the one item I have a bit of buyer’s remorse with and probably should have stuck with 4GB.

The tab for this part of the build was $377.46 – $103.49 for the motherboard, $113.99 for the CPU and $159.98 for the memory.

Any comments on my choices? Speed bumps or problems I missed? Alternatives for others to consider?

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