System Build: Home Server

When I started looking at a Home Server replacement back in October the plan was to get some new hardware and transition to it when Vail was released. Then Vail was gutted when when Microsoft removed drive extender and it became just another OS with nothing unique, at least not for me. Luckily this system build is flexible and I have options. In it short life it’s already run Windows Home Server Vail and Ubuntu 10.04.1.

The Parts List

Case: COOLER MASTER HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP $130 (although it’s currently on sale with an additional rebate). I talk about the case here.

Power Supply: Corsair Professional Series Gold High Performance 850-Watt Power Supply CMPSU-850AX for $180 which I wrote about here.

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3 LGA $103.50 (currently down to $95)

CPU: Intel Core i3-530 $114 (now down to $100)

RAM: Two sets of G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Model F3-10600CL8D-4GBHK for a total of 8GB at $160 (and now way down to $90)

I wrote about the motherboard/cpu/ram choice here.

Drive Cages: I write about by trials and tribulations looking for a drive cage, preferably one that was hot swappable. I ended up going with the Cooler Master 4 in 3 cage at $20.

To hold the two 2.5” drives in one 3.5” bay I went with a Connectland CL-HD-MRDU25S Removable Enclosure 3.5-Inch for Two 2.5-Inch SATA Hard Disks for $32. This is open above the drives to it the drives can breath a little more than my first choice which wrapped the drive in metal.

Hard Drives: Most of the hard drives would be ones I already had, but I did but two Western Digital Scorpio Black WD3200BEKT 320GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache 2.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Notebook Hard Drive -Bare Drive at $60 each. I’d be using these mirrored for the operating system.

Video: The motherboard doesn’t have onboard video. The spare card I have has a noisy fan, so I picked up the cheapest fan less video card I could find on Newegg which was MSI N8400GS-D512H GeForce 8400 GS which was $30. Eventually the server would be headless, but I decided I would have the video connected for awhile while I was testing, a didn’t want the noise from the card I usually use. So far I haven’t needed to use anything but the built-in Windows and Linux drives.

NIC: Intel PWLA8391GT 10/ 100/ 1000Mbps PCI PRO/1000 GT Desktop Adapter at $30. I generally dislike on-board NICs and find the Intel’s to be rock-solid.

Fans: The CoolerMaster case has a lot of fans. But with all the hard drives in there I decided to replace the top 230mm fan with three Scythe S-FLEX SFF21F 120mm Case Fans at $15 each. The intent here is to pull more heat out the top of the case.

Fan Controller: I picked the Scythe KM02-BK 5.25″ Bay Fan Controller to handle 4 of the 7 fans. Motherboard connections could handle the rest.

SATA Controller: The hardest decision was to spend $325 on the 3ware 9650SE-4LPML 256MB PCI Express to SATA II RAID Controller for the additional SATA ports I needed. Rather than go low cost to add 4 ports I decided to go with a quality controller that can do real RAID, even though Windows Home Server does it’s own file duplication. This should also give me many years of use.

This wasn’t exactly a budget build, costing me over $1,200. (Not including the drives I already had) A quarter of that was the added RAID controller which was the biggest single opportunity to save. But I looked for quality parts that would server me for a long time and into future builds or years of upgrades.

The Build

The build was fairly straightforward except for the problems with finding drive cages. The end result was the lowest cost, simplest solution. Since the internal drives wouldn’t be hot swappable I not concerned about that loss. Replacing drives in the 4-in-3 is a pain, needing to remove the entire cage to get at the drives.

This was my first build using a full size case and it was great. No problems with space or getting at the components. Also plenty of room to run cables and keep them out of the air flow.

The only BIOS settings I needed to change was to enable AHCI for all drives (really only needed for the OS mirror which are hot swappable but I use it exclusively now) and to set the memory timings since they weren’t standard.

Vail Install

The Vail installation went fine. The two 2.5” drives were configured for RAID in the BIOS (using the Gigabyte controller that had only two SATA ports) so Vail just saw the drive. I’ve never really trusted the RAID provided by motherboards but this seemed to work find for the time I ran Vail. Performance was fine. I’d break the RAID by removing a disk or pulling a cable and the rebuild went without a hitch. I was also able to boot using just one of the drives and rebuild the mirror.

Ubuntu 10.04 Server Install

Since Vail has a questionable future in my house I decided to install Ubuntu server on the box to see if I could use it as my home server. Some research shows Linux is sketchy with the fake RAID provided by motherboards (or cheap controllers) I went entirely with the software RAID provided by Ubuntu. The two 2.5” drives still have the OS mirrored. Mixing controllers in a RAID scares me so I did RAID 5 for the 6 drives on the Intel controller and another RAID 5 array for the 3Ware controller drives.

Ubuntu Server 10.04.1 x64 had all the drivers I needed cooked into the install DVD. I didn’t need to download or add any drivers. I’m not using a GUI, just the console so video is simple. The on-board and 3ware drive controllers were seen just fine and seem to be performing well. Copying from my PC to the new server is faster than copying to the old Windows Home Server but I haven’t done any benchmarking.

All the drives are 2 TB drives but I do have a mixture of manufacturers. The 4 drives on the 3Ware are all the same since I had 4 Hitachi’s. Although I noticed one had a different BIOS. The Intel has two each of Hitachi, Samsung and Western Digital.

I’ve only been running Ubuntu a few hours but so far it’s going well.


I’m really happy with the build, which is a problem since I’m impatient. Performance has been considerably better than my current Windows Home Servers, both for Vail and for Samba on Ubuntu.

My plan was to wait until Vail and use that time to research some home media solutions while I waited. I had already started using Vail for my easier to move shares because it worked so well. Ubuntu also seems to be working well but I’m not far enough along to know it’s my permanent solution.

I could move Windows Home Server v1 over to the box but if I do that there will be another big move in a year or so since WHS v1 end-of-life’s in January 2013. It’s easiest enough to copy files from one box to another. But if I need to replace/upgrade my production home server I’d need to find storage for all those files and that could be a problem.

So we’ll see. I liking the hardware so I foresee the move starting in the next few days (I have several days vacation so it’s a good time). If I was smart I’d install Windows Home Server v1 and use that for the next year. I’m probably not that smart and will keep Ubuntu and move it in to replace my current Windows Home Server. In theory a Linux box is more flexible, but that flexibility comes at the cost of complexity.

So, do you think Ubuntu would be a good home server choice or will I crash and burn, reverting back to Windows Home Server V1?