For several years I ran a Win2008 x64 home file server on an Asus Intel Atom ITX motherboard (see previous post), and then added a few Linux VMs on top of it with VMware Server. While functional, this was less than ideal for development work or any experiments I wanted to run. I was crippled by the processor’s lack of virtualization features, could only create 32-bit VMs, the web UI sucked, and more…
In building a new server, I wanted a Xeon processor and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I also wanted all of the must-have features available from Intel (quad core, HT, VT-x, VT-d) but didn’t want to bother with a video card, so I went for the lowest processor where I could get all of these features: Xeon E3-1230. In hindsight I would have opted for the E3-1235 had I known better at the time, but more on that later.
There was a lot of fretting over 8GB of RAM vs. 16GB, both of which were supported for this motherboard and processor. In the end, 8GB won simply due to price and for a home server I really didn’t expect to truly need more than 8GB of memory.
I wanted to stick with my existing ITX case so I hunted a long while for a viable motherboard from a reputable manufacturer. After reading more product specifications than I care to talk about I settled on the Intel S1200KP server board. This wasn’t a 100% perfect choice for my VMware virtualization plans, but it was close. The secondary NIC (Intel 82579LM) is not yet officially supported, though there are ongoing threads with 3rd party solutions here and there. I’m also a bit disappointed at the lack of eSATA and no USB3 support.
So, as a gift to myself, I assembled the following:
- Chenbro ES30068 mini-ITX chassis (Newegg)
- Intel S1200KP server motherboard (Intel)
- 2 x SATA2 ports
- 2 x SATA3 ports
- 2 x DDR3 1066/1333 MHz DIMMs
- 2 x Gigabit NICs (82574L, 82579LM)
- Intel Xeon E3-1230 processor (Intel)
- Quad core, 3.2 GHz
- vPro, Hyper-Hhreading, VT-x, VT-d
- Crucial Memory, 8GB kit (4GB x 2) of DDR3 1333 MHz PC3-10600 (Crucial)
- Western Digital VelociRaptor 150GB 10,000 RPM hard drive (WD)
- Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7,200 RPM hard drive (WD)
- Western Digital Green 2TB hard drive (WD)
- VMware vSphere Hypervisor 5.0 (VMware)
While the motherboard does have a PCIe slot, the case doesn’t have any expansion slots so I was forced to build the machine and install the OS with the motherboard lying on the kitchen table with a cheap PCIe video card installed. What is important to note is that the BIOS has an option to beep when no video card is detected; with this feature disabled, the server boots quietly into VMware every time. With this feature enabled (the default), the BIOS will beep several times but will continue to boot the operating system anyway.
Looking back, I would have opted to spend the extra money for the Xeon E3-1235 with built-in GPU just for the convenience factor of not needing to install a video card when errors occur, but that’s neither here nor there. I know the E3-1230 draws less power because there is no GPU and I’m going to keep pretending to myself that I’m saving real money every month on my electrical utility bill.
I also would like to upgrade to a nice PCIe SSD or SATA3 600GB VelociRaptor. The hard drives included in this build are leftovers from previous systems and not my choice picks, but the price was impeccable.
So far though things are working well and I’m able to run everything I [reasonably] want to run. If I were to include Microsoft Exchange or some other individually very heavy application I think I would be in trouble with only 8GB.
Further reading on this project: Article updated 2012-05-02