Designing a low-watt, quiet, affordable server for home

moonslug

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Aug 14, 2013
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Hi guys. A friend wants a simple, affordable server for home tasks - filesharing, 24/7 operation for Bittorrent, remote access RRAS endpoint, etc. Here's what would be expected of it:

  • Will run Windows Server 2012 (soon R2)
  • Transmission Bittorrent client (Transmission Remote GUI on a separate, primary desktop is too good to give up; this necessitates some Linux VMing unless someone has a good use-case alternative to Transmission Remote GUI, open to suggestions [has anyone used the Remote GUI with the Transmission-QT Windows port?])
  • Expandable storage and support for multiple volumes (separate OS and data disks, etc); support for all RAID levels on a hardware controller
  • Will be expected to serve up 1080p content via Plex to one client
  • Must be very quiet

Currently deciding on the best way to accomplish these goals. We could do a custom build or buy an appropriate solution. I see three ways, each with their flaws:

A custom build is good, but not perfect: it's typically physically larger than it needs to be, and there's little vendor support (in mine, for example, the RAID card was pulled from electronics recycling and as such there's no warranty or support channels, not good for reliability). However, it's the most robust and expandable, and likely the quietest. Lingering sense that something like this is overkill/overly expensive for what we need. (Devil's advocate: incredibly futureproof barring unforeseen problems.)

An appropriate prebuilt server such as a ProLiant Microserver from HP is an attractive choice, however looking into it reveals some flaws: it comes stock with a very weak CPU (Celeron); it's RAID controller can only do one logical volume and requires the purchase of a host-bus adapter to separate OS and data disks; CPU can be upgraded to a proper Xeon but this is of course expensive and at that point we're basically back to Option 1. Physically small, reportedly quiet, but probably not as quiet as Option 1.

A NAS could accomplish these goals at a surface level, if we can stomach losing Windows Server support. However, experience with Synology tells me NAS units are somewhat loud, and while the software is robust the hardware is limited for the price (dual-core Atom, typically) -- this means it's expensive, pound for pound.

~

I almost recommended a custom build, but I wanted to see what the community had to say. Any input is appreciated, thanks!
 
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MiniKnight

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Mar 30, 2012
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New Synology firmware has made them much quieter and has built-in Plex support.

I would say that the microserver gen8 is going to be much faster than the Synology or QNAP. You really shouldn't have to upgrade the processor.
 

nitrobass24

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Dec 26, 2010
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I am confiused by your requirement for Windows Server 2012 (R2). What is the purpose of running Server 2012 as your NAS?
 

b3n

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Aug 27, 2013
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it reveals some flaws: it comes stock with a very weak CPU (Celeron); it's RAID controller can only do one logical volume and requires the purchase of a host-bus adapter to separate OS and data disks; CPU can be upgraded to a proper Xeon but this is of course expensive and at that point we're basically back to Option 1. Physically small, reportedly quiet, but probably not as quiet as Option 1.
This Celeron is not a bad processor. It is only dual core and doesn't support some features like AES, VT-d, or hyperthreading but if you don't need those features look at some CPU performance comparison pages between it and the Xeon before you go out and buy one just for performance.

Also, it's possible to put the onboard RAID controller into JBOD (SATA Controller mode) and then the individual disks are exposed.

Ben
 

moonslug

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Aug 14, 2013
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I am confiused by your requirement for Windows Server 2012 (R2). What is the purpose of running Server 2012 as your NAS?
It isn't a NAS. The intention for this build is to be a server. WS2012 is attractive for backups and management via the Connector software, DHCP server duty, wider breadth of software that can be installed versus, say, what is available in the Synology package manager.
 

TeeJayHoward

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Feb 12, 2013
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Since you're stuck using Server 2012 R2, I see no reason not to build a custom system. It should be under a grand for a < 30dB file server (Assuming he owns a license for the OS already) using server-grade hardware. I think STH showed the 1230v3 CPUs as having a 21w idle, and SuperMicro makes a mATX 1150 motherboard with 8x SAS2 ports via a decent little LSI 2308 controller (plus the six SATA ports). Pair that up with a Seasonic fanless PSU, some nice quiet fans, quality ecc RAM, and a nice case... Under $900, plenty of power to do anything you want, including on-the-fly re-encoding for media streaming. Quiet, powerful, cheap, reliable.
 
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mrkrad

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Oct 13, 2012
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nah just get a cheap dl180 g6 and throw it in mineral oil for servers :) that's the cool thing now. really quiet from what I've heard.
 

cactus

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Jan 25, 2011
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HP Microserver. Xeon and hardware RAID are overkill for 1 client media server with only GbE.

If you still want something stronger, E3 V3 is a good choice for new hardware. They use VERY little power and something like the E3C224D2I in a Fractal Design Node 304 with a E3-1230v3 would be sufficiently overkill.

Used, the Socket 1366 coming to market is a very good value. L563x would be low power and just about fast enough to run windows...

I would personally go with OmniOS/napp-it or Linux, but go with what you are comfortable with. I have used my HP Microserver N40L as a media server with 1080P to up to two clients and 5-10 clients on Subsonic. It used very little power and didn't have a problem running ZoL.