PART 1: A Plan Comes Together.
I told myself that there weren’t going to be any major computer builds/rebuilds this year. I was going to give my wallet a year off. But previous builds and upgrades had left a legacy of unused parts, and I began to consider “throwing a few together” to build a Windows Home Server, just to see what it could do. A server, I thought, doesn’t need a monitor, keyboard, mouse or fancy video card, so it shouldn’t be too expensive. What it would need is something to house it in. I kept the idea in the back of my mind, and then last month when I was thinking about building a new storage cabinet for my home office area, I had an idea to combine it with the server project. I would build the server into the cabinet. A beautiful symphony of woodworking and computing all in one project.
My preferred style of furniture is American craftsman style, and I already had a vaguely craftsman style music cabinet in the office area that I wanted to match. To fill the space available, I decided that the cabinet should be about 1.2m high, about 0.6m wide, and about 0.35m deep. I sketched it out with a single door, and five shelves, the bottom shelf being quite deep to accommodate box files. The next shelf up is where the server would be, built into a removable drawer so that it could be easily serviced. As I do not have ready access to a supply of quarter-sawn white oak, and I didn’t want to spend a fortune, I decided to build the cabinet out of plain old pine, stained to a nice deep craftsman brown. My wife and I had previously built a cabinet like this, and it looked fine. And so it was off to the lumber yard.
Selection of Server Parts.
Early on I thought about using a spare ASUS 915P based motherboard I had in storage. It turned there were two problems with this, firstly it was a full ATX board and my available drawer space was limited, and critically, when I tested it I found it was broken. This wasn’t entirely unexpected as I had used this board with an after-market air cooler which used a stick-on back plate. When I removed the board from service, I tried to remove the back plate and ended up damaging the board (I learned my lesson, and next time I came across one of these back plates I left the paper on the adhesive and secured it with the bolts alone).
I considered that my key requirements for the server were very quiet operation, as I didn’t want an annoying noise coming from the cupboard, and low power consumption, as I anticipated leaving it on all day. I also had a spare CPU, but it was a hot Prescott core P4 540. I decided that it would be best to sell that and buy a new low powered processor. Next I considered an important part of any server, the storage. I have a couple of spare 160GB Seagate SATA drives, but I also discounted these on account of their loud seek noise and limited size. I wanted to start with a nice fast, quiet, large drive for the primary partition. Just one drive to begin with, especially considering the data corruption bug in Windows Home Server (power pack 1 beta had not been released). So much for my plans to use left over parts. In the end, after much research I chose the following parts that I thought met the bill:
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-G33M-GS2R
CPU: Intel Pentium Dual Core E2180, 2GHz
Hard Drive: Samsung HD753LJ, 750GB
The one part I could recycle was the RAM, as I had a spare 2GB Corsair DDR2 1066MHz kit, massive overkill, but otherwise sitting on the shelf unused.
The reasonably priced G33M-GS2R features an unusual mix, for a micro-ATX board, of integrated video (required for easy server setup) and quality components like all solid capacitors, 1Gbps LAN (also essential) and six SATA ports fed by an ICH9R southbridge. In fact one reviewer on the internet wondered exactly who Gigabyte were aiming the board at for this reason: well server builders of course! By the way, the fancy copper northbridge heatsink shown in the photo does not come with the board. After initially examining the board, I did what you shouldn’t, and held the board in one hand by its edge and northbridge heatsink to put it back in the bag. I felt the heatsink give, and knew that I’d broken the thermal material interface. Since I had to remove it and replace the TIM, I took the opportunity to fit a spare Swiftech heatsink (minus its little fan to minimize noise) I had left over from a previous upgrade.
With the parts sorted, it was time to get on with the cabinet build. More about that and making the server in Part 2.