My first attempt at a home micro-server


#1

So, I wanted a home server to run multiple virtual machines by using VMware ESXi. I have no real experience in this area, so I learnt as I went along.

Specifications needed to be that it was reasonably fast (doesn’t have to run game servers or owt… and not media really either… although it may be capable)

Main thing was size, efficiency and noise.

So I attempted to do this on an ITX case (poses many issues) with as lower Wattage CPU as I could find, that was still powerful.

I selected the following components:

Case: Thermaltake Core V1 Mini ITX Cube Case with Fan (I paid £29)
Motherboard: MSI AM1I AMD Mini ITX Motherboard (was also £29)
CPU: AMD APU Athlon 5350 Quad Core Processor (£44)
RAM: 16GB DDR3 - ValueRAM
Network Card: HP NC364T PCI EXPRESS QUAD PORT GIGABIT HP NIC (£18 - bargain!)
HDD: 2x Toshiba P300 2TB 7200RPM 3.5" SATA (£55 each - ok, they are not NAS or Network drives… but high quality with good reviews.
SSD: 1x 500GB Sandisk SSD - This was spare, but I think I got cheap on an Amazon Black Friday deal.

Other bits:

So, 2 things to understand. First - ESXi version 6.5 is a bitch. Where as older version of ESXi recognise most hardware vendors and parts, 6.5 does not. It’s not just a case of not recognising them, it’s a case that drivers for certain devices are effectively banned.

So your first problem in building a home server. Your Realtek Network drivers are not recognised - so you can’t control your server (doh!). There is a way around this by using some clever software to make your own “build” of the ESXi ISO. I did this, and it recognised my network adapter. However, I wanted to play around with virtual NICs and Switches - so I purchased the HP 4 port network NIC which is based on an Intel chipset and loved by VmWare.

The next problem was drives. ITX cases, and indeed motherboards, expect you to have… well 2 drives. maximum. There are only 2 SATA sockets and 1 PCI slot that I used for the NIC. That’s not good for me - I wanted a bootable drive plus 2 datastore drives that I could RAID 1. ( Although I decided not to RAID 1 in the end…)

So, luckily my motherboard had a mini PCI-e socket on it, which was kinda handy. It look like the M2 socket on modern mobos… except it isn’t, it’s mini-PCI.e - Really it is there to add a wifi chip to the motherboard. However, I saw on ebay/amazon that there are companies making mini-PCIe to SATA x2 board.

The first I ordered was too big and covered my existing SATA ports (lol) - so I gained 2, lost 2.

The second one I ordered wasn’t recognised by ESXi - no surprised there. This was the more expensive one.

I ordered another that had a built in RAID controller - same problem.

So then I tried a cheap ass one as a last attempt: Low and behold, it worked!

XCSOURCE Mini PCI-E PCI Express to 2-Port SATA 3.0 III 6Gb/s Expansion Card - Only £9. Bargain!

image

So… that got me 4 drives available.

I then changed my PSU to a modular one - because spare was tight, and then mounted (bodged) my SSD to the wall of the chassis case (as the case is only designed for 2 drives) - check the photos below lol.

The CPU I choose is an AMD APU. It runs on 25 Watts of power (ie. fuck all) - I installed a couple of fans and the whole thing is silent. An idle temp check came in a 21 degrees… so it is running at room temp really. Fans kick in if it hits 50 degrees.

From this little setup - I can now boot up any version of any operating system I want. I knock up webservers on demand to test them ( and using NO IP I can make them visible on the actual web - I write about that another day ).

I’ve used it with Docker, unRAID, various forms of Linux and Windows. I’m going to knock a Plex server on there soon too.

The only real downside is the motherboard isn’t truely supported by ESXi, so you do have a lot of advanced passthough features missing. But - I can live with that until my next build.

So all in all - I built a silent, tiny, efficient server on a shoestring budget…

micro-server-out

micro-server-in


#2

i can confirm it is quiet… thats as far as my knowledge on this goes :joy:


#3

Good work. I had two old (IMB and a another of some sort Pentium 4) boxes that had VMWare on them and some storage. Got rid of them recently as I was not really using them. Had the same trouble with drivers and it was a bit of a pain to get things working but the custom ISO does the job. I’ve got the desktop vmware version on the pc so If I need something I’ll just use that. Your 16gb of ram might bottleneck you later on depending on how many VMs you will be running.
Cheapest solution for this sort of a thing is to look up an old IBM PC or server and stick it on that, a mate of mine got an older IBM tower server for next to nothing and now has everything running on it. Essentailly he wanted something to recode video on the fly and the 2 Xeons do a good job at that.


#4

Decided to do some upgrades on this - new mobo and processor. On a really tight budget, and wanted to keep the wattage down to an absolute minimum to avoid heat and noise.

Was thinking about going to an AMD FX8600 - This would have been perfect… 8 core CPU for only £100 - perfect for creating VMs. But it is 125w (even on the Vishera architecture) so that posed issues… equally, I couldn’t find a suitable m-ITX motherboard for socket AM3+ (The one I did find that was good value for money only had SATA II - that’s no good). I could have gone (and was very tempted) to get a mATX motherboard - but that would mean changing my case too - and I didn’t want to do that yet.

So I went instead for an AMD A10 7860K - This is a 2016 relaunched chip from what I can tell that uses the “Godavari” architecture… and as such, only uses 65w power (and you can tweak that further). It’s quad-core on the CPU and has 8 cores on the built in GPU (has built in Raedon R7 instructions). It doesn’t get the best of benchmark results in CPU reviews - but for what I’ll be using it for, it seems perfect. Older AMD chips always get a hard time.

The motherboard required is the older, and therefore more widely available FM2+ - I grabbed a brand new one on ebay, with SATA III connections, for about £60 - Its had the later 970 chipset which seems to work well.

Obviously stock cooling is, well, known for being loud - so I went for a Cooler Master Hyper TX3 EVO CPU cooler - It’s nearly the size of my little mITX case… but it does provide perfect airflow from front to back - and even for 4 fans in total, it’s whisper quiet.

Got in up an running in well less than an hour - Windows 10 seems happy with it. I think I might get a Ryzen at some point in the future in a desktop case (Silverstone do some nice ones) as I would love an 8 core machine… and maybe I’ll flip over to Intel… but AMD get such bad press sometimes, I like to give them a chance.


#5

What’s the build cost all told?


#6

Quick tally,

AMD 970 Mobo - £68
AMD 7860KCPU - £84
ITX Case - £29
Fully Modular PSU - £57
16gb RAM - £65
2x 2TB HDD - £110
Intel NIC - £18
Fans - £10
CPU Cooler - £20

£461 total. Little bit more than I expected - but that is bits over time, and does have a massive HDD.


#7

i’d say :roll_eyes: :astonished: :dizzy_face:


#8

I have absolutely NO idea wtf this could be used for :slight_smile:


#9

Legendary levels of porn downloadage :rofl:


#10

Well, for me its a file server so all my stuff is in one place that I can remotely access. Things like Dropbox are great, but mine is already over 200gb full and will continue to increase - The trouble with dropbox is that you need space on your local computer to sync the size of it… My Macbook Pro only has a 128GB SSD - so I couldn’t put my entire dropbox folder on there. However, now I can - and with a nice fast network setup, it accesses it like a breeze.

I can also run VMs for clients. So I build a website locally on my machine… but I want to show them how it looks and how it works. I create a VM on the server, upload the site and then point my router to a specific port via a Dynamic DNS service like no-ip - I can then give them a web address to view the website on the server.

Finally, I intend to setup some Plex stuff - so I can store and stream TV/Films - However, I’ll probably need a bigger case for that with more drives (maybe RAID 10) and an even better chip probably. Something for down the road…


#11

Truly interesting stuff. I was considering a Synology for some backup space as my photo folder gets larger and larger and I really don’t wanna loose anything. At the same time streaming videos and a fixed ip (I did this years ago with my old router) would be awesome if I’m at my parents/friends home back in Germany. My google account is already close to its max 100GB limit. Maybe this would be another idea, but a 3rd computer? Maybe not…

Keep us posted, I would be quite interested in some of the juicy details you encounter on your way towards the Dark Side.