Home server - October 2016
The home server. It's subject to heated debate on Hardware.Info. Opinions differ widely on subjects like the necessity for keeping the design compact, the advantage of hot-swap bays, acceptable energy consumption, how much CPU power is needed, what type of storage and so on. It's safe to say that the "ideal home server" does not exist, because its intended use differs widely among our readers.
This doesn't mean that we can't provide a good guide to effective home servers. There are two options, either you buy one off-the-shelf or you build one yourself. While there are a number of pre-assembled home servers available that have advantages in terms of compact design and price-performance ratio, the seasoned Hardware.Info reader of course prefers building one themselves. Our guide will focus finding the right balance between energy consumption, affordability and expandability.
Power usage is essential. A NAS with two disks and an Atom-based PC will consume less power, but both of these solutions lack the all-important aspect of expandability, so we are more flexible in how much power can be used. You can achieve lower energy consumption, but at a significant trade-off in terms of processor power and upgrading options. A compromise in other words, like with all our recommended systems.
The system we recommend will cost around £330, which is barely more than an off-the-shelf home server. The advantages of our system are obvious: more SATA ports, more space for expansion, more options for upgrading the CPU and RAM, and even the possibility of adding more storage controllers. And last but not least, you get to choose the operating system.
This home server is perfectly suited for making back-ups, streaming media, and it has enough power to act as a basic server for FTP or your photo albums for example.
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A home server needs to be able to make daily back-ups, download independently and for example run a basic web server with photo albums. None of this is very complex. The choice of an Atom or AMD AM1 seems obvious, but we prefer the Celeron G3900.
It's not only faster than an Atom, but you also won't be limited to a particular motherboard with its inherent limitations. This CPU will work on any socket 1151 motherboard.
CPU cooler - Boxed cooler
To save some money we are not going to use a separate CPU cooler. However, if your home server will be located somewhere where you can clearly hear it, then it might be worth replacing the standard cooler by a more silent cooler such as the Scythe Big Shuriken.
We put 4 GB of RAM on the motherboard, plenty for now and in the foreseeable future. You need more memory if you want to use the ZFS file system. If so, take a look at the Home Server Deluxe advice.
MSI's B150M Eco is a cheap Skylake mainboard with six SATA600 ports, so you can connect a lot of hard drives. The rest of the feature set is pretty basic, with two DDR4 memory slots, one PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot and three display outputs. The wired network connection is taken care of by an Intel controller. This Eco motherboard is a very energy efficient option, ideal for use in a home server.
Graphics card -
Technically speaking you don't need a graphics card for a home server, but it's practical for installation and diagnostics. The onboard AMD GPU is more than enough for these purposes.
A 'NAS' hard disk has little added value here. An efficient 5400 RPM disk is sufficient, and our recent test proved that the WD Desk Blue is both quiet, economical and performs well. We put two 3 TB models in our home server.
It depends on your OS and file system choices, but it may be worth it to install a small SSD as boot disk.
Optical drive - None
As an optical drive will use extra energy even when not in use, we leave this one out. Use an old one for installation if you need to, but leave it out after that.
While the Cooler Master N200 is a very nice micro-ATX chassis, we opted for the somewhat larger and only slightly more expensive N300 sibling. That's because it fits many more hard drives, something that doesn't hurt for a home server. The N300 is also more silent than the N200 and our old favourite for this configuration, the Bitfenix Merc Beta. It even has an external USB 3.0 port.
However, the N300 is a pretty big case for a home server. If you want a more compact alternative, you could combine a Mini-ITX mainboard with a case like the Fractal Design Node 304 or the Bitfenix Colossus. Those options are more expensive and sometimes offer less drive bays.
When it comes to the power supply, you basically have two choices: a cheap PSU which is sufficient, or a more expensive one with a higher efficiency. Our standard option is the first one, because earning back the investment isn't easy, but spending a bit more could be worth the effort.
The Cooler Master V-Series 550W excels at efficiency at low loads, exactly what we need for this system. Furthermore, it's fully modular and features an extra SATA connector. It's even possible to buy extra cables with SATA connectors. Moreover, CM gives a five-year warranty, where the cheaper Be quiet! only has three years.
|Processors||Intel Celeron G3900 Boxed||–|
|CPU coolers||Boxed cooler||–|
|Memory modules||Crucial 4GB DDR4-2133 CL15||$32.99|
|Motherboards||MSI B150M Eco||$66.00|
|Hard disks/SSDs||2x Western Digital Blue 3TB||$181.98|
|Cases||Cooler Master N300||–|
|Power supplies||Be quiet! System Power 8 400W||–|
|Save as your own wish list||Average total price:||$280.97|