Budget mini-ITX home server buildSeptember 17th, 2010 by Jeff
For the past three years, I have been using a Linkstation Live for my home server. When I bought it, it seemed ideally suited to my needs – it’s small, consumes under 30W full-load, and can be hacked to run Linux (I was running Debian). It’s primary purpose is to serve files (functioning as a NAS device, as Buffalo intended), but I also use it for some more interesting things, such as hosting a subversion repository, serving music with mt-daapd, and managing a small VPN.
I started outgrowing the ARM9-based Linkstation at least a year ago – it was bogging down under the load of the many services it was running. However, earlier this year Debian Etch became unsupported, meaning that I was no longer receiving security updates – a potentially major problem for a server that has a few ports open to the ‘net.
I started thinking about building a replacement using more modern, faster parts, but still keeping the server’s footprint small – both in terms of space and energy consumption.
After doing some research, I discovered the mini-ITX standard for motherboards and the Intel Atom D510 dual-core processor. When combined with the right case, these would yield the perfect home-server for my needs.
Here’s my build list. All parts are from Newegg.com:
Foxconn RS233 Black+Light Silver Computer Case – $44.99 (includes 150W PSU)
Intel BOXD510MO Intel Atom D510 Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo – $79.99
PQI POWER Series 2GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Desktop Memory – $38.99
HITACHI Deskstar HD31000 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive – $64.99 (no longer listed @ Newegg)
SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 1TB 3.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive – $58.99 (a good substitute)
StarTech BRACKET Metal 3.5″ to 5.25″ Drive Adapter Bracket – $11.99
(For mounting a 2nd hard drive.)
Athena Power 10 ” Extension & Conversion Four-In-One9 – $6.99
Xion XON-DRBY525MB 5.25″ Driver Bay Cover Kit, Mesh, Black – $9.99
Note: Prices listed are current as 9/17/10 and are subject to change.
The total for all parts at the time I bought them was just under $250 (excluding shipping). Not bad! As of today (9/17/10), the prices have gone up slightly and the total is $257.93, although the Hitachi hard drive I bought has already been discontinued. Newegg frequently has deals on 1TB 3.5″ drives, so finding another one in the $55-$65 range should be pretty easy if you look around.
Here are most of the parts waiting to be assembled:
I spent a lot of time looking for a case, and I’m extremely happy with the Foxconn RS233 Mini ITX case I found.
Everything fit very nice inside, including a 2nd 3.5″ hard drive I had lying around that is used for backups. (The 2nd hard drive is installed in the 5.25″ bay, using adapter brackets.)
I added a short power supply extension cable to the motherboard power connector. This is because the 150W PSU that comes with the Foxconn case has a short power cable that can’t reach the motherboard power connector without stretching. It can be forced to fit, but the extension was inexpensive and gives me some peace of mind.
I initially had some problems with hard drive temperatures, but installing this clean-looking grill in place of the 5.25″ bay cover solved that. For testing, I just left the cover off the bay completely, which provides great ventilation but allows cat hair to rapidly collect inside the case.
I also covered the case’s top vent to keep the exhaust fans from sucking air through there instead of through the front of the case (past the hard drives and CPU).
Here is the finished server. It’s small!
I spent a couple evenings installing and configuring Ubuntu Server 10.04 LTS, which I am very happy with so far. It did force me to learn how to completely install and configure Ubuntu via the command-line (Server doesn’t install a GUI), but it was all stuff I mostly knew already, and I probably gained some geek-cred.
While I still have a few things left to set up (OpenVPN takes a bit of configuring), I’m very happy with the performance of this box. While a dual core Atom is nothing compared to a typical desktop machine today, this machine is lightning-fast compared to the 200MHz ARM9 it replaced. For a small home server, this is a perfect solution.
Power consumption is about 35W with both drives spinning, about 30W idle. Just a few watts more than the Linkstation, for a system with >1.5GB more memory and what feels like 10x the processing power!