I wanted a low-power micro server to have a permanent personal point of presence online to support my own operations. Main usages range from hosting some Git repositories to sync my data on OwnCloud and run HTTP servers.
Using a single board PC (raspberry-pi style) was a bit limiting as I wanted to have ZFS running with at least a mirrored zpool (so I needed SATA connectors and at least 8 GB of RAM).
Another requirement was low power consumption: I don’t want to notice the effect of this thing on my power bill.
Last important requirement was silence: I will have to sleep in the same room as my server. So, I decided for a completely fanless design, which also (necessarily) conciliates the low power consumption.
With a budget in mind of < 400 Euro, this is what I bought:
- CPU. I didn’t shop a CPU because it was already mounted on the motherboard. I only needed a low power processor powerful enough for home and personal usage.
- Motherboard. The choice was for the Asrock Q1900-ITX. The mini-itx factor was crucial for a small size and I was already inclined to get one of the new Intel Celeron processors (either the j1800 or j1900). This board has a j1900 on-board, fanless. Compared to other boards from Asus, Gigabyte, MSI (or even other models from Asrock), this one had the advantage of including 4 SATA connector (2 SATA-III and 2 SATA-II), 4 USB 3.0 ports (2 front, 2 rear), DDR3/-L memory slots (other models only supported DDR3L)
- Memory. Nothing interesting here, the motherboard supports DDR3 1333MHz SODIMM memory, so I picked two Corsair value select modules of 4 GBs each. (The memory supports up to 16 GB of memory, which for ZFS would be better!).
- Disks. The disks were one of the harder choice. Ideally, SSDs would have been the perfect candidate, but there was no way I could stay in my budget unless I wanted a ridiculous amount of storage capacity. It had to be HDDs. With a fanless design, the mechanical drives became the only source of noise of the system, so I made an extensive research to find a good and silent drive. The red line from Western Digital has a 1TB drive that is as low as 21dBA (WD10EFRX), but unfortunately that is a 3.5″ disk. The “corresponding” 2.5″ model has 25dBA on paper (WD10JFCX) and is the biggest of its category (1 TB). WD RED devices are made for NAS, so I decided this could be a good choice. The amount of storage I could put into my server was limited by the space available in the case. The one I chose could only contain 2×2.5″ disks, so I ordered two WD10JFCX with the idea of using them in a mirror’ed zpool.
- Case. The TDP of the system is low and there are many nice mini-itx cases that include small PSUs. I opted for the mini ITX Q-6 from Inter-Tech, which includes a (fanless) 60W power adapter. The PSU had only one SATA power connector, so I had to buy an extra MOLEX to SATA cable for the second disk.
Assembling the server
The only problem for putting the motherboard in place was that I needed to bend the black power cable a bit to make space for the audio connectors block. In this picture I still had to put the metal plate for the connectors layout in place.
The case has a support on which to hook the hard drives. The disks have to face the motherboard as this support goes really on top of the case. The space remaining between the disks and the CPU heat sink is not much. I wonder at what temperature will the disks have to operate (the cores are usually at 60-62 degrees Celsius) and if this could shorten their life.
Here is the disk support mounted on top of the case:
The server is currently running FreeNAS, so I have my ZFS mirrored zpool and my services running inside their Jails.
I am happy about the new server, especially about FreeNAS, and I already found good uses for it (and new ones will come!). The power is certainly limited and so is the bandwidth of the home ADSL, so getting services from the outside is as slow as the upload byte-rate!
The noise is not absolute zero as one can hear the hard disks spinning, but this is really a minor background factor that doesn’t disturb the quietness of the bedroom.