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 Post subject: AM2 mini-ITX Linux server
PostPosted: Sun Oct 04, 2009 12:37 pm 
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Joined: Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:06 am
Posts: 109
Location: Austin, TX
Background

My Linux web/mail server started off life in the body of an old eMachine micro-ATX desktop (socket A Athlon XP 2400+ on a KM266-based motherboard) we used to have. Over the years it didn't change substantially, retaining the same guts, but being transferred into a P182 with a new PSU (the original PSU was fairly cheap, and the original case had horrible ventilation). The home for the server and the network gear has been a cabinet, and the P182 was only just barely able to squeeze in. That, with the fact that the P182 was more than enough space inside (I only really needed a single hard drive in the system), as well, led me to wanting to try to put together a smaller system.


System Specs

Case: Apex MI-008 [SPCR review]

I wanted something reasonably-priced that could support a 5.25" drive and at least one 3.5" hard drive. This narrowed the field considerably, as in mini-ITX you'll often see slim optical drives and 2.5" hard drives being supported, but I had an old optical drive and hard drive that I'd be wanting to use. Having SPCR's review helped, as I could see a real system in it, see the ventilation results of that system, and have something solid to wrap my head around; some other cases that might have worked (other than lower reviews) I couldn't be entirely sure about, since many were skinnier and might not have room for good ventilation.

Note that the sample SPCR got has only one set of side vents. Mine actually has two sets, so while a hard drive being installed in SPCR's sample would block the side vent as Lawrence notes, in mine it actually won't. Though whether that would make someone prefer their drive there, I'm not sure. It does at least allow for the possibility without necessarily killing ventilation paths.

I wanted to try and cram a 120mm system fan in there like Lawrence showed (thanks!), so that took the 3.5" "rail" area. I was going to try putting the hard drive in the area marked for the floppy drive in the instructions (and stamped "HDD" in the case itself), but only one set of tiny screw holes were accessible (the standard mounting holes were partially obscured). That meant the 3.5" drive needed to be suspended in the 5.25" bay, which bumped the optical drive out. It was "broken" (wouldn't burn CDs, I think it was) anyway, and I only needed it to install the OS anyway, so I just set it on top of the case frame while I was using it, and took it away later.

PSU: bundled Allied 250W, to be replaced by a PicoPSU or similar

The quick review of the PSU sounded reasonable, so I went ahead and used it while I wait on a PicoPSU (or similar small PSU). Since it won't fit inside the case with a normal CPU heatsink, I placed it outside the case and ran the cables through the PSU exhaust hole. Later, I moved the cables to go through the PCI slot instead.

Motherboard: Zotac GF8200-C-E (AM2) [SPCR review]

Not many AM2 mini-ITX options, especially not that have been tested and reviewed well. Has a USB header-based wireless option, though I don't use it since the server is right next to the router. Two RAM slots, four SATA ports (though the case would only support two being used), and a 1x PCI-E slot (at some point I may bring up a PBX in this box, as well, and that would allow for the FSO/FXO card). Seemed to be fairly reasonable on the power consumption and didn't have a NB heatsink fan (so no whiny tiny fan to be annoyed by).

There's not really much of any undervolt configuration in the BIOS that I've seen, but that sounds like it's fairly standard for mini-ITX (which usually have sparse BIOSes).

CPU: Athlon LE-1640 (single-core 2.6GHz, 45W)

I was going to use a 45W X2 instead, but they all got discontinued by the time I was ready to purchase. I was coming from an old 2GHz Athlon (socket A), so 2.6GHz and a much-newer architecture would mean it'd be much faster than the old CPU still, and really the server's in idle mode most of the time.

RAM: 1x 2GB DDR2-800 (GeIL)

Standard DDR2, nothing special.

HDD: 320GB WD Caviar SE (PATA with a SATA converter, suspended in the 5.25" bay)

I've had this drive used for the server in the previous incarnation, and brought it over until I eventually replace it. Since it's PATA and the MB only supports SATA, I'm using a converter, which does take up a little room (and a little extra power).

System fan: S-Flex SFF21D (semi-suspended)

Thanks to Lawrence's showing a 120mm fan being "mounted" in the 3.5" rail area, I grabbed a fan to start off there to try and help with air movement. I was going to get the 1200rpm version, but ended up with the 800rpm instead. I honestly don't recall if the 1200 wasn't in stock or if I decided the 800 was likely the best compromise between airflow and noise. I don't need "silence", but I do like "quiet", and would rather have the sound of air moving than of a fan moving. Since I was not wanting to have to worry about fan orientation, I went for the S-Flex over the Slipstream.

Originally the fan was placed on the side of the case; this didn't get enough air moving near the NB, which got rather warm. I did have a huge hole in the back that was open, though, and the NB was on the opposite side of the CPU, so airflow paths weren't well-placed, I expect. I was originally going to just block the rear PSU hole so air would come in the vent by the NB and out by the fan, but instead moved the fan to the top, semi-suspending it above the CPU heatsink ("semi-suspended" because the rear of the fan is on the small shelf that's used for placing the PSU). This would hopefully allow for bringing air in from the PSU hole, and exhausting it out the side vents, and the NB heatsink is now getting some direct airflow.


Measurements (temps to be refined over the next few mornings)

Idle Power: 48W
CPU Load Power: 80W

Idle CPU Temp (HSF "Full on"): 30C
Idle NB Temp (HSF "Full on"): 47C

Idle CPU Temp (HSF "Quiet"): 30C
Idle NB Temp (HSF "Quiet"): 50C

1-hour BIOS CPU Temp (HSF "Quiet"): 41C
1-hour BIOS NB Temp (HSF "Quiet"): 58C


Note that the BIOS is the only way for me to measure temperatures currently since lm_sensors doesn't seem to support the sensors on the MB. "Idle" was measured after a warm reboot into the BIOS, and "BIOS" was measured by leaving the BIOS menu open, since the CPU won't be throttled that way (not as good as actually loading the CPU, but it's something).

In the BIOS, there's several fan speeds available: "Quiet", 50%, "Medium", 75%, "Full on". "Full on" gives me a readout of 3120rpm (not horrible, but a bit loud), while "Quiet" gives me 2160rpm (not bad). I'm not sure how accurate the fan speeds are, as my 800rpm system fan shows as 900rpm in the BIOS.


Visual Aids (click for full-size)

Note: These are currently hosted on the server in question, so if there's network issues or I'm doing some quick tests, these images may be down. I apologize for the potential inconvenience; try back later if necessary.

Image

Overall view of the system. HDD is suspended in the 5.25" bay (putting it on the HDD rails would block a vent, and while the FDD bay has "HDD" stamped on the side, the screw holes didn't line up at all, so suspension is the only option). You can see the PSU on the left side behind the case, with the necessary cables going through the PCI slot. You can also see the 120mm case fan being supported in the rear by the PSU guide "shelf" and in the front by some elastic. The CPU is beneath the fan, and the NB heatsink is next to it (the PSU cables run right next to it). The NB is the main reason for the fan placement, as it gets rather hot and the fan placement Lawrence was able to use in his review of the case wasn't optimal since the NB here is on the other side of the CPU and its large heatsink.

Image

Side view. Here you can see the system and heatsink fans and their relationship a little better. They're pretty close to each other, but seem like they should have enough spacing to breathe well enough. You can see the silver NB heatsink towards the front of the picture, and this area gets decent airflow from the system fan (again, the main point of trying to move the fan).


Thoughts

Overall it seemed to be an good build. Improvements from the current build will be to get a PicoPSU (or similar) to get rid of the bulky cables coming in from outside (and get rid of the PSU box itself), and switch to a SATA drive (even better a 2.5" drive, but even a 3.5" SATA drive would free up the space from the PATA-SATA converter). That should free up some space from cable clutter, though mini-ITX in general tends to be difficult on cable management.

Temperatures seem to be reasonable, especially after moving the fan to the top (NB temp went from 62C down to 47C, as reported by the BIOS right after a warm reboot). A problem I still have with temperatures seems to have to do with the sensors used by Zotac on the motherboard: lm_sensors doesn't seem to have support for them yet, and all I get from sensors output is core temperatures, where it shows -28C for two cores (which is obviously garbage both on temperature and showing two cores).


EDIT 2009-10-05: Fixed the full-size image links, made a few minor corrections (NB temps, S-Flex model), and expanded on the specs. Also added measurements (power and what temps I can manage).


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 28, 2009 9:41 pm 
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Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2009 2:31 am
Posts: 51
Location: Canada
looks good, any shots with the case cover on?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 28, 2009 9:53 pm 
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Joined: Sun Oct 25, 2009 3:03 am
Posts: 6
Location: California
lookin good.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Nov 29, 2009 11:28 am 
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Joined: Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:06 am
Posts: 109
Location: Austin, TX
expxe wrote:
looks good, any shots with the case cover on?

Lawrence has the usual array of case shots in the review, so I'll provide some "in action" case shots, showing where the case lives in my particular setup:

Image
Shot of most of the cabinet. The server has most of the space, with the U-verse gateway and UPSes (and cable mess ;)) over on the right edge. The old case (P182) absolutely had to have all this room, but the MI-008 swims in extra room now.

Note the placement of the PSU on top of the case. This keeps the PSU out of the way but just barely has room for the power cables to enter the case without overstretching. Even with this placement, the system isn't all that noisy (to my ears, anyway). With the cabinet doors "closed" (they're light doors and the base shelf is pushed back slightly to allow for air intake with the doors closed, and there's also about two inches or so of space behind the cabinet for exhaust), there's just a low sound of air moving. For reference, the noise is probably about the same as the P180 I've got with three TriCools on low and the stock fan on the Xigmatek HDT-S1283 (controlled by the BIOS, and up close it's only slightly noticeable above the TriCools).


Image
Closeup. Not much to say here, really. :)


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