I just finished building a file server for a close friend who is an engineer and needs data backup and remote access. Many of my design decisions were determined by the user's needs, so please, keep in mind that I didn't have the liberty to make a fully personalized build.
I feel like I haven't done enough to silence the build. At idle, it is OK, but at > 50% load the CPU fan causes a lot of noise. What would you recommend that I do to make the build more quiet?
For the purposes of this build, I chose the Fractal Design Define Mini case. Fractal Design is known for making computer enclosures of superb quality and for paying special attention to the needs of quiet computing. The Mini is no exception. Also, it comes with six 3.5-inch, easily accessible hard drive bays, which is unique for a case of this size. Speaking of size, it is a small mATX case, so you will only be able to fit a micro-ATX motherboard. It is, obviously, no problem for a file server since the only expansion slot will need is a PCI-e slot for the RAID controller. Finally, the case is gorgeous! It has a fine, understated look that won't disturb even the classiest of laboratories or offices.
I was limited to mATX motherboards, but it is hardly a limitation since there are many quality motherboards available in this form factor. I decided to go with a six-core AMD CPU and the Gigabyte 78LMT-S2P motherboard (free w/ purchase of CPU). The motherboard has built-in Ethernet (Gigabit), audio, and video capability, and the total of six SATA II ports. The six SATA 3 GB/s ports are important for those who do not plan to use a dedicated RAID controller and will, therefore, need to connect the hard drives to those SATA II inputs. Having six of them means you will be able to connect one DVD drive (for installing the operating system) and five hard drives. Finally, there is one special capability that only some motherboards have, name Wake on LAN (WOL). Wake on LAN is extremely useful if you want to be able to start the server up remotely, from another networked machine. Say, you are traveling overseas and your sever is off. You can use any computer with Internet access to send a little data packet to your server and wake it up. Handy, isn't it?
Out of the vast array of AMD CPUs I chose a six-core Phenom II X6 1090T chip. It is a modern, 64-bit, fast CPU that is energy efficient and performs particularly well with multi-threaded applications. It is also substantially less expensive than an Intel equivalent. If it were my build, I would choose a low-power CPU, but my friend insisted on six cores and more power.
I chose two ADATA DDR3 PC1333 4-GB sticks for the total of 8 GB. This particular motherboard has only two RAM slots but if you plan to use RAM-intensive applications, such as large databases, you should probably go with an mATX motherboard that supports offers four RAM slots. For this particular build, 8 GB of RAM is going to be sufficient.
For this build, I was mostly interested in typical file server applications, so our priority is cool and quiet operation rather than the highest speed. The Western Digital Caviar Green-series of hard drives has a proven track record, particularly for file serves. Those are excellent storage drives. I chose four 1TB WD drives for storage.
I also needed a hard drive for the operating system. I was thinking of using an SSD, but it would substantially increase the cost of the build because the OS requires 160 GB. Therefore, I went with a 500 GB Seagate 7200 RPM hard drive. It performs a bit faster than the WD drives and is perfect as a system drive.
I ended up with the total of 4.5 TB of storage. However, not all of it is going to be usable storage. The 500 GB drive is going to have a separate partition for the operating system, and a small storage partition, which I will leave empty for now. All of the data storage is going to reside on the 4-disk drive array (RAID 5). It is a simple, yet effective strategy.
A hardware-based RAID 5 is going to perform much faster and is independent of the server operating system. I believe that it is a better option, despite being more expensive. Therefore, for this build I chose the Areca ARC-1210 PCI-Express x8 SATA II (3.0Gb/s) Controller Card. I'd never used an Areca card before, but I had read good reviews and found it to be compatible with both Linux and Windows-based file servers.
I chose the modular OCZ 80+ efficient power supply, but any good PSU from a reputable brand should be sufficient.
The person for whom I am building this server prefers a Microsoft OS because it fits perfectly with their work environment. The Windows Home Server 2011 is a particularly good choice, especially for people who are not experience system administrators. It is a solid OS, based on Windows Server 2008, but it has an overlay of very useful and user-friendly features, such as automatic backup/restore of workgroup computers, serving media files, remote music and video streaming (including smartphones and tablets), and many other useful features. In terms of speed and stability, it is an excellent choice as well. Finally, it is rather inexpensive at less than $60 for the OEM version.
Putting it together
The Areca RAID controller turned out to be pleasure to work with. It installed without the slightest problem. Once you've installed the OS, you can set up a very handy web utility that allows you to control the array from within a web browser. The WD drives work nicely. The entire array is fast.
Fast, cool, but not quiet enough
The OS performs all the functions as expected. The only problem is noise. I think that replacing the RAID controller fan with the provided heatsink would help, but the biggest benefit should come from replacing the CPU heatsink. This rig is already pretty expensive. So I'd like to keep the price of this upgrade below $100. Any ideas?