Building a Windows Home Server: The Parts

My Windows Home Server (WHS) has been threatening me to quit for the last couple of days. In its defense, that serves me right for running a pre-release build for almost half a year which I knew right from the start would expire at some point. So it's time to build my home server. The machine I used to test pre-release builds is an old Pentium III that barely meets the system requirements and has only one hard drive. I already bought a copy of WHS last week and today I finally ordered the hardware components from the online shop of my choice. But before I go into detail I want to emphasize that choosing these components was a personal decision and is by no means an official recommendation! As a matter of fact, I don't even know for sure how well the resulting system will run so if you seriously consider recreating my little experiment you're better off waiting until I publish the final "It lives!" post (hopefully).

The heart of my new system is an Intel Celeron 430. Having 512 KB L2 cache and running at 1.8 GHz it surpasses even the recommended system requirements for WHS (again, my test machine was a Pentium III running at 933 MHz and even that worked pretty well). Another nice aspect of it is its thermal design power of only 35 W. Because of the fact that this CPU is definitely more powerful than required I would gladly have ordered a less powerful but cheaper CPU; however, finding something like that seems to be difficult at best given that even solutions based on VIA's C3 or C7 CPUs are not necessarily cheaper. The CPU will be accompanied by two 512 MB PC2-6400 DDR2 RAM modules. This is twice as much as stated in the system requirements but going for 1 GB of RAM doesn't increase the total a lot and I may need it later (you can run all sorts of additional software on your WHS after all - if it's a good idea to do so is a different question).

The mainboard I chose is the Intel DG33BU. Personally, I think that this is indeed an ideal board for a small server solution because other than the CPU and RAM it has everything onboard: video, audio (not that it really matters) and most importantly gigabit Ethernet. Well, you might ask what I need gigabit Ethernet for and most of the time I don't. However, although I still haven't figured out how I want to backup the server (off-site backup) I will probably add a removable media drive to one of the clients for that purpose rather than the server itself and in that case having a fast connection between the server and the client pays off. Other than that, the board features two PCI slots, one PCIe x1 slot and one PCIe x16 slot so there are enough options for adding additional SATA controllers later on as the board has "only" four SATA interfaces.

The home for all these shiny new components will be a Thermaltake Aguila chassis. I originally wanted something with a lot of space for hard drives so I could just add more and more drives over time before having to replace the first one. This requirement really calls for a full-sized tower. However, I ultimately thought that any full-sized tower would be too bulky to really fit nicely into the living room. The Aguila chassis is a nice compromise. It is a mid-sized tower and still has enough space for 11 drives (according to the spec).

Last but not least, the drives! I chose two Seagate drives: A 750 GB SATA drive (ST3750640AS-RK) and a 500 GB SATA drive (ST3500641AS-RK). Why this strange configuration? First of all, the total for the hardware already exceeded the spending limit I had set myself anyway. By buying a 750 and a 500 GB drive I spent significantly less money than I would have for two 750 GB drives. But it actually also makes sense. You need to keep in mind that not all data required and managed by WHS is duplicated. The content of the system partition, the backup database and the content of all shares for which duplication is not turned on will only be stored once. Thus, the idea of an asymmetric drive configuration generally makes sense (although I have to admit it seems "unnatural" to someone who has administered RAIDs in the past); however, only time will tell if the ratio of 3:2 makes sense for my specific scenario.

This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.