Blistering Fast Windows Server - Parts List and Video!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

UPDATE: I wrote an updated article, UPDATED Blistering Fast Hyper-V 2012 Server - Parts List and Video! which includes the new 3rd generation Intel Core I5 processor, faster RAM, and multiple SSDs -- All for under $1000! Check it out now!


Walk with me now, as we take a stroll down Geek lane.  :)

I decided it's time to replace my old Hyper-V server at home with a new one that's faster and can run more VMs.  I've decided again to build it myself from OEM parts so I can get exactly what I want at a right price.  This article contains my parts list and my reasons for choosing what I did.  Hopefully, this will help you with your own home lab.

I host my private cloud network on a Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V host server.  Hyper-V is perfect for my environment because it allows me to run workgroup applications (Exchange Edge Transport and IIS) directly on the host, as well as host my virtual domain servers.

My current Hyper-V server is an AMD x64 dual core rig with 16GB RAM and two SATA drives, one for the OS and another for VMs.  I built it about 3 years ago when I was on the Windows Server 2008 TAP and it has served me well.  But with Windows Server 8 and Exchange 15 right around the corner, I wanted to be sure I had the capabilities of running these new versions.

My Design Requirements
As with most customers, I have competing requirements for this new server:
  • Minimum of 4 cores
  • Windows Server 8 capable.  Hyper-V for Windows 8 requires hypervisor-ready processors with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT), as reported by Microsoft at BUILD.
  • 32GB of fast DDR3 RAM
  • Must support SATA III 6Gb/s drives
  • Must have USB 3.0 ports for future portable devices
  • Must be quiet.  This server is sitting next to me in my office (aka, the sunroom) and I don't want to hear it at all.
  • Low power requirements
  • Small form factor
  • Budget: ~$1,000 USD
My RAM requirements drove most of this design.  Since this would be based on a desktop motherboard (server mobos are too big and ECC RAM is too expensive), I first looked for 4x8GB (32GB) DDR3 RAM.  Then I looked for a small mobo that would accept that much RAM, then a processor for that mobo.
Here's my parts list, including links to where I purchased each item and the price I paid:
Part Number
Description
Price
Source
Intel Core i5-2400S Sandy Bridge 2.5GHz (3.3GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 65W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 2000 BX80623I52400S
$193.00
Amazon

Intel BOXDH67BLB3 LGA 1155 Intel H67 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard
$85.99
NewEgg
Komputerbay 32GB DDR3 (4x 8GB) PC3-10600 10666 1333MHz DIMM 240-Pin RAM Desktop Memory 9-9-9-25
$225.00
Amazon
OCZ Agility 3 AGT3-25SAT3-120G 2.5" 120GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
$129.99
NewEgg
Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EARX 2TB 64MB Cache SATA III 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive
$114.99
NewEgg
ASUS 24X DL-DVD Burner SATA II
$19.99
NewEgg
AeroCool M40 Cube Computer Case - Micro ATX, LCD Display, 2x 5.25 Bays, 3x 3.5 Bays, 4x Fan Ports, Black
$79.99
TigerDirect
Antec EA-380D Green 80 PLUS BRONZE Power Supply
$44.99
NewEgg
ENERMAX UC-8EB 80mm Case Fan
$9.99
NewEgg
nMEDIAPC ZE-C268 3.5" All-in-one USB Card Reader with USB 3.0 Port
$16.99
NewEgg
Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5" SSD / HDD Plastic Mounting Kit for 3.5" Drive Bay
$4.99
NewEgg


Total:  $925.91


[Update: See my comparison of Western Digital Caviar Black and Green drives. The trade off is ~$100 and more noise for better performance.]
I was a little worried about the Komputerbay RAM.  I've never heard of them before, but they offer a lifetime warranty and 32GB DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) RAM was $54 cheaper than what I could find at NewEgg.  In the end I'm very pleased with my decision.
I chose different sources for the best price.  NewEgg is my go-to vendor for most items.  They charge sales tax in California, but I have a ShopRunner account that gives me free 2-day shipping on all these items.  Amazon was the smart choice for the bigger ticket items since they don't charge tax and I could get them delivered with a 30 day free trial of Prime 2-day shipping.  Not to mention the fact that I had a $500 Amazon gift card that I won at TechEd 2011 from my good friends at Vision Solutions!  TigerDirect was the only source for this great AeroCool micro ATX cube computer case.
All the items were delivered the same day and started putting it together that night.  Careful assembly took about 90 minutes and everything went together perfectly.
It's a Geek Christmas!

All the parts freed from their cardboard prisons
The only other item I added was a dual port Intel PRO/1000 MT Server Adapter that I already had.  I also used L-bend right angle SATA cables instead of the two that came with the Intel motherboard, due to the short clearance between the PSU and the back of the drives (I knew this going in).
The innovative AeroCool M40 micro ATX case opens up likea book for easy access.  The power supply, hard drives and DVD drive(s) are in the top half and everything else is down below.  It includes a nearly silent 120mm front fan and has room for one more on the top rear section and two 80mm fans on the bottom rear section.  I added a single silent 80mm fan on the bottom to push warm air out.  The case temperature has never gone above 26.4C and it's completely silent.
View from above showing the Antec PSU, the 3.5" and 5.25" drive cages and the unused PSU cabling

View from the hinged side, showing motherboard placement

I'm using the OCZ 120GB SATA III SSD drive for the operating system and pagefile, Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise for now.  I'll upgrade the server to Windows Server 8 when it goes RTM.  In the meantime, I'll build and test beta versions as VMs.  I have to say that this SSD drive was one of the best choices for my new system.  It's blistering fast!  Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 installed in just 6 minutes!!  Take a look at the video below to see that it takes only 20 seconds to get to a logon screen from a cold start, and half of that time is the for the BIOS POST!

The Intel I5 4-core Sandy Bridge processor has amazing graphics built in.  I'm able to run Windows Server 2008 R2 with the Aero theme at 1920x1080 HD resolution with no difference in performance.  It's possible to overclock this system, but it's plenty fast for me and I value stability over speed.  I love the fact that it draws only 65W!  This not only saves electricity, it keeps the case cool which lowers the cooling requirements.
The bottom half with the case split open. The I5-2400s CPU came with this huge low profile CPU cooler.

As a desktop motherboard, the Intel DH67BL motherboard came with drivers that did not work out of the box with Windows Server 2008 R2.  I downloaded the latest drivers from Intel and most installed fine.  The only items I had trouble with were the built-in Intel 82579V Gigabit network adapter and the integrated Intel HD Graphics drivers.  Intel "crippled" the NIC driver installer so that it won't install on a server platform.  See this article which explains how to re-enable it.   The video driver installed most of the way, but the installer crashed when trying to register a DLL.  It was able to install again fine after a restart.
I also used a Western Digital Green 2TB SATA III drive for storage of my Hyper-V VMs.  I've always used Western Digital drives and I've never had a problem with them.  The WD Green line saves power, runs cool and quiet, and delivers 6 Gb/s performance.
Photo of the completed server.  I placed a DVD on top to for scale.

This is by far the fastest server I've ever worked on, bar none.  I'm extremely happy with it.  I haven't bothered running any benchmarks* on it – I just know that it's fast enough for my needs and has plenty of RAM so I can run more VMs.
I hope this article helps you to build your own home lab server.   Please let me know if you have any questions.
* There are lies, damn lies, and benchmarks.

UPDATE: I wrote an updated article, UPDATED Blistering Fast Hyper-V 2012 Server - Parts List and Video! which includes the new 3rd generation Intel Core I5 processor, faster RAM, and multiple SSDs -- All for under $1000! Check it out now!

39 comments:

  1. thats preety cool never seem that case beforem it's nice

    I know you not planning to run benchmarks, but i was wondering how many VM's you could run at a time on the single hard disk without IO slowness? or is it really just the 3?

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  2. The most VMs I ever ran on my old system was 7 at one time and it was pretty slow. I don't normally have a need to run more than three, but now I can easily run at least 7 or 8 VMs with marginal performance impact.

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  3. Awesome right up! I was just thinking that I need to start putting a rig together for Windows 8 testing & book writing. Now you just saved my a boat-load of time and energy!

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  4. Thanks for the info!

    Have a similar setup running at home, but couldn't find 4x 8GB DDR3 in any local store.
    It never occured to me to take a look @ Amazon.
    Will order my kit soon. Thanks for the tip :-)

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  5. Wow,
    Thanks for the information. I am definitely going to try this

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  6. Hi Jeff, this is a nice looking machine, I'll add something like this to my bucket list.

    The first thing I thought was that you would get a PSU of 800 or 1000 watts, taking into account that you can safely use up to 60% of a PSU "power-delivering capability". But it's nice to know that 380W work just fine for what you have.

    I like the case design, 2 HD of 3.5" can fit inside and you used the external 3.5" bay for a card reader, just wonder what do you use for data redundancy/back up? 'cause I see you have 1 OS disk and 1 for VMs and no RAID.

    Temperature keeps on 26.4C that's nice!. This might be due to: an AC in the room, the 65W it draws plus cold weather conditions outside I guess.

    Great review and thanks for sharing it.

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  7. I used the NewEgg Power Supply Calculator at http://bit.ly/jSRaUI to calculate my power usage. It comes in at 280W with 4GB RAM, so I figured 380W is more than enough. I don't plan to expand this out much with additional drives.

    Backups? What are backups? :) I run VSS backups of my DC and Exchange server to an external USB drive. Now that I have USB 3.0 support, I'll be getting one of those in the future.

    I live on the west coast where the average temp is about 65F year round.

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  8. Hello, i have the same configuration. Wich LAN/VGA/PCI driver do you have installed?

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  9. My video driver is listed as "Intel(R) HD Graphics Family" and the driver version is 8.15.10.2559.

    The built-in network adapter is listed as "Intel(R) 82579V Gigabit Network Connection" and the driver version is 11.15.12.0. See above for the workaround required to install this driver. You can also manually install the Intel 82579LM boxed driver, which will work with this adapter.

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  10. This is awesome! my only concern is the HDD IOPS needed to running a load of VM even when testing with 1-4 GB per VM. it will be interesting to see when the Win8 server beta arrives and how good the data dedup is and whether you could get away with a 256GB SSD to run 20+ VM's all sharing the blocks on disk for their base OS.

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  11. I just built this spec for spec with exception of a different SSD. It is sick how quiet this thing is!

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  12. how much ram does this have?

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  13. is this an application server?

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  14. This is a Windows Hyper-V host with 32GB of RAM.

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  15. but can you run applications on it?

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  16. Yes, you can run applications on it.

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  17. so you can pretty much run everything on this server?

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  18. UPDATE: Intel has released the new i5-3450 processor today. Same price, but better horsepower and lower wattage. Check NewEgg at http://bit.ly/IvGR2m

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  19. Ordered this same setup today with the new i5-3450 proc. Can't wait for my parts to come in so I can build it.

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  20. Finally Got my build list up on my blog

    http://lyncdup.com/2012/05/affordable-quiet-32gb-ram-home-labwhitebox-hyper-v-server-build-list/

    thanks for the tips in this post

    Tom

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  21. That's a nice rig, Tom. Thanks for the link!

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  22. Does anyone know if this RAM will work even thou the mobo is rated as 1333mhz ram only? WIll it just run this at the lower speed or not at all?

    http://www.amazon.com/Komputerbay-PC3-12800-1600MHz-Heatspreaders-9-9-9-24/dp/B006JO2KXQ/ref=pd_cp_e_0/191-3604253-9220250

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  23. I can't get mIne to boot. I got the green light on the board. I'm stuck at a wall plz assist.

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  24. Nice article Tom! Has anyone ordered this from Canada?
    Does anyone know where we can order the above parts from if we are in Canada? I think Amazon/NewEgg ships to Canada. Problem seems to be the case.

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    Replies
    1. Best places to buy in Canada are NCIX, Newegg, MemoryExpress, and TigerDirect. Over the last couple years, I've found that NCIX's prices are at least competitive to Newegg and their shipping is generally very fast.

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  25. TigerDirect is sold out of the AeroCool case and I can't find it anywhere else. Do you know of another vendor that has it in stock? Can you recommend a different cube case that would work with the components in your list? Thanks for writing this very helpful article.

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    Replies
    1. I just checked TigerDirect and they have the cases back in-stock.

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  26. Any micro-ATX case should work since there's really no add-in boards. Just make sure it has enough room for your drives.

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  27. Have you tried running Windows Server 2012 as either the main OS or a VM? If so, is the performance good or would you recommend some changes to your parts list.

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    Replies
    1. More more more SSDs! With SSD prices coming down, at nearly $.75 per gigabyte, it makes sense to go with SSDs. I upgraded my Western Digital drives to SSD drives and I couldn't be happier.

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  28. Still running stable/solid for you?

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  29. Hi Jeff

    Great article and I will be pretty much be using this as the base for mine. Out of curiosity what SSD's did you go for and what sort of VM density have you got on them? Did you try any form of raid before the SSD route.

    Thanks

    Nic

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    Replies
    1. I now have an 128GB OCZ Agility3 for the OS, a 240GB SanDisk SATA III for running VMs, and a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green drive for less active storage such as ISOs. I started with SDDs - never tried the RAID approach.

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  30. Waiting for your blog for 64GB DDR3 build ;-)

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  31. I updated this article with the latest and greatest components for Windows Server 2012! Check it out at http://www.expta.com/2013/04/updated-blistering-fast-hyper-v-2012.html

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Thank you for your comment! It is my hope that you find the information here useful. Let others know if this post helped you out, or if you have a comment or further information.