How To Build A Windows Home Server
It was mentioned in the intro so let’s start with the CPU here. When building a WHS box, as the OS is based on Server 2008, we have the option of using pretty much any desktop or server CPU we want. As with my first two home server boxes we could go for a desktop model, something cheap like a low spec i3 CPU or something more interesting such as a quad core AMD FX model… it all depends on how many tasks the server will be designed to perform for each user… for streaming pretty much any CPU will do. Want to encode video on there from one format to another? A higher spec model is the way to go.
To get a nice balance between price, performance and power use we opted for the Xeon E3-1220L, a processor from Intel’s Xeon range that gives us two cores running at 2.2GHz with hyperthreading enabled, boosting our threads to 4 at any one time. This CPU also supports turbo mode with a maximum frequency of 3.4GHz, all in a 20w power rating with full 64bit support.
Processors like the standard Xeon E3-1220 also work on many Socket 1155 boards (such as those with Z68) so we get a wide range of options on that front however for our use we decided to focus on reliability and stability which Intel products are known for and so that narrowed down our motherboard choices…
Intel have a range of Xeon E3 Series compatible server boards and this is the S1200BTS which arrives with a basic bundle of drive cables, documentation, IO shield and software disc. The product itself looks like a fairly standard, though not flashy, micro-ATX motherboard and our CPU sits just above centre, beneath four DDR3 memory slots which are capable of holding 32GB of DDR-1333MHz. (The S1200BTL is the standard ATX version of this board)
The S1200BTS uses standard PSU connectors, 24 and 8-pin, like most recent boards and at the bottom left corner we have a mix of PCIe and PCI slots which are ideal for adding RAID/SATA cards should we require additional storage on top of the six RAID capable ports at the base of the board.
Output connectors are minimal on this product, serial, VGA out for the basic on-board GPU, four USB 2.0 and dual Intel GB LAN. The BIOS is also no-frills, a simple interface and set of options that will be familiar to anyone who has used an Intel board before.
Again if going down the standard desktop components route the choice of components is wide and varied, just check the motherboard compatibility list on your manufacturers website and buy something which suits the needs of the server… whether it is dual, tri or quad channel. For our build the list of compatible memory is minimal which ensures Intel can test for compatibility but that doesn’t stop us shopping in a normal consumer store as Crucial offer kits for the S1200BT range, our build was therefore kitted out with two 4GB sticks of DDR3-1333MHz which will offer plenty of performance for use now and well into the future on our 64-bit OS.
As mentioned earlier in this article Windows Home Server 2011 is able to send us down the route of using pretty much any desktop or server component in the build, something which is further expanded by the motherboard used supporting standard PSU connectors so for the power supply used in this build the consideration once again was stability and reliability. There was no need to go for a high wattage unit, our CPU only using 20w being the main power draw in the system, so a 430w unit was more than enough and the brand of choice, Corsair who are well known for their high quality units. Even with this being a low specification model in their range we still get a standard bundle, including cable ties, and the overall build quality of the casing is no different to their midrange parts. This PSU is also 80 Plus certified with a 3-year warranty for peace of mind.
With the PSU chosen all of the above components need to be installed in a case and the model used is very much down to personal preference, where the unit may be installed, how many drives are required and noise levels.
For this build the Fractal Design Arc Midi was chosen. It offered a pure black external design which is ideal for hiding away behind a TV unit, the wiring holes make for a neat and tidy internal layout and more importantly it offers very low noise (review performance page) as well as eight hard drive bays as standard with two additional 5.25" bays which could be converted to take us up to 10 devices if needed… that could mean up to 30 Terabytes of storage with 3tb drives used.
So that’s our major components chosen, other than deciding where to put our OS. Our preference is to boot from an SSD for any new build with mechanical drives providing the storage in our system. Once again consumer SATA models are able to be used and it is very much about choosing drives which meet each individuals budget and storage requirements. We also suggest looking into reliability, something which Intel and Samsung excel at on their SSDs… though the likes of OCZ offer more performance.