Home server - January 2014
The home server. It's subject to heated debate on Hardware.Info. Opinions differ widely on subjects like the necessity for keeping the design compact, the advantage of hot-swap bays, acceptable energy consumption, how much CPU power is needed, what type of storage and so on. It's safe to say that the "ideal home server" does not exist, because its intended use differs widely among our readers.
This doesn't mean that we can't provide a good guide to effective home servers. There are two options, either you buy one off-the-shelf or you build one yourself. While there are a number of pre-assembled home servers available that have advantages in terms of compact design and price-performance ratio, the seasoned Hardware.Info reader of course prefers building one themselves. Our guide will focus finding the right balance between energy consumption, affordability and expandability.
Power usage is essential. A NAS with two disks and an Atom-based PC will consume less power, but both of these solutions lack the all-important aspect of expandability, so we are more flexible in how much power can be used. Our recommended configuration uses between 35W and 45W. You can achieve lower energy consumption, but at a significant trade-off in terms of processor power and upgrading options. A compromise in other words, like with all our recommended systems.
The system we recommend will cost around £330, which is barely more than an off-the-shelf home server. The advantages of our system are obvious: more SATA ports, more space for expansion, more options for upgrading the CPU and RAM, and even the possibility of adding more storage controllers. And last but not least, you get to choose the operating system.
This home server is perfectly suited for making back-ups, streaming media, and it has enough power to act as a basic server for FTP or your photo albums for example.
Please note: the PC Buyer’s Guide is compiled based on independent component tests performed by Hardware.Info. If no new, superior products are released that should replace one or more of the components, then the component(s) will remain the same as the previous month.
If you want to know more about how we compile our PC Buying guides, have a look at this article.
A home server needs to be able to make daily back-ups, download independently and for example run a basic web server with photo albums. None of this is very complex. The choice of an Intel Atom or AMD E seems obvious, but we prefer the Athlon A4-4000.
This processor has a number of advantages. First off it's faster than an Atom or E-x50 CPU. More importantly, you won't be limited to a particular motherboard brand with its inherent limitations. This CPU will work on any Socket-FM2 motherboard. The AMD Athlon A4-4000 is energy efficient as well.
CPU cooler - Boxed cooler
To save some money we are not going to use a separate CPU cooler. However, if your home server will be located somewhere where you can clearly hear it, then it might be worth replacing the standard cooler by a more silent cooler such as the Scythe Big Shuriken.
We put 4 GB of RAM on the motherboard, plenty for now and in the foreseeable future.
We chose the MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 motherboard. The A75 chipset supports six SATA600 ports and 4 USB 3.0 ports. It was one of the most energy-efficient boards in our test, an important quality for a home server. It's also an affordable motherboard.
Graphics card -
Technically speaking you don't need a graphics card for a home server, but it's practical for installation and diagnostics. The onboard AMD GPU is more than enough for these purposes.
A 'NAS' hard disk has little added value here. An efficient 5400 RPM disk is sufficient, and our recent test proved that the WD Caviar Green is both quiet, economical and performs well. We put two 3 TB models in our home server.
Optical drive - No optical drive
As an optical drive will use 5-10W easily even when not in use, we leave this one out. Use an old one for installation if you need to, but leave it out after that.
While the Cooler Master N200 is a very nice micro-ATX chassis, we opted for the somewhat larger and only slightly more expensive N300 sibling. That's because it fits many more hard drives, something that doesn't hurt for a home server. The N300 is also more silent than the N200 and our old favourite for this configuration, the Bitfenix Merc Beta. It even has an external USB 3.0 port. Do pay attention you get that model, because Cooler Master has multiple versions, not all with the same external connectors.
For a home server you want an economical power supply that's efficient even at low loads. We chose the Be quiet! System Power 7 300W. It's more power than you need, but the lower models tend to perform worse.
|Processors||AMD A4-4000 Boxed||£24.99|
|CPU coolers||Boxed cooler||–|
|Memory modules||Kingston ValueRam 4GB DDR3-1600 CL9 XMP kit||–|
|Hard disks/SSDs||2x Western Digital Green 3TB||£149.96|
|Optical drives||No optical drive||–|
|Cases||Cooler Master N300||£34.29|
|Power supplies||Be quiet! System Power 7 300W||£29.24|
|Add as wish list||Average total price:||£355.94|