MicroATX Home Server Build – Part 3

Because I am impatient, I went ahead and got a motherboard, processor and memory. The components that I purchased were:

  • Asrock H61M-DGS R2.0 (Model: H61M R2.0/M/ASRK, Part No: 90-MXGSQ0-A0UAYZ)
  • 16 GB (2x8GB) Kingston HyperX Fury memory (DDR3, 1600MHz, HX316C10FBK2/16, individual memories are detected as: KHX1600C10D3/8G)
  • Intel i3-2100 (2 cores, with hyperthreading)

I ended up with this solution because I realized I may not have enough money to upgrade my main workstation, to get the parts from that machine into this one. I also didn’t have the funds to get a server grade processor, and getting an mATX server motherboard turned out to be difficult on short notice (did I mention I’m an impatient bastard?).

I ended up paying 48€ for the motherboard, 45€ for the processor (used, including Intel stock cooler) and 102 bucks for the 16GB memory kit.

The motherboard has the following specs:

  • 2 x DDR3 1600 MHz slots
  • 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slot
  • 1 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slot
  • 4 x SATA2
  • 8 USB 2.0 (4 rear, 4 front)
  • VGA and DVI outputs

The factors that led to me choosing this motherboard were mainly: Price, availability, support for 2nd and 3rd generation Intel Core processors (allowing me to use the i3 temporarily, and upgrade to the i5 later if I feel the need), and the availability of two PCIe slots. All other features were secondary or not of importance.

The reductions in spec that I had to accept were: No support for 32GB memory (as mentioned in the previous post), no integrated Intel NIC (this has crappy Realtek NIC, but I might still use that for something inconsequential as management; probably not though)

These pitfalls may or may not be corrected a later date when I have more money to put toward the build, and patience to wait for parts.

The CPU is, as mentioned, an Intel i3-2100. It’s running at 3.1 GHz, has two cores, four threads (due to HT), 3MB Intel ‘SmartCache’, and a 65W TDP.  It does support 32GB of memory on a suitable motherboard. I doubt the CPU will become a bottleneck anytime soon, even though it is low-spec (it originally retailed for ~120€ back when it was released in 2011). The applications and testing I intend to do is not CPU heavy work, and since I have four logical processors to work with in ESXi, I can spread the load out some.

Putting it all together

Adding the motherboard was fairly easy. There were some standoffs already in the case, but I had to add a few to accommodate the mATX motherboard. Plenty of space for cabling from the PSU, and I paid literally zero attention to cable management at this point. The motherboard only had two fan headers: One for the CPU fan (obviously mandatory..) and one for a case fan. I opted to hook up the rear fan (included with the case) to blow out hot air from around the CPU. I left the bottom fan in, I may hook it up later, or replace it with the 230mm fan from Bitfenix.

Initially, I did not add any hard drives. ESXi would run off a USB 2.0 memory stick (Kingston Data Traveler 4GB), and the VMs would probably run from a NAS. I ended up changing my mind (more on this in the next post). For now, I wanted to validate the components. I opted to run trusty old MemTest86+ for a day or so. Here’s the build running MemTest:

Build almost complete, running MemTest86+
Build almost complete, running MemTest86+

Looks to be working fine!

Here’s a crappy picture of the insides of the case, only covered by the HDD mounting plate:

Side panel open, showing HDD mounting plate, side of PSU
Side panel open, showing HDD mounting plate, side of PSU

One thing to note here is that if you want the side panel completely off, you need to disconnect the cables seen to the front left. These are for the power and reset buttons, USB 2.0 front ports and HDD led. They are easy to remove, so no biggie here.

One note on the motherboard: There has only ever been one release of the BIOS, version 1.10. This was installed at the factory (obviously, as there were no other versions released at the time of writing). If you do get this board, make sure you are running the latest BIOS. Check for new versions here: http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/H61M-DGS%20R2.0/?cat=Download&os=BIOS

So this is the current state of the build. Next up…

  • Installing ESXi 6.0U1 (just released in time for this build)
  • Deciding on where the VMs would run
  • Adding NIC and possible internal storage
  • Configuring ESXi
  • Installing guest VMs

Stay tuned!

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