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!

Relevant links:



Updates about stuff – Learnings about FreeBSD 9

It’s been a while since i last wrote here. I kind of had writers block, didn’t feel like writing. But then, nobody is forcing my hand, are they?

So what’s been going on? The mess from the December-storm has been mostly cleaned up at the cottage. The trees have been cut down to pieces, and are awaiting final chopping and conversion to firewood. There’s enough wood to last us 10 winters, maybe even more. Note that we don’t stay there year-round, but if we would. We had several cubic meters of dirt brought in to fill in the holes left by the roots of the trees. We had the roof fixed, after the tree hit it. And we had a new solar panel installed (a 110W panel) to replace the one that got hit by a tree. All in all it has been a busy spring and beginning of summer for us there.

On that note, where is my summer? Not that I like the heat too much, but the weather has been unseasonably cold this year.

I’m leaving for New York to attend HOPE 9 in less than two weeks. That also marks the beginning of my annual four week summer vacation. This is something that i direly need at the moment, because work has been busier than ever. I’m volunteering once again for the AV-crew, which ought to be buckets of fun, long sleepless nights and lots of hard work. But totally worth it! The AV crew last time was absolutely great, and it’ll be great working with some of the same people again.

A colleague and friend, K, is moving up north, to dance with the wolves and whatnot, so he’s getting rid of a bunch of stuff. A notorious hardware hoarder (like myself), he had some gems to hand out. He gave me a Saintsong EPC-I, which is a tiny tiny Pentium 3 machine. It’s smaller than a mini-itx board, and comes with a case that fits the motherboard and processor, one stick of SDRAM, and a 2.5″ hard drive. The whole thing runs off a small power brick, and doesn’t draw too many watts. The current setup i have it in, is the 866MHz P3, 256MB RAM, and a 60GB hard drive. I was looking at operating system options, but i finally settled on FreeBSD 9, since I need/want more experience with FreeBSD. It also lists the minimum requirements as “486 with 64MB RAM”. And blimey, it runs fine! It uses a few dozen megs of ram, but i’m left with more than 50% free, while running the OS and a few services (sshd, ntpd to mention a few). The board doesn’t come with any network connectivity, so i plugged in a Buffalo WLI-U2-KL54-AI (i think that was the spell), anyway it’s a 802.11g USB 2.0 dongle. I’ll dedicate the next paragraph to this adventure:

First plugging the thing in, gives me a mass storage device, that i can’t do jack-all with. The driver is included in the FreeBSD kernel (which i found out after having put the ural driver into /boot/loader.conf). Loader informed me that it’s already imported so I guess it ought to work out of the box. Great! The Ural driver supports a bunch of wireless chipsets in the RAlink family, and this card has i think a ralink 2500 chip in it. But alas, no wireless device. It’s supposed to show up as ural0, but no such thing was in my dmesg. Finally, i ended up on a Finnish Ubuntu forum of all places, which had the key words “flick the hardware switch on the device”. There’s a tiny tiny switch on the side, which switches the thing between mass-storage and wlan mode. Flick the switch, reboot, and presto, i have a ural0 device. Next i did some configurations of /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf to add information about my network, and I now have that little thing on the network!! Absolutely awesome. I’ll post my configuration once i get home, because, as I am writing this, it is Saturday, and I’m sitting at the office doing some P2V conversions of production machines that couldn’t be converted during office hours.

Other stuff that i was donated: A bag of games! Olde goode games. Stuff like Descent II, 7th guest, 11th hour (i think that way?), Ecco the Dolphin, and other absolute classics. The pearl of the bag which was completely random and not selected by me: A 4 CD set of FreeBSD 3.0 from November 1998. An official set, by the look of it, including a tiny printed manual. The cover boasts new features such as support for DEC Alpha! I also got a motherboard, which is in an unknown state, with a dual-core AMD processor, and a PPC based Mac tower (a G4 i think?), including rack mounts. That thing is sweet let me tell you. The cover lists the specs as 466 MHz, so i think it’s this model of the Power Macintosh G4 series. It’s been pimped out with a mad 1.5gigs of RAM. It also has a ZIP drive, which is something i don’t yet have in my collections.

Uh what else. Not much at this time i think. I’ll get back with my adventures in FreeBSD-land at a later time.