Update: It has come to my attention that the motherboard is actually an X58 chipset motherboard, meaning it cannot run ECC REG memory, which is unfortunate. Look for UDIMM or regular desktop memory, such at this. It’s more expensive, but you can still find deals on it. Sorry to any of you affected by this error.
Build a cheap, kick-ass server for $300. Server must have 8 bays for 3.5" HDD expansion, as well as free PCI-E slots if the user would like to add a DAS down the road.
Rules for buying used server-grade parts on eBay:
- Buy from highly-rated, reputable sellers
- When “Or best offer” is available, use it. Sellers will likely discount parts, often up to 30%.
- Shop around. There are many resellers selling the same exact parts on eBay, find the one with the best price.
- Scrutinize the details of the auction. For example, make sure CPU stepping / revision is correct to what you need. Make sure components are listed as functioning and not “for parts only”.
- Do not, under any circumstances buy QA/QC/QS/ES labeled CPUs. Only buy official used / refurbished Intel Xeon CPUs. Chips with this label are not guaranteed to work, and might break functionality with something as simple as a BIOS update.
|CPU||Intel Xeon X5670 2.93GHz, 3.33GHz Turbo 6-Core, 12-Thread||$35|
|Motherboard||Supermicro X8ST3-F LGA1366||$105|
|RAM||3x4GB DDR3 NON-ECC 1333MHz||$22|
|CPU Cooler||Intel 1366 Heatsink/Fan for Xeon||$23.85|
|PSU||EVGA 430W White PSU||$37.14|
|Case||NZXT Source 210 (white)||$54.99|
|Tax, shipping, other fees||$15.99|
About this build:
- General: This build will be using a single Intel Xeon processor on Intel Socket 1366 motherboard with Triple-Channel DDR3-ECC RDIMM memory. It does not include specifications for SSD or HDD.
- CPU: The Intel Xeon X5670 is a medium-high power 6 core, 12 thread CPU that came out shortly before the E5 series CPUs. MSRP when it was released was around $1000.00 USD. The Plex Transcoder process has true multi-threaded support and will take advantage of all 12 threads. So while this CPU might not be clocked as fast as what most of you are used to, the sheer amount of cores/threads will more than make up for it. Turbo-boost functionality does help quite a bit, allowing it to bump each core up to 3.33GHz. Single X5670 will score 8031 on passmark. Another thing to consider is that since the CPU is so cheap, you won’t have to worry about it when it comes time to upgrade in the future. You can replace it with a Intel Xeon X5690 3.47GHz base / 3.75gHz turbo in the future for about +1000 extra passmark score. This might not seem like a lot, but the extra clock speed does help in certain applications, such as games. The X5670 was chosen for this build due to its stellar performance per dollar.
- Motherboard: Supermicro X8ST3-F (Link to Supermicro Product Spec Page) This motherboard has a single 1366 socket with 6 DIMM slots. With this build we’ll be using all 3 of the 6 available DIMMS. 6 SATA ports are standard, with an additional 8 from an onboard SAS controller (can be used as SATA as well), totaling 14 SATA. (thanks /u/velogeek) Dual Gigabit NIC is also standard with an extra port for IPMI (BIOS and KVM over IP, IPMI is amazing).
- RAM: Here, we’re using 3x4GB DDR3 ECC REG for triple channel support, and a total of 12GB of available memory. 12GB is an especially good value here, but 24GB is easily achievable by filling all 6 DIMM slots.
- CPU Cooler: There’s not much to say here. It’s compatible, it’s quiet, and it works. We won’t be overclocking, so there’s not much to worry about so long as it works.
- PSU: Find whatever PSU is on sale and greater than 400W. This whole system should not take more than 300W under load with 8 HDD’s, so wattage won’t be an issue. Check for deals on Slickdeals and /r/buildapcsales for good PSU deals.
- Case: Pick out any ATX case that you like that has the features you want. I like this case, but there’s many others that will work just as well. This one in particular has native support for 8 3.5" HDDs. This is an area that is highly subjective and a spot where a lot of money can be saved depending on the features that you want and need. For $55, the NZXT source 210 is hard to beat.
Cautionary notes, other details
- Server equipment is stripped down to the bare minimum for compatibility and reliability. Because of this, features you are used to having might be missing - for example, some server motherboards don’t have onboard audio. Also, most will use VGA onboard.
- Use a SSD for your host OS. This is likely where your Plex metadata will live, so if you’re going to generate thumbnails and you have a sizable library, make sure to get an appropriate size. I have about 20TB of media with thumbnails turned on, and 500GB is starting to feel tight. About 250GB is a good start for most people.
- Familiarize yourself with the BIOS options. Some may be different than consumer models. Make sure Hyper-threading is turned on in the BIOS. When in doubt, clear the CMOS / reset to default. You should verify that all 24-threads are showing in your host OS.
- Almost any OS will work. Includes ESXI, unRAID, FreeNAS, Linux, and Windows of course.
- Evaluate your RAID options. This motherboard has capabilities for onboard RAID, but that isn’t for everyone.
Q: Aren’t used parts unreliable?
A: No. Server-grade used components are designed to be more reliable than consumer-class components. They are often recycled / resold when the upgrade cycle happens at major institutions or businesses. Some are sold as new - old stock, where the components are new but were never used. Myself and many others have found that used server components are more reliable than even new consumer-grade parts. There are even forums dedicated to finding the best deals on used parts.
Q: I’m nervous / anxious about building a computer with server hardware. How much different / harder is it than regular computers? OR - I’ve never build a computer but wanted to, can I start with this?
A: I’d argue that it’s actually easier and more straight forward than building with regular computer hardware. Just like with anything else, doing research is key here. The components that are outlined in this post are compatible with each other and are probably about a 4/10 in overall difficulty.
Q: Why should I do this? I want a i7-6700K or (INSERT_CPU_HERE)
A: Because price/dollar ratio is important, and the goals are different. This isn’t a gaming machine, it’s for serving up content and virtualization. Don’t forget all of the other vast capabilities besides Plex!
Please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions below.
Keep calm, Plex on!