[Guide] $470, 16 Core, 32 thread, quad-channel, dedicated transcoding BEHEMOTH

Objective:
Going back to the original - The $500 build from /u/JDM_WAAAT. Since then, many of those parts prices have drastically increased in price or are unavailable. So new objective, build it better, for less! And oh man did we ever.

Rules for buying used server-grade parts on eBay:

  1. Buy from highly-rated, reputable sellers
  2. When “Or best offer” is available, use it. Sellers will likely discount parts, often up to 30%.
  3. Shop around. There are many resellers selling the same exact parts on eBay, find the one with the best price.
  4. 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”.
  5. Do not, under any circumstances buy QA/QC/QS/ES labled 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.
  6. Check sources other than Ebay. /r/buildapcsales can be a huge help with this. Amazon or Newegg often have huge sales on some of the new parts. Shop around people!

Build

Type Item Price (eBay) OBO? OBO price
CPU 2x Intel Xeon E5-2650 2.00GHz, 8 core 16 thread Incl w/ MOBO
Motherboard Supermicro X9DRi-LN4F+ Dual Socket $281.98 YES $260
RAM 16GB (4X4GB) DDR3 ECC REG x 2 $29.89 ea YES $25.00 ea
CPU Cooler 2x Arctic Freezer i11 CO $19.22 ea
PSU EVGA 450W BT $24.99
EPS Splitter 8 Pin to Dual 8 Pin EPS Splitter $6.00
24 Pin Extention 12" 24 Pin Power Extention $9.99
Case Phanteks Enthoo Pro $79.99 $15 MIR $64.99
Thermal Compound Gelid GC Extreme $12.99
Other Tax, shipping, fees $3.60
Total $517.76 after OBO $471
Optional Extras Sata cable 6 pack $7.49
Optional Extras Sata power splitter $6.27

About this build:

There you have it. If you recall, the original $500 build actually used this same CPU. BUT ONLY 1!. Here, we used 2, gave it more RAM, and all for over $50 less!

  • General: I recently completed almost this exact build, same mobo, case, etc. Just ended up with different RAM config, and used dual E5-2630L CPU’s that i got for a steal. This build will be using two Intel Xeon processors on Intel Socket 2011 motherboard with Quad-Channel DDR3-ECC RDIMM memory. It does not include specifications for SSD or HDD.
  • CPU: The Intel Xeon E5-2650 is a high power, 8 core, 16 thread CPU that came out Q1 2012. 2.0Ghz clock, 2.8 Ghz turbo. It has a counterpart, the E5-2600L series who are also 8 cores, but low power. If you don’t need quite as much Passmark power, these are also a power saving option at a slightly lower price point. MSRP when it was released was around $1100.00 USD Each. Plex Transcoder has true multi-threaded support and will take advantage of all 32 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. Dual E5-2650’s will score 15000 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 any V1 or V2 E5-2600 series cpu’s. Dual E5-2660 V2, 10 core 20 thread, 2.20GHz base / 3.00 Ghz turbo in the future for about +4000 extra passmark score.
  • Motherboard: Supermicro X9DRi-LN4F (Link to Supermicro Product Spec Page) This motherboard has dual 2011 sockets with a whopping 24 DIMM slots. With this build we’ll be using only 8 of those available DIMMS, so there’s a possible future upgrade. 6 SATA ports are standard, along with 2 SAS ports, for a total of 14 available SATA connections. Quad Gigabit NIC is also standard, plus IPMI.
  • RAM: Here, we’re using 8x4GB DDR3 ECC REG for quad channel support, and a total of 32GB of available memory. 32GB is a good value here. Another 2 sets would fill all 24 slots, for a total of 96GB.
  • 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. Also designed for continuous operations.
  • PSU: It’s cheap, powerful enough, and works. Not much more to say.
  • Case: This case has full SSI-EEB+ (E-ATX with specialized mounting) support. Supports 6 3.5" hard drives two 2.5" SSDs, and two 5.25" bays natively. It’s an all-around wonderful case, and it’s really well-constructed (I have one, it’s great). Also, one of the few cases that actually will fit this massive MOBO. In the front is a MASSIVE 200mm intake fan. Didn’t even know they made them that big.
  • Splitter/Extension * These are necessary with the parts listed above to work. The power supply listed only has 1 8 Pin EPS connection for the CPU. Since we have 2, need a splitter. If you use a different PSU, check on the # of EPS connections. If it has 2, this part is not necessary. This board BARELY fits in the case. I know, I have both! Here’s some pictures to show. Because of this, wiring the power can be a bit tricky, and to get it done in a clean way, need the 12" extension.
  • Thermal Paste This is the best non-liquid metal thermal compound out there, hands down.

Cautionary notes, other details

  1. 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.
  2. 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 sizeable 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Almost any OS will work. Includes ESXI, unRAID, FreeNAS, Linux, and Windows of course.
  5. Evaluate your RAID options. This motherboard has capabilities for onboard RAID, but that isn’t for everyone.

Upgrades, other parts

  1. Cheap storage in the form of $33 refurbished 2TB Hitachi Ultrastar hard drives. These are Enterprise level drives, great for use with RAID arrays.
  2. Sell the pair of E5-2650’s & get Dual E5-2660 V2, 10 core 20 thread, 2.20GHz base / 3.00 Ghz turbo for 19,000 Passmark score. At time of posting these were $249.99 OBO w/ free shipping, extremely great value currently. If you’re more concerned about power consumption, consider a pair of E5-2650L’s for $41.50 each OBO at the time of this post, for a sweet ~14k passmark at only 70w TDP each.
  3. MORE RAM!
  4. Liquid cooling - If you plan on upgrading to V2’s this is a good idea. Can get Corsair H55’s for $60 each.
  5. DO IT ALL! If you want more power right now, sell the CPU’s that come with the mobo for ~80 and grab a pair of E5-2660’s for $240. Triple the RAM for an extra $100. Liquid cool the PSU’s for an added $80. Finally, upgrade to a 550w semi modular 80+ gold psu for an extra ~$30 (one’s on sale @ Newegg for $55 after MIR currently). Grand Total: around $840.

FAQ

  • 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 virutalization. Don’t forget all of the other vast capabilities besides Plex!

  • Q: I have questions/can’t find alternative parts/ready to buy. What do I do?

  • A: Join the /r/Plex discord and ask for someone to review your build in the #hardware channel. We can’t help you after purchasing, so ask before you buy.

Please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions below. I’m very familiar with these components and how they all go together.
Keep calm, Plex on!

Did you check the power usage of the build? while idling and without the hard drives?

Would this be a good build if I want to use unraid as the OS for plex and other dockers and also run a windows VM for day to day tasks.

Would this build suit my needs or should I wait until the Anniversary 2.0 is released?