The $350 build from /u/JDM_WAAAT has been very popular over the months. Since then, many of those parts prices have drastically increased in price or are unavailable. So new objective, build a cheap, kick-ass server for not a whole lot of money, again, that is more powerful than the original. Server must also have a clear upgrade path for future expansion, and be able to perform in a variety of workloads.
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 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.
- 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!
|Type||Item||Price (eBay)||OBO?||20% OBO price|
|CPU||2x Intel Xeon X5660 2.80GHz, 6 core 12 thread||$49.99||YES||$40.00|
|*Alt MOBO, See **** below||Supermicro X8DTI-F||$84.56|
|RAM||24GB (6X4GB) DDR3 ECC REG||$48.75||YES||$39.00|
|CPU Cooler||2x Intel E97381 1366 Heatsink/Fan||$51.98|
|PSU||EVGA 450W BT||$24.99|
|EPS Splitter||8 Pin to Dual 8 Pin EPS Splitter||$6.00|
|Case||Phanteks Enthoo Pro||$89.99|
|Other||Tax, shipping, fees||$27.19|
|Optional Extras||Sata cable 6 pack||$7.49|
|Optional Extras||Sata power splitter||$6.27|
EDIT: The original mobo link sold out, here’s an alternative. Original was $59.99 + $14.76 shipping, or $74.75. This new one is $84.56, but comes with 2x E5620 cpu’s and 2 heatsinks. Can likely sell the cpu’s and heatsinks for ~$10 to make up the cost difference. Or, if you’re fine with only ~8200 passmark vs 11820, keep them and save the $40 for the 5660’s. I would still get the recommended heatsinks though.
About this build:
- General: This build will be using two Intel Xeon processors 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 X5660 is a high power, 6 core, 12 thread CPU that came out shortly before the E5 series CPUs. 2.8Ghz clock, 3.2 Ghz turbo. It has a counterpart, the L5600 series who are also 6 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 $1200.00 USD Each. Plex Transcoder has true multi-threaded support and will take advantage of all 24 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 X5660 will score 11820 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 dual X5690 3.47GHz base / 3.75ghz turbo in the future for about +4000 extra passmark score.
- Motherboard: Supermicro X8DTI-F (Link to Supermicro Product Spec Page) This motherboard has dual 1366 sockets with 12 DIMM slots. With this build we’ll be using only 6 of those available DIMMS, so there’s a possible future upgrade. 6 SATA ports are standard, more can be added via PCI-E if needed in the future, the case is more than capable of holding more. Dual Gigabit NIC is also standard.
- RAM: Here, we’re using 6x4GB DDR3 ECC REG for triple channel support, and a total of 24GB of available memory. 24GB is a good value here, but 48GB is easily upgraded to with another set.
- 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: It’s cheap, powerful enough, and works. Not much more to say.
- Case: This case has full SSI-EEB (alternative to E-ATX) 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).
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 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.
- 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.
Upgrades, other parts
- Cheap storage in the form of $33 refurbished 2TB Hitachi Ultrastar hard drives. These are Enterprise level drives, great for use with RAID arrays.
- Dual X5690 CPU’s for 14191 Passmark score. At time of posting these were $259.99 OBO w/ free shipping (note, they are also 130w TDP each vs 95w). If you’re more concerned about power consumption, consider a pair of L5640’s for $35.99 OBO at the time of this post, for a sweet 10k passmark at only 60w TDP each.
- MORE RAM!
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.
Keep calm, Plex on!