Bill of Materials
- motherboard: AsRock J5040 mini-ITX (includes the CPU)
- RAM: 16 GB: 2x 8 GB 2400 MHz SO-DIMM
- storage: 2x 2TB (data, backups) + 1x 1TB (system) Samsung 870 QVO SSD
- case: Silverstone SG-13 mini-ITX
- power supply: 120W pico PSU with a 60W power adapter
I decided to build my own server from components - in this way I could put together a system with the capacity exactly matched to the expected usage scenarios. My primary objective was for the server to use as little power as possible for the expected workload. Budget was not a major concern, but I preferred sticking to the basics. This setup was inspired by a Reddit comment in r/HomeServer. The comment has since been deleted, but the thread still has some useful info.
The component I spent the most time pondering was the enclosure, mostly due to the aesthetics. In the end I went for a basic, but nice-enough looking box by Silverstone. The main criteria was small size and the ability to accomodate three 2.5 inch drives. In the end, the case is still much larger than it needed to be, because instead of the ATX PSU it is designed for, I went for a pico. That said, I haven’t seen anything that would be substantially smaller and still offer space for 3 SSDs.
The AsRock motherboard was recommended in several places. It houses a 4-core Pentium CPU, is equipped with the radiators and supports up to four SATA drives. As for the drives, I chose SSD for a number of reasons, of which speed was the least important. SSDs have lower power usage (no moving parts), I also hope they will last longer between failures than HDDs. While the flash memory wears as a result of writes, I expect the data churn in my system to be pretty low: I mostly add new photos and music, rarely delete anything. With a 4-HDD RAID setup I used a few years back, I had to replace one of the drives every two years or so. With fewer drives and no moving or magnetic parts I’m expecting the MTBF to be much higher. I wasn’t to particular about the make of the drives, I used Samsung in the past and never had issues with it, and the QVO series is relatively inexpensive. My storage needs are relatively modest, so 2TB should be enough for another 5-10 years, and is at the sweet spot in terms of price per gigabyte. If you need more storage in this setup, and money is not a concern, the QVO SSDs come in sizes of up to 8TB.
The entire rig is passively cooled. No fan means lower power usage. At idle, the CPU and motherboard run at around 40°C, while at full load the temperature can reach 105°C, which seemed very high to me, but the system was able to remain stable at this temperature for 12 hours, as it indexed my photo collection.
Since there are no moving parts, the server is perfectly silent.
NAS units, e.g. by QNAP, are good if you don’t want to spend time building and configuring stuff yourself, and are (obviously) a better choice if large storage, perhaps in a RAID configuration, is the primary concern. This comes at the price of performance, since the CPUs and memory they put in those things are just about enough to serve the files, but might struggle to run anything more demanding. It’s also not easy to run anything that’s not pre-packaged by the NAS vendor.
If, on the other hand, we cared mostly for the CPU performance and small form factor, then a NUC system could be a very sensible option. These typically have very limited space for hard drives though and can get quite expensive, if we go for the higher end CPUs.
One thing to watch out for is that the socket on the pico PSU matches the plug on the power adapter. I’ve seen Meanwell adapters being recommended, but they were hard to come by in Poland. Fortunately there were other reltively high-power (60W) adapters on the market.
Another thing to keep in mind are the SATA cables: the AsRock motherboard comes with two data SATA cables, one straight, one angled. This setup needs three, and angled ones are problematic because of the way the drives are attached to the case - there is no space for the angled connector there. In addition, I forgot that the disks need not only data but also power cables. The Pico PSU comes with just one, but there is also a molex connector, so I bought an adapter from molex to two SATA.