Tuesday, April 26, 2011
When building any kind of computer, the first task is deciding on what hardware to purchase. There are several different routes you can take when it comes to building/buying a home server. I have listed what I consider to be the three most common options.
The first, and perhaps cheapest, is to buy a pre-built server from HP, Gateway, Dell, or any other number of major manufacturers... In most cases these devices will have a dual-core Intel Atom processor at best. They have a low power draw, are relatively quiet, are usually pretty small, and can be found for under $300 if you look carefully. Many of these run a full copy of Windows Home Server and therefore offer quite a bit of functionality in that regard. The downside is that in many cases they don't even have a display adapter; you have to "remote desktop" in to the unit if you want to do any configuration. This also means doing anything that requires a graphics processor goes out the window. No games, no photoshop... etc. Furthermore, the Intel Atom isn't exactly a powerhouse processor which can heavily limit some other functionality. Finally, their often small form-factor, while convenient, doesn't leave much room for upgrades. A better, albeit more expensive, route to take is to look into building your own Mini-ITX machine if you want something in this size with some more kick.
A second option, if all you care about is having shared network storage, is to simply opt for a NAS (network attached storage) device which will hold multiple hard drives in different configurations of raid (for either data integrity or for more speed). If you go this route, ALL you are going to get to do in most cases is serve files. This can also quickly become an expensive option as well. NAS boxes tend to be overpriced in my opinion. They are often VERY reliable though which is something that can't always be said of Windows Server.
A third option, and the last one I will mention, is to simply build a regular desktop computer, keeping the functionality of a server in mind, and install a server operating system on it. This is my preferred option because A.) It is WAY more fun B.) You can easily upgrade the device and can re-task it as a desktop machine later on if you don't want a server anymore C.) You have a lot more control over the price D.) The hardware you get will in all likely-hood be WAY more powerful for the money spent. There are downsides though... A.) Probably more maintenance B.) It's going to be physically bigger C.) It will probably be more noisy than the other two options. D.) It is going to draw more power.
We are going to be looking at building the third option. Money and flexibility were much more important to me, personally, than overall stability and size/noise of the device. Furthermore, something you build on your own can be very stable depending on what you do with it and what components you use when you build it.