Blistering Fast Windows Server – Parts List and Video

Walk with me now, as we take a stroll down Geek lane.  :)

I decided it’s time to replace my old Hyper-V server at home
with a new one that’s faster and can run more VMs.  I’ve decided again to build
it myself from OEM parts so I can get exactly what I want at a right price.  This
article contains my parts list and my reasons for choosing what I did. 
Hopefully, this will help you with your own home lab.
I host my private cloud network on a Windows Server 2008 R2
Hyper-V host server.  Hyper-V is perfect for my environment because it allows
me to run workgroup applications (Exchange Edge Transport and IIS) directly on
the host, as well as host my virtual domain servers.
My current Hyper-V server is an AMD x64 dual core rig with
16GB RAM and two SATA drives, one for the OS and another for VMs.  I built it
about 3 years ago when I was on the Windows Server 2008 TAP and it has served
me well.  But with Windows Server 8 and Exchange 15 right around the corner, I
wanted to be sure I had the capabilities of running these new versions.
My Design Requirements
As with most customers, I have competing requirements for
this new server:
  • Minimum of 4 cores
  • Windows Server 8 capable.  Hyper-V for Windows 8 requires hypervisor-ready processors with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT), as reported by Microsoft at BUILD.
  • 32GB of fast DDR3 RAM
  • Must support SATA III 6Gb/s drives
  • Must have USB 3.0 ports for future portable devices
  • Must be quiet.  This server is sitting next to me in my office (aka, the sunroom) and I don’t want to hear it at all.
  • Low power requirements
  • Small form factor
  • Budget: ~$1,000 USD
My RAM requirements drove most of this design.  Since this
would be based on a desktop motherboard (server mobos are too big and ECC RAM
is too expensive), I first looked for 4x8GB (32GB) DDR3 RAM.  Then I looked for
a small mobo that would accept that much RAM, then a processor for that mobo.
 
Here’s my parts list, including links to where I purchased each
item and the price I paid:
Part Number
Description
Price
Source
Intel Core i5-2400S Sandy Bridge 2.5GHz (3.3GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155
65W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 2000 BX80623I52400S
$193.00
Amazon
Intel BOXDH67BLB3 LGA 1155 Intel H67 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro
ATX Intel Motherboard
$85.99
NewEgg
Komputerbay 32GB DDR3 (4x 8GB) PC3-10600 10666 1333MHz DIMM 240-Pin
RAM Desktop Memory 9-9-9-25
$225.00
Amazon
OCZ Agility 3 AGT3-25SAT3-120G 2.5″ 120GB SATA III MLC Internal
Solid State Drive (SSD)
$129.99
NewEgg
Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EARX 2TB 64MB Cache SATA III 6.0Gb/s
3.5″ Internal Hard Drive
$114.99
NewEgg
ASUS 24X DL-DVD Burner SATA II
$19.99
NewEgg
AeroCool M40 Cube Computer Case – Micro ATX, LCD Display, 2x 5.25
Bays, 3x 3.5 Bays, 4x Fan Ports, Black
$79.99
TigerDirect
Antec EA-380D Green 80 PLUS BRONZE Power Supply
$44.99
NewEgg
ENERMAX UC-8EB 80mm Case Fan
$9.99
NewEgg
nMEDIAPC ZE-C268 3.5″ All-in-one USB Card Reader with USB 3.0
Port
$16.99
NewEgg
Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5″ SSD / HDD Plastic Mounting Kit for
3.5″ Drive Bay
$4.99
NewEgg
Total:  $925.91
I was a little worried about the Komputerbay RAM.  I’ve
never heard of them before, but they offer a lifetime warranty and 32GB DDR3
1333 (PC3 10666) RAM was $54 cheaper than what I could find at NewEgg.  In the end I’m
very pleased with my decision.
I chose different sources for the best price.  NewEgg is my
go-to vendor for most items.  They charge sales tax in California, but I have a
ShopRunner account that gives
me free 2-day shipping on all these items.  Amazon was the smart choice for the
bigger ticket items since they don’t charge tax and I could get them delivered
with a 30 day free trial of Prime 2-day shipping.  Not to mention the fact that
I had a $500 Amazon gift card that I won at TechEd 2011 from my good friends at
Vision Solutions!  TigerDirect
was the only source for this great AeroCool micro ATX cube computer case.
All the items were delivered the same day and started putting
it together that night.  Careful assembly took about 90 minutes and everything
went together perfectly. 
It’s a Geek Christmas!

All the parts freed from their cardboard prisons
The only other item I added was a dual port Intel PRO/1000
MT Server Adapter that I already had.  I also used L-bend right angle SATA
cables instead of the two that came with the Intel motherboard, due to the
short clearance between the PSU and the back of the drives (I knew this going
in).
The innovative AeroCool M40 micro ATX case opens up like
a book
for easy access.  The power supply, hard drives and DVD drive(s) are
in the top half and everything else is down below.  It includes a nearly silent
120mm front fan and has room for one more on the top rear section and two 80mm
fans on the bottom rear section.  I added a single silent 80mm fan on the
bottom to push warm air out.  The case temperature has never gone above 26.4C
and it’s completely silent.
View from above showing the Antec PSU, the 3.5″ and 5.25″ drive cages and the unused PSU cabling

View from the hinged side, showing motherboard placement
I’m using the OCZ 120GB SATA III SSD drive for the operating
system and pagefile, Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise for now.  I’ll upgrade the
server to Windows Server 8 when it goes RTM.  In the meantime, I’ll build and
test beta versions as VMs.  I have to say that this SSD drive was one of the
best choices for my new system.  It’s blistering fast!  Windows Server 2008 R2
SP1 installed in just 6 minutes!!  Take a look at the video below to see that
it takes only 20 seconds to get to a logon screen from a cold start, and half
of that time is the for the BIOS POST!
The Intel I5 4-core Sandy Bridge processor has amazing
graphics built in.  I’m able to run Windows Server 2008 R2 with the Aero theme at
1920×1080 HD resolution with no difference in performance.  It’s possible to
overclock this system, but it’s plenty fast for me and I value stability over
speed.  I love the fact that it draws only 65W!  This not only saves
electricity, it keeps the case cool which lowers the cooling requirements.
The bottom half with the case split open. The I5-2400s CPU came with this huge low profile CPU cooler.
As a desktop motherboard, the Intel DH67BL motherboard came
with drivers that did not work out of the box with Windows Server 2008 R2.  I
downloaded the latest drivers from Intel and most installed fine.  The only
items I had trouble with were the built-in Intel 82579V Gigabit network adapter
and the integrated Intel HD Graphics drivers.  Intel “crippled” the
NIC driver installer so that it won’t install on a server platform.  See this article which
explains how to re-enable it.   The video driver installed most of the way, but
the installer crashed when trying to register a DLL.  It was able to install again
fine after a restart.
I also used a Western Digital Green 2TB SATA III drive for
storage of my Hyper-V VMs.  I’ve always used Western Digital drives and I’ve
never had a problem with them.  The WD Green line saves power, runs cool and
quiet, and delivers 6 Gb/s performance.
Photo of the completed server.  I placed a DVD on top to for scale.
This is by far the fastest sever I’ve ever worked on, bar
none.  I’m extremely happy with it.  I haven’t bothered running any benchmarks*
on it – I just know that it’s fast enough for my needs and has plenty of RAM so
I can run more VMs.
I hope this article helps
you to build your own home lab server.   Please let me know if you have any
questions.
* There are lies, damn lies, and benchmarks.