How To Build a Teeny Tiny and Totally Silent Mini-ITX Server
If you can see this, the new VBOX, VBOX4, is up and running. 8GB of RAM, four Intel Celeron cores chugging along at 2GHz and two Kingston 120GB SSD drives in a RAID1. No fans, meaning no moving parts and no sound at all. The CPU temperature is well below its limit. Let’s hope that doesn’t change when I move the server to the shelve under the TV.
All in all, I’m satisfied with the VBOX4 build, but getting everything to play together turned out to be a surprisingly painful headache. The hardware build was pretty straight forward, except for the familiar challenge of getting everything to fit in the very limited space of the tiny enclosure. The real challenges this time were installing Ubuntu and GRUB, which I grumbled on about in the previous entry and the upgrade from Ubuntu 12.04 LTS to 14.04 LTS. Most of the software I used were upgraded to new major versions in 14.04 LTS, which meant that there were changes to more or less every single configuration file.
But this entry is about the hardware you need to build a teeny tiny and totally silent Mini-ITX server, so let’s talk about that instead. Here’s a list of components I used for the VBOX4 build:
- One ASUS J1900I-C motherboard
- Two Corsair Value Select 4GB 1333MHz DDR3L SO-DIMM RAM chips
- Two Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB 2.5″ SATA-600 hard drives
- One Streacom F1CWS Evo enclosure
- One Streacom Nano150 power supply
- One Fractal Design Silent Series R2 40mm fan
- One anti-static wrist band. This is a very cheap insurance against a fried RAM chip.
In my recent entry about redesigning VBOX, I mentioned that I considered using the GIGABYTE GA-J1900N-D3V motherboard. It turns out that particular board with a certain version of the BIOS doesn’t allow you to install anything except for Windows 8. GIGABYTE fails to mention this on their site, but thankfully I read a few reviews of the motherboard before I decided what board to buy. So I decided to go for the ASUS board instead, which not only allows you to install other operating systems than Windows 8 out of the box, it also lets you upgrade the BIOS from inside the BIOS itself. Simply just slap the new BIOS image on a USB stick and off you go. Looks like GIGABYTE could learn a lot from ASUS when it comes to user friendly BIOS upgrades.
A note about the RAM chips: The chips I used are Corsair’s model number CMSO4GX3M1C1333C9, but you don’t have to use those exact chips or chips from Corsair. You can of course choose chips from another manufacturer, just make sure that the chips are 1333MHz DDR3L compatible, which the ASUS motherboard require.
A note about the fan: You won’t actually have to get a fan - that was one of the goals of this build; to avoid having to use a fan - but I decided to attach one inside the enclosure in case the server ran too hot under heavy load. Then I would have the option to connect it to the motherboard. After all, it’s better to hear a little noise from a fan than to smell the stench of burning hardware.
The Streacom enclosure comes with good instructions, a 40/60mm fan bracket, enough screws for you to attach everything you’ll need and even some anti-vibration hard drive rubber1 in case you decide to use those old-school spinning things instead of SSD hard drives. The enclosure does not come with a power supply unit (PSU), however, so remember to get that too, or you’re gonna have a really bad time. I went for the Nano 150, which, as the name implies, has a maximum output of 150W. That’s plenty of power for the components used in VBOX4. I’m sure you can use a PSU from another manufacturer, but I wanted to be sure I got one that fitted the enclosure.
The F1CWS Evo looks really good, but I’m not at all impressed by the build quality. I was using our dining room table and in my hurry to start building, I didn’t clean in properly. A tiny piece of dried bread was still on the table - when our 10 months old eats, it gets everywhere - and that tiny piece of pastry actually managed to create a permanent scar in the enclosure. When unscrewing the top panel, one of the brackets attaching it to the rest of the enclosure actually came loose. And just to top it off, I managed to bend one of the screws - and I’m not a strong man. The poor build quality of the Streacom F1CWS Evo enclosure means I’ll stay away from Streacom when I’m one day building VBOX5.
The ASUS J1900I-C motherboard comes with a back panel that will fit any Mini-ITX compatible enclosure, two 40 cm (15.8 inches) SATA cables - one straight and one angled - and a user manual. In most cases, you’ll just throw away the user manual, but when it come to the curious case of installing a motherboard, I strongly recommend you don’t recycle the user manual: It’s got an overview of jumpers and connector placement and you’ll going to need that unless you enjoy playing a very long game of trial and error. I’d perhaps consider replacing the SATA cables with even shorter ones, 40 cm is way more than you’ll need. Perhaps 10 cm would be enough, but I haven’t actually measured, so don’t take my word for it. Also, I doubt that you can buy 10 cm SATA cables anywhere.
Last, but not least, here are some pictures from the build. Good luck with your own server, and remember to attach the anti static wrist band!
Not as dirty as it sounds. ↩︎
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