A few months ago I decided to retire my SN41GV2 Shuttle Box PC. The Shuttle Box, which is named Titan, has served me well as a home server, but I had grown tired of the noise level associated with its power supply fans. I worried too that after being upgraded to an Athlon XP 3200, it would one day overheat and take my data with it. Considering price as the most limiting factor, I set out to setup a new Windows Server and found some interesting choices along the way. For example new Intel based Shuttle Box models were intriguing, but the small form factor is limiting and not all that cheap. Intel based servers are fast and reliable, but their price ranges are high for all but entry level Celeron based systems. I have had good experiences with AMD’s Athlons, so I decided to give AMD another chance and looked for Opteron based servers.
The Flavors of AMD Opteron
Seems like AMD is quite popular in the small business server market. You have choices, like the HP ProLiant ML115 Server and at the time I was able to find a lowend Opteron based IBM System X server as well. Almost all of the Opteron servers used an NVidia based chipset and featured similar motherboard specs, so the only decision came down to price and extras. The HP ProLiant had one major difference on the Dell PowerEdge T105, it came with built-in SATA RAID. In end, I waited for Dell to have a sale and the price range ended up being significant. The T105 on sale goes for $349, while everyone else had a $500 or more price tag. At this price it is hard not to buy a Dell. Note that this does not include an operating system or any hardware upgrades like more memory and bigger hard drives. Do not forget to add $20 for shipping, so we are now at around $380.
For computer upgrades, you really cannot beat Newegg.com. They have great service and their site has pretty much everything you could ever want when it comes to components. I ended up ordering a 500GB Western Digital SATA hard drive for around $105. The only problem with buying an Opteron based machine is that it uses ECC memory and not regular DDR memory. This ended up costing me twice as much. Instead of the $40 or so for 2x1GB DIMMs, I had to pay around $80 for the same memory and only Kingston has DD2 800 memory ECC DIMMs. The same ECC DIMMs now cost around $50, so they have gotten cheaper in the last six months.
Eventually I will upgrade the DVD Drive and add another internal hard drive. I am still waiting for 2GB ECC DIMMs to become cheaper. The T105 can take up to 8GB of RAM.
Windows2003 Server Performance
At first I had a lot of problems with Windows2003 stability on the new server. Hard drive access especially was slower than expected. The fix ended up being to go into Device Manager and for disk drive, choose Optimize for Performance. This ended fixing the weird pauses I saw in Explorer. Comparing the system to the old Athon XP 3200, which ran at 2.2GHz, the dual core Opteron 1210 18GHz is more stable and application wise feels faster. Some apps do perform better than others, so performance is always relative to the application and if both cores are being utilized. Since this is a server, other than terminal server RDP, I really do not run much in the way of desktop applications. Apache 2 is definitely better on dual cores.
Overall the new server was a good bargain. It is quiet enough for the home office and while the size factor is that of a normal tower, it is very expandable compared to a small form factor PC. I guess it is true, you can’t beat Dell on price.