Into the Vault: Serverus – Enough is Enough

Welcome back to the Vault
Which actually makes no sense, it’s not even a vault.
It’s my basement.

My name is Matt Mutch.
I am a computer enthusiast.
And… meh.

When do they revoke your Enthusiast card?

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that when it comes to file servers, there’s servers that are active (such as the server at work, which people access all of the time for new and old data) and archival (stores, hoards, or dumps which don’t see much action, but are always standing by to serve up some ancient bits much like that drawer we all have in our kitchen full of orphaned screws, dried out superglue tubes, and barely functional chip clip).

Come on, it’s not just me.

While I’ve been researching server hardware for the past few weeks, and decided that the only thing I’ve really learned is that I don’t know what I’m doing, it applies to home as well. After all, the root of the research is r/HomeServer, the operative being “home”. Same with the server builders discord: 99% of people are operating these machines out of their homes for their own purposes.

I was intent on building my own home server. I marked things for imminent purchase on eBay.

I obtained quantities of cases, cables, and hard drives. I researched and bought several network interfaces. I even bought two whole computers as dedicated companion machines. The HP 290-p0043w is—oof—it’s hot in the community right now.

The new hotness

What I did not do is build a server.

The stark realization is that, especially considering my not-having-tons-of-extra-cash, my server needs are met. How awful is that?
Serverus, uncharacteristically named in the spirit of Harry Potter, is my low-power file server. It is super low power, although not especially optimized in any way, except for cable management. Serverus is really beautiful on the inside, which we should all strive for.

Serverus internals
I’m pretty on the inside

I’ve always had a sort of a soft spot for low powered hardware and the challenge of getting what I need done with the least expense or least amount of capability in the components. Sometimes this conflicts with my interest in always having upgrade paths for the future and future-proofing but, as time goes on I’ve kind of set aside the concept of future-proofing because, well, I find it really doesn’t work out most of the time. Every two or so CPU generations introduces all new core components incompatible with previous generations so… you can only go so far.

I hope you like it because… cause that’s it

Serverus has essentially no upgradability, which is surprisingly okay with me. (Usually specs come at the end of these articles but it seems relevant to the main content.) Serverus uses an Intel Celeron J1900 CPU which is an integrated component, meaning it’s soldered straight onto the mainboard and doesn’t insert into a socket, from which it could potentially be removed and replaced. It is a very low power part at a rated 10 watt thermal design power (TDP), not even requiring any kind of active cooling for its 4 cores. The system is decidedly not quick, in spite of having its maximum amount of RAM paired with the CPU (8 GB) and booting from a low-end but modern SSD, but it doesn’t take a lot of oomph to serve one person files… occasionally.

What Serverus does have is a fair amount of storage, whichever way you slice it. There are approximately 24 terabytes of storage currently in Serverus, down from a bit over 30 after some restructuring. This is probably not an orthodox way to look at it, but there’s potentially well in excess of the 24 terabytes of usable storage since all of the storage is in a redundant, software based RAID 1 configuration. And all of this is housed in the venerable, tragically discontinued NZXT Source 210 which, with adapters, can hold ELEVEN 3.5 inch drives which, if that means nothing to you, is generally unheard of in anything resembling an ordinary computer tower. At its peak, Serverus had all physical capacity occupied with drives, now scaled back to a more reasonable eight physical drives.

Also, Serverus used to be silent until I moved it recently, which was a point of pride, but is now a very mild hum due to its new position basically tucked into the ceiling of the basement. That was dangerous—Serverus is fairly heavy with all that spinning metal inside. I don’t actually know why it got ‘louder’, I think it’s literally just the direction of airflow.

We used to avoid this like the plague

Surprisingly, one thing that Serverus, in its profoundly low-power glory(?) is transcode video. The lowly built in Intel Graphics are indeed capable of encoding and decoding several of the primary common video codecs which, to oversimplify quite a bit, means the weak actual CPU doesn’t get bogged down by the usually onerous task of making video viewable. It’s kind of a special trick of Intel CPUs and is also one of the primary reasons the aforementioned HP 290 is such a valuable machine. It can do this hardware-based encode and decode very well for a little more than a hundred dollars for a complete machine. Actually, the price to performance proposition of the HP 290 makes it an amazing value for all kinds of usages, from the perfect PC for your grandma to the tiny unexpected transcode beast.

Go get a couple. Now! You’ll figure out something to do with them.

The funny thing about the 290 is that I got one with that intent, but then I learned that old Serverus can do a little bit of it itself. And while I could do it better on a 290… I don’t need to. I only serve files to myself.
I already had enough.
And enough is terrible for an enthusiast. I think it goes hand-in-hand with the self-label, when is it ever enough?

Never.

Right?

Or is it enough to be enthusiastic about what you’ve got.

And what do you got? The clever would wonder: there isn’t a mainboard on the planet with that embedded CPU that can drive twelve SATA devices. And that’s true. But I shoehorned in a 4 port controller card into each of the three x1 PCIe 2.0 slots on the AsRock Q1900m and, tada. Enough SATA ports.

The Secret Sauce

Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it? Got big plans but your brain is writing checks your bank account can’t cash?
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been
Into the Vault: Serverus – Enough is Enough

Serverus is a home server based on the Intel Celeron J1900 embedded solution on the AsRock Q1900m mainboard. It is passively cooled with a moderately sized heatsink and supports up to 8 GB DDR3-1600 RAM across its two DIMM slots, which are filled to capacity. The Q1900m, as mentioned, provides three PCIe 2.0 x1 slots, one physically presenting as x16 for no good reason I’m aware of. Each slot is occupied by a 4 port SATA 6.0 Gbps controller and each is driving two or three hard drives. The total array follows: 2×8 TB with another 2×8 TB, plus 2×5 TB, and 2×3 TB, paired as such due to their configuration as RAID 1 pairs. The Q1900m also provides two SATA ports of its own, one of which is occupied with the connection to the primary SSD, an Inland Professional 120 GB device, which might be the cheapest option in its class. It is all housed in an NZXT Source 210 mid tower and is powered by a Seasonic Focus 80 PLUS Bronze rated power supply. It interfaces with the world through a rather pedestrian integrated Gigabit ethernet port and has one unused USB 3.0 port and the onboard HDMI port is occupied by a dummy plug, so the computer believes a monitor is attached. It is on a top shelf, against the rafters of the basement. Serverus is named after Severus Snape, the potions master.

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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