Chosing a server for home

I get asked often enough how I chose my home system, why I chose a single CPU system with just 2 disks that I'm going to put down the thought process here.

My priorities were in order:

  1. Data integrity.

    The data is important. My photographs, the kids home work and correspondence the family members have both in the form of letters and emails.

  2. Total cost of ownership.

    I have a realistic expectation that I will write the system off over 5 or more years, so the cost of the power it uses is important.

  3. Quantity of disk space.

    I needed at least 60G to move off the Qubes so add in a bit of a safety margin and 300G should keep us going for 5 years (unless some new technology like a helmet camera starts eating through the disk as if it cost nothing).

  4. Noise.

    It sits in a room where I work. I am used to using a Sun Ray which is silent so having it as quiet as possible is the ideal.

  5. Physical size.

    It was to replace a pair of Qube 3 which were beautifully small and sits on a window ledge. So a tower was not practical.


Given these constraints there was just one choice for file system, ZFS, so the system just had to support at least 2 disks so that they could be mirrored. The cost of running more than two disks combined with the fact that 300G drives are affordable and that the form factor of the box made having more disks less appealing even though that would have been faster. More spindles == more performance, mostly.

I'm not regretting this decision despite the fact that the system can be extremely unresponsive when doing a live upgrade. Since both drives contain the mirrors of both boot environments when running lumake to copy one boot environment to the other the disk performance is terrible as the heads seek back and forth, the same is true during the install as I have the DVD image on the same disks. Putting the image on the external USB drive does help, but the problem is not really bad enough that I bother. Having 4 disks would have mitigated this. I'm hopeful that when we get native queuing support in the sata driver this will improve slightly. Having root on ZFS should eventually eliminate the lumake copy step as that will be a clone.

Mother Board

The choice of mother board was defined by a desire to be able to support 4G of RAM so that if the system turned into a Sun Ray server, which it has, I have the option of a reasonable amount of memory to support two or three users and support for SATA disks since the price performance of those drives fitted my storage requirements. Obviously it had to be able to boot from these drives.

There was no need for good graphics but 2 network ports had to be available so if it came with one that would be idea. Gigabit networking would also help. I put all of those variables in and one of my blogless colleagues suggested the ASUS M2NPV-VM which was built around chipsets that the release of OpenSolaris that was current at the time should support. The only exception was the Nvidia graphics driver which at that time was not available. However since I did not need graphics that was not an issue. It had an on board 1GigaBit network so even with the addition of a second network card there are sill free slots if I need them.


The choice of CPU was based on cost and the knowledge that the Casper's powernow driver does not support multiple CPUs or Muilti core CPUs. For reasons of getting under the budget I had I chose the AMD Athlon(tm) 64 Processor 3500+ Socket AM2 which will run at 17.8 Watts when running at 1Ghz.

I know of people who are successfully using the following CPUS with power now on this mother board, however this does not constitute any kind of guarantee:


Earliest BIOS Version known to work

AMD Athlon 64 3800+

0 705 01/02/2007 (My colleague thinks it first started working on 0303 firmware, but is not certain.)

AMD Athon 64 3500+

0 705 01/02/2007

AMD Athlon 64 3000+

0 705 01/02/2007

If you know of other CPUs that work with the PowerNow driver on this motherboard let me know and I will update the table.

The compnents not appearing in this Blog

The system has a DVD RW but that was chosen on the whim that the supplier supplying the CPU, motherboard and case shipped that. The thing I don't have that might surprise some is a tape drive. Since I state that the number one goal was data integrity you would think a good back up would seem to be a requirement. However I have found my external USB disk drive, combined with being able to backup ZFS snapshots to DVD (hint here set the quota on your file systems to less than the size of a DVD, make back ups easier) means that while I know rebuilding would be very hard I'm sure I have all the photographs safe. My children's homework has such a short life span that anything other than the snapshots is unlikely to help.



thanks Chris; do you know if the Nvidia graphics is now supported in OpenSolaris?

Posted by Calum Mackay on May 02, 2007 at 09:11 AM BST #

Yes Nvidia graphics works and so does audio.

Posted by Chris Gerhard on May 02, 2007 at 09:21 AM BST #

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