Building a Tiny Server




Introduction: Building a Tiny Server

The project consists in building a small but capable server for a home lab focused on virtualisation or similar. The end-result as a small server with full IPMI capabilities, 32G of RAM, a large SSD and an 8-core CPU running at 2.4GHz so more than enough oomph to play around. The box uses very low power and its quite quiet so doesn't need a dedicated cabinet or anything similar.

We will start with the following parts:

1x MZ-75E500B/AM Samsung 850 EVO 500GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD amazon

1x A1SRI-2758F-O Supermicro Atom C2758 20W 8-core amazonnewegg

4x KVR16LSE11/8 Kingston ValueRAM 8GB 1600MHz DDR3L PC3-12800 ECC CL11 1.35V SODIMM amazon

1x M350 M350 Universal Mini-ITX enclosure mini-box

1x M350-HDD M350-HDD Brackets mini-box

3x DF124010BM Top Motor 40x40x10mm Case Fans mini-box

1x P4-DC Jack P4 to DC Jack Cable mini-box

1x B002HRBB0C 4pin MOLEX Male to 15pin SATA II and 4pin MOLEX Female Power Cable amazon

1x EA10523C-120 60w (12v/5A) AC-DC Power Adapter with Power Cord mini-box

The total price comes out at around 830$ (at the time of writing the article). Sometimes the motherboard and/or memory are harder to come by on amazon. Check on newegg as well. Or your store of choice.

The power supply is a bit of an overkill in that it has more power than needed, but its hard to find reliable power supplies much smaller than that.

Step 1: Opening the Box

Let's open the box by removing the only screw in it. Couldn't be simpler!

We will also remove the factory installed bracket and the from cover. The front cover can be a bit tricky but you just need to release the two tabs and then pull down

Step 2: Installing the Cutout

We will take the back-panel cut-out that comes with the motherboard and pop open all of the optional ports except the round one marked in the photo. It should look like the third picture. Then push the faceplate from the inside of the case and push until it pops in place

Step 3: Installing the Motherboard

The motherboard will slide from the side of the box. Slide it gently and check the VGA and Serial ports to see if they are straight or bent. If they are bent, straighten them but don't use excessive force.

Step 4: Screw in the Motherboard

Make sure all the screw-wholes are aligned to the mounting bases in the chassis. Then use the supplied screws that came with the case to tighten the motherboard down. DON'T use excessive force and make sure the motherboard is well aligned and sqare with the rest of the chassis. I recommend screwing the 4 corners in a crossed pattern

  1. Top left
  2. Bottom Right
  3. Top Right
  4. Bottom Left

In the first "pass" don't tighten the screws too much. Just position the motherboard. Then do a second pass giving the screws a bit more tension - but don't exagerate!

Step 5: Connecting the Front Panel

Locate the front-panel connector. Its the one labelled JF1 and can be found in the provided quick guide of the motherboard. It's also the connector on the front right (if looking at the motherboard from the top) I recommend you take the guide and put it next to the motherboard to identify the correct pins. We need to connect the Power Button and Power led here. The colors are important!! The RED cables should be on the OUTSIDE edge of the motherboard.

We will also disconnect the front-panel USB cable since we don't have a matching one on the motherboard.

Step 6: Installing the RAM

We will now install the 4 SO-DIMMs. They are fragile so don't treat them too roughly. We will use all 4 SODIMM slots of the motherboard, but please note that they are not all in the same position. The left side is reversed from respect to the right side of the CPU.

The first thing we need to do is open all 4 levers to the outmost position. Then make sure you align the SODIMMs and watch where the notch in the connector is and that it matches the KEY in the slot itself. Then push down vertically, trying to keep both sides descending in parallel. The levers will POP back in and secure the SODIMM.

You need to repeat this on all 4 slots, but watching out for the position of the KEY/Notch of the slot as all 4 are not identical.

Step 7: Connecting the Power Cable

We will now connect the power cable from the motherboard to the case. Remove the nut from the connector but keep the split washer on it. Run the cable with the connector from the inside of the case through the hole shown and then place the nut from the outside.

Use a small pair of pliers or similar to tighten the nut but don't go crazy with the torque.

Finally run the cable to the motherboard connector (J1) and plug the end in. Make sure the Key is aligned and that it goes fully into the slot. DON'T PLUG anything into the other power socket (JPW1, the much larger one!)

Make sure the cable is not on top of the SODIMMs or anything else.

Step 8: Connecting the Front Fan

We will mount the front fan in "exhaust" mode, meaning it will push warm air out of the chassis through the front openings. The fans suck air from their rotor side (the spinning side) and push it to the motor side (the non-spinning side, where the cables pass).

We will mount the fan on the front panel and use two screws to secure it down. Put the screws in diagonal from each other. You don't really need to use 4 screws for this. Make sure not to over-tighten the screws as the plastic is very soft and can bend and block the fan from turning. Once the fan is mounted, try spinning it by hand and make sure it can spin freely.

Connect the cable to the connector called FAN2 in the motherboard and clean up the cabling with a bit of zip tie. We don't want the cables blocking the fans eventually. The connector on the motherboard is a 4-pin connector but we will only use 3 pins. The connector's KEY will show you how to properly connect it.

Step 9: Installing the SSD on the Bracket

We will now mount the SSD on the bracket. Make sure the holes are well aligned and that the "dimples" on the bracket are facing the SSD side. Use the screws to secure the disk (use all 4 screws) and then connect the power and SATA cables.

Use a zip-tie to secure the male MOLEX power connector to the disk as we don't want it dangling around in the case (it could cause a short cirtuit). Run a zip-tie BETWEEN the bracket and the SSD and tie down the cable. Make sure to tie down the MALE connector and not the FEMALE one which will be connecting to the motherboard for power.

Step 10: Install the SSD Bracket

To install the SSD bracket, connect the POWER and SATA cables to the corresponding ports in the motherboard, using SATA0 for the SATA connection. Use a zip-tie to keep the SATA cable under control or use a much shorter SATA cable. Then put the front tabs of the bracket into the nothches of the case and fold the bracket down. Screw it to the case on the rear and it should be ready.

Step 11: Install the Intake Fans in the Second Bracket

Install the fans on the second bracket as shown. Make sure the motors of the fan end on the inside of the box so that they suck air into the enclosure from the outside. Connect the fans to the two connectors FAN1 and FAN3. Tidy up the cables using zip-ties and attach the bracket onto the box.

Step 12: Closing It Up

Re-attach the front panel and place the top cover of the chassis back in place. Screw the cover back in and connect your power supply. Presto!! You're ready to go!!

Keep in mind the motherboard has IPMI so you don't need a local keyboard/screen for it! Connect to the separate nic and watch for DHCP, then open a web browser to it and login as ADMIN/ADMIN



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    85 Discussions

    you could.. but I would advise against it, unless you add a new video card. The embedded one is meant for remote management and doesn't do full-HD or anything like it. For desktops you can build a few other options for lower cost to be honest.

    1 reply

    how would I get it connected to the internet??? I wanna about two of these to run a server

    Can you suggest budget friendly mini ITX motherboard which supports 128Gb RAM

    Did you ever consider (or purposefully rule out) going with 2x 16G RAM to allow for growth to the full 64?

    1 reply

    I havent found compatible 16G ECC SODIMMs yet... but its a good option indeed.

    great write up! Glad to hear your running Linux because I'm curious how well Linux supports the ipmi function of this board? or do you just stick to the web interface? (I don't suppose there's a rest api?) I've never used this brand before, but have considered nearly the exact setup you've done here. (also for a home openstack playground, to replace my current RV of a setup) ;D

    1 reply

    so linux has an tool called "ipmitool" that lets you manage the local and remote ipmi clients and you can do most (if not all) of what you can do through the web GUI. The only missing piece is the remote console and remote mounting of media. But otherwise, works awesome.

    I use it to run my own networking and virtual machine lab. Also for demos that I take to customers and so on.. its basically a portable "lab" in a very small box at half the price of what a comparable laptop would have cost me.

    you use $1700 laptops?
    I'm flabbergasted at the $800+ price tag... SSDs have dropped drastically so I understand their use for the faster access. but isn;t there something else that can be used to reduce the price?

    Or possible there is a part being used that reciently was released, in which case in time that part will drop in price just like the SSDs have

    Yes. As I mentioned, I need 32G of ram and at least a 4 core processor. The fact that this atom is 8 core non_hyperthreaded is great for virtualisation. I run around 10vms on it.

    Beyond the motherboard / cpu, the most expensive part is the memory that since its ECC it's much more expensive than the regular sdram.

    just blink your eyes and memory costs will be less LOL
    actually your RAM costs are way less than i'd have guessed 8 gig for $60, wow, of course I remember when bargain price for half a meg hard drive was $100
    (a couple years later i was estimating that we might see a dollar a meg in my lifetime, oh how THAT was an underestimate,)

    last year i bought a terabyte for that $100 price ($0.0001 per Meg) and i saw 6T for under $200 on Amazon just yesterday and of course that doesn't even hint at the speed of access differences,

    To paraphrase the immortal trilogy (the3stooges) next thing you know the manufactures will be paying US to take their memory boards.... LOL (rework of the "half your age" sketch in which, "she better slow down or she will pass me in age")

    That's a nice little piece of gear there but the major error here is that the server is not the computer itself, the server is the _software_ that is installed on that computer.

    That notwithstanding, I would recommend this project for your small, home network or even just a benchtop network that you build to play with.

    1 reply

    actually, the software is referred to as "Server Software" (Apache for instance is never just called a server but the "box" is referred to as "a server running Apache") meanwhile the hardware is just called "a server"

    I may have misses it listed, but what OS runs on the mini-server?

    2 replies

    The author says (in his comment below) that he uses either Ubuntu or CentOS Linux, but just to be clear, this will run just about any OS you might want: Linux, *BSD, possibly even MacOS X, definitely Windows, etc. It's a 64-bit Intel CPU, 32 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB SSD. It's not the highest-performance thing in the world, but the new Atom chips are surprisingly powerful (especially considering their power consumption).

    I usually install ubuntu 14.04 or centos 7. I will provide a bit more detail on how to install them on a separate tutorial or expand this one.

    Is a 60W Power supply the largest you can use? Or can you get a bigger one?

    1 reply

    i was actually hoping to find a 30 to 40W one, but haven't found one that seemed reliable enough (given you plug it straight into the motherboard). 60W is quite the overkill.. the box, as is, idles at around 15W or less...

    I see some people can't take some constructive criticism or questioning even when the instructable's creator himself considered it a good question...
    Indeed, if you need that much RAM is best to do a custom build. But in that case I would put a cheap hard drive on it since I would be most interested in RAM performance, not HDD. This would be the case for example in trying to build a Hadoop cluster on a budget, although you'll need some nodes with better CPUs for doing the Reduce tasks.
    The suggestion of using already available products (Mac mini) for general purpose builds and installing the desired OS (Linux) is a completely valid one considering the time and money that can go into a custom build, specially if, as in many cases, the user adds parts that are not really needed (Like an SSD drive for a Hadoop cluster).
    I wanted the instructable's creator to talk more about what was he customizing this solution for, not start a flaming war with people driven by their misguided feelings about a brand or their overconfidence in their knowledge.