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Last time I bought a new computer (I build them myself) I got a motherboard that had really poor linux support for a long time. Specifically the audio. I had to wait months before the kernel supported the on board audio chipset. That is exactly the situation I'm trying to avoid this time around.

I have some specific questions about "server motherboards" actually. I looked at a few models of server motherboards by intel, and some random models on newegg. I wasn't able to see much of a difference from regular desktop motherboard other than most had two sockets, and support for much more ram. These boards seem more popular with Linux users. Why?

AMD and Intel both have server CPUs as well. Some question, what's the difference?

To make this question more concrete, I was looking at this this motherboard. The main questions about it that I can't answer are:

  • Can I get a motherboard without on board raid and audio? I wanted to get a hardware raid controller and a PCI audio card. I thought a server motherboard would be cheaper and not have these "extras", since who wants an audio card on a server?
  • Where can I found out about Linux support for the components on this board? "Intel ICH10R", "Realtek ALC889", "Marvell 88E8056"

I'm buying this computer to work as a Linux desktop for a lot of compiling, coding and audio/video work, but I don't want to rule out the possibility of installing windows and playing some games at one point. (even if the last game I got has been sitting in its box unopened for almost a year). Is it a good idea to buy a "server motherboard" and play games on it, or are desktop boards better value for this?

The ultimate solution for me would be a motherboard that had GPL divers for onboard LAN, a single CPU socket, lots of PCI express and PCI. USB 3.0, and no fancy hard disk controllers since I'll be getting a separate one.

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Marvell-Yukon support under linux is poor, but for Intel and Realtek I never found problems. –  dag729 May 25 '10 at 12:12
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4 Answers

These boards seem more popular with Linux users. Why?

Server and server motherboard vendors are usually very careful to support Linux, at least Red Hat and SuSE, since that is almost 1/4 of their market. The percentage of desktop market is much smaller (though the overall quantity is probably much higher).

AMD and Intel both have server CPUs as well. Some question, what's the difference?

Until recently, AMD systems enjoyed a much faster memory interface that was more suitable for servers. Since the Nehalem architecture reached servers, Intel has surpassed AMD. Intel's latest CPUs are more efficient in their instructions per clock ratio. AMD maintains their standing through careful pricing and performance-per-watt.

Unless you absolutely need the fastest server processor available, AMD server systems remain competitive, but Intel (for the moment) rules the high end.

Can I get a motherboard without on board raid and audio? I wanted to get a hardware raid controller and a PCI audio card. I thought a server motherboard would be cheaper and not have these "extras", since who wants an audio card on a server?

Server motherboards generally support ECC memory (self-correcting on errors), and may support things like dual power supplies, and usually have at least two Ethernet ports, and a higher end warranty, all of which drives the price up.

but I don't want to rule out the possibility of installing windows

Some server motherboards are only qualified for Windows Server 2003 and up. Others (targeted more at the CAD workstation market) are validated for 64 bit Windows Vista and/or 7.

Is it a good idea to buy a "server motherboard" and play games on it, or are desktop boards better value for this?

There is such a wide variety of desktop, workstation, upright server, and rack mount server motherboards out there, chances are you can find whatever compromise you are looking for, except for the price factor. Higher end equipment costs more, unless you buy used or obsolete, that is not going to change.

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Here's an alternative to scratch building PCs that has worked quite well for me.

I've found that a good compromise between building homebrew computers and buying off-the-shelf consumer junk is to buy a secondhand workstation class machine off ebay. The CPUs on these machines will be reasonably fast (if not cutting edge) and the components tend to be fairly good quality as the machines are built for applications requiring a SLA.

Used single socket and smaller two socket boxes (such as HP XW6400s) can often be bought for just a few hundred dollars. They also tend to have good Linux driver support as the manufacturers typically offer Linux as an option on this type of machine.

Mostly, I've built larger machines out of XW9300 chassis (also cheap off Ebay these days but maybe a bit long in the tooth) for database development work - which involved buying a third party RAID controller and a set of SCSI disks. Even in 2007-2008 when I built these boxes (the XW9300 was still a current model when I first did this) the secondhand or ex-demo ones were usually quite a bit cheaper than the disks I put in them.

Another nice feature of these boxes is that the ones coming off lease now were built during a memory glut, so there is a surplus of DDR1/DDR2 memory components. Memory for these machines - even registered ECC modules - is quite cheap. Again, Ebay is your friend.

As an alternative, most of the better motherboard manufacturers such as Tyan, Asus or Supermicro have 'workstation' or server motherboard lines (the motherboard in the XW9300 is actually a Tyan S2895) that include suitable single socket boards. They also tend to explicitly publish O/S compatibility documentation such as that found here (supermicro.com), here (asus.com) or here (tyan.com)

If you go down this route, try the manufacturer's web sites, find a suitable model of appropriate specification and then hunt around to see who's got them on offer.

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Sever boards are expensive stuff. The board you linked is no server board, its a single desktop/gamer mainboard. Sadly I don't have an access to restricted access lists at the moment to show you some real server motherboards.

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I got a server mb for my recent build because I wanted to use ECC memory. Server boards are usually more expensive. For your use it sounds like you don't need one, just disable the onboard audio.

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