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Firstly - I've used search, I've run through all the topics tagged with these ones, but couldn't find anything satisfying.

I'm trying to build a home server machine, which should be a low-power always-on backup and file sharing station. On the software side, I've decided on Windows Home Server and at the moment am trying to find proper hardware at the lowest price possible.

The biggest problem is the motherboard. It should be compatible with Intel Atom processors (as they appear to be the most efficient and low-power ones), should be able to run at least two (four would be great) sata HDDs, support RAID and have at least four USB ports.

Integrated Video and LAN would be great (and it's really hard to find MoBos without them too).

The only motherboard with all of these specs I could find was the Supermicro X7SLA-L-O, but it has the Atom 230 integrated, which is slow on HD Video. And it starts from around $120.

On the other hand, there are many MoBos with integrated Atom 330 and 2 sata ports, but with no RAID. And their starting from $80, like Intel D945GCLF2 (can't post more than one hyperlink, please google).

Maybe I should go with the latter one and add a PCI SATA Controller Card (again - please google)? It would be cheaper and more feature complete.

What would you suggest?

P.S. Could any kind of failure of the Sata Controller Card damage drives (and the data on them) connected to it?

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Why do you need RAID? – JAG Sep 23 '09 at 11:31
jgeer, to increase safety. I plan to use RAID 1. – domen Sep 23 '09 at 11:32
I think it overcomplicates your setup. If one of your disks fails simply replace it. If your "master" disk fails, replace it and reinstall the server. Other than loosing some time you should be safe. Also you save yourself the burden of taking care of the RAID (rebuild, etc). Just my opinion. – JAG Sep 24 '09 at 11:07
jgeer, thanks, It seems to be a good pont. I'll think about it. – domen Sep 25 '09 at 7:52

On the RAID requirement, Windows Home Server (WHS) uses its own Drive Extender (DE) technology instead of RAID. This treats installed drives as one large 'storage pool' rather than as separate hard drives and as long as you have two or more physical hard drives installed it will duplicate data across the drives to safeguard it against disk problems.

This is already giving you RAID's redundancy/backup and drive pooling capabilities natively as part of the OS, so depending what you want it for, you may not actually need a hardware RAID controller at all. In fact, depending on what RAID configuration you go for and how much you understand about how RAID really works, it might actually be a very bad idea to use RAID on a WHS.

One of Microsoft's coders has a good comparison of RAID vs DE here Windows Home Server's Drive Extender vs RAID, and the official WHS Team Blog explains exactly why they didn't use RAID here Why RAID is not a consumer technology.

Essentially RAID is best used in two different scenarios, either you want a blazingly fast hard disk system, but don't really care if the disks die and you lose the data; or you're using RAID in a proper server where there's a dedicated team of people who'll be running full regular backups of the data very regularly and will have monitoring tools to alert them when any of the drives start dying and need replacing. It's going to be quite rare that either of these are true for a home server where you're probably storing valuable data and won't be running 24 hour monitoring and alerts with hardware suppliers sending you replacements under SLAs measured in hours.

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GAThrawn, thanks for your answer! But I think DE doesn't really treat data like RAID 1 - it only duplicates Shared folders, not anything else. It's another matter If one needs to duplicate backups (backup backups :-)), but DE doesn't do it, right? so it can't provide safety of RAID. Or am I mistaken? I'm downloading DE Technical Brief and shall read it this evening. – domen Sep 24 '09 at 16:07
That is right that DE only duplicates the shared folders, but that is where your personal data is held. The OS and any apps so on can be easily recovered from CD and downloads if there's any problems, many of the WHS OEM vendors supply a recovery disc to get you up and running again in almost no time. It's your documents, photos and so on that are the irreplaceable, valuable data that needs the duplication. – GAThrawn Sep 25 '09 at 9:39

If you're using it as a windows home server then the HD Video performance and indeed any video performance is irrelevant since WHS is designed to run headless without a display and managed through a client on a remote PC. If you're planning on playing video directly from the machine you need to choose a different OS.

If you're just planning on playing Video from other PC's then it's going to be your network performance that's important.

This site has a range of mini-itx boards featuring both intel and via alternatives, it's uk based but it will at least give you an idea of what's out there.

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Oh, I seem to be mistaken as I thought you could play HD video directly from WHS to big screen. And thanks for the site, it's great resourse for my needs. – domen Sep 23 '09 at 10:39
No, it's designed to be a server to provide your media files to another device for playback so you'd use something like an xbox or another pc to do the actual playback. – Col Sep 23 '09 at 10:44
If you do want to combine the playback and storage on one device you'd be better off with windows 7 when it comes out, I think home premium has the features of the old xp media center edition rolled into it but you'd need to get someone to confirm that for you. – Col Sep 23 '09 at 10:46
Col, Thanks! But I think Windows 7 wouldn't cut it as it lacks all other juices of WHS (Automated backup, Search index, eas to configure remote access, add-ins, etc.) which I'll be happy to use. So, privded that it won't be necessary to do HD video on WHS itself, I guess There would be no drawbacks for that Supermicro motherboard, right? – domen Sep 23 '09 at 11:14
Supermicro doesn't seem to list WHS on it's hardware compatibility chart so I can't say for certain if it will work off this board. I'm not sure how picky it is about hardware. – Col Sep 23 '09 at 11:55
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Alright, after many thinking, I decided using RAID 1 is not a clever idea, as shared folders can be duplicated (if you install more than two HDDs) and Backing up computer backups is really silly.

So I went with Intel D945GCLF2 and I'm more than satisfied. It's cheap, quiet, cool and low-power and absolutely enough for WHS. Consider it, if you're going to build a WHS machine.

Thanks for your answers.

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Like previous answers the Mini-ITX boards seems to offer the features you are looking for.

I'm currently looking at the Zotac GeForce 9300 with Socket 775 for a Core 2 Duo processor based on some of the reviews. This link shows idle and load power consumptions that mean I'm planning to power it from a 120W power supply.

Zotac also have a number of Atom based motherboards that are competitively priced and have even lower power consumption (34W at load). Depending on your overall power consumption and case design you might be able to passively cool the PC and run off a 60W power supply.

The motherboards have decent graphics performance and depending on configuration 2 or 3 SATA sockets, RAID support, Gigabit Ethernet and up to 10 USB ports.

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Rhys, I think Core 2 Duo processor would be overkill for such job as I don't need that much processing power and that muc power consumption as well. I'll review the Atom-based ones. Thanks for your help! – domen Sep 23 '09 at 11:35

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