Section 4.3. Component Considerations

4.3. Component Considerations

With our design criteria in mind, we set out to choose the best components for the SOHO server system. The following sections describe the components we chose, and why we chose them.

Your Mileage May Vary

Although we tested the configuration we used to build our own SOHO server, we did not test permutations with the listed alternatives. Those alternatives are simply the components we would have chosen had our requirements been different. That said, we know of no reason the alternatives we list should not work perfectly.

4.3.1. Case

Antec P180 Advanced Super Mid-Tower Case (

SOHO servers can be built in anything from full-tower cases specifically designed to house servers down to the smallest of small form factor cases. True server cases are usually large, heavy, and expensiveoverkill for a typical SOHO server. Either that, or they are rack-mount (or blade) cases, and few homes or small offices have need of an equipment rack. (Robert tried to convince Barbara that an equipment rack was just what we needed, but she put her foot down.)

To fill the void, many case manufacturers offer so-called "SOHO server cases," which are usually just standard tower or mini/mid-tower cases with lockable front panels. Whether you're building a SO server or a HO server, you probably don't need the small additional security provided by a lockable front panel, so we suggest you also consider more mainstream case styles.

The key considerations for a SOHO server case are the number of drive bays it provides and its cooling efficiency. In a residential or small business environment, noise level and appearance may also be important. For us, all four of those factors were important. We wanted at least half a dozen hard drive bays to accommodate our initial disk configuration while leaving drive bays available for future expansion. Effective cooling is critical for obvious reasons. Noise level is important because this server will live in Barbara's office, which is across the hall from our master bedroom. Appearance is important because Barbara refuses to have an ugly box sitting in her office.

For all of these reasons, we chose the Antec P180 case, shown in Figure 4-1.

Figure 4-1. The Antec P180 case

The Antec P180 provides a total of 11 drive baysfour external 5.25" bays, one external 3.5" bay, and six internal 3.5" bays. Allocating one 5.25" bay to the optical drive leaves room for as many as nine hard drives, which should suffice for the life of the system.

The Antec P180 offers the best cooling of any case we have ever tested. It uses dual interior chambers, isolating the power supply from the rest of the system, which simplifies cooling. (The downside is that you must choose a power supply that is compatible with the P180; not all power supplies have cables long enough to reach the motherboard and drive connectors from the location of the power supply in the bottom chamber.) The P180 comes standard with three 120mm fansone rear, one top, and one in the lower chamber to cool the power supply. There are mounting positions for two optional 120mm fans, one in front and one in the middle to cool the graphics card.

The P180 is also the quietest case we've ever tested, despite its effective cooling. Antec engineered this case to be as quiet as possible, incorporating such features as silicone grommets to isolate the hard drives from the chassis and aluminum-plastic-aluminum composite panels to absorb noise.


If you're building a SOHO server on a tighter budget but you still need lots of drive bays, consider using the Antec Titan550 or Atlas server cases or the TX1088AMG SOHO tower case. If a mid-tower case is large enough, consider the Antec P150. All of these cases include Antec TruePower power supplies, which are of excellent quality. Do not underestimate the importance of a high-quality power supply when you build a server. You can buy less expensive cases, but they include inferior power supplies.

Appearance is a matter of taste, but we think the P180 is the most attractive case we've ever used. We wouldn't hesitate to have it in our den, library, or living room, let alone our offices. If you prefer something darker than the aluminum-and-black color scheme of the P180, consider the P180B, which is the same case in all-black.

The only real downside to the Antec P180 is the price. It sells for about $125, not including a power supply. A good power supply suitable for our SOHO server costs $75 to $100, taking the total price to $200 or more. But for that price, you get what we consider to be the best case on the market, with top-notch expandability, cooling, and noise level.

4.3.2. Power Supply

Antec NeoHE 550 (

The P180 case does not include a power supply, which gave us the opportunity to choose the power supply best suited for our SOHO server. The power supply is a critical component for a server that will run 24 hours a day, every day, year after year. Although reliability was paramount, we also wanted a power supply that was quiet and efficient. Quiet, because this server will reside in Barbara's office, which is directly across the hall from our master bedroom. Efficient, because high efficiency reduces power consumption, which makes it easier to cool the system and allows the fans to run slower and quieter.

Figure 4-2. Antec NeoHE power supply

We also decided to oversize the power supply, because a power supply that runs at a fraction of its rated output is more efficient, quieter, and much more reliable than one that runs near its rated output. An oversize power supply also makes upgrades easier. If in the future we decide to add more hard drives, expansion cards, memory, or a faster processor, the existing power supply will suffice to carry the extra load. Accordingly, although a 400W unit might have been adequate, we decided to look for a 500W or 550W unit.

We looked at quiet, high-efficiency power supplies from Antec, Enermax, PC Power & Cooling, Seasonic, and others, keeping in mind the need for long cables for use in the P180 case. Many of those units are excellent power supplies, but we chose the Antec NeoHE 550 power supply for its combination of high quality, very low noise, and reasonable price.


The Antec TruePower 2.0 550 is a bit less expensive than the NeoHE 550, but is also a bit louder. The Antec Phantom 500 is more expensive than the NeoHE 550 and has looser voltage regulation (5% versus 3%), but is utterly silent except when it is running under a heavy load. If you use a case other than the P180, consider the Seasonic S12-500 (500W) or the Seasonic S12-600 (600W) units, which are very quiet and very efficient.

4.3.3. Processor

Intel Pentium D 820 (

Processor performance is a minor consideration for a file/print server. In fact, if this server were to be used only for file/print duties, even the slowest current processor would do the job with Linux. But, although this server will provide only file and print services initially, we expect it to last for years with few upgrades, and we may eventually run some applications on it. Accordingly, it made sense to choose a faster processor that would give us some horsepower in reserve.

At the time we built this server, Intel had just introduced their new-generation Core 2 Duo (Conroe) processors. Usually, Intel sets a significant price premium on such new products, but in this case Intel priced their new processors at mainstream levels. That left no "price umbrella" for the older models, which began selling at fire sale prices.

We were able to pick up a retailed-boxed Pentium D 820 dual-core processor for about $100, so for the price of a "value" processor we obtained a very capable dual-core processor. (Although Intel has de-emphasized its older models, it did not discontinue them; we expect this processor or a similar model to be available well into 2007.) The retail-boxed Pentium D processor comes with a three-year warranty and a surprisingly effective and quiet CPU cooler.

It may seem strange to choose an obsolescent processor for our SOHO server, but cutting-edge technology is the last thing we want for a server. We want proven technology, and the Pentium D provides that in spades. The fact that the Pentium D costs less than newer models with similar performance is just a nice bonus.


If you're on a very tight budget, even a $50 value processor is fast enough for a small Linux-based SOHO file and print server. Spending $100 on a Pentium D is worthwhile if you expect your server to function as an application server, now or in the future.

If we were building an AMD-based server, we'd choose whichever retail-boxed Socket 939 Athlon 64 we could get for about $100. Dual-core Athlon 64 X2 models are simply out of our price range, and Socket AM2 processors (and particularly Socket AM2 motherboards) are too new for us to be comfortable using them, at least for a server.

4.3.4. Motherboard

Intel D945PVSLKR (

Choosing the Intel Pentium D processor means we need a compatible Socket 775 motherboard. We wanted an Intel-branded motherboard, because we have found Intel motherboards to be the most reliable of any brand we have tested. Intel-branded motherboards also offer top-notch compatibility and driver support, whether you run Linux or Windows Server.

945 OR 946?

We built this system in Summer 2006. The Intel Core 2 Duo processor and motherboards that support it were not yet widely available. In anticipation of their new processors and motherboards, Intel deeply discounted their older products, pricing them too attractively for us to refuse. If we were building this system now, we'd probably use an Intel Core 2 Duo and an Intel 946- or 965-series motherboard.

Any Intel-branded motherboard based on the 945P or 945G chipset would probably have worked well, but we chose the Intel D945PVSLKR model. Although the D945PVS lacks integrated video and costs more than 945G models like the D945GNT, we chose it for two reasons. First, we happened to have a new D945PVS sitting unused in our inventory room. More important, we plan to run the Server Edition of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Long Term Support) on our SOHO Server. Robert ran the Desktop Edition of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS extensively on his main workstation, which usesyou guessed itan Intel D945PVSLKR motherboard and a Pentium D processor. Based on that experience, we knew with absolute certainty that Ubuntu 6.06 was fully compatible with the D945PVSLKR and fully supported its hardware features. We decided that the $30 higher cost of the D945PVSLKR relative to the D945GNT was cheap insurance.


If you're on a tight budget, consider one of the Intel D945GNT models, which are available with or without integrated RAID support, with 100BaseT versus 1000BaseT integrated LAN, and so on. For an AMD-based SOHO server, choose an ASUS Socket 939 motherboard that uses an nVIDIA chipset.


If we'd chosen a different motherboard, we might have used the Pentium D 805 processor, which is a bit slower than the Pentium D 820 model we used, but which cost $20 less. Fortunately, we checked the processor compatibility list for the D945PVSLKR motherboard before we ordered the processor. We found that the D945PVSLKR supported every Pentium D processor except the 805.

In fact, no Intel-branded motherboard listed the Pentium D 805 as compatible, and the Intel compatibility page for the Pentium D 805 listed only one MSI-branded motherboard as supported. We suspect that's because the Pentium D 805 is a "special" processor. Intel introduced it primarily to allow Dell and other OEMs to build inexpensive systems that could be advertised as "dual-core" models.

Before you order your motherboard and processor, make sure that the motherboard you intend to use supports the exact processor model you are ordering. Significantly different processor models may have similar names or model numbers, so always check the full model number for compatibility.

Also verify that the BIOS version installed on the motherboard supports the processor you install. Quite often, a more recent processor is supported by a particular motherboard, but not unless you install an updated BIOS. Of course, that often introduces a "can't get there from here" problem, because you can't update the BIOS without a working processor, and the processor isn't supported by the existing BIOS. In that situation, either return the motherboard and ask for one with a current BIOS, or temporarily install a supported processor, update the BIOS, and then remove that processor and install the one you intend to use.

What Does PVSLKR Mean, Anyway?

Intel and some other motherboard manufacturers use trailing letters or numbers or some similar means of designating slightly different variants of a motherboard model. For example, although the Intel D945PVS motherboard is available in only one variant, the similar D945GNT motherboard is available in three models, all with the same basic features, but each with different options.

The D945GNTL includes only integrated 10/100 Ethernet. The D945GNTLKR adds 1000BaseT Ethernet support, as well as three IEEE-1394a (FireWire) ports, a Trusted Platform Module, and support for Intel Matrix RAID. The D945GNTLR drops back to the 10/100 Ethernet and eliminates the Trusted Platform Module, but includes the FireWire ports and Matrix RAID support, and adds better integrated audio and a digital optical-out connector.

When you order a motherboard, make sure to check available options and variants. Otherwise, you may find you've ordered a motherboard that doesn't include the options you thought you were getting.

4.3.5. Memory

Crucial CT6464AA40E PC3200 DDR2 DIMMs (512 MB x 4) (

We could analyze the memory requirements of a Linux SOHO server all day long, but what's the point? Memory is inexpensive, so it's a false economy to install too little. In our 20 years of dealing with servers, we've never heard anyone complain that his server had too much memory.

In terms of memory requirements, using a dual-core processor is essentially the same as using dual processors. To avoid memory bottlenecks, it's a good idea to install twice as much memory for a dual-core processor as you would for a single-core processor. Our Linux SOHO server could probably get along initially with 1 GB (512 MB/core), but the incremental cost of installing 2 GB (1 GB/core) was less than $100, so we decided to install 2 GB.

The Intel D945PVS motherboard provides four memory slots, and supports a maximum of 4 GB of memory. We could have installed two 1 GB modules for 2 GB totalwhich would leave two memory slots available for future expansionor four 512 MB modules. At the time we ordered memory for this system, two 1 GB modules cost about $30 more than four 512 MB modules. After thinking about it, we decided that we were unlikely to upgrade the memory in this server beyond 2 GB, so we decided to save the $30 and install four 512 MB modules.

We chose four 512 MB Crucial CT6464AA40E PC3200 DDR2 memory modules, using the online Crucial product selector to ensure compatibility with our D945PVS motherboard. The motherboard supports DDR2-400 (PC3200), DDR2-533 (PC4200), and DDR2-667 (PC5300) memory modules. Although Crucial offers PC4200 and PC5300 modules for this motherboard, those modules are more expensive. PC3200 is fast enough for the processor we chose and for any upgrade processor we're likely to install later.


Any Crucial or Kingston DDR2 memory modules that are compatible with the motherboard. Compare prices for modules of various capacities before you decide which modules to install.

4.3.6. TV Tuner

Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500MCE (

Although it is not a primary function, we wanted our server to function as a backup to our primary media center system. The media center system has two analog tuner cards and one HDTV tuner card, which should suffice for most of our television recording needs. Still, there may be times when we want to record additional programs when the media center system is fully occupied.

So we decided to add a TV tuner card or cards to our server. The only question was which model to install. Because our server will run Linux, we needed a tuner card that was supported by MythTV, the most popular and featureful PVR application available for Linux. Obviously, we required top-notch video quality. To minimize the load on the CPU we wanted a card that provided hardware-based MPEG encoding.

After comparing the specifications and reviews of several tuner cards, we decided to use a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500MCE, shown in Figure 4-3. Hauppauge is the gold standard in TV tuner cards. Hauppauge tuner cards have the best capture quality of any we have used, and are supported by nearly every PVR application available, under both Windows and Linux.

Figure 4-3. Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 tuner

Hauppauge offers several models, including some that bundle a remote control that is compatible with Windows Media Center Edition (MCE). We don't intend to run MCE, and we have no need of a remote control because this system will function only as a "back end" for recording. (Remember, our server runs headless, so we'll control recording setup from another system elsewhere on the network.) We narrowed our choices to the WinTV-PVR-150 single-channel tuner card and the WinTV-PVR-500 dual-channel tuner card.

The PVR-150 is less expensive and by some reports offers very slightly better recording quality. (The PVR-500 splits a single TV-in cable connector; the second F-connector visible in the image is FM-in.) Conversely, the PVR-500 costs less than two PVR-150 cards, and occupies only one expansion slot. We decided the small additional cost of the PVR-500 was worthwhile in exchange for the additional flexibility of having a second tuner available. When we're on vacation, for example, we can shut the rest of the house down, leaving only the server running, and still be able to record two programs simultaneously.


Whether you run Linux or Windows, Hauppauge tuner cards are the best choice. If you decide to equip your server with a tuner card, choose whichever Hauppauge model best suits your own requirements.

4.3.7. Hard Disk Drives

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 Serial ATA (500 GB x 4) (

The disk subsystem of our SOHO server must be capacious, fast, and reliable. Capacious, because this server will store all of the data we want to keep online, including large DV video files. Fast, because the server will sometimes be hammered by clients accessing large amounts of data. Reliable, well, for obvious reasons.


As far as brand names, none. We recommend Seagate drives, period. As far as disk configuration, choose your own poison. If the small increase in data safety provided by RAID is worth the cost to you, install a RAID. Otherwise, do as we did and configure your disk subsystem as standard drives.


Our target for capacity was 2 TB (2,000 GB). The largest hard drives available when we built this system held 750 GB, so clearly we needed multiple hard drives to meet our capacity requirement. We decided to use four 500 GB drives. For about $100 more, we could have installed three 750 GB drives, and used only three drive bays. For about $100 less, we could have used five 400 GB drives, at the expense of using one more drive bay. But doing that would have required adding an S-ATA interface card for the fifth hard drive, which would have reduced the cost benefit of using five drives to about $50. The economics will be different when you build your system, so balance the cost versus the number of drive bays and S-ATA interfaces required when you order your drives.

The Intel D945PVS motherboard provides four Serial ATA interfaces, just enough for our purposes, and allows the drives connected to those interfaces to be configured as standard drives or a RAID. If we need the entire capacity of all drives to appear as one volume, we can use the operating system disk management utilities to concatenate those four physical drives into one logical volume. If multiple volumes are acceptable, we can simply install the four drives normally and partition and format them as separate volumes.


In olden days, we used SCSI hard drives on all but the smallest servers. Nowadays, although SCSI is still desirable for large, heavily loaded servers, most SOHO servers can use standard Serial ATA drives with little or no performance hit. Modern S-ATA drives like the Seagate 7200.9 and 7200.10 Barracuda models provide performance features such as large caches and NCQ (Native Command Queuing) that were formerly available only on SCSI models. For our purposes, Serial ATA drives provide more than enough performance, particularly with the load distributed among four spindles.


For a desktop system, we sometimes use the RAID support integrated on many motherboards to build a RAID 1 (mirrored) array. All that is required is a second hard drive, at the small cost of $50 to $75, to eliminate the risk of data loss from a hard drive failure.

But RAID 1 is impractical for our 2 TB server, for which a RAID 1 would require four additional hard drives. In addition to the significant expense of four additional 500 GB hard drives, we'd have to install a separate RAID adapter to provide additional S-ATA interfaces, and we'd end up with nearly all of our drive bays occupied. Also, that add-on RAID adapter, unless we were able to find a PCI Express model, would put an unacceptably high load on the PCI bus of our server. Accordingly, we decided to risk running a standard disk configuration, with no redundancy.

There are different kinds of reliability. First, of course, is the inherent reliability of the hardware itself. Seagate Barracuda S-ATA drives are extremely reliable, as any data recovery firm knows. We (and our readers) have had fewer failures with Seagate drives than with any other brand. A clean, well-ventilated system with reliable power protection contributes further to drive reliability. And, although we could nearly eliminate the small risk of data loss caused by a drive failure by using RAID, that protection comes at a very high price for a 2 TB drive configuration.

Which brings up the final type of reliability, procedural reliability. Our procedures replicate our data, both manually and automatically, to numerous locations, from network shares to optical discs to external hard drives. A failed hard drive on the server might cost us at most a few minutes' work, depending on which drive failed. Chances are that a drive failure will lose no work at all, but simply require replacing the failed drive and restoring the data to it from backup. We can live with that.

Strength in Numbers

One of the advantages of having several hard drives installed is that it gives you a great deal of flexibility. With four drives, for example, we can easily configure our disk subsystem as a RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, or JBOD.

Several of our readers who reviewed early drafts of this book questioned our sanity when they read of our plans to run a server without disk redundancy. To that, we plead long experience with the reliability of Seagate hard drives and our rigorous backup procedures. Still, they got us thinking about RAID 5. Perhaps we'll settle for a 1.5 GB RAID 5. Better still, we may upgrade to four 750 GB hard drives and set up a 2.25 TB RAID 5.

4.3.8. External Hard Drives


The first decision is whether to buy purpose-built external hard drives or to build them yourself using bare hard drives and external enclosures. Each has advantages, although on balance we've come to prefer home-built external drives.

Commercial external hard drives are available from Seagate, Maxtor, Western Digital, and many other companies. Their major advantage over a home-built external hard drive is that they typically bundle Dantz Retrospect, CMS Bounceback Express, or similar backup software that allows you to initiate a backup just by pressing a button on the external drive. (Of course, that software works only if you run Windows on your server, and in some cases the software is limited to workstation versions of Windows rather than Windows Server.) The major drawbacks of commercial external hard drives are limited choice of configuration, relatively high cost, and short warrantiesoften a year or less versus five years on a standard hard drive.

Home-built external hard drives have many advantages. By choosing the appropriate enclosure, you can have a USB 2.0, FireWire, or e.SATA external interfaceor any of the two, or all three in one device. (We generally use USB 2.0 for maximum compatibility with any system we might need to restore to in an emergency, but it's nice to have the choice.) Enclosures are available to support old-technology ATA hard drives as well as current S-ATA models, so you can use an enclosure to convert an otherwise useless older ATA drive into a useful backup device. External enclosures offer complete flexibility because they accept essentially any standard hard drive. That means you can build an external hard drive using anything from a small, slow, inexpensive drive to the latest high-capacity barn burner. Giving up the one-touch convenience of commercial models can save you a lot of money, particularly if you need several external drives. The total cost of a new hard drive and enclosure may be only 50% to 75% the cost of a commercial model of similar capacity. Finally, with a home-built external drive, you get the standard five-year warranty on the hard drive instead of a one-year warranty. (Presumably, hard drive manufacturers offer shorter warranties on external drives because their mobility makes them more subject to damage than a similar hard drive installed internally in a nice, safe computer case.)


If you prefer commercial external hard drives, we recommend Seagate models. As an alternative to external hard drives, consider a frame-carrier system, such as those made by StorCase ( The frame mounts in a standard drive bay, and accepts carriers that contain a standard hard drive. In the past, these frame-carrier systems had a real advantage. Although they were more costly than external enclosures, they used the standard ATA interface, which transfers data faster than USB 2.0. The availability of FireWire and e.SATA external drives has eliminated this advantage, so frame-carrier systems are no longer as popular as they were. Still, many people prefer them and there's certainly nothing wrong with using one.

If you decide to roll your own, choose your external enclosure carefully. The first decision is which internal and external interfaces to use. A few enclosures support both ATA and S-ATA internal interfaces, although most have only one or the other. (Some are designed for SCSI hard drives, but that is beyond the scope of this book.) Any enclosure provides one or more external interfaces, which may be USB 2.0, FireWire, or e.SATA, in any combination. If high data transfer rates are important to you, choose a model that provides FireWire and/or e.SATA external interfaces. Otherwise, USB 2.0 is sufficient and has the advantage of compatibility with any computer built in the last several years.

There is a strong correlation between the price of an external enclosure and its quality. Cheap enclosures are of mostly plastic construction, and are quite flimsy and unreliable. Better enclosures use a metal chassis and generally have better quality connectors and power bricks. Some enclosures, particularly more expensive models, provide very robust internal power and data connectors, which means you can swap drives in and out of them as necessary. Others, including every inexpensive model we've seen, use less robust internal connectors. They're fine if all you plan to do is install the drive and use it until it drops, but they're not really intended to allow drives to be swapped in and out frequently.

Our "default" choice is the KingWin TL-35CS Night Hawk model. At $40 or so, it's twice as expensive as the cheapest models, but it's built like a tank and extremely reliable. It has only a USB 2.0 external interface, which suffices for our needs. We don't use FireWire for external drives, and so have no experience upon which to base a recommendation. For an e.SATA enclosure, we recommend the Vantec NST-360SU, which includes an external USB 2.0 interface.

Backing Up the Beast

If you're concerned about how to back up a 2 TB disk subsystem, you're not alone. For us, the problem actually isn't as bad as it first appears. Not all of the data on our server needs to be backed up. For example, we may eventually have hundreds of gigabytes of digital video stored on our server. That data is already "backed up" in the sense that we still have the original DV tapes, as well as duplicates of those tapes, so it is not in danger of being lost if a hard drive fails. Similarly, Barbara's collection of several hundred audio CDs will be stored as .wav files on the server. If those files are lost, they can easily be retrieved from the original CDs. Some of the files on the server, such as copies of television programs recorded by our media center system, are really just backup copies anyway.

Still, that leaves a significant amount of data that does need to be backed up. Optical drives are neither large enough nor fast enough to back up this amount of disk space. Although tape changers with sufficient speed and capacity are available, we'd have to sell our yacht to afford one. And we don't own a yacht.

So what's left? External e.SATA/FireWire/USB 2.0 hard drives, which we suggest you look at not as hard drives, but as funny-looking backup tapes. Using compression, a 500 GB external hard drive can typically store between 750 GB and 1 TBdepending on the compressibility of the datawhich is more than sufficient to store the critical data from our 2 GB disk subsystem. If the disk subsystem is of smaller capacity or the amount of data stored on the server does not exceed the capacity of the external drive, you can make an exact copy without compression, which makes it trivially easy to restore.

A USB 2.0 external drive can transfer about 25 MB/second, which translates to about 90 GB/hour. FireWire 400 is nearly twice as fast, although the transfer rate of the hard drive itself may limit you to something less than the 40+ MB/s rate of the FireWire interface. An e.SATA external drive is limited only by the transfer rate of the hard drive. With any of these interfaces, you can transfer a terabyte or more of data overnight, which is sufficient for all but the largest SOHO servers. And, at well under $0.50/GB, the cost of hard drive space is the same or lower than the cost of backup tapes.

We recommend buying (or buildingsee the "External Hard Drives" section) at least two or three e.SATA/FireWire/USB 2.0 external hard drives and using them, just as you would tapes, to back up your server. If you gulp at spending a few hundred dollars on external drives, just think for a moment about the cost of losing all of your data. You might think RAID is sufficient protection for your data. It isn't. RAID prevents data loss when a drive fails, period. It doesn't prevent accidental deletions or corrupted files. Nor does it prevent catastrophic data loss caused by fire or theft. The only way to protect against such dangers is to have an off-line, off-site copy of your data, ideally more than one copy. e.SATA/FireWire/USB 2.0 external hard drives are the only affordable solution we know of for backing up a large SOHO array.

But external hard drives are only part of the solution. A weekly full backup is a good start, but a proper backup plan requires backing up changed files at least daily. Such incremental backups are much smaller than full backups, but are essential to recovering files changed since the previous full backup. As for full backups, it is important that these incremental backups be stored off-line and off-site. We recommend one of the following methods, depending on how much data you need to back up daily:

  • DVD writerA DVD writer stores about 4 GB (6 GB to 8 GB with compression) to a $0.20 DVD+R disc, or about 8 GB (11 GB to 15 GB with compression) to a $3 DVD+R/DL disc. A 16X or 18X writer, such as the Plextor PX-760A, fills a disc in just a few minutes. A DVD writer is appropriate for incremental backups if your server has many small files or several relatively large files changed on a daily basis.

  • External hard driveexternal e.SATA/FireWire/USB 2.0 hard drives are as good a solution for incremental backups as they are for full backups. We keep several, one or another of which is always connected to Robert's desktop system, where it used frequently during the working day to make quick backups of our working data directories. When we leave the house, the current external hard drive goes with us, as well as the external hard drive that contains the most recent full backup. If disaster happens, at least we won't lose any data.

When it comes to preventing data loss, we recommend the belt-and-suspenders method. In addition to backing up to external hard drives and optical discs, we frequently copy changed files to other network volumes using Windows batch files or rsync. If you value your data, you should do the same.


Our editor, Brian Jepson, comments, "I have seen these wonderful nonenclosures ( that are nothing more than the FireWire to ATA bridge, no case. So, if you're buying a pile of drives and want to avoid paying for an enclosure for each of them, you can just snap the drive into the drive dock when you need to use it and put the drive on the shelf when you are done."

4.3.9. Optical Drive

NEC ND-3550A DVD writer (

Our SOHO server runs headless, so in theory it doesn't really need a DVD writer. We'll back it up across the network and to removable hard drives. The only reason we'll use the optical drive in this system is for installing software and perhaps for infrequent periodic maintenance. Still, the NEC DVD writer costs only $30, so it was pointless to install a read-only optical drive. Although we can't foresee the circumstances, one day having that writable optical drive installed might be a lifesaver. (As our old friend Mandy frequently says, "It could happen.")


Any good name-brand DVD-ROM drive or DVD writer. We generally use models from BenQ, Lite-On, Pioneer, Plextor, or NEC. After several bad experiences, we avoid models from HP, LG, and Sony.

4.3.10. Keyboard, Mouse, and Display

Because this SOHO server runs Linux, we need a keyboard, mouse, and display only for initial installation and configuration. Once the server is running, we can manage it remotely from one of our desktop systems.


Yes, we know about Windows Remote Desktop, but it's not the same. Remote Desktop provides limited remote management functions, but some management tasks must still be done from a monitor and keyboard physically connected to the server. Linux remote management tools allow us to do almost anything remotely that doesn't require changing hardware.

4.3.11. UPS

Falcon Electric SG Series 1 kVA On-Line UPS (

Running a server without a UPS is foolish. Even a momentary power glitch can corrupt open databases, trash open documents, and crash server-based apps, wiping out the work of everyone connected to the server. A UPS may literally pay for itself the first time the power fails.

We used and recommended APC UPSs for many years. Then, after we experienced several premature failures of APC units and received numerous messages from readers about their increasingly frequent problems with APC units, we decided to look elsewhere. On the advice of our friend and colleague Jerry Pournelle, we looked at Falcon Electric UPSs, which turned out to be as good as Jerry said they were. (Years ago, an earthquake rattled Chaos Manor, knocking everything over. All of Jerry's equipment failed, except the Falcon Electric UPS, which just kept running, lying on its side amidst the debris of his computer room.) We've now used Falcon Electric units exclusively for a couple of years, without so much as a hiccough.

Falcon Electric units are built to industrial standards. They cost more than consumer-grade systems, although we found the actual price difference surprisingly small. You won't find them at online resellers or big-box stores, but they are readily available from numerous distributors. Check the Falcon Electric web site for details.

Our server connects to the 1 kVA Falcon Electric SG Series On-Line UPS that was already located in Barbara's office, protecting her desktop system. That unit has plenty of reserve capacity to protect the server as well, so there was no need to install a separate UPS for the server. Note that the Falcon Electric SG is a true online UPS. Falcon also sells less expensive line-interactive models that offer similar functionally to mass-market models from APC and others, but are substantially better built. Table 4-3 lists our component choices for a SOHO Server system.

Table 4-3. Bill of materials for SOHO server




Antec P180

Power supply

Antec NeoHE 550


Intel D945PVSLKR


Intel Pentium D 820 (retail boxed)

CPU Cooler

(Bundled with processor)


Crucial PC2-3200 DDR2 (4 x 512 MB)

TV tuner

Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500MCE

Video adapter

(None permanent; integrated or temporary for setup only)

Sound adapter


Hard drive

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 SATA (four 500 GB)

External hard drives

Seagate 500 GB drives in Kingwin USB 2.0 enclosures

Optical Drive

NEC ND-3550A DVD writer










Falcon Electric 1 kVA SG Series On-Line UPS


We think it's worth spending some additional time and effort to get a Falcon Electric UPS. Even though they cost a bit more than consumer-grade units with similar capacity and features, the Falcon Electric units really are better built and more reliable. If the Falcon Electric units are out of your price range, we think the APC Smart-UPS units remain the best of the mass-market UPSs, despite the problems we've had with them. (We've had more problems with other brands.) For those on an even tighter budget, the APC Back-UPS Pro and Back-UPS units are reasonable choices.

If you've decided to forego a UPS entirely, we suggest you think again. Any power protection is better than none at all. Even the inexpensive units that look like outlet strips are better than nothing. Their runtime is very short, but even a few seconds of backup power is often sufficient. If you buy one of these inexpensive units, just make sure that the VA rating is high enough to support the draw of your server. Also be aware that the built-in surge and spike suppression in these units is often very poor, so it's worthwhile to install a good surge protector between the power receptacle and the UPS.

Building the Perfect PC
Building the Perfect PC, Second Edition
ISBN: 0596526865
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 84

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