Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

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Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Wed Jun 13, 2012 4:20 am

I'm getting ready to put together a server for a VERY small office (of only 3 computers). They will be mostly hosting Quickbooks files and some other software over the network on it. 1 of the systems will be in another city about 300 miles away which will be connected via a hardware VPN. I've never really dabbled with server motherboards, but in the past they seemed to serve a much more useful role. Back in the day a server board gave way to optimized drivers, chipsets, ECC, RAID and of course for the higher end, a second socket for dual processors. But when looking at it these days, it seems almost pointless to purchase a server board/chipset unless your going to be slapping a Xeon or Opteron in it. Is this for the most part a fair assessment or am I missing something? I realize that if your servicing a network with a good number of users and load that a server specific CPU may be a must, but in this case it just plain out isn't.

I'm thinking that either a little i3-2120 should cut it, or maybe... an i5 just to give them a little room to grow. Due to all of the talk about bulldozer being "really a server chip", and the fact that its supports ECC ram, is this something to consider over an Intel setup? This customer really wants to pinch a penny and find a nickle.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:59 am

There's some low-end server boards that come with an IPMI port for remote control. Other than that, there's probably no reason to get a server board over a desktop board for this kind of thing.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Wed Jun 13, 2012 9:40 am

If performance/cost is your only concern than you have to do what you have to do.

But... if things like uptime and reliability mean anything to them than they will want to go for server hardware, even if it's a little older. A raid mirror and redundant power supplies sound expensive and fancy until one of them dies. Then what? What about power outage? Do you have an UPS? And what about backups? Do you have a local backup? Remote backup (for disaster recover)? Like mentioned by Steel what if the server crashes and just needs a reboot on Christmas day? A remote power/console solution can save everyone a headache here.

Ask them how much it would cost for that server to be offline for two days. Or a week. What does that literally cost them to not have that resource? $200? $1000? $20000? Will people in the office be unable to work due to it? These are very important questions. If they rely on this server 100% of the time then putting in an extra $1000 now can and will save them thousands and thousands of dollars in the future.

But if this is just a "nice to have" thing then yeah build a cheap i5 with 8 or 16GB of ram (it's cheap) and let them have at it. It all comes down to priorities and cost.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:45 am

Server boards will be supported longer then desktop boards, and they will be validated for use with server operating systems. Server boards are expected to be in use longer then desktop boards, and buyers expect boards to be viable for years after purchase. The second point is important if you're going to be running a Unix-like OS, and it's only slightly important if you're going to be running Windows.

ECC RAM is a reason to consider AMD, and AMD prices are generally lower. I'm not sure what "some other software over the network" means, but file servers don't need lots of single thread horsepower, which makes AMD a reasonable option.

With this scenario, I would just build something within their budget. Don't be afraid of AMD, you'll get more hardware for the same money, or software mirrors, RAID cards at this price level are going to be junk.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Thu Jun 14, 2012 2:58 am

I was simply asking about the core difference in the boards that are "Server" vs "Desktop". I've got everything else figured out ahaha, its not my first rodeo.

Up-time/Reliability = a must with a server, goes without saying, I don't plan on building something ultra low that's typical.
Raid 1 - Its basic and inexpensive... and they don't have a need for very large amounts of space... this is the route I go for a business this small.
Power Supply - I go for the higher end PSUs when building a server obviously, not getting the 30-40 dollar specials lol.
Power Outtages - Really? This shouldn't even be mentioned, another thing that goes without saying that I'll have the system fully hooked up to a UPS.
Backups - Think inside the box for backups... IOSafe, enough said ;). On-site Waterproof/Fireproof external drive.

External restarts are the only thing I've never really gotten a chance to screw with, but these guys practically (wait... Literally) live behind their shop. Not to mention we aren't talking about something critical that if it goes down they will be loosing business. AKA it won't cost them anything to have that server offline for 2 days. Technically they could temporarily do things without the server if they wanted to, it would just be much more tedious. I would like to look into remote restart hardware. I'd imagine their may be able to way to do with with something similar to WoL.

I understand your concerns and the questions your asking. I do have another customer where everything you mentioned would mean them loosing 1000's of dollars for a single day of being down. This customer is not anywhere near that point. I was considering the i5 route too, but the more I thought about it, something equivalent to an i3-2120 with 8gbs of ram will be more than enough. I'm "scared" of AMD by any means, I was a hardcore AMD guy until Bulldozer. Unfortunately that left me partially clueless to the Bulldozer performance as I was so disgusted with the results of the release. Perhaps a FX-6100 would do the trick, in which case I could use some ECC ram. Some more cores, ECC and its about 15 bucks more and it benchmarks higher than the i3-2120 that's $124. All a matter of whether I can find a decent board to accompany it. Then again the performance of those chips seem to be pretty spotty and the feedback on them (Power consumption, heat, single threaded performance) all are pretty dismal. Brings me back to my "I'm finally buying an i5-2500k" days that my current rig is running on. (Which I'm very happy with /shrug)
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Thu Jun 14, 2012 8:47 am

basically all you need for this is an Intel S1200bts motherboard, an E3 1220 Xeon and some ECC memory and your set the on board raid (ESRT2) is better then RST/Matrix and they'll have room to grow. If its going to be used for server tasks and relied on as a server, use server parts.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Thu Jun 14, 2012 3:54 pm

I'd generally agree with the "Use the right Tool for the job" mentality. However, the point of my original post was to determine if there was much more than just a claim that Server boards are truly the "Right" tool for this specific job. Looking at the Xeon you mention, it appears to be priced identical to the i5-2500. I didn't find too many of the boards that you listed but at the same time, I'm going to make an assumption that the board costs around $250+. If that's the case, my point is that I may be better off saving them 300-400 bucks overall in a system, while still getting what I believe to be the same quality as server hardware. I'd still opt for Raid, and I have in the past gone with "Enterprise" drives for the sake of the warranty. I have even come to question that move as I've read a fair number of articles noting that most enterprise drives (7200k anyhow) are the same exact hardware as consumer grade, just with a different sticker and usually a different firmware slapped on it.

I'm in pursuit of the truth when it comes to this type of hardware. Quite a few sources (some here on TR) suggest that "Server" hardware is nothing special. I'm not one to take a manufacturers word, after all they are in the business of making money where ever they can. Ford suggests Motorcraft oil with their vehicles... because they sell it. Still, you won't find me using it for that reason alone (or at all for that matter).

I guess there is one other thing for me to note about server boards/chipsets that Desktop parts don't allow for... SAS drive support, so access to the use of 10k/15k drives is a possibility. I don't think that's even remotely needed here either, it will be for my other client that does Tax & Accounting with about 20 employees heavily using networked data.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:02 pm

ECC is a must. Software RAID is also a must, dealing with old / deprecated RAID controllers is a pain in the ass. Same goes with any onboard RAID, in general. Intel is pretty good about backwards compatibility (I even booted my AMD onboard RAID setup on an Intel board) but I wouldn't hedge uptime on it.

Past that? Get a good UPS and keep track of the server health and keep it somewhat up to date. There's not much more to it really.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:15 pm

http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid ... -R&cat=SVR
http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid ... 4R&cat=SVR

Why not just get something like that? Probably be cheaper than anything you'll hand-build. You're doing a file server and lightweight at that, ya? So no high-I/O need, no systained transfer, no CPU crunching. That thing would get you RAID 5 or RAID 6 and redundant PSUs. And since they are HPs, you may be able to buy a yearly hardware contract on them, too, even pay to get a 4-hour response time and 24-7 availability for support. Quickbooks is really just dump some files on a network share and BOOM you're done, at least the way we're using it.

If they don't got a rack, yeah, these won't make much sense. But in that case you can just buy one of them HP microservers on the cheap. Throw 4 GB of RAM in there, do your RAID 1, call it a day.

I guess it depends on if you want new versus old, too.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:39 pm

Welch wrote: I have even come to question that move as I've read a fair number of articles noting that most enterprise drives (7200k anyhow) are the same exact hardware as consumer grade, just with a different sticker and usually a different firmware slapped on it.

Quite a few sources (some here on TR) suggest that "Server" hardware is nothing special. I'm not one to take a manufacturers word, after all they are in the business of making money where ever they can.


Server parts aren't anything special performance wise. It's all about stability and long support life.

The firmware on the Enterprise hard drives makes a difference. It has logic in it that makes the drive more tolerant of certain types of errors which will cause desktop drives to freak out and drop out of RAID arrays. I don't remember the specifics, but that's the gist of things.

@Scrotos
iLOM on those are pretty nice.

You'd definitely need a room with a rack for those. You can simulate what it's like to have one of those sitting next to you by running a vaccuum in the same room. :lol:
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Thu Jun 14, 2012 8:55 pm

Ya unfortunately in this case I can't go the blade route. No rack (additional expense) and no room that it can be put into. I know what you mean as we are running 3 Dell 2900's in a server room, all running ESXi, loud doesn't begin to explain these things. Especially when they are booting up. That's a customer who we run exchange for, network backups, network deployed policies, network deployed anti-virus and windows updates, and all sorts of other needs. This is so much smaller that I just can't see spending the extra time/money (theirs) on fully fledged server hardware at a hefty price premium.

I've got another customer I built a server for with about 10-15 people accessing a FoxPro software via the network and a domain controller that I built a system using an MSI desktop board FX890 and a AMD Phenom II X6 1100, running a Mirrored raid (enterprise drives) with the raid on the board, Server 2008 R2 and things are golden. Its been over 2 years, so we shall see. They have no once had a hardware issue where the lack of ECC kicked them in the ass. Thats why I'm a bit skeptical at this point of the need for ECC on this scale. For our customers with over 200 employees and 3 servers running ESXi, its a must, without a question.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 4:56 am

Seems like the information regarding ECC ram support is next to non-existent...

Since the memory controller is on the CPU, does the motherboard have ANY bearing on the ECC support (assuming the same chipset, 990FX)? Was looking at this board. MSI 990FXA-GD65V2. Had many people referring to the Sabertooth 990FX and running ECC ram on it. Any indication that this board will support it? There appears to be no DRAM supported list on MSI's website, nothing in the detailed specs or their manual about whether this supports unbuffered ECC or not. The chipset itself appears to claim support looking at all other reviews I've found.

Anyone?
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:29 am

Welch wrote:Ya unfortunately in this case I can't go the blade route.

Just FYI, those aren't "blades". They're simply "rack units" or rack servers. Blades are, well, you'd have to see one to really appreciate it.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:36 am

Ya, I supposed I've started to attribute that name to the flatter style rack mountable servers. I'm aware of the difference as we use both styles in the racks here.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:46 am

Welch wrote:Back in the day a server board gave way to optimized drivers, chipsets, ECC, RAID and of course for the higher end, a second socket for dual processors. But when looking at it these days, it seems almost pointless to purchase a server board/chipset unless your going to be slapping a Xeon or Opteron in it. Is this for the most part a fair assessment or am I missing something?

Hmm... in my mind that's not the complete picture. Server boards are about focus. Focus on exactly what is needed and nothing more, and hopefully nothing less. More isn't always better. And newer isn't always better. You don't want the latest audio chip in a server. You don't usually want 14 USB ports in a server. You don't want a bunch of fancy new chips in a server than haven't been around long enough to have all the bugs worked out. You don't want a BIOS that has had a lot of attention put on overclocking and extra features; instead you want a BIOS that focuses only on the fundamentals and focuses like a laser on stability. You don't want to have to weed through the BIOS turning things off and ideally you don't ever want to have to "tune" the BIOS. You don't want to have to update the BIOS ever, if possible, and in any case once or maybe twice (hope not twice) in the server's lifetime - the BIOS should be solid from day one. In a server you want simplicity and stability to the greatest extent possible and you don't really want anything in there beyond what you need.

I suggest you go to Newegg and just check out some barebones servers, for starters. Look into SuperMicro stuff. Look at some very basic Dell or HP stuff. That's really all you need. Quickbooks and files? You don't need any gee-whiz hardware for that. Certainly nothing like an enthusiast motherboard that is the equivalent of Ke$ha in a space suit with glitter and crap; no, you want a backup singer - most people don't even realize the backup singer exists because he/she is in the background just doing a rock solid job.

Your client would ideally get a warranty of some kind and some limited amount of support. Dell and HP and other OEMs are best at this - which is not necessarily to say they are even good, but that's still usually better than what you get with SuperMicro or something you rolled on your own.

If servers are supposed to be anything, above all they're supposed to be boring. Last thing you want is any kind of excitement with a server. There's no such thing as "good" excitement with a server. :lol:
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 7:41 am

What are you talkin' about?!? We overclock our server CPUs all the time! :D

But yeah, totally agree with you. We have a mix of homebrew, SuperMicro, and HP. Acquired them in that order. The HPs are by far the best machines. The links I pointed to are some of the reasons why... you get RAID 5 and dual PSUs. And if you want, you can buy service contracts on them with various response times and coverage. The SuperMicros we have are ok. Definitely better than the homebrew stuff but kinda only just. We have had a PSU go out in one and SuperMicro had discontinued it or something. Or the motherboard died and it was too bad, so sad. I think both and they sent us a PSU for the wrong model so now we have a random hot-swap PSU sitting around that doesn't fit in anything we have. The homebrew stuff was good for the time. Xeons, Adaptec RAID and Intel (dedicated PCI card) RAID, etc. But the homebrew stuff is kinda... well I hate doing windows updates on them because sometimes they don't want to turn back on. Luckily they are on the way out and stuff's getting migrated over, but if the homebrew stuff breaks, it's not like we can go to the store and pick up an identical mobo or CPU.

With the HPs, even the old ones, I'm pretty sure HP or someone will have parts we can get with minimal hassle.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 8:43 am

@Scrotos

Parts from HP depend on the EOL of the server model. They may EOS a model, but they'll stock parts for several years until they EOL it. After that, check Ebay.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:01 am

I guess that's something else to consider. In my area we can't get parts for anything. I have to expect to overnight something from out of state at best. I'd prefer to stay away from RAID 5 as its not only overkill for this use (most of this stuff is) but also since its going to require at least 4 drives, more cost that they really don't need.

I'm not sure about you guys, but for the low end server stuff I've dealt with I haven't had much luck. I've had to deal with low end HP/Dell servers that other techs purchased and there seem to be more issues than a "Homebrew" setup. I don't like to put junk into a system when I'm building it, and that looks to be exactly what the lower end OEM servers do.. hence I don't see the value in it. Not to mention the warranties here are useless other than for hardware replacement. But I've felt like 9 out of 10 times the warranty is expired by the time a specific hardware piece finally dies. I'd much rather hand select the pieces for the server and offer my own hardware warranty to the customer. For the most part the manufacturer warranties kick in anyhow, and they aren't any worse than dealing with HP trying to get hardware covered. Most of the vendors/manufacturers I'd purchase parts from are awesome to deal with and would make it easy anyhow. I've got much more faith in the hardware I pick out than I do for any of the lower end OEM servers.

As for just picking up a motherboard when it goes bad... that is a problem. However, I generally use Acronis, which if I've got a full backup, I can restore an image of the machine back to different hardware. Already did this with a Dell PowerEdge 840 RAID 5 to a typical workstation as a temporary last resort.
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:55 am

Aye, your geography is the main problem I see. I work at a decent sized city so there are often parts nearby. I don't know much about desktop/tower type of servers so I don't know if the quality is there compared to the rackmount stuff.

I didn't think I was getting junk when I got some Gigabyte AMD boards back in the early 2000's. But they both died. Bad caps which I found out later was something everyone was doing at that timeframe. Dunno that buying "quality" is any real guarantee. I just like the possibility of having someone else come out to swap out parts if need be. Oh, your mobo clock isn't right and you replaced the battery? Here, I'll just pop in a whole new mobo! Problem solved! (actual HP workstation call, it was neat)
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Re: Desktop Boards vs Server Boards

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:45 am

In addition to what others have said, it's my understanding that server hardware is generally rated to run 24-7, while desktop hardware is rated to run 8 hours a day.

By purchasing from OEMs like Dell or HP, you can easily extend warranties, which can be very important. We normally extend at least 2 years for a total of 5, but you can go at least another 2 years beyond that for a total of 7 years as well. If a server is still able to perform its role, extending the warranty can be a much better option than buying a new one.
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