Although the server is similar to a computer, some characteristics are better suited to work with the backend. Learn all about the best parts for building a server, from motherboard to chassis.
What is a server?
You have probably heard the term server often. But what exactly is a server? Techtarget defines a server as «…a computer program that provides services to other computer programs (and their users)». A dedicated computer running such programs is also called a server. Just like in a restaurant, the server provides services to the clients (customers).
Any computer can act as a server. I have run servers on laptops and netbooks. But most dedicated servers come in one of two form factors: desktop or rackmount. In addition, hardware is usually designed to be reliable and maximize processing power and efficiency. Since we’re concentrating on the best parts for building a server, we’ll look at desktop-style parts, not rack-mount cases. Rackmount servers are more common in corporate environments, while desktop servers are suitable for both corporate and home use.
Best Parts for Building a Server: Motherboard
Processor MSI H110M LGA 1151
Although technically this is not a server motherboard, MSI H110M microATX motherboard makes a decent server. Since MSI is an LGA 1151 motherboard, it is compatible with i3, i5 and i7 processors. Therefore, H110M provides maximum compatibility with processors.
In addition, MSI equipped the H110M with two DDR4 RAM slots, with a maximum of 32GB RAM. You will also find four SATA3 ports. But its suitability as a server motherboard depends on your needs. Using non-ECC RAM will shorten the build. However, ECC RAM provides increased reliability, which is a major concern when building servers. Also, 32GB of RAM should be enough for most homelabber uses, but not enough for more advanced tasks like machine learning.
If you’re looking for a stellar home server, especially for multimedia, the MSI H110M is a great choice. Lifehacker called it a motherboard in their $600 compilation. Inclusions such as built-in 7.1-channel audio and an HDMI port make up for the lack of ECC compatibility. Alternatively, htpcBeginner lists the headless home server exclusive build [Broken URL Removed] based on GIGABYTE GA-H110N. It’s slightly cheaper and pairs well with the i3. Like MSI, this is not a real server board, but it offers high performance in a small size.
- Really Affordable
- Broad processor compatibility
- Up to 32GB DDR4 RAM
- Versatile, can work as a HTPC/gaming PC/server hybrid
- HDMI port
- Not compatible with ECC RAM
- Missing «real server motherboard»
Supermicro MBD-X10SLL-FO is a microATX server board. Supermicro has equipped this server board with an LGA 1150 connector. In terms of processor, Supermicro supports Intel Xeon E3-1200 v3 and v4 processors as well as Celeron, Pentium and i3 processors. You can add up to 32GB of DDR3 ECC RAM, and there are two six SATA connectors. Two have 6 Gb/s transfer rates, while four are limited to 3 Gb/s.
- Great value
- Socket LGA 1150
- Compatible with Xeon E3-1200 v3/v4, i3, Pentium, Celeron processors
- RAM ECC DDR3 1600 up to 32 GB
- Six SATA connectors
- Excellent compatibility
- VGA only (no HDMI, DVI or DisplayPort)
- Bad Documentation
ASRock is known for its quality components such as motherboards. While ASRock dominates with gaming caliber motherboards, its server motherboards are also exceptional. The EP2C612D16C-4L is an excellent server motherboard. ASRock has 16 DDR4 memory modules, 12 SATA3 ports and an M.2 PCIe slot.
For motherboard, it is LGA 2011 socket. Therefore, ASRock is compatible with Xeon E5 processors. This is a motherboard with two connectors. As a dual-socket motherboard, the ASRock EP2C612D16C-4L will require a slightly more expensive build. This is because you will need not one, but two processors. The Intel Xeon E5-2603v3 is among the cheapest at $262. But you’ll have to multiply that by two. So while ASRock’s motherboard is a modest $320, expect to pay more than the processors.
However, ASRock’s board offers a solid combination of reliability, expandability and price. Even though this is an enterprise-grade motherboard, it is also affordable for those who work from home. You can save in some areas like RAM, case and hard drive to make this build a little more affordable.
- 16x DDR4 memory slots
- Dual sockets LGA 2011 R3
- 12 SATA3 ports
- M.2 PCI slot
- Three PCIe x16 slots
- LGA processors are expensive
- Requires two processors
- Only includes VGA outputs
Best Parts for Building a Server: Processor
Processors depend on the motherboard. You will need to match the processor to the motherboard socket (for example, an LGA 2011 socket requires an LGA 2011 processor). You don’t have to have the latest processor as it’s usually easy to upgrade. But, if possible, try hooking up a motherboard and processor that are fairly new so that your socket doesn’t get outdated right away. This way you have a clear upgrade path.
The Intel i3-4150 is a processor with an LGA 1150 socket. It is compatible with Z87 and Z97 motherboards. Although the 4150 is an LGA 1150 and not a 1151 or 1155, it is a solid processor. I3 is suitable for entry-level servers. If you’re using an LGA 1151 socket like the H110M, the Kaby Lake i3-7100 is a great value at $120. The LGA 1155 Intel i5-3350P is a great current generation socket processor. It’s Sandy Bridge, but you can always upgrade to a Kaby Lake i5 or i7 in the future.
- 4902 PassMark
- Excellent value for money and quality
- Socket 1150 is a few generations ago
- Only suitable for home servers, not corporate environments
- Not a real server processor
Intel Xeon E3-1226 v3
The Xeon E3-1226 v3 is a CPU beast. This is a Haswell chip compatible with LGA 1150 sockets. The Xeon server processor has an operating frequency of 3.3 GHz with a turbo boost of 3.7 GHz. 8 MB cache and Intel HD P4600 graphics.
The TDP is 84W, and PassMark is only 8,000W. However, for all the power of the Xeon, it only runs on the LGA 1150 socket. The newer SkyLake LGA 1151 Ex-1225 v5 is slightly more powerful and efficient. If you’re using an LGA Socket 2011 motherboard, the six-core E5-2603v3 is a great mid-range choice.
- Nearly 8000 PassMarks
- Dedicated server processor
- LGA 1150 only
- Requires ECC RAM
Intel Xeon E3-1270
If you can afford it, the Intel Xeon E3-1270 sports stellar specs. The Intel LGA 1155 Sandy Bridge processor has 4 x 256 KB L2 cache, 8 MB L3 cache, and an operating frequency of 3.4 GHz. This is one of the latest processors like Sandy Bridge. The E3-1270 has eight threads and supports low power consumption. Because this is a dedicated server CPU, many Xeon capable motherboards will require unbuffered ECC RAM. ECC RAM comes at a higher price than regular non-ECC RAM. But the additional cost provides additional data reliability.
Still, the E3-1270 is quite expensive. It also requires ECC RAM, which costs more and can be a deterrent for those trying to keep the price low.
- LGA 1155
- Over 8000 PassMarks
- Dedicated server processor
- Probably needs ECC RAM
The Best Parts for Building a Server: RAM
Crucial 16GB DDR3 ECC Unbuffered RAM CT2KIT102472BD160B
Crucial CT2KIT102472BD160B offers ECC buffered RAM. These are DDR3 and 1600 PC3L-12800. Reviewers noted that the Crucial kit uses slightly less power than traditional DDR3. This is the main plus for servers. When you’re running an always-on system, reduced power consumption keeps the server energy efficient. Users have commented on the broad software and hardware compatibility. Crucial works great on servers like the Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 and with operating systems like FreeNAS.
However, note that CT2KIT102472BD160B is not buffered. It works on systems that do not support Registered ECC. Like all ECC RAM, this is more expensive than non-ECC. Also, as is often the case, you will be paying a small premium per brand at Crucial rather than per brand. But this 16GB Crucial ECC kit is among the most reliable available. This is a great part of building a server.
- brand name
- Consumes less power than equivalent RAM
- Lots of hardware and software compatibility
- More expensive than non-ECC RAM
- More expensive than external brand RAM
Kingston 16GB DDR3 ECC RAM
Kingston is one of the most recognizable names in computer components. KVR1333D3E9SK2 16GB ECC RAM kit offers DDR3 support and PC3-10600 1333MHz speed. Reviewers found Kingston ECC RAM to be reliable and compatible with a variety of hardware and software. Users have reported that 16GB of Kingston ECC memory works well with Oracle Enterprise Linux 6.5 and runs on a variety of servers such as the HP Microserver N54L.
Again, you will pay extra for both the ECC and the brand name. However, the small price jump is worth the reliability premium.