Want to get an advanced gaming or video editing PC with two Intel Xeon processors for less than $200? The details are there, but finding and putting them together can be tricky. This article tells you what parts to look for and where to find unused server hardware that will make an excellent gaming platform or workstation.
Unfortunately, there are some caveats. First, these are older server processors, which means they need older motherboards and special RAM. While cheap, they have likely endured years of heavy use, resulting in wear and tear. Their long-term reliability may not be worth it. Secondly, if you want performance comparable to today’s desktop systems, you need to use a dual processor motherboard (which is different from a dual core processor).
Linus from Linus’s TechTips created a video on the subject:
While Linus takes a more rigorous approach (he doesn’t even do business), I have a few extra tips for building your own rig out of molded, one-off server components.
DIY Junkatron Parts
The easiest way to spin up your PC from server parts is to buy a whole server. The whole server provides 100% part compatibility (biggest issue and concern) as well as an overall cheaper cost. On the other hand, shipping can be very expensive and this will limit your choice of graphics card. If a component fails, the server may also need proprietary components to replace. Most users, without access to an idle server, will probably end up buying parts off the menu.
The five most important components — in order of importance — are motherboard , frame , RAM , power unit and CPU (CPU). While all of these parts are important for performance and cross-component compatibility, I list the CPU last because once you’ve chosen the other components, the CPU becomes more of an afterthought.
Choosing the right motherboard determines the rest of your build, including your case, power supply, RAM, and processor. The main benefit of choosing an older server board is that it can include two CPU sockets instead of the standard single socket on an ATX desktop motherboard. Do not confuse the number of processors with the number of processor cores. Server motherboards can offer two physical processors that improve gaming performance using the upcoming DirectX 12 (DX12) Application Programming Interface (API), which makes more efficient use of multiple processor cores. If future games use DX12 or AMD Mantle, an Intel 8-core system may deliver performance on par with or better than today’s latest dual- and quad-core processors.
However, before choosing a processor, you must first select a motherboard that determines processor socket compatibility. As for manufacturers, Supermicro is highly recommended — they tend to offer better operating system compatibility and often work with Linux and Windows 7. Many can even be upgraded to Windows 10. However, there are many Supermicro boards with different processors. Sockets. The processor socket determines the type of processor you can use.
CPU connectors : The two most suitable connectors include the LGA771 connector of the Core 2 Duo generation and the LGA1366 connector of the Nehalem generation. LGA771 uses DDR2 RAM or FB-DIMM RAM, while LGA1366 uses DDR3. Both the LGA771 and LGA1366 come in a two-socket configuration. The photo below shows an LGA1366 E-ATX Supermicro motherboard with two connectors:
PCI speeds A: Most LGA771 and LGA1366 sockets support PCIe x8 and x16 speed. However, motherboards are not designed to accommodate full size PCIe GPUs. This requires users to either find short PCIe GPUs or measure the motherboard to determine if their chosen GPU will fit inside the board.
If you can find a motherboard with processors still attached, also make sure the heatsink-fan combo is enabled. Finding server-compatible heatsinks can be expensive.
I highly recommend staying away from motherboards that have been removed from pre-built blocks. This includes any Dell PowerEdge, HP Proliant, or similar server builds based on branded components — unless you purchase a complete server unit including chassis and power supply.
Here’s a quick checklist of things:
- Measure your motherboard to make sure it fits your case.
- Try to buy a motherboard that comes with a processor and RAM, which allows you to check if the board works without buying additional processors and RAM. You don’t need to take this step if you know what you’re doing.
- Not all server motherboards are in the E-ATX form. Supermicro also sells several ATX motherboards that fit most ATX cases.
- Supermicro provides a list of their server motherboards. Look for ATX form factor boards with LGA1366 or LGA771 connectors.
I’m listing the second case because many motherboards can come in irregular form factors, including Extended ATX (E-ATX). Newer E-ATX cases can unfortunately be expensive and often offer no more PCIe slots than a regular ATX motherboard. This is because E-ATX boards tend to run deeper rather than wider, which is fine for a server or workstation but not a gaming or video editing machine. Fortunately, server motherboards come in E-ATX and ATX form factors.
Here is an example of an E-ATX case on Amazon: