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Computer Build Parts Recommendations - A File Server

written by: Jesma•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 6/7/2009

If you find you need a low-end network attached storage solution, why not opt for a file server that is basically just a modified desktop PC? It gets the job done, and you can pack on up to 2 TB of usable storage in a RAID 5 configuration for under 800 dollars.

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    If your home or small business office handles a lot of electronic data that is constantly in demand by multiple users or computers on the network, it may be time to make use of a File Server. File Servers are dedicated storage units that can be accessed from any computer on the network, store massive amounts of data and can deliver it to multiple users and computers as requested. Because it is dedicated to this one task and built to perform, file servers can drastically increase the efficiency of your office.

    You might be shying away from the idea because it sounds expensive. While specially designed devices similar to this exist (called Network Attached Storage, or NAS), if your demands aren't sky high then you can get by with a File Server that is essentially a modified desktop PC.

    I managed to assemble a list of high quality components for a file server for just under 800 USD. For this price, we get a dedicated file server with 2 TB (2 Terabytes = 2000 Gigabytes) of storage, and with our setup you can add up to 2 TB more down the road.

    All prices are taken from, as of 2/25/09. We chose:

    Case: COOLER MASTER RC-690-KKN1-GP Black SECC/ ABS ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - $79.99

    Hard Drives: 3x Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - $389.97

    Motherboard: ASUS M3N78-VM AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 8200 HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - $72.99

    Network Card: Intel PWLA8391GT 10/ 100/ 1000Mbps PCI PRO/1000 GT Desktop Adapter - $23.99

    CD/DVD Rom: Sony Optiarc Black IDE DVD-ROM Drive - $17.99

    Power Supply: CORSAIR CMPSU-450VX 450W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC - $79.99

    Memory: Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory - $42.99

    CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000 3.1GHz Socket AM2 89W Dual-Core Processor - $88.99

    TOTAL BUILD COST: $796.90

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    Our Part Selections

    Hard Drives Set the Tone

    Undeniably the most important part of any file server is its storage. That is why we selected only the best in 1TB+ storage hard drives. We wanted to ensure that the drive had built-in data protection, so we opted for a RAID 5 array, which uses a minimum of three disks to ensure that if one disk fails, no data is lost. Parity sections on the other two disks are used to rebuild the disk that was lost. As long as you do not lose more than one disk at a time, RAID 5 will ensure that your data is protected.

    The only downside to RAID 5 is that, like most RAID implementations, it requires all the disks in the array to be of the exact same "dimensions" (logically, not physically), or, have the same storage parameters. We started with 3 1TB drives, so why does our File Server only "serve" 2 TB? Since a portion of each drive is dedicated to parity, we lose some usable storage space.

    No matter how many disks are you a RAID 5 array, you will always have one less disk worth of usable storage space than what is installed. The drives we chose use a SATA3 connection for fast transfer speeds. The only real storage limit imposed on our server is the number of SATA3 power connections on our power supply, the number of SATA3 data connections on our motherboard, and the number of internal 3 1/2 inch drive bays in our case.

    Even still, with what we have you can choose to up your storage to 4 TB down the line - and that is a lot of storage. If you think you will need more than that, choose a full tower case, a larger power supply and a RAID expansion card (total cost under $350, with out drives). That could handle up to two RAID 5 networks with five and four disks respectively. With TB drives, that is a massive total of 7 TB of storage.

    Case and Power Supply

    With the above in mind, going into the case and power supply selection process we knew we'd need plenty of room for drives and plenty of SATA3 power connectors on the PSU. Perusing a selection of Full Tower cases revealed that most feature an expensive, unprofessional, and largely "fluffy" design. The Cooler Master mid tower we selected fits the bill just perfectly. I personally have used two of them and know first hand that there is more than enough storage space. Five easily removable screwless drive cages make drive management a cinch.

    We knew our power supply had to be extremely reliable, but it doesn't need to pump a lot of power. The power demands of a couple of hard drives and a mid range motherboard and CPU are not very high - however, we needed a lot of SATA3 power connectors. The 450w Corsair PSU we chose has 6 SATA3 connectors, plenty of power, and the best reputation.

    Motherboard, CPU, and Memory

    When CPU power and speeds were not, on average, very high, we were told that the most important component in any server - file or otherwise - was the CPU. These days, CPU speeds are so high across the board that we don't have to concern ourselves overmuch with it. We selected our board because its from a company with a fantastic reputation, has room for future expansion, has 5 SATA3 data connectors, and doesn't include too dizzying of a variety of bells and whistles we'll never end up using. The big thing that we had to be absolutely sure this board supported, though, was the RAID 5 technology we wanted to implement on our drives.

    As for the CPU, with only network traffic and data retrieval requests being run through it, we saw no reason to go for a quad-core CPU. The Athlon 64 X2 @ 3.1GHz packs more than enough punch for our needs, and won't break the bank.

    The importance of memory in a File Server isn't the most well documented. It is very likely that we could have gotten away with 2GB of memory and not had any performance problems with our File Server. On the other hand, DDR2 800 is extremely inexpensive, and on the off-chance that you may want it, we threw in another 2GB.

    Network Card

    The last major component we threw into this build is the Network card. While the motherboard features integrated Gigabit LAN, we thought it would be advantageous to have a card dedicated to handling network traffic.

    The last component is, of course, the CD/DVD Rom, which is nothing to write home about but does its job, and does it well.