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I'm looking to build a Windows Home Server and looking into a low powered CPU/motherboard which fits into a small form factor. Reading through articles on the web gives the impression that motherboard/processor for servers are constructed differently compared desktop technology.

One focuses on stability and others focuses high performance in short period of time.

Can you help me understand how to differentiate between motherboard/processors that was made for servers as opposed to desktops? What do I need to look for?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

In very general terms server (and some/most workstation) mobos and processors vary over desktop equivilants in the following ways;

  • multi-CPU capabilities - this is a major one really, most desktops get the one CPU slot as far as I know
  • more memory slots - some servers have 72 memory slots these days!
  • often no, or low end, on-board disk controllers - this is on the assumption that buyers will be adding their own specific disk controllers
  • no sound other that a beeper
  • more on-board (and more capable) NICs, often specifically laid out so to be on different PCI buses
  • lesser GPU, often very low end
  • mobo capable of taking power from mulitple PSUs - this is another biggy
  • MUCH more instrumentation to spot and predict failure (more temperature sensors, voltage sensors etc.
  • out of band management processors and dedicated NICs - of HUGE benefit to lights-out data centres
  • better power management options
  • CPUs expected to run 24/7/365 and handle IO far better, also deal with things like single-bit errors better
  • memory controllers to work with 'better'/more-reliable memory types and deal with failure more gracefully
  • more PCI slots
  • built for rack-mounting or blade enclosures

As I say these are very general differences, I'm sure there are exceptions but thought it might be of use.

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excellent explanation. Thanks – ronaldwidha Jan 7 '10 at 17:36
Congrats on the 10k :) – Dan Carley Jan 8 '10 at 13:15
cheers dude! :) – Chopper3 Jan 8 '10 at 14:00

WHS is so lightweight and requires such a small footprint that, while Chopper3's list is accurate, you're NEVER going to notice the differences between mobos with similar CPUs and memory. More than anything else, you'll notice external issues.

  • Boot-up speed will depend on the speed of your drives and how much memory you have
  • Backups will depend on how much bandwidth you have on your LAN (is it Gigabit?)
  • Remote access will depend on your router (is it compatible?), your ISP (do they block ports?) and your upload speed (downloading to the laptop you brought on vacation).

I have a homebuilt WHS machine that used a low-end mobo, dual core AMD CPU and am very happy with it - except that, for some reason, if the system reboots (like from an update) and has an external USB hard drive, something in the BIOS hangs - doesn't matter if I have a USB DVD burner, that's ok, just a hard drive makes everything stop. So my requirement to have as many internal SATA ports as possible left me with plenty of space.

Next time, though, I'm going with a pre-packaged HP deal. Probably when the next version of WHS comes out.

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I have similar concerns. The only thing is I can't get HP MediaSmart anywhere in the country I currently live in. Sucks I know. The closest country hat provides WHS is London, and it cost a bomb there. I was hoping that I could save some moolah by building it myself. – ronaldwidha Jan 7 '10 at 17:40
The cheapest method is taking someone's old PC, adding some disks to it and 'repurposing' the whole thing. Then the only significant cost is the WHS software itself. – David Jan 8 '10 at 16:17

When I attended the training for ASE Compaq certification, the teacher explained that the main difference is the optimization of the chipset/structure. Servers are optimized for good I/O and (relatively) poor "interactive" experience.

It also depends of the mission of the server: if is a file or database server you need good I/O, but id we are talking about number crunching server, the I/O is not as important as the CPU horsepower.

For a home/SOHO point of view, I don't think you can't even notice the difference between a good PC and a "standard" server, from the hardware point of view..

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fair point. The only thing I expect might happen often is serving multiple files in one time. thanks – ronaldwidha Jan 7 '10 at 17:37

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