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I have been struggling to decide whether to buy a server or desktop motherboard for my home business server.

My main concern is stability, compatibility, easy to setup and care very little about performance.

I have read that I may encounter problems finding desktop motherboard drivers for Windows Server 2008, especially 64 bit drivers. I was also told that a server motherboard would be more stable and last longer.

Does anyone have an opinion on this based on facts?

1) Is a server motherboard more compatible with Windows Server 2008?

2) Is a server motherboard more reliable that a desktop motherboard?

3) Is a server CPU such as the XEON more reliable and stable than the Core i7?

Thank you very much for your help.

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7 Answers

1) no 2) yes 3) maybe

For home server, I would go with desktop motherboard since it is much cheaper. 64-bit drivers were problem for quite a while since desktop motherboard manufacturers didn't bother much. However, if you search for little bit better desktop motherboard with Intel chipset, you cannot go wrong.

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Keep in mind that if you are running this on hardware not on Microsoft's HCL and you call for support, you're not likely to get any. –  MDMarra Sep 5 '09 at 21:49
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It's unwise to use a custom built system (server class components or not) to run your business. You've already stated you want stability, compatibility, and easy to setup. These are major points for most major pre-manufactured servers, such as those from Dell, HP, and IBM. One major concern is when you have a problem. Who do you call for support? The manufacturer of the motherboard? Or another component? What do you do when one company says its not our fault, go talk to the manufacturer of the other component? And what about getting a part replaced QUICKLY. When you buy name brand servers with an appropriate warranty, you have one call to make and they can get you parts SAME DAY - which with a server, can be critical to the business.

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Good points Multiverse IT

The thing is that I had a Dell Power Edge server that I just got rid of. Here are some interesting stories:

1) One time they gave me the wrong information regarding my RAID setup and ended up erasing the data… So much for good support.

2) During the course of about maybe 5 years I had the server, 1 fan and 2 hard drives went bad…. So much for hardware reliability.

3) Manufactures like Dell use proprietary parts so buying a replacement part is extremely expensive… So much for total cost of ownership.

4) The server resided in the same room I worked and that thing sounded like a Jet airplane getting ready to take off and there was nothing I could do about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your good point and some time ago I thought the same way you do but based on my experience I was not thrilled with the benefits of buying a brand name server. I really believe that I can build a much better quality server by buying my own parts than by buying cheap hardware form a company like Dell… Assuming we stay at or below a $2,000 price range.

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As far as the sound goes, that's expected. It's a rack server and is expected to be in an actual rack in an isolated and air conditioned room. Your hardware failures can be attributed to the fact that they were being used in an environment that they weren't intended for. Part of the rackmount form factor is the expectation that they are in an AC'd room, that allows them to be made that small and compact. If it is just in an office or closet, your HDD will burn up and dust can easily clog and kill the high-gain fans. –  MDMarra Sep 5 '09 at 23:33
    
1) I worked in a company where I managed 30+ servers - almost all Dell. Never had that kind of problem over 5 years. And when something went wrong, I had a part in 4 hours. There was one time where they replaced a failed motherboard with another one that didn't work, and then we had to send for another - but still, I had a working server in 12 hours - you can't do that with a home built box unless you buy spare parts. 2) What do both have in common? MOVING PARTS. Moving parts WILL fail. 3) You don't buy replacement parts. You have a warranty! No production server should be out of warranty! –  Multiverse IT Sep 5 '09 at 23:48
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If you use a brand like Intel, you should fine within a certain margin. I've tried 4 different Intel boards and I had no problems finding 64bit drivers and running Windows Server 2003 and 2008. It may be a different story if you go with some other brand.

3) Is a server CPU such as the XEON more reliable and stable than the Core i7?

If I were to use a XEON on a desktop board I would rather buy a system from HP or Dell. Unless you are hammering that server 24/7 you might not notice the difference between a XEON and a i7.

I am assuming you want to save some money.

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Something no one has mentioned in regard to the Xeon/Core i7 is power. The Core i7 uses 130w while the Xeon, though more expensive, can use up to 80w less which is important if you're trying to build something that's also good on power and temperature. And since you mentioned the Dell being loud, less power means less heat.

I haven't built servers for work but I did build my home server and it's been running strong uninterupted, aside for software updates, for 7 years. The new work stations at work I built because we never needed to use Dell support, and were able to build something for under $2k that blew away the specs of anything offered prebuilt.

What you pick should be based on your business needs and how lucky you feel down the road when something does go wrong. For me personally I'm a fan of build vs buy but then again the company is only 10 people or so.

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Anything with moving parts is going to fail; if you build a low-performing system that relies more heavily on passive cooling, you'll boost reliability there alone. SSD's don't have moving parts, so if you don't mind the cost and lower storage, that will save you on heat and wear as well.

Big name companies like Dell are there selling servers because they have a name behind them; you have an issue, you get replacement parts on short turnaround. You need new drives, you need tech support, you need whatever, you get it. You also pay for it.

You can do something similar with off-the-shelf parts if you stock up on spare parts; it puts the onus of support on you rather than a company with warranty support.

If you have redundancy planned for with backup servers and such you can do fine without spending a lot on server hardware. On the other hand, you can get older hardware from Dell's online outlet at steep discounts, and refurbs or unwanted server systems that were custom built but refused by a customer (or misconfigured) can go for a song on their deal area of the website.

If you're looking for a home server or looking to save money, you could just look at various wikis and HCL's for known-good hardware for the OS you're looking at getting and putting together some beige box solution with some spare parts available if you're worried (except hard drives...they can have a problem with not spinning up if you let them sit forever. Take care of that with HARDWARE RAID, not motherboard RAID, and a good backup solution). Normally by the time you have hardware going wonky you can get better stuff than you have failing at a cheaper price, though.

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One of the things you haven't mentioned is what you're going to be using the server for. Is it just file storage and the like? You said you don't care about performance, so it may be perfectly okay to use a workstation class setup but taking appropriate measures such as a RAID 1 disk array to ensure you don't go down with a single drive failure.

As for running Windows Server 2008 on less than server class hardware, there are quite a few consultants running on laptops and workstations. Truth be told, if I wasn't being lazy I would rebuild my current system to use Windows Server 2008 as I've frequently run on a server OS because some components (SharePoint) wouldn't install on workstation OSes like XP and Vista.

Stability and reliability have already been talked about a bit. Rack-mounted systems expect a climate controlled environment and if you don't have that, you've got a loud system that is going to be susceptible to failure because of dust and temperature. In this case it may be better to look at the vendors' "floor" type servers, which are more expected to be in a home office/small office environment.

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