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I want to build a server for my small business, but my budget is incredibly small (would prefer to stay under $1,000, not including operating system costs). I'm perfectly content with refurbished hardware, so long as the CPU supports hardware virtualization and Windows Server 2008 R2. I'm also perfectly content with building the server from the ground up with individual components. A banged chassis isn't a problem (assuming it doesn't prevent me from opening/closing the case).

Trust me, I totally understand the value of more expensive hardware. Fault tolerance, ease of maintenance, etc., are all very important to me. However, because of my current budget constraints, it's literally cheap or nothing.

Edit: By the way, I'm specifically referring to the computer. I have spare monitors and keyboards, so I am able to save in that regard.

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closed as too localized by Mark Henderson Jan 13 '12 at 4:48

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This is a global site, so it would help if we knew where you are located. With that budget I'm guessing you won't want to ship internationally. – John Gardeniers Nov 12 '09 at 11:44
For the OS, take a look a something like Microsoft Empower, Action Pack or BizSpark. They have cheaper, much much cheaper options for start up's if you are IT related. – SpaceManSpiff Nov 12 '09 at 13:00

13 Answers 13

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Well, in most people's conception of the word "server" you're not going to have much luck, but 1,000 is plenty for a quality desktop made from parts, even including RAID and name brand parts.

I'd go out and put together a last generation (core 2 quad) quad core box with plenty of ram, a motherboard with on board RAID and 3 or 4 hard drives. Buy a cheap video card, and a cheap case, and as many hard drives and as much RAM as you can afford/fit. You should be able to come in well under 1,000.

It's a poor man's porsche, no doubt, but I've seen a lot worse, and all the parts should have a decent manufacturers warantee, which is about as good as it's going to get for 1,000.

@Warren: Better something than nothing: not everyone has the budget to wait for server-class hardware. For 5,000 dollars you can get 1 nice (commodity intel) server, or 4 whiteboxes with good components. Cluster the white boxes, and you've got a better set up with more redundancy than you would have had with the server. Besides, unless you've got the scratch to get real hardware (talking sun or ibm or top notch hp) with fast support, you're not going to gain much more than a redundant power supply by getting a dell.

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personally, i'm loathe to ever run a desktop as a 'server'.. even in tight budgets – warren Nov 11 '09 at 15:35
I have a home server I built this way. I use it as my file server for media and it cost me no more than 800 bucks. – Ben S Nov 11 '09 at 16:21

If you don't mind being out of warranty, which you can probably live with if you want cheap, then have a look for ex-lease equipment.

Most hardware is written off the books after the lease period has passed. Usually at around 3 years. Which means that you pick up last-generation of hardware which has been well cared for at rock bottom prices.

There are a lot of resellers that trade specifically in buying up ex-lease equipment. Check around some such reputable sellers in your area. Have a hunt on Ebay. Don't rule out buying internationally - it may work out cheaper even after shipping and duty.

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  1. eBay, newspaper classifieds in your area, and the alike.

  2. Hosted services instead of self-hosted wherever possible, to reduce / remove the need for servers on premises. I.e. Google Apps instead of own email server, something like Jungle Disk for file server, etc.

  3. Cold calling companies that are downsizing in your area; talking to your network of people in IT to see if anyone has computers heading for scrap.

  4. Using desktop-class computers (sic) to reduce the expense, and virtualization to reduce the number of physical computers needed. And virtualization also allows easier migration to a new computer when that cheap desktop PC dies...

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Depending on how much memory, disk space, and CPU horsepower you want, Dell weekend specials or Silicon Mechanics may be up your alley.

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This search on CDW has some interesting machines for less than $1K

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Buy a desktop PC that's well-tested (like HP's dc7xxx series), with a CPU that has Intel VT. Windows 2008 R2 will support it out-of-the-box (in regards to drivers), but you'll probably not have support on software issues as it's not on the HCL for the server edition.

Get a used 3ware sata raid card and some s-ata disks that are well known to work over time, wich means, don't buy 1TB disks.

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For your mentioned budget you don't have any options except eBay.

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Have you tried Craigslist?

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You can try vibrant technology

Since 1998, we've offered quality used IT hardware and upgrades at deep discounts off of list pricing. All hardware is fully tested and supported by Vibrant warranty.

You can also check out the refurbished Dells at the Dell Outlet.

I've never bought anything from them, but it looks like a good start.

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Dell's bottom end tower server can be had for around $1000 actually when I last looked and included Hardware RAID 1 (SAS6iR correct if I' wrong please) and up to 8 gigs memory. Brand new for that price for production you can't go wrong when you're on a tight budget.

I'm sure HP & Lenovo have ones to compete with that as well.

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The lowest price server on Dell's website is $279. You can easily get a decent server from Dell & others for less than $1000...but probably not with Windows Server 2008 R2 installed. That alone will cost most of your budget for the standard edition.

You don't really say what you want to use the server for, so it's difficult to recommend options, but in this case...

...either spend the money on decent hardware and run a somewhat supported* distro of Linux/Unix, or look into leasing something from Dell with W2KR2 that fits your budget.

*something offering commercial support options, or that has a commercially supported cousin - ie Ubuntu, Centos, OpenSUSE, Solaris, OpenSolaris, etc.

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Give this a go pacificgeek I have had really good luck with them so far. There shipping is a little slow but not a deal breaker. Don't have them put any extras in the server if you can find them cheaper else where (ebay, newegg, zipzoomfly, Craigslist).

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The chassis of the Dell T100 / T105 will take 4 harddrives if you remove the CD drive, and the motherboard has 4 SATA ports, and the machine will work with RAM from Crucial. Buy one of those, bung three 500GB drives in as a RAID array, stick 8GB of RAM in and away you go.

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