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I'm looking for the currently best (as in value for the money) cpu/chip/motherboard combo to build affordable application servers that support a lot of RAM (at least 12 GB; better more). As I want to build the servers myself, I'm not looking for any server vendor recommendations as Dell etc.

The servers will mainly be used for hosting production/testing virtual machines with very few users, so although CPU and IO performance is important, I really need a lot of RAM to support many parallel VMs. What's currently the best platform for this? AMD, Intel? Which board vendor(s)? Desktop CPUs or server CPUs? Thanks a lot!

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closed as primarily opinion-based by TomTom, Ward, Falcon Momot, mdpc, voretaq7 Jan 14 at 23:14

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
What do you consider cheap? –  Matt Simmons Nov 17 '09 at 17:57
    
< $1000 for CPU, board and RAM –  Dennis G. Nov 17 '09 at 18:02
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Many parallel VM's on a < $1000 hypervisor? I'm just not seeing that happening. –  churnd Nov 17 '09 at 18:07
    
Why not? An Intel Xeon® E5504 Quadcore CPU, a Tyan server board and 16 GB RAM (with 2GB RAM modules, as they are more affordable), upgradable to 32 GB, should certainly be able to handle 8-10 VMs for very few users. And such a configuration is available for <$1000. –  Dennis G. Nov 17 '09 at 18:27
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Well, CPU, Motherboard, and RAM does not a server make. With that many VM's, you'll need good disk I/O, which can easily add a few hundred $$. Then there's the case, cooling, power, accessories/cabling, which will get you closer to $2k. –  churnd Dec 7 '09 at 16:32

2 Answers 2

I'm looking for the currently best (as in value for the money) cpu/chip/motherboard combo to build affordable application servers that support a lot of RAM (at least 12 GB; better more).

For value, AMD Opteron servers nearly always beat Xeons in terms of cost. For one, older Opterons are very economically priced. Two, Opterons still support DDR2 Registered/ECC RAM which is still cheaper than DDR3 (for the newer Xeons these days). Lastly, all Opteron boards support minimum of 16GB and can go to 64GB-128GB depending on size and manufacturer. In defense of Intel Xeons in this particular scenario, building ANY server with the specifications as the OP supplied under $1000 is very hard to do regardless of manufacturer.

As I want to build the servers myself, I'm not looking for any server vendor recommendations as Dell etc.

If you want to go the AMD Opteron route, Tyan makes the best variety of boards for the Opteron. Supermicro is another motherboard vendor, but these days have more selection for Xeons.

The servers will mainly be used for hosting production/testing virtual machines with very few users, so although CPU and IO performance is important, I really need a lot of RAM to support many parallel VMs. What's currently the best platform for this? AMD, Intel? Which board vendor(s)? Desktop CPUs or server CPUs? Thanks a lot!

Okay, so I'll admit I'm an AMD Opteron fan boy for a number of reasons. That's not to say everything Intel makes is bad/crap/expensive/whatever. I used to love the old Intel Xeon II processors (and I still have an old system just for keepsake). However, I've been building my own servers as well as making servers for clients for some time now and I'd have to say the past 3-4 years the Opterons (IMO) beat Intel on two/three factors:

  1. Price - 9 out of 10 times, comparable Opterons are cheaper than their Intel counterparts. Keep in mind RAM prices and motherboard costs as well. I'd argue that Xeon boards can be competitively priced to AMD Opteron boards, but throw in the RAM and the CPU and now the costs have tilted towards Xeons.

  2. Power - Opterons have been more conscientious of wattage than Xeons in the past 5 or so years. AMD has had consumption as a major priority of their server-line CPUs back in 2004-5. Xeons are indeed powerful but bear in mind the amount of power they consume vs. Opteron.

  3. Performance - While I won't deny that Xeons often do better in performance vs. Opterons keep in mind the price of the CPU/RAM and the amount of power required to beat the Opteron to begin with.

So for under $1000, you could make:

  • AMD Opteron 2346HE (quad core - 55W) (link) = $154.99 [Newegg] + $30 HSF
  • Tyan S2927-E Motherboard (dual CPU/32GB max) (link) = $299.99 [Newegg]
  • 2GB DDR2 667 ECC registered DIMMs (link) = $55 [eWiz] x 4 = $220

Totaling at $704.98, here's a quad-core with 8GB VM server with capacity to add another CPU and 8GB more. Granted, this is a cheaper way of getting what you want. In order to get to 16GB you need more RAM + another CPU. Add $404.99 for a grand total of $1109.97 (not including shipping, nor a power supply, case, hard drives, etc. etc.).

Whether you choose Intel or AMD is totally fine, but realize that costs especially in the server marketplace are much more difficult as prices generally don't go down for motherboards or RAM. In fact, RAM prices are much more volatile for servers. I've bought 4GB DDR2 ECC registered DIMMs as low as $85/DIMM and now prices are over $150 for same pair from the same vendor. The Server market does NOT operate like the hobbyist/gamer market.

For your specific needs, you have to address just how much total you think you may need. 12GB isn't too much for servers, but if you think you may need 32GB someday or 64GB.. that changes your motherboard selection criteria significantly. Plan for the future and you'll see the costs associated with those decisions. RAM for example: density matters more than anything else. Getting 8x 1GB DIMMs is cheap. Getting 2x 4GB DIMMs is expensive but it allows you add more 4GB later. This is a huge factor when buying server parts. Don't neglect this.

As far as your aim to just get a 12GB server for virtualizing some instances for what I assume is work, you can go the workstation, non-server route however you will severely limit your options for future expansion. Most workstation/gaming boards support 12-16GB max. RAM. This will be a big hurdle for you if virtualization is what you want.

All in all, if costs are the primary concern and future expansion is not, then by all means a workstation/gaming board will work just fine from Intel. Your costs will be significantly less. However, if you anticipate for the future and expansion may be an issue, I'd urge you to go the server route for 2 reasons:

  1. Easy to resources later like additional CPU/RAM
  2. Stability - server parts typically less error prone and can deal with more
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I just got a HP Proliant dl160 G6 for DR purposes, they have come with a Xeon 5500 CPU (core i7) upgradable to 2. It has 18 DDR3 slots so you can have max of 192gb ram! As with cheap servers, you may need to get an extra RAID controllor as the onboard one is software based, so its not supported by VMware.

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Are you able/willing to add your cost to this post? –  jmsmcfrlnd Nov 17 '09 at 19:35
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After buying both DL120, DL160 and DL360 systems, I strongly advise against buying a 100-series machine again. They're cheap in every dimension. –  Jim Zajkowski Nov 17 '09 at 21:31

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