I'm gathering specs to build a highly reliable file server, somewhat future proof for the next 3-5 years. The component I'm starting with is the motherboard.

Are there motherboards that have been shown to support ECC RAM (and which particular models?) and also USB 3.0? I've read that there are such chipsets with ECC support, but motherboard manufacturers won't guarantee they work, or won't even offer the required BIOS options.

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    "Build a highly reliable server" -- isn't that an oxymoron? – iainlbc Feb 8 '11 at 14:11
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    ECC RAM is standardized, if a motherboard supports ECC RAM it will take sticks from more-or-less any manufacturer. – Hubert Kario Feb 8 '11 at 14:17
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    Honestly, if you want it to be highly reliable, what you do is: 1) buy more than one and set them up in a HA configuration and 2) don't piece it together yourself; buy from a vendor who will fix it in N hours if it fails. – mattdm Feb 8 '11 at 14:42
  • One more thing, if you want a reliable file server, I'd say you have to go for ZFS with double parity. Btrfs is still unstable and lacks RAID6 support. – Hubert Kario Feb 8 '11 at 14:44
  • As mattdm said, I'd go with a major vendor. In terms of reliability (not necessarily future-proof), I'd go for a used, just-off-lease machine from Sun, HP, IBM, etc. over a home-built box. – Jason Antman Feb 8 '11 at 14:49

ECC support depends on few things:

  • support in chipset (or CPU in case of AMD systems or newer Intel)
  • support in BIOS

As such, with new systems support should be straight-forward, but it's non-existent in consumer grade boards.

On the other hand, workstation and server boards don't usually ship with new chipsets (on which USB 3.0 support is based).

The quickest way to get mainboard with ECC and USB3.0 would be to buy a normal workstation mobo and add USB3.0 PCIe controller.

As a side note: don't use USB for external HDDs, it will eat your CPU cycles like no tommorow. eSATA is faster and with port multiplexers allows to connect multiple drives.

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  • +1 and eSATA (or hotswap SATA trays) are the business. – DutchUncle Feb 8 '11 at 23:59

For ECC support, look to Server/Workstation class motherboards. If you plan to use ZFS as a basis for a homegrown fileserver, ECC is very important. USB 3 or even 3.1 can be added using PCIe cards. This can be handy to connect various consumer grade gear. For extending storage, eSATA (optionally with port multiplexing) is a better way to go. Also when you look at motherboard options, the CPU/RAM that best fits your use case can vary considerably. Do you need high throughput for single threaded workloads? Or are you doing parallel workloads needing many threads? How much RAM do you need? What is your price range?

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Future proofing a file server will more likely involve how many DIMMs it can support, how many CPUs it can support, the chipset (as Hubert explained), etc. etc. You didn't mention CPUs specifically so if you're looking for a desktop type processor (not Xeon or Opteron), then ECC support will vary and is usually rare for desktop processors.

If you're looking to build a "reliable" file server with desktop parts, odds are ECC support is not going to be an option. What do you specifically intend to do with the file server? Do you think that ECC supported RAM will make it more reliable? Perhaps you can fill us in on what you intend to do and what parts you're specifically thinking of using.

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  • There is support in i7 and Phenom II processors for ECC memory, the mainboards are the problem. – Hubert Kario Feb 8 '11 at 14:42
  • Support for ECC is possible, but AFAIK it's rare. To your point, chipset has more to do with ECC support than anything else, but most manufacturers focus on the consumer market and ECC has little to no use for most if not all consumers. – osij2is Feb 8 '11 at 14:48
  • I want to build a quiet home file server. I just posted a question about the hardware configuration for the thing. – Dan Dascalescu Feb 25 '11 at 14:49

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