Jim’s Building a New WHS – Choosing the Motherboard

• April 19, 2010

diy As I mentioned in The Home Server Show 82 and 84, I am asking for your advice (or convincing) on all the parts needed to build a new WHS. Starting with the motherboard and CPU, we had an open discussion here at the HSS forums.

My priorities are to get the best product at the best value at the time we choose it. I am not always concerned about the cheapest, but not the most expensive either. I do want this server to be around for a while as well, but also easy to upgrade when the time comes or the need arises.

After some discussion in the forums already, we came up with some basic guidelines:

1.  Onboard video is required.  I don’t want to have to install a video card
2.  DDR 3 Memory Only
3.  Gigabit Ethernet Only (Dual ports is a nice to have)
4.  No less than 4 SATA ports

Here are some of the nice to haves:
1.  USB 3.0
2. 6Gb SATA

Not really that important:

1.  Anything to do with Audio
2.  Memory Support above 8 GB

To get the discussion going, I started with this board and chip.  I made this pick before some of the guidelines about were set, so you should see some early problems with it.  I liked this set up because of the fast processor, ample PCI slots, number of SATA ports and the price.  It failed in the area of no on board video.  Hey, it was just a start.

Jim’s Starting Pick:

MSI P43-C51 LGA 775 Intel P43 ATX Intel Motherboard

CPU Socket Type LGA 775
CPU Type Core 2 Quad / Core 2 Extreme / Core 2 Duo
# of Mem Slots 4×240pin
Mem Standard DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600 (OC)
Max Mem Sup 16GB
Mem Channel Dual Channel
Exp Slots 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
2 x PCI Express x16
3 x PCI Slots
SATA 3Gb x 6
Video None – Picked it before I made the requirements
LAN Speed 10/100/1000Mbps
Rear Panel 2 x PS/2
6 x USB 2.0
6 Audio Ports
Form Factor ATX
Warranty 1 years limited
Price / Retailer $79.99 Newegg

After much discussion, I was persuaded by pcdoc (one of the forum contributors) to look at both the i3 CPU and some GIGABYTE motherboards.  I listed a few below to give you an idea on what is out there.  If I had to pick one out of the bunch now, I would most likely take the GA-H55M-S2H.  I like the simple nature of it with 6 SATA ports, great reviews and the lowest price.  I will be keeping my eye on this board for future discussions.

Intel Boards:

GIGABYTE GA-H55M-S2H LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI Micro ATX Intel

GIGABYTE GA-H55M-USB3 LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel

GIGABYTE GA-H55-USB3 LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI USB 3.0 ATX Intel

CPU Socket Type LGA 1156 LGA 1156 LGA 1156
CPU Type Core i7 / i5 / i3 Core i7 / i5 / i3 Core i7 / i5 / i3
# of Mem Slots 2×240pin 4×240pin 4×240pin
Mem Standard DDR3 2200+/1800/1600/

1333/1066/800

DDR3 2200*/1800/1600/
1333/1066/800
DDR3 1666(OC)/1333/1066/800
Max Mem Sup 8GB 16GB 16GB
Mem Channel Dual Channel Dual Channel Dual Channel
Exp Slots 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
1 x PCI Express x16
2 x PCI Slots
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
1 x PCI Express x1
2 x PCI Slots
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
3 x PCI Express x1
3 x PCI Slots
SATA 3Gb x 6 3Gb x 7 3Gb x 7
0/1/JBOD
Video D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
LAN Speed 10/100/1000Mbps 10/100/1000Mbps 10/100/1000Mbps
Rear Panel 1 x PS/2
8 x USB 2.0

1 x Optical S/PDIF Out
6 Audio Ports

1 x PS/2
4 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 3.0
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
1 x Optical S/PDIF Out
6 Audio Ports
1 x PS/2
4 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 3.0
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s

6 Audio Ports

Form Factor Micro ATX Micro ATX Micro ATX
Warranty 3 years limited 3 years limited 1 year limited
Price / Retailer $89.99 Newegg $109.99 Newegg $124.99 Newegg

We also looked at some AMD boards.  Frankly, I found it difficult to get excited about an AMD chip.  I have used AMD in the past and have never had a problem with any chip I have ever purchased from them.  That being said and unless someone can convince me otherwise, they just didn’t seem like a future player.  I have ruled them out.  I’ll still list the specs here.

AMD Boards:

GIGABYTE GA-MA785GT-UD3H AM3 AMD 785G HDMI ATX AMD

GIGABYTE GA-785GMT-USB3 AM3 AMD 785G HDMI USB 3.0 Micro ATX AMD

GIGABYTE GA-790XTA-UD4 AM3 AMD 790X SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX AMD

CPU Socket Type AM3 AM3 AM3
CPU Type Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron 100 Series Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron 100 Series Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron 100 Series
# of Mem Slots 4×240pin 4×240pin 4×240pin
Mem Standard DDR3 1666(O.C.) /1333/1066 DDR3 1800 (OC)/1666/1333/1066 DDR3 1866(OC)*/1333/1066
Max Mem Sup 16GB 16GB 16GB
Mem Channel Dual Channel Dual Channel Dual Channel
Exp Slots 2 xPCI Express 2.0 x16
3 x PCI Express x1
2 x PCI Slots
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
1 x PCI Express x1
2 x PCI Slots
2 xPCI Express 2.0 x16
3 x PCI Express x1
2 x PCI Slots
SATA 3Gb x 6  0/1/10/JBOD 3Gb x 5 0/1/10/JBOD 3Gb x 6
6Gb x 2
0/1/5/10/JBOD
Video D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
LAN Speed 10/100/1000Mbps 10/100/1000Mbps 10/100/1000Mbps
Rear Panel 1 x PS/2
6 x USB 2.0

1 x IEEE 1394a

1 x Optical S/PDIF Out
6 Audio Ports

1 x PS/2
4 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 3.0
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
1 x Optical S/PDIF Out
6 Audio Ports
1 x PS/2
4 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 3.0
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
1 x Optical S/PDIF Out
6 Audio Ports
Form Factor ATX Micro ATX ATX
Warranty 3 years limited 2 years limited 3 year limited
Price / Retailer $94.99 Newegg $94.99 Newegg $139.99 Newegg

At some point in the discussion, I was asked to look at Atom processors as well.  I considered them for a few days, but then decided that with their current configuration, there are just a bit underpowered for a WHS.  Here are some good options.

Atom Processor/Motherboards

JetWay JNC63P-330-LF Intel Atom 330 1.6GHz Dual Core NVIDIA ION Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo

ZOTAC IONITX-F-E Intel Atom 330 (1.6GHz, dual-core) NVIDIA ION Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo

CPU Socket Type Motherboard/CPU Combo Motherboard/CPU Combo
CPU Type Intel Atom 330 1.6GHz Dual Core Intel Atom 330 1.6GHz Dual Core
# of Mem Slots 2x240pin 2x240pin
Mem Standard DDR2 800/667 DDR2 800/667
Max Mem Sup 4GB 4GB
Mem Channel Dual Channel
Exp Slots 1 x PCI Express x16
1 x mini-PCIE (WiFi occupied)
SATA 3Gb x 4 3Gb x 3
0/1/0+1
Video D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
D-Sub + DVI
1 x HDMI
NVIDIA GeForce 9400
LAN Speed 10/100/1000Mbps 10/100/1000Mbps
WiFi IEEE 802.11 n
Rear Panel 1 x PS/2 Mouse & Keyboard Combined connector
6 x USB 2.0

3 Audio Ports

1 x PS/2

6 x USB 2.0
1 x eSATA II
1 x Optical, 1 x Coaxial
3 Audio Ports

Form Factor Mini ITX Mini ITX
Warranty 2 years limited Lifetime limited
Price / Retailer $144.99 Newegg $169.99 Newegg

I then realized that I really needed to pick a processor BEFORE I choose the motherboard.  With the boards in mind above, I listed some CPUs might work for what I am trying to do.

CPU Chart

Chip Power / 64bit Virtualization / Hyper-Transport Price
Intel Pentium G6950 Clarkdale 2.8GHz 3MB L3 Cache LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core 73W / Yes Yes / No $95.99
AMD Athlon II X2 255 Regor 3.1GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core 65W / Yes Yes / Yes $74.99
Intel® Atom™ Processor 330 (1M Cache, 1.60 GHz, 533 MHz FSB) 8W / Yes No / Yes NA
Intel Core i3-540 Clarkdale 3.06GHz 4MB L3 Cache LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core
73W / Yes Yes/Yes $139.99

So, after a couple weeks of deliberation, I have decided to land on the Intel Core i3-540!  Even though it is the most expensive, I feel it is a good mix of value, speed and features.  While it might be a bit over powered for just a Windows Home Server, I have no idea what will be coming with Vail.  Right now, this is the best option I can find.

So we are back to picking the motherboard.  Watch the forums for a new post and new discussion.

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Category: BYOB Hardware, Windows Home Server

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