Quieter File Server


My previous fileserver served me well, but it was too slow to perform anything but the most basic functions. This page describes the replacement. I didn't have the spare parts to build anything better, so quite a few parts are new this time, although I did have a case, a CPU and a SSD. Like its predecessor, this server is designed to be as quiet as possible, achieved through a combination of low power consumption and thoughtful cooling.

The CPU I started with is an AMD Sempron LE-1250, which is a pretty low power CPU, exactly as required. It is socket AM2 (which is obsolete now), which along with my decision to use ECC RAM (the server has to be as reliable as possible) limited my choice of motherboards. I ended up with a 2nd-hand Asus M4A78-EM.

For storage, I already had an OCZ Vertex 2 SSD to put the OS on (I had to remove it from my main PC because, like so many SandForce-based SSDs, it causes random BSODs when the computer is woken from S3 sleep. The server never goes to sleep, so it won't be affected). I supplemented that with a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green (WD20EARX), which seems to be the quietest, lowest power drive of that size at the moment.

The HDD mounted in the case
The HDD is suspended using old bicycle inner tubes to damp vibrations. The SSD rests on the shelf underneath it.

I anticipated that the components would use so little power that they could probably get away with completely passive cooling, so I got a PSU with no fan too. It's a SuperFlower Golden Silent Fanless (who thinks up these names?), which is one of the first 80 Plus Platinum rated PSUs. Its high efficiency is what allows it to cope with only passive cooling. It should also save a little in running costs.

I wanted to use a Scythe Ninja Mini for the CPU heatsink, as I did on my PC, but unfortunately they are no longer made. No other heatsinks short enough to fit in the case are designed to be passively cooled, so I had little choice. Eventually I decided on a "be quiet!" Shadow Rock Topflow. It's large enough that it can cope with the small heat load from the CPU even though it is not intended as a passive cooler, and more importantly it integrated perfectly with the airflow in the case, as you can see in the image below.

Inside the case
Everything installed in the case.

Airflow in the case is from the instake in the bottom (the fan there is the one that came with the heatsink) to a matching vent in the top of the case. The heatsink is right in line with these, allowing convection to work reasonably well if the fan is stopped. The PSU does slightly obstruct the top vent, since it is slightly longer than the average PSU. At the moment the whole thing is stood on an old speaker, simply to keep it from sucking dust up off the floor. Eventually I will make a proper stand with a hole underneath the fan so it can breath properly. I built a stand out of aluminium extrusion so that the fan doesn't suck dust in straight off the floor. It's mostly open-frame, with only a front panel inserted to block the direct path for noise from the fan.

The shiny

I bought this case in the last century. It originally came in beige, with no fan holes except the one at the front. I cut all the other ones at various times, among other small modifications. It has housed many different computers over the years. Of course the most glaringly obvious quality of this case now is the colour: I sprayed it with "Rainbow XL" paint. Pictures can't capture quite how fantastic this stuff looks.

The front of the case, strongly iridescent in the camera's flash

The paint sparkles brilliantly under bright light, such as a camera flash, as in the above image. On the front of the case is my front panel monitor. There's still one 3.5" drive bay cover missing.

I did consider running it completely fanless, and it does stay acceptably cool without a fan, but I wanted to have one connected anyway, just in case. The fan is a PWM fan of the type that doesn't switch off at 0%, so it has to run all the time. It is quiet enough at minimum speed that it is effectively inaudible relative to the hard drive, so I'll leave it. The hard drive is itself very quiet thanks to running at only 5900rpm and being suspended on the rubber inner tubes. The total noise from the server is only just perceptible from a couple of meters away in the middle of the night when ambient noise is almost nothing. During the day it can't be heard at all unless you have your head right next to it. It also draws only ~33W AC when idle (including the power used by the monitor), which is quite a bit less than the old server, despite being faster.