Down the Docks

January 21, 2006

Building a Home Fileserver pt I: Assembly

Filed under: Technology — ealing @ 9:21 pm

Having owned and used computers for over ten years now, I realised recently that I had masses of data and software from all of that period, some of it on very dodgy media, and that it was just a matter of time until some it was lost to disk failure or some other techno-mishap. So I decided to build a fileserver, and try to impose some order on things.There are other advantages too:

  1. A RAID array gives some protection against disk failure.
  2. I currently have a gateway machine running iptables and another machine acting as a fileserver with very old disks in it. A new machine could replace both.
  3. A new machine can also act as a webserver and database server.

So I counted my pennies, priced components, and came up with the following:

1 AMD Athlon 64 (ADA3000AEP4AX) 3000+ Skt 754 OEM £67.66
2 Crucial CT6464Z40B 512MB DDR 400MHz PC3200 CL=3 Memory Module £46.78
1 Ebuyer Extra Value Pst700-it1 Thermal Compound Silver Grease Injection Tube £0.39
2 Ebuyer Extra Value Thumb Screws Silver – Pack of 10 £1.18
1 Ebuyer Extra Value 500w ATX Power Supply in Blue With Dual Fans £10.99
1 Gigabyte GA-K8NS Pro S754 NVNF3 ATX – SND G-lan 1394 USB2 Fsb1600 SATA Raid £49.77
4 Maxtor 6L250S0 Diamondmax 10 250GB 7200RPM SATA/150 16MB Cache – OEM £230.80
1 Glacialtech igloo 7200 AMD socket 754/939/940 £4.87

Along with a few things I had lying around, I thought that would do the trick. Total including VAT, £495.24. Ebuyer, who have failed me quite badly before, delivered when they said they would, and the components all seemed to work.
The choice of OS was a fairly straightforward one for me.The most useful OS release that’s never given me any real trouble is Debian stable.

Before the hardware could be assembled, I had to prepare a hard drive to use as the system disk in the new machine. I moved old stuff from an old 20GB disk on to a larger disk, which took a little over thirty minutes for 8GB of data, including telling Windows that yes, I did want to move read-only files and executables. Then I shut off the machine and removed the disk. I didn’t think powering it back up would be the start of my problems, but there you go.

On being powered up again, the machine started up some kind of BIOS alarm, which I wasn’t much liking the sound of. So I turned the machine off and looked up the code in the manual. Nothing. Then I looked up the POST code being displayed by the internal thingummy. Nothing helpful there either. Having just removed a hard drive, I checked to see if I’d dislodged any cables. Nope. Having run out of idea, I powered on the computer, to find that the BIOS wasn’t screaming at me anymore, but the keyboard wasn’t working. The three lock LEDs were flashing in unison instead. After switching to another PS/2 keyboard I had lying around, things worked again. I’ll investigate the keyboard later.

old_fileserver_caseold_fileserver_partsempty_caseBack to the real show. Frank and Jobim had finished, so I switched over to Manny Oquendo y Libre to see me throught the trying times ahead. The next job was to empty the case that I would be using. The screwdriver and the vacuum cleaner went to work for forty minutes, turning a full case into a pile of components and an empty case. The dust was incredible, but I was expecting it, so I vacuumed components as I removed them, to avoid them spreading dirt onto the new components.

motherboardmounted_motherboardNow to rebuilding. Although I’m familiar with the assembly process, I ‘followed’ an online guide to keep me on track. Of course, the first thing I did was to ignore its advice. Instead of adding parts to the motherboard and then fitting the motherboard to the case, I removed the motherboard mounting panel from the case first. Then I secured the CPU, and was about to mount the heatsink on top of it. I had a quick look at the condition of the thermal compound on the base of the heatsink, and I wasn’t happy with it. So I ‘buttered’ a bit of another thermal compound on top of it, and clipped the heatsink in place. Then I added the RAM, changed the backing plate (for USB / serial / RJ45 &c.) in the case, and re-attached the motherboard panel to the case.

full_drive_bayThe music ran out again, so I switched over to Radio Four. At this point I realised to my shame, that I hadn’t worked out how I was actually going to load the OS. I hadn’t planned to have a CD-ROM in the system, but I realised I was going to have to, at least initially. This complicates things by meaning that, along with five hard drives, every drive bay was filled. The CD-ROM is in, but I don’t plan to leave it there after OS installation, particularly as the 3.5″ drive bays are packed tight.

I also noticed at this point that there’s no mount point for a rear case-mounted exhaust fan. I might try to bodge one in later. Now I added a GeForce 2MX AGP card, and a 3COM 10/100 Mb/s NIC. Exactly which cards will remain in the system is not clear yet. The motherboard has built-in sound and networking, but I don’t yet know how Debian will react to them. I can live without sound, but I do need two network interfaces, one at 100 Mb/s to talk to the rest of the flat, and one at 1 Gb/s to talk to my own desktop.

case_before_adding_power.jpgAfter adding the cards, all that remained for hardware was too add the power supply to the case and cable the components together. On turning the machine on, the POST and list of IDE and SATA devices showed everything I expected – at least, once I plugged in a power connection to one of the drives.

full_caseNow it looks like this, and I suspect I should get a larger case.



  1. Does it play games?


    Comment by Iain — January 21, 2006 @ 9:44 pm

  2. Doesn’t do much of anything yet! I guess it would actually be a good games machine, though, if I put a decent graphics card in it.

    Comment by ealing — January 21, 2006 @ 10:13 pm

  3. […] After I finished assembling the machine, I put a Sarge netinstall CD in the drive and booted it. Got the Debian splash screen, then picked a language and keyboard layout. Next, the installer tried to mount the CDROM drive properly. No dice. […]

    Pingback by High Above Ealing » Blog Archive » Building a Home Fileserver pt II: OS Install — January 24, 2006 @ 9:17 am

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