Portrait of Martijn

A Mini-ITX server

12 May 2013

I put together a small server today, to serve as DVR server for a CCTV system.

Requirements

This server connects to an office LAN and a separate LAN for the IP cameras, so I needed two network interfaces. It lives in a small, minimally ventilated room, so I wanted a small form factor, but with sufficient airflow and enough space to work with comfortably. The room is used as an office, so I wanted minimal noise. The software is used remotely; there is no permanently connected screen/keyboard, so I wanted remote management. I wanted virtualisation support (VT-x and VT-d), but have no need for too much CPU power. This machine is not mission-critical, so there is no need for RAID.

Parts

To satisfy the minimal size/noise requirements I chose a Mini-ITX case. There are not many Mini-ITX motherboards that offer dual ethernet, virtualisation, and remote management. I've been intrigued by the DQ77KB's unusual features for some time, and after some further research, and some advice from mini-itx.com (thanks Ewan!), I settled on the following specification:

Observations

Of note:

  • For remote management, the CPU needs graphics and Intel vPro Technology support. The i5-3470S was the cheapest CPU with those features that my supplier stocked.
  • The DQ77KB is a Thin-ITX board that needs a 19V PSU. I picked an external supply to keep the heat out of the case, keep the noise low, and allow for easy future replacement.
  • I selected the SG05B for its good ventilation (large slow chassis fan), sturdiness (steel body) and internal space.
  • The SG05B comes with a PSU that I do not need. The recently announced a SG05-Lite comes without a PSU, but that is not yet widely available in the UK. I simply removed the PSU, and covered the case hole with some hexagonal mesh scavenged from a junk ATX PSU and cut to size.
  • The DQ77KB has mSATA support, which I like for keeping the build clean a simple. The mSATA board fits into a slot at one end, and is supported by screwposts on the other. The screws were very tight, and unscrewing actually unscrewed the posts; I had to hold them with pliers.
  • The low-profile heatsink was not strictly required, but I like how quiet this model is, and how its design encloses the fan which helps keep it away from cables.
  • I'm not delighted by the Thin-ITX power specification: having to source a specific 19V supply is a hassle, and the power socket has no lock and could easily be accidentally knocked out. For this particular build, the low-profile of Thin-ITX didn't matter; I would have been quite happy with a standard Mini-ITX board.
  • The total bill of materials is higher than a typical Mini-ITX build; if you can drop some of the requirements, you can save money by choosing a smaller case, a more mainstream board frmo a more cost-conscious manufacturer, and a cheaper CPU.

Some photos:

SG05B case SG05B size SG05B internal SG05B ports mSATA/SODDIMM

Remote Management

Setting up remote management was more involved than say my SuperMicro server with IPMI. There is good information in these two sources:

I used a separate IP address for AMT, with the same ethernet interface also using a second address for normal LAN access.

The biggest head-ache was the display resolution: Ubuntu (grub and the framebuffer) happily chose the largest resolution supported by the Intel graphics card, which ended up making my Chicken-of-the-VNC window for AMT too large to use on my Macbook Pro. After various fruitless experiments with GRUB_GFXMODE/GRUB_GFXPAYLOAD_LINUX in the /etc/default/grub, I eventually fixed that by specifying:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="video=1024x768-24"

See the ArchLinux page about KMS for details.

Software Install

I upgraded the BIOS to the latest KBQ7710H.86A.0051 (from KBQ7710H.86A.0038), using the F7 method and a USB stick.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS installed without any problems.

It takes 25 seconds from Power-on to login, and from reboot to login, including 2 seconds of grub delay.

kvm-ok reports "KVM acceleration can be used", VirtualBox runs fine.

Conclusion

It's small, quiet, powerful; good stuff.