High-end Web Server for 2009 – Servers on a budget

This is the first guide in a new category called Servers on a budget. The aim of these articles is to help do it yourselfers build / configure servers at a reduced cost over retail.

The first server on a budget is a high performance web server. This server will support a large load and has substantial disk space for shared hosting, or for large disk requirements. There are several additional upgrades that can be used to further increase performance, namely using SCSI or SAS drives. The configuration listed below represents a quality price/performance level that will be sufficient for most hosting requirements.


Qty Part Total Cost Cheaper Alternative Better Alternative
1 Tyan Tempest i5100X (S5375) Motherboard $320   Tempest i5400PW (S5397)
2 Intel E5410 Quad Core Processors $500 E5310 Processors E5440+ Processors
1 Areca ARC-1120 8 Port SATA Controller $410 Areca ARC-1110 4 Port SATA Controller Areca ARC-1680 8 Port SAS Controller
8 WD RE3 1TB SATA Hard Drives $1280 4 or 8 Seagate 1Tb or Lower SATA HD’s Seagate 10K or 15K SAS Drives
4 4GB DDR2 667Mhz ECC Registered RAM (16GB Total) $650 8GB DDR2 667Mhz ECC Registered RAM 32GB RAM, 64GB for i5400PW Motherboard
1 4U ATX Server Case w/600w Power Supply $200 – $300   Supermicro or other Hot Swap SATA w/redundant power supply
  Total: ~$3500 w/shipping  

If you were to go the SAS route instead of the SATA route which would greatly increase your database performance, you would be looking at about a $1500 to $2500 increase in price. You could easily save $500 or more by using smaller drives and reducing the RAM.

I don’t recommend using any lower performance CPU’s than the E5410’s. The 5405’s are lacking some of the features that 5410’s and up have. The 5410’s come in at a solid price and are very high performance CPU’s.

In the end with this above hardware, you end up with a very fast, and scalable server. It will have a 7.1TB RAID 5 array, or a 4TB RAID 10 array, and up to 32Gb or RAM. This server requires paired RAM and I always recommend getting the largest capacity RAM sticks available – 4GB in this case. 4GB sticks are reasonable priced at about $150 each. The Tempest i5400PW motherboard supports 64Gb of RAM using 4GB sticks. The Tempest i5400PW makes a fantastic dedicated database motherboard because it has 16 RAM slots.

For about $200 – $300 more, you can upgrade to a hot-swap server case. This will definitely make a more professional server and will be easier to manage hard drive failures and replacement. Supermicro and iStarUSA both make some really nice 8 bay SATA hot swap cases starting at about $350.

Green IT:
This is a reasonable Green server. It would be easy to reduce power consumption by using L54** series processors instead of E54** processors. Both motherboards listed above support the lower power L series processors. A very efficient power supply and high-efficiency hard drives would further reduce power consumption.

Comparable prices from mainstream manufacturers:
Dell: ~$6000 – $10000
HP: ~$7000 – $12000
IBM: ~$10000+
SUN: ~$10000+

It would be extremely difficult to find a new server for anywhere near the price of building this. Alternatively ASUS and Supermicro make some comparable motherboards in the same price range. I personally prefer Tyan boards, as they have always been extremely reliable for me.

Finding the parts:
All of the prices quoted above are for new components found by shopping around eBay and by using Google’s product search. You can probably find many of the hardware above refurbished or lightly used. Make sure in any case that you are buying from a reputable seller/company and that you get a valid warranty on everything, especially the hard drives!

This server is capable of running a variety of operating systems. For a web server, I recommend CentOS 5.x x64. It would also work well with another x64 Linux enterprise build, SUN Solaris x64, or Windows Server 2003 or 2008 x64. Whatever operating system you decide on using, make sure to use a 64 bit system, and make sure it supports the amount of RAM you plan on using. Some Windows Server OS’s restrict the amount of RAM the system will recognize.

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  1. Brandon Eley 19 Jan, 2009

    We have been leasing our dedicated servers, but your article got me thinking of building them instead. We don’t have a datacenter of our own (like most e-commerce retailers) so we would have to rely on a colo facility if we built our own servers.

    Do you have any colo facilities you recommend? How do you handle hardware issues and redundancy? Does the colo facility replace hardware in the event of a failure (if you provide backup hardware)?

    Thanks for the article… I didn’t know building a top-notch server could be so affordable!

  2. jestep 19 Jan, 2009

    We were pretty much in the same boat. After spending several years on dedicated servers, we built our own.

    We use corenap colocation, which is in Austin TX. I would recommend finding a colocation provider in your area. Definitely shop around and see what’s available, prices, redundancy, etc… Bandwidth is a major concern as it will be one of the major if not the biggest costs you will incur with colo hosting. You will also want one that offers remote reboot services, and one close enough that you can quickly drive to if something really fails.

    Also, you will most likely want to use a 1U or 2U server instead of a 4U. If you are looking in the Tyan brand, they make some awesome 1U servers that come with everything but the CPU, RAM and Hard Drives. The B5372 or even the B5211 or B5191 make great web servers for colo hosting. They offer 2U models as well, if you need a better package. You would most likely want to add a hardware RAID card to any of these servers.

  3. SEO Executive 19 Jan, 2009

    Thanks for posting it. Good thing that you build your own server. good luck with that.

  4. COmputer Consulting 29 Nov, 2009

    With teh price of hardware so cheap, I am more in the mind of getting a small space in a datacenter and providing my own hardware.

  5. Atlast! Now I can Upgrade my server. The cost is worth to buy and shipping is included. I’ll be using freeBSD or Ubuntu for my web server. This server is affordable but in high-performance mode.

    me too @computer consulting.

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