So you've read our article regarding the importance of a server in a home network.. and now you're looking for the best cheap server you can get. We don't blame you, as a matter of fact, we are here to help!
What you need to keep in mind is, this is a home server (note the italics). It's going to be one machine that will take care of everything; but believe it or not, it doesn't have to cost a fortune nor be the very best to get the job done. We will be using NewEgg for all our purchases just to make things easier, but feel free to shop around for the best deal.
The server we're going to use will be configured (coming soon!) to run as light a load as possible, so though that gives us some legroom here, it doesn't mean its time to skimp on the quality. The server will have one gigabyte of memory (very important for Active Directory, Web Servers, and Print Servers, so don't try with any less), a decent CPU (2 GHz AMD), and 500GB of space (not GiB, but GB) running in a RAID Config. If you can't afford the latter, that's OK, you can do it with less, but remember to get the space in two (or more) hard drives.
The Hard Drive:
Here, more than anywhere else, quality matters. You don't want to lose all your data because you wanted to save 5 dollars, it's just not worth it. We will be going with two 250GB Western Digital drives, running in SATA II at 3.0Gb/s. Each costs 93 USD at NewEgg, so that is $186 total. Like we said, there are cheaper drives out there, but we're looking for the "best cheap" not the "cheapest cheap" hardware out there. If you are willing to spend more, getting a hard drive with Native Command Queuing (NCQ) will dramatically increase server performance.
The motherboard on a server is not a work of art, it is not a means to overclocking, nor is it even supposed to be pretty. On a server, you want a rock-stable motherboard that will tie in all the features you need from the different parts. We picked the $60 ASRock K8NF4G-SATA2, which comes from a good company, supports what we need, and doesn't cost much.
This is a server, not a workstation or gaming PC. We are looking for a processor that can manage a low to medium load without crapping out on us, but not looking to spend a fortune. We picked the AMD Sempron64 3000+ for this machine; we highly doubt there is a better performer at that price, and it has x64 support, so we can get a more efficient server for less. If you are willing to spend a little more, check out its bigger brother: the Athlon 3000+. At only $84, you now have an excellent home server CPU that can handle whatever you throw at it.
We aren't looking to overclock here, just as much memory at the fastest speeds we can get. Forget ECC or RDRAM, it's a home server, not an NSA cryptomachine! That said, the best match is two A-Data 512 sticks, to be run in Dual-Channel Mode. They're DDR400, so they take advantage of the mobo as well. If you would like to shell a little more, the mobo can support 2GB memory, so why not? Buffered memory is also an option.
We personally don't think a machine deserves any more than a bit of shelf-space, but if you want a case, don't go getting a gamer's case or Lian Li that costs more than the entire server thus far. Get a modest case, believe me, your wallet will thank you, and the wife won't throw you out of the house.
The Power Supply
We purposely picked a case without a PSU, the ones that ship with most cases are crap, and are nowhere near worthy of serving the almighty server…. A decent 430 Watt ThermalTake for $40 will save you time and money in the future, if not also data and going blue in the face. Don't skimp here, there is too much at stake, and only marginal savings to be had!
Believe it or not, your done! We don't recommend getting a monitor, keyboard, or mouse for this server! Having these will make it too easy to "just try something" or to "beta test Longhorn" and other excuses along those lines. Use your current CD-Rom drive to install whatever OS you choose, add the machine to the network, and do the rest of your IT goodness via RDP or VNC…. You're all set, and ready to serve!
Read some more: The Importance of a Home Server | Making the best of your cheap home server (Windows) | Making the best of your cheap home server (Linux/BSD)