Rack mount server project, revisited

Build Log:

It’s been some time since I wrote about the rack mount server I put together. There’ve been a couple modest changes to it that I should point out to anyone looking to build such a server.

First is the CPU cooler. The fan that came with the ThermalTake CPU cooler I purchased was loud. Prohibitively so. ThermalTake rates it at over 34 dB/A — note the threshold for what is considered a “silent” fan is 20 dB/A. Add into this the low-profile chassis and it actually made the problem worse. But I wasn’t entirely sure what other options were out there. Then somehow a Noctua low-profile cooler was in my Amazon recommendations.

Specifically it’s the Noctua NH-L9a, which is 37mm tall (about 1½”) and uses Noctua’s 92mmx14mm fan — this one is made specifically for AMD processors, but they do make one for Socket 115x Intel processors as well. It’s designed for a 65W maximum TDP (such as the Athlon X2 being used), meaning it cannot be used for any kind of overclocking. And given the total height is 37mm tall, it is perfect for a 2U chassis as it leaves nearly an inch of clearance above the cooler which should allow for much better airflow compared to the ThermalTake cooler while remaining reasonably silent.

Running Prime95 from the command line for almost a half hour, the reported temperature on the CPU cores topped out in the upper-40s C, and the CPU temperature dropped off pretty quickly after ending the torture test. Not bad for a low-profile CPU cooler with a relatively silent fan. I may have to try with the low-noise adapter.




Next up were the front fans. The case comes with two 60mm fans. That wasn’t enough for me so I originally added two more 60mm fans to the case, “attached” to the 5¼” drive bays. Those turned out to also be prohibitively loud, so I changed them out for a single 80mm fan. But I didn’t like how I was attaching that, so I purchased an Evercool Armor HDD cooler. Getting it fitting in the chassis with a full-size ATX mainboard was interesting as I had to remove the HDD bracket from it, along with the front fan filter (which I planned to do anyway since the server chassis has a front filter anyway). But I also had to mount it upside down.

I bought the bracket intending to move the HDD over to it as well, but that’d require chopping it down, and I didn’t feel like doing that right now. Perhaps in the future.

I also didn’t use the stock fan that came with it. I instead opted for the 80mm Enermax TB-Silence fan that had been mounted in place of the dual 60mm fans originally used. It’ll just be a little more silent in the long run, plus it’s rated to provide better airflow. I also mounted it to the bracket using anti-vibration mounts, which should further reduce any potential for noise.

The fan controller that comes with the chassis isn’t that great either. It’ll kick the fans on when a certain internal temperature is reached, then turn them back off when the temperature falls just below the trigger temperature — meaning the fans were kicking on and off, on and off continuously. That’s not good for the fan motors. Ideally what it should be doing is turning the fans back off when the temperatures are several degrees below their threshold temperature — by default they turn on at 38C, and should kick off at 32C or even 30C instead of turning off at 37C only to turn back on at 38C.

Alleviating that was pretty simple: disconnect the fans from the controller and power them straight from the power supply. I still kept the fan controller as well since it has a temperature display — something that actually would’ve been a “nice to have” on the HDD enclosure project.

Having the front fans on full-blast though certainly produces a loud system. The 60mm fans in the front are Yate Loon DB60SM-12 fans, which are rated at 3200RPM and 18 ft³/min, with 30 dB/A of noise. The Noctua 60mm fans I ordered for the HDD enclosure project are rated at 3000 RPM and 17 ft³/min, but a little under 20 dB/A, about the same noise level as the Enermax fan. And the low noise adapter will cut the airflow to about 14 ft³/min, but cut the noise pressure to 14.5 dB/A.

So I think it’s quite obvious what I did next — ordered more Noctua fans for the front.


Unfortunately this didn’t quiet things down as much as I would’ve liked as I discovered as well that the northbridge fan was making a hell of a lot of noise — a telltale sign that it’s dying or in need of repair — and so will be replaced. I actually needed to do something similar on a previous mainboard I owned, so I’m glad that my current mainboard doesn’t have any active cooling on the mainboard.

So now I need to order in a new heatsink for the northbridge since my local Micro Center doesn’t carry one right now — and the one they do carry would interfere with the graphics card. I ordered this one from Enzotech, along with another Noctua 40mm fan to again have a quiet fan. That’ll mean that all but 2 of the fans in this system will be Noctua — the 80mm fan in the 5¼” drive bays and the 40mm fan on the power supply (and I’m not going after that one). And the 80mm fan I’m likely not going to change over to a Noctua fan since it won’t be much better than the Enermax fan I currently have.

Speaking of the graphics card, originally I had a full-size PCI-Express x16 card on a riser, and it was practically touching the northbridge heatsink and fan. But I recalled that I had another graphics card lying around, one that used to be in my wife’s system, and was also a low-profile PCB — a Radeon HD5450. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the main low-profile bracket — I found the one for the VGA connector but not the DVI and HDMI connectors.

I did discover that XFX actually makes low profile brackets — an entire kit that can be had for about $5, and my local Micro Center carries it. Problem solved. And then later in the evening I found the missing bracket that originally came with the card — after the card had already been installed in the server.

Oh well…

So that’s basically it. The server is running Fedora 21, and will be used for various things to be determined later. Well one of the things is a Minecraft server, but whether it’ll be used for anything else beyond that we’ll have to see.

Please read the followup to this.