Building an silent/fanless server

KiX

New Member
Jul 4, 2019
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Dear fellow Proxmox enthusiasts and team,

I'm working with PVE for several years now (in the enterprise field) and now I'm looking for an complete silent and fanless server for my homelab, which should also not killing my bills. PVE should handle some LXCs and 1/2 KVMs, not much CPU/Disk intensive applications.
Of course I'll support Proxmox with an subscription ;-)
I would really appreciate your knowledge and hopefully you can help me.

The server should include:
  • min. 8GB RAM
    • (optional) more RAM and ECC
  • energy saving CPU/PU
  • x86 of course
  • min. 2 slots for SSD/NVMe ZFS RAID1
  • fanless / silent
  • as compact/tiny as possible
  • KVM/IPMI would be nice but optional
  • min. 1Gbit iNIC
  • optional but nice to have, enterprise/industrial hardware for 24/7

Hopefully someone can give me some tipps for hardware, thank you very much! :)
 

Dunuin

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Jun 30, 2020
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Something like that? But got only 1 M.2 slot (but 2x 2.5" SATA SSDs possible). There is also a version that got onboard 10G.
 

KiX

New Member
Jul 4, 2019
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Something like that? But got only 1 M.2 slot (but 2x 2.5" SATA SSDs possible). There is also a version that got onboard 10G.
Yes something like this, thanks!
Maybe there is some appliance which is under 400€?
 

poisonborz

New Member
May 8, 2020
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There are downsides of enterprise products - HW might be more exotic, there might be less support (for a private user) if anything goes wrong - at least in terms of googleability.

2 options could be:
  • A J4501-based motherboard + ITX case. It's not the latest, but still powerful enough for most cases. Clocks in at 12W TDP.
  • Asus PN50 - really powerful Renoir motherboard, also great as HTPC. 28W TDP. The base case has a fan, but even at load it's inaudible. There are also fanless cases for it like this. There are other Renoir designs like Gigabyte Brix.
 
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Dunuin

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Jun 30, 2020
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A J4501-based motherboard + ITX case. It's not the latest, but still powerful enough for most cases. Clocks in at 12W TDP.
I've got a similar one, the Asrock J3710-ITX. Got the same passive heatsink, only 6,5W TDP and I needed to add fans otherwise it clocked down because of overheating. If you want something really fanless you need a way beefier heatsink.
  • Asus PN50 - really powerful Renoir motherboard, also great as HTPC. 28W TDP. The base case has a fan, but even at load it's inaudible. There are also fanless cases for it like this. There are other Renoir designs like Gigabyte Brix.
That one looks nice.
 

poisonborz

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May 8, 2020
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I didn't had such problems (using the stock heatsink) - I also ran some stress tests back then. A typical personal homelab server is rarely running on extended periods of 100% CPU for this to be a big issue, depends on the use case.
 
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masgo

Member
Jun 24, 2019
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I have an ASRock J5040-ITX as homelab with PVE. Works fine, has only SSDs attached, it is therefore completely silent.
At the moment I have one 16 GB RAM module, so I can upgrade later if necessary.

This has 4x SATA: 2x are attached to CPU (SSD for Proxmox is here) and 2x with an own controller. I am planning on running OMV with PCIe passthrough of the additional controller. Then OMV could control the (large) HDDs and spin them down while not in use (which will be most of the time). This would reduce noise and power-draw.

The thermal throttling is an issue if CPU is under stress for a long period of time. But so far this was only caused by benchmarking, not by real-world load. I am thinking of building a case which makes use of the chimney effect for cooling the CPU. And/or add a fan which is able to turn off and set it that it would only turn on when the cpu is really warm (e.g. 50 °C or even 60°C), which should be very rare.
 

vesalius

Active Member
Aug 19, 2020
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Look over the thread linked below for some affordable options that meet most of your criteria. several of those mini-micro computers can be found used on eBay for your price, with power and m2 x2, but most have a fan.
https://forums.servethehome.com/ind...icro-reviving-small-corporate-desktops.29075/

supermicro makes very capable devices that would fit all but cost. They also make a bootable pci add on card that would give you 2 nvme m2.
https://www.supermicro.com/en/products/embedded/fanless-and-iot-gateway

qotom and other chinese manufacturers make low cost devices without fans and have i5 or i7 cpu, but 2 m2 might be harder, I don’t know of any with ipmi though. I bought one of these for bare metal pfSense, before moving that to a vm and it now functions as a proxmox node.

likely will be hard to thread the needle and find, cpu power, ipmi, silence, storage x2 and low cost.
 

masgo

Member
Jun 24, 2019
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You can attach the NVMe drives with a PCIe to NVME Adapter. Some BIOS might have a problem to boot of these, but most do boot.

The save way is: one PCIe slot for one NVME; used this many times without problems.

There are also adapters which fit two NVMEs to one PCIe slot. This might not work (at all), depending on CPU, mainboard, adapter, current phase of the moon.... But if it worked once on a system, it did so without any further problems.
 

Dunuin

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Jun 30, 2020
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Keep in mind that these Atom boards don't have any useful PCIe slots. That J5040-ITX and my J3710-ITX only got a single PCIe 2.0 x1 lane. So that is only up to 5Gbit in theory and in the real world more like 2.5Gbit. For most stuff like GPUs, Raid Controllers, 10Gbit NICs, M.2 boards and so on you will need atleast 4x PCIe lanes or even 8x PCIe lanes. So you won't be able to add anything except for a single or dual port Gbit NIC or a Wifi card.

That is also the point why I don't know what to do with my J3710-ITX. I can't use it anymore as HTPC because the onboard GPU don't support newer codecs and even watching 1080p youtube will ramp up all 4 cores to maximum boost speed (2.6GHz) with 100% CPU usage. I can not add a PCIe GPU. I also looked if I could use it as OPNsense box but that wasn't possible either, because I would need atleast 4x PCIe lanes for a quad port Gbit NIC or 8x PCIe lanes for a single port 10Gbit SPF+ NIC.
Using it as backup NAS also was no option because it only got 4x SATA ports and the max 16GB RAM and no ECC was a no go as a FreeNAS server.

These small consumer atom boards are really limited what you can do with them.
 

apoc

Renowned Member
Oct 13, 2017
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Just a side note: to get a quiet system it does not need to be fanless.
There is a huge difference already in cooling efficiency between fanless and a very, very tiny airflow.
Going completely passive will be very expensive - no matter what you do.
Adding a good, 120mm fan adds 30€ to the cost perhaps, but gives you much, much more flexibility and choice.
My 29 cents
 

masgo

Member
Jun 24, 2019
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Keep in mind that these Atom boards don't have any useful PCIe slots. That J5040-ITX and my J3710-ITX only got a single PCIe 2.0 x1 lane. So that is only up to 5Gbit in theory and in the real world more like 2.5Gbit. For most stuff like GPUs, Raid Controllers, 10Gbit NICs, M.2 boards and so on you will need atleast 4x PCIe lanes or even 8x PCIe lanes. So you won't be able to add anything except for a single or dual port Gbit NIC or a Wifi card.

That is also the point why I don't know what to do with my J3710-ITX. I can't use it anymore as HTPC because the onboard GPU don't support newer codecs and even watching 1080p youtube will ramp up all 4 cores to maximum boost speed (2.6GHz) with 100% CPU usage. I can not add a PCIe GPU. I also looked if I could use it as OPNsense box but that wasn't possible either, because I would need atleast 4x PCIe lanes for a quad port Gbit NIC or 8x PCIe lanes for a single port 10Gbit SPF+ NIC.
Using it as backup NAS also was no option because it only got 4x SATA ports and the max 16GB RAM and no ECC was a no go as a FreeNAS server.

These small consumer atom boards are really limited what you can do with them.
There are also Boards like the ASRock J4125M which has 3x PCIe 2.0 x1. While I agree that PCIe x1 is rather slow, it is fast enough for a RAID/HBA controller or a dual channel GBit NIC. Yes, the disks would benefit from a faster connection, but PCIe x1 is fast enough to saturate my 1 GBit home network in a NAS scenario.

If you have a faster than 1 GBit network at home, then thermals become a problem. 10 Gbit cards produce a significant amount of heat, and draw a little more current. If you want to attach a NAS which can saturate this link, you will probably go for something like multiple 7200 RPM drives with a SSD cache. Which needs more ram and more CPU and more PCIe langes, therefore a larger motherboard, therefore a larger powersupply ---> more heat. At some point passive cooling becomes more or less impossible (=way to expensive). In this case tburger suggestion to add a quiet fan is possibly the best idea.

Also, if you want a small, passive build, heat is your enemy. If you have more room, you can always throw giant coolers on everything. My previous NAS had a giant Arctic Cooling CPU cooler with the fan removed. Only airflow was from the BeQuiet PSU with a 12mm or 14mm fan, which was enough.
 

jschmied

New Member
Feb 23, 2021
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I build basically:

https://www.elefacts.de/test-153-na...enbau_nas_mit_4x_sata_und_passiver_4_kern_cpu

and use it as PBS for office. The hardware is enough:

INFO: virtio0: dirty-bitmap status: OK (4.2 GiB of 50.0 GiB dirty)
INFO: virtio1: dirty-bitmap status: OK (68.0 MiB of 100.0 GiB dirty)
INFO: using fast incremental mode (dirty-bitmap), 4.3 GiB dirty of 150.0 GiB total
INFO: 27% (1.2 GiB of 4.3 GiB) in 3s, read: 410.7 MiB/s, write: 404.0 MiB/s
INFO: 44% (1.9 GiB of 4.3 GiB) in 6s, read: 246.7 MiB/s, write: 245.3 MiB/s
INFO: 61% (2.6 GiB of 4.3 GiB) in 9s, read: 245.3 MiB/s, write: 241.3 MiB/s
INFO: 76% (3.3 GiB of 4.3 GiB) in 12s, read: 214.7 MiB/s, write: 208.0 MiB/s
INFO: 91% (3.9 GiB of 4.3 GiB) in 15s, read: 220.0 MiB/s, write: 218.7 MiB/s
INFO: 100% (4.3 GiB of 4.3 GiB) in 18s, read: 132.0 MiB/s, write: 130.7 MiB/s
INFO: backup was done incrementally, reused 145.76 GiB (97%)
INFO: transferred 4.30 GiB in 18 seconds (244.9 MiB/s)
INFO: Finished Backup of VM 100 (00:00:38)
INFO: Backup finished at 2021-03-01 09:07:17
 
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masgo

Member
Jun 24, 2019
57
3
13
72
Yes, for automated tasks spinning down might cause timeouts. My old NAS (without PVE) is also used for backups. I have a pre-backup script which tries to access a certain file (therefore spinning the disks up) and only after it can access it, the normal backup continues. This is also a nice feature for my Laptop, since it basically also checks the network connection and implicitly, if I am in the right network.

If accessing this file fails, the backup job does fail gracefully.

There is another script which checks when the last successfull backup was. If its more than a week, I get an error.
 

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