Building a Micro Server – Part 3

[Read part 1] [Read part 2]

In part one we ordered our bits, in part 2 we checked our boxes, got ourselves ready and mounted the motherboard and CPU. In this segment we’ll cover the fan, RAM and hard drive installation.

Cooling the CPU

The trouble with servers and their low profile, compact cases is that there is rarely room for case fans and next to no space for CPU fans. Cooling is a real issue in servers because of this and has left server manufacturers with little choice but to build in the noisiest turbines and blowers imaginable for both the power supplies and the CPU’s. But then take these mini server chassis, 1/3 the typical size, and you have got one serious cooling problem.

This was very evident recently with this very server (as I have actually been using this server for a while now); it had been under heavy load for 3 days while it tried to backup mass amounts of data over NFS. About half way through the job, the CPU overheated forcing me to shut the server down and let it cool for several hours.

Anyhow, lets go back a few months, back to when this server was little more then bits on the kitchen table…

The CPU fan that came with the chip I ordered (see 2.2GHz Dual-Core CPU part 1) was all but completely useless. It was nice and quiet but clearly it would never fit in my 1u server chassis.


The Wrong Cooling Solution

Just for fun I tried mounting just the heat sync that came with the stock fan to see how long it would take the CPU to overheat. It took all of 30 seconds. Don’t try this at home (unless you like spending nervous moments in the BIOS watching the temperature readings climb and listening to warning beeps scream in your ear).


The Right Cooling Solution

Fortunately there is a CPU fan built specifically for these little pint size server chassis.


Unfortunately it appears that I didn’t pictorially document it’s installation, but it’s pretty simple. There are four mounting holes in the motherboard at the four corners of the CPU socket (marked in red in the previous image). Line up the CPU fan over these holes in such a way that your 4 pin power connector to reach one of the CPU fan controllers on the motherboard (refer to your manual for specifics).

Once lined up, carefully press your fan into place making sure not to mess up the thermal paste on the underside of the fan. Secure your fan into place with the supplied mounting hardware.

NOTE: Your CPU fan mounting hard ware may be such that you need have access to the underside of your motherboard. If this is the case, you may need to temporarily remove your motherboard to do so. Refer to post 2 and reverse those directions.

With the fan securely in place you can now connect the it’s 4 pin connector with the coinciding fan controller on the motherboard. You are looking for a connection like this (it will likely say “FAN 1”, “FAN 2” or “FAN 3”, etc…)


Installing the RAM

Installing RAM is pretty darn easy and not the most delicate operation. Not to say you shouldn’t take care, but really, if you’ve never installed RAM in any machine in your life, then you likely haven’t bothered to even read this far.

Anyhow, to install the RAM you need to first locate the RAM slots.


Before trying to insert the RAM, you need to fold back the locking tabs.


Align the RAM so that the keyed notch lines up.


With even pressure, push the RAM down until the locking tabs lock into place securing the RAM into the slot.


Repeat the process with any other RAM you wish to install.

Installing the Hard Drive

If you thought installing the RAM was easy, installing the hard drive is even easier. And since you are using a SATA drive (why wouldn’t you be) it really could be the easiest thing you do all day.

Locate the open space left in the chassis that looks big enough for a hard drive. You’ll find four holes in the chassis in that areas that are counter sunk from the underside. Line up the hard drive over those holes, making sure the hard drive connection ports face the back of the server. Secure the hard drive into place with the provided screws.


Included in your kit should have been a few SATA cables (usually red with black ends). You want to connect one end to the SATA bus and the other end to the hard drive. The connections are keyed so you can’t mess it up.


Out of the rats nest of wires being birthed from the power supply you need to find a collection of wires that terminate thusly:


That same bundle of wires is likely to include one of these used to power other devices such as CD ROMS and IDE’s:


Connect the SATA power terminal into the pack of the hard drive.


What’s Next?

In the next installment I want to cover connecting the power and the control panel to the motherboard, booting up for the first time and digging around in the BIOS.

In future posts I’ll cover installing Ubuntu Server, administration, ssh, web serving and file serving and tying it all in with a Mac.

[Read part 1] [Read part 2] [Other server related articles]