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Silent Server? HTPC-based option

I recently built a server for a client who required server performance and reliability without the roar associated with popular rack-mounted servers of today; of course there was a price restriction of $1000.

 The server needed to provide basic file serving and run FileMaker(cringe) for 5 users and some factory automation devices, we agreed to tackle web hosting and email another day. I thought it would be a great opportunity to find a good looking HTPC-style case and turn it into a server. The problem I foresaw was cooling; could I get ample cooling for a server in an HTPC-style case? The major heat producers would be the CPU and hard drives, since I expected to use onboard video. Airflow would end up being the key design consideration because the airflow must be sufficient enough to remove heat but not be so forceful as to produce the roaring accompanying most servers available on the market today.

After building a number of custom PCs over the years, including some water-based gaming rigs, I knew I was looking for something with large fans, plenty of vents, and reasonable airflow. One of my favorite online retailers is Directon; they have always done me right. I also like NewEgg because ZipZoomFly did me wrong several times in their prior incarnation. eWizhas also had some amazing deals in the past and great response to questions and support issues. I began my search by looking at the top selling chassis from each of these online retailers and by reading reviews at HardOCP and Anand Tech for available products.

I opted for a vertical style desktop / HTPC-like chassis after reading about the design details of the Antec NSK-2400. I have been around rack-mount servers for a long time and the initial pictures of the NSK-2400 reminded me of a rack-mounted server chassis’ cooling pattern. I was very impressed with the vent hole location, partitioning of the airflow, and location of the two 120mm fans. I then came across this article at SilentPCReview and knew I’d found THE chassis, complete with an adjustable partition for directing airflow!

The SilentPCReview article discusses the design details that went into the NSK-2400. The chassis is black with a silver front-bezel with sound dampening mountings. The chassis looks very sleek and measures almost 18″ wide and 3U tall, so this opened new options for mounting the server with the networking equipment as opposed to locating the server under someone’s desk. The NSK-2400 is exceptionally quiet and offers solid cable management options to maintain airflow. The chassis not only runs quietly, it also looks good – which is often a boost when working with small and medium sized customers who want to show off their “flashy, quiet” server to clients and friends.

The only downside at this point is the form-factor, I would need a server-grade micro-ATX motherboard. Back to the review sites and forums I go!

I ended up placing the NSK-2400 underneath the Cabletron LAN switch we purchased, along with the firewall. The server looks great and moves plenty of air to ensure even the Cabletron switch is getting cooled.

Stay tuned for pictures, components, and testing.