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How to pick the proper hardware for your server

What really determines the hardware requirements for a server? What processor should I get? How much RAM? Do I need a hardware RAID controller? What hard drives should I choose?
To answer all of this we first have to figure out what the server is going to be used for. If we are doing heavy compilation on the server we will need a lot of RAM and a fast clocked CPU, if we are hosting a web server, the CPU clock speed is less important, but instead a server needs plenty of RAM. It’s important to know the minimum requirements for any application the server will be running.

note How to pick the proper hardware for your server What is a difference between a server and a desktop PC?

vs How to pick the proper hardware for your server

So you might be wondering what is the difference between a server and powerful desktop PC running an Intel i7 processor for example? Well there are two main differences, the ability of the server based system to utilize ECC memory (Error Correction Codes) and the sheer size of the memory that most server motherboards will accept compared to a desktop. Because the server usually run 24-7 while utilizing large amounts of RAM and usually operating at almost full capacity, it’s very possible memory errors can occur. To prevent a crash servers utilize ECC memory that uses Triple Modular Redundancy or Hamming Code as the primary methods of detection and elimination of errors. So if this will be a server that will remain on 24-7 and you will need more than 12 GB of rams (usually the maximum that will fit into a desktop PC), I strongly suggest going with a server level motherboard/CPU and ECC RAM.

note How to pick the proper hardware for your server Some good general guidelines to consider when picking the server hardware:

board1 How to pick the proper hardware for your servernote How to pick the proper hardware for your server Is the server intended to handle multiple users, or is the server used in virtualization? If so depending on how many users are logging into the server, having lots of RAM is a good idea I recommend at least 12-16 GB depending on the server configuration and what level of virtualization the server will be performing.

note How to pick the proper hardware for your server Will the server perform complex calculations/compiling/rendering? If that is the case, I would recommend at least 12-24 GB of RAM and a fast multi core and even dual processes server with at least an Intel Xenon level processes or an AMD Opteron. (More to come on Intel vs AMD server CPU battle)

note How to pick the proper hardware for your server What is RAID and do I need it in my server? RAID or (redundant array of inexpensive disks) is crucial in a server. In case of a hard drive failure it could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to restore the server back to its previous state, using RAID a simple drive swap and the server is back to its previous state. The most optimal array for a RAID controller in a server environment is RAID 5 or a RAID 1. A minimum of 3 drives is needed for RAID 5, and at least 2 drives in a RAID 1 configuration is required. I would recommend a hardware based RAID controller instead of a cheaper software based one. Having hardware based controller card removes the burden away from the CPU especially in case of a hard drive failure, having to rebuild the array would can cause significant system slow down if done without a physical hardware controller.

note How to pick the proper hardware for your server What hard drives should I pick for my server? Usually not only will the larger drives perform better because they have less number of disks so the access times will be faster, but they will guarantee you ample storage for the future. Depending on what your server is used for.

srvr3 How to pick the proper hardware for your server

File Server or on a budget

I would recommend going with large SATA 7200RPM or 5400RPM 1TB+ drives with at least 32MB of cache.  I recommend brands such as Western Digital, Seagate and there has been a lot of positive rave about the new Samsung Spinpoint F1 drives as well.  Due to larger disk capacity, the dencity of each disk on the drive spindle is greater, this means that the reading head of the drive only has to travel small distance while reading data, this decreases seek times in drives and significantly improves performance.

High Performance Server:

I would recommend SAS 10,000RPM or 15,000RPM drives and if money is not an object SSD drives are becoming readily available and the price has come down since their first introduction. SAS drives are hot swapable, meaning you don’t need to shut your server down in case of a drive failure, simple pull the drive and the replace and the RAID controller will rebuild the data.


Picking the right server hardware is crucial in achieving smooth operations. I recommend to start by write down everything you want your server to be able to perform today and everything you MIGHT want it to do in the future. Now write down a number with a $ in front of it that will be the most you are willing to spend on this server. This will give you an idea of what type of server this will be and what hardware suites your needs the most, it becomes a balancing act between performance and budget but ultimately you are the only one that can make that decision.

I want to hear what you guys think! Any ideas or recommendations you might have?



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  • 366 responses to "How to pick the proper hardware for your server"

  • Neil Martin
    5:17 on October 4th, 2010

    Very well written and informative article. There is lots written on personal computers but not much written on the server maintenance.

  • Justin
    16:39 on October 5th, 2010

    Very good article, it is very useful, thank you. It would be easier for me. Your blog is awesome, keep it up.

  • Proxy List
    10:40 on October 6th, 2010

    It may be worth remembering the speed of the uplink port if running as a web server. Server specs today will saturate the line before they reach their peak performance. Our servers in London UK are all bottlenecked by the line speed where as 3 years ago it used to be the ram/cpu.

    Good article though.

  • Carlton
    13:41 on October 6th, 2010

    The server at my office dropped our sites last week and it was a crazy 2 hours! I’m gonna forward this to IT lol.

  • IT Wired
    16:45 on October 6th, 2010

    Very good point Matt, this should probably been mentioned in the article. If the server accepts a lot of incoming and outgoing connections over the internet, the upload speeds might be the determining factor of how things perform instead of the actual server itself. I will post an article comparing ISPs and their network speeds and prices in the next article or two.

  • KVM Switches
    0:20 on October 7th, 2010

    Blog is really informative and entertainng same time.
    You have made an awesome attempt and is doing consistanty good. I can feel that you have put in hard efforts.

  • Kenneth Black
    2:50 on October 7th, 2010

    Hi Kenneth here. What RAID level do you recommend I get for my personal home office?

  • Media Tablet
    7:43 on October 7th, 2010

    Good info,been musing about if i should try my own hosting opossed to paid services.

  • fr33z3
    8:03 on October 7th, 2010

    Oh, thank you for the article. It’s really good! I wont to translate it into Russian and post in my blog. Do you allow me this?

  • IT Wired
    9:11 on October 7th, 2010

    I would go with RAID 1 for your personal home office Kenneth, its the cheapest because you don’t have to spend big bucks on hardware controller, and you only need 2 drives as opposed to 3 going with RAID 5 setup.

  • most reliable laptops
    18:00 on October 8th, 2010

    this is so nice….my friend have this problem, I could give this to him…thanks for share :)

  • Kenneth Black
    3:13 on October 9th, 2010

    Ok thanks :D

  • SEO Agency
    9:23 on October 9th, 2010

    Very good article. I am in the process of upgrading my server so this will come in useful.

  • Minert & Associates
    19:00 on October 11th, 2010

    Great article. Is this applicable for my internet cafe? Thank you!

    Andre Collins

  • Web Development Services
    7:22 on October 12th, 2010

    Good post. Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us. RAID levels are excellent

  • web design hamilton
    11:30 on October 15th, 2010

    You’ve provided a very thorough explanation. I really used it cause I want to purchase a server where I can host all of my websites.

  • Server Transfer
    1:59 on October 18th, 2010

    Nice! Post.Thanks for sharing so good article.Keep it up.

  • Andy parfitt
    15:43 on October 18th, 2010

    I think you have covered everything here. Excellent resource for the those looking for the difference between servers and desktop pc’s

  • online poker
    20:37 on October 19th, 2010

    Choosing a hardware specification for a server is very important in order to work it well. But I’m pretty sure the cost is much expensive, but who cares as long as it’s fast and performs better.

  • Skip Hire
    7:25 on November 22nd, 2010

    Some great information, SSD is going to be a big thing in thr future of server hardware, in reducing heat, noise and running costs. As soon as they reach a useful size, I am 100% sure we will see a lot more of them.

  • ptz ip camera
    16:48 on December 28th, 2010

    woot, thankyou! I finally came to a site where the webmaster knows what they’re talking about. Do you know how many results are in Google when I search.. too many! It’s so annoying having to go from page after page after page, wasting my day away with thousands of people just copying eachother’s articles… bah. Anyway, thankyou very much for the info anyway, much appreciated.

  • migraine ocular
    15:48 on January 3rd, 2011

    Hi! I found your blog on Yahoo.It’s really comprehensive and it helped me a lot.

    Continue the good work!