MicroATX Home Server – UnRAID, Dockers, VM (Build Help)

Jul 12, 2018
Hey all!

First of all, great forums – been lurking around for a couple of weeks while trying to get caught up with what's happening in the hardware world. So far I've failed on that front :D I used to build my own PCs when I was in high school about 10-15 years ago, but have since fallen off. I became a web developer and have been in the Apple world ever since.

So I'll start out with what I'm actually doing now on my "server" and it's specifications, then I'll move on to what I want to do and the specifications I'm looking for.

Current Setup:
MacBook Pro (13-inch Mid 2009)
Processor: 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
RAM: 4GB 1067MHz DDR3
GPU: NVidia GeForce 9400M 256MB
Storage: 500GB HDD (sadface)

Not really much else to say here since it's just a personal laptop. This thing runs 24/7, and is always plugged into the wall charger (The battery is actually shot). I actually have it set up to restart itself every night (this seems weird, but trust me it's actually necessary – runs better this way) and use applications to keep it running with the lid closed. Currently running all of the following:

+Few small services related to Plex

All reachable remotely using a reverse proxy that I have setup with Nginx. This has worked well for the last 3 years, however I'm ready to upgrade as I'm getting sick of juggling 30GB free space to download new TV shows and movies.


For my new build I would like to run UnRAID with my services running in Dockers. I'd also like to run at least one VM. Right now the only reason I have to run one is so that I can run iTunes and automate iPhone backups over our WiFi. Obviously would also like to upgrade our storage situation, I'm looking to get a couple of those 8TB shuckable external drives I've seen floating around and an SSD for cache/VM/Docker storage. I would also like to stick with the MicroATX form factor so I can use a smaller case, preferably one of those Thermaltake cube cases. Since I'll be running Plex, I need processing power for transcoding. Plex recommends +2000 passmark score for each 1080p stream. I'd like to be able to run 2 streams at once with room to handle other processing tasks. So a passmark around 8-10,000 is what I'm after in the CPU. From here out I'll use the template provided in the sticky. I should note early on I am **not** afraid of used or refurbished parts from eBay. Note that while this is a "media" server, I use other clients to actually play media. So this doesn't need anything better than onboard graphics to hook up a monitor for initial setup and troubleshooting. Other than that I'll remote in to interact with it. Most of the server builds I come across are Dual CPU which are obviously not MicroATX – this is why I'm so stuck.

Approximate Purchase Date: ASAP

Budget Range: $300-400

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Home Media Server (Plex), Home Data Storage, VM

Are you buying a monitor: No

Parts to Upgrade: Starting from scratch

Do you need to buy OS: Yes, will buy an UnRAID license.

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: Any, though eBay used/refurb is probably my preference (budget!)

Location: California, US

Parts Preferences: Looking for small footprint cube case, so probably need MicroATX. CPU Passmark above 8,000 if possible.

Overclocking: Sure, open to anything. However keep in mind this would run 24/7 so power consumption is slightly on my mind.

SLI or Crossfire: No, don't really thing I need anything better than onboard video (that's what this means, right? haha) as it will only be used for configuration or if there's a problem.

Your Monitor Resolution: N/A

And Most Importantly, Why Are You Upgrading: I want a more powerful, reliable system. Also need more space for both media and personal backups including phone and home photos/videos.

Thanks in advance! Looking forward to getting this build started. Feel free to yell at me if I left out any details.
I built out a very similar thing for less on ebay. I used proxmox, both use KVM and proxmox is free. with the spice client my VMs are VDI like. you do need the igpu for that. mine runs @ 50W with 5 drives.

intel ivy bridge or sandy xeon e3 low power should be strong enough. i got a supermicro mobo and ddr3 ecc unreg 8GB.
the haswell 1275L i've seen for $150 before. it has good multi and turbo 1 thread pretty high.

intel hasn't made new low power ones in a while. i really wish they would. a new 65W coffee lake would be very good all around. the newer stuff has more USB 3.0 and more PCIE 3.0 lanes. Trying to get under 30W costs a lot more. you have to buy xeon D, which is super expensive.

There are now several micro-ATX Ryzen mainboards, slap in a R3-2200G (make sure any B350 board is recent enough in BIOS to support the G model variants)


Alternative free OS:
CentOS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZoCJ15mxSA

naturally, via MDAM, you can set up whatever sort of RAID you desire with a quick 1 hour tutorial on MDADM Linux software RAID

FreeNAS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvD5mjSWw1Y (FreeNAS, a FreeBSD based build, supports mirroring , striping w/ from 0-3 disks of parity, RAID 50/60 equivalent, whatever you can afford disk-wise, and also supports VMs. FreeNAS does need a bit more RAM than most systems, with 8 GB being minimum, and best to have 1 GB additional per TB of storage. In the event a FreeNAS box fails, the disk array can be dragged to another box, FreeNAS installed, and be up and running in 10 minutes...)


Naturally, any Linux based build supports VMs via KVM/QEMU and VMM if you wish to throw on a Windows VM

(Not sure why so many folks like/prefer UnRAID over the numerous free alternatives, it being a repackaged LINUX with a colorful GUI for $59 minimum, but, it does work. )
Jul 12, 2018
Wow ~$180 isn't bad for a brand new processor and mother board. I think I honestly got stuck in the whole, "this is going to be a 'server' so I have to use a Xeon" line of thought. So I hadn't even bothered looking over other (or any sort of new) technology.

Is there really any concern with running the R3 24/7 compared to a Xeon? Is the Xeon=Server thing kind of a myth?

I totally understand all the rage I've seen on these and other boards about going with something like UnRAID over FreeNAS since it's license is not free. The thing that initially drew me in was the fact that I could use whatever HDDs I had on hand to start without having to worry about them matching in size and speed. Also (and please, correct me if I'm wrong), I read somewhere that with UnRAID drives that are unused can actually be spun down? Sounds like that would save on some power consumption.

Thanks for the reply though, going to look over this combo that you sent over. Looks like that motherboard allows a ton of memory (64GB?). You've also opened my eyes to a couple more possibilities as far as OS as well, so I'll have to spend some time reading over FreeNAS and CentOS to see how they compare. Honestly my first impression of UnRAID was that it looked super easy to work with.
Jul 12, 2018
Ah.. Also just now realizing just how expensive DDR4 memory is. Might wait out and see if someone comes through with a suggestion for an older processor.