Building an AMD Server and Game Machine out of Yester-Year's Parts

Some time ago I started noodling around the idea of building a replacement server for my home. I wanted to make this an extreme budget build. I came to the realization that I have become rather disconnected with the state of desktop class video cards and really much of anything that was outside of the laptop world. I was hung up, for quite some time on the case and motherboard selection. I would browse Newegg and eBay but since I lacked a lot of information, I was in a constant state of decision-vapor-lock. What changed was when I received some hardware at no cost. An incredibly large case and an AMD motherboard locked in the portion of the project that I was unable to make any decisions and dictated the rest of the build. So, over a period of months, I slowly acquired rest of needed components.

The case, although in good condition, certainly looks like it was at some point out moded and just became a place that parts were thrown into. I would guess this case is as old as my Linux jouirney.

The motherboard that was given to me was an AM3/AM3+ motherboard. I was actually kind of excited about this as I decided I was going to do a complete AMD build. Sure, this is an older AMD CPU socket with a silkscreen date on the board of 2013 but that meant getting something on the cheap was certain. Also, since I don’t exactly buy new things, this fit the bill.

This is what ended up getting, mostly from eBay, so for you to replicate this selection at this price may or may not be possible.

  • Graphics Card Gigabyte Gammin g RX570 8GiB Graphics RAM – $89.95
  • Power Supply – RaidMax RX-1000AP-S Power Supply – $74.19
  • CPU – AMD FX-9590 – $119.95
  • CPU Cooler – Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus – $22.59
  • Memory – 32 GiB DDR3 1866MHz – $64.95
  • Storage – 6, Seagate 2TB drives – $149.70
  • 6-port SATA Card – $25.35
  • USB 3 All-in-one 5.25″ Front Panel Card reader – $19.99
  • Blu-ray DVD player – $50.00
  • 2x 3.5″ to 5.25″ adapter trays – $8.58
  • Serial DB9 RS232 9pin com port with bracket – $4.14
  • 6x SATA Cables – $9.48

That made a grand total of $638.87 invested in this machine. I went just a bit overbudget due to the CPU cooler. I was warned that the TDP rating on the CPU meant it was necessary to have an effective cooler.

This was the first time I have actually assembled from parts and pieces a computer. I have repaired and upgraded many but this was the first of this level of DIY. Since every part I had was untested and I had no way to verify if anything was working, as in, nothing else upon which I could conduct individual component testing, there were a lot of uncertainties in this.

When I kicked it on for the first time and had everything working, I was incredibly relieved that it all worked. There weren’t any issues at all with any of the components.

To see this machine actually start up and work in a kind of cobbled together state was not too far short of a miracle. I was very fortunate that all the used hardware actually worked.

Operating System | openSUSE Tumbleweed

There really wasn’t any other choice. I need long term reliability and I am not interested in reinstalling the operating system. I know, through personal experience, that Tumbleweed works well with server applications, is very tolerant to delayed updates and will just keep chugging away.

I have been very satisfied with the stability of Tumbleweed as a server for the last year on my “temporary system” performing that role. The issues I did have with that system, although minor, have been with video due to the Nvidia GPU. This build, I purposely avoided anything to do with Nvidia due to the dubious support they provide.

Storage Setup

This was an area that took me several months of research and reading. My criteria was that I had to have Storage Array BTRFS Raid 10. This afforded me a lot of redundancy but also a lot of flexibility. This will allow me to slowly upgrade my dries capacity as they begin to fail.

When deciding the file system, I did a lot of research into my options. I talked to a lot of people. ZFS lost consideration due to the lack of support in Linux. I am perfectly aware that the development is done primarily within Linux now but it is not part of the mainline kernel and I do not want to risk the module breaking when the kernel updates. So, that was a non-starter.

I looked at a few LVM options but if I wasn’t confident in understanding all the details of it and I didn’t want to risk any reliability due to my ignorance. Why I ended up using BTRFS is due to the reliability and flexibility of the file system. Anyone that says RAID 10 on BTRFS is not reliable is, sadly mistaken.

Since the motherboard I have wouldn’t recognize a software RAID and boot from it, I used a 7th drive to bootstrap the whole system. That, also running BTRFS for the root file system and I threw in some Swap as well.

Used a 6-port SATA card for the 6 drives of the BTRFS RAID array and mounted it as /home. At some point, I want to take advantage of the subvolume capabilities of BTRFS but that will come at a later time.

Additional Components

Prime 1 Bluray USB Media DashboardSince this is my new central computer, as it were, I wanted this to have all the faculties for doing the regular nonsense that I conduct in my SuperCubicle. Since it seems I have made a bit of a reputation for doing computer-y things, I tend to help other people out in data recovery, backing up their systems and so forth. I also like to mess with Single Board Computers and although I can stick an SD Card in my laptop. I wanted something with all the media cards in it and external SATA ports for plugging in drives as well. This already had some USB and SATA connections on the top of the case. The 5.25 Media Dashboard has SD, MS, MMC, XD, TF, M2, CF and SATA interfaces. There is also a power connector port and USB3. I have used many of these interfaces already. As a bonus, this has a temperature sensor that I attached to the CPU cooler that tells me what the temperature of that monstrosity is. It really hasn’t gotten real hot yet but I will see how hot I can get it after I really start pushing it.

The optical drive is also getting a regular workout as I have been dipping into the bargain bin of post-Christmas season movies to add to my media collection. All in all, this has been the perfect hardware build for me and my purposes. As it stands today, I only have 3 open bays on this machine so anything smaller, just wouldn’t do.

Current Activities

I didn’t just build this system to look old in my basement. I have had plans for this thing for longer than many of the parts. My number one task is that this machine is my central repository of all my data. Everything from records to movies. To that end, outside of the standard server functions you have by “flipping a couple switches” like Secure Shell, Samba, Syncthing, I wanted to go beyond this. Something “cool!”

Media Server

Currently testing Emby, PLEX and Jellyfin. This is probably what this machine does most right now. That and ripping the DVDs and Blu-rays I purchase using MakeMKV (Another blathering for another time). This function doesn’t seem to be very taxing on memory or processing power. Maybe if I had more machine drawing media from it it would but that is not an issue at this time.

Gaming Rig

Although I am not exactly doing much gaming, I think I played a game of River City Ransom: Underground with my youngest. I have also played Descent 2 (rebirth) on this machine, and it, of course, ran it extremely fast. At this point, I haven’t come close to taxing the video card. I am planning to do more Linux gaming with it and by that, I mean, anything that I can run in the Linux environment, so Wine and Proton, those are also fair “game”.

Video Rendering

Since this is the most capable machine I own, I’m using this to render video. It does the task in 1/3rd the time of my Dell Latitude E6440. Would faster be nicer, sure, but I don’t exactly churn out lots of video content for it to matter. I still tend to edit the video on my laptop but render it on this machine. Mostly because I don’t have great monitors for it yet. That will come later.

Planned Activities

I will be implementing a Nextcloud server and start playing around with some note taking applications that I can self-host. Not that I am unsatisfied with Simplenote, I just happen to like to keep my options open.

Another service I want to run is Home Assistant. I have these plans for implementing “smart devices” that are not cloud based going off someplace else. I want to have Home Assistant, manage all my devices and make my home just a bit more convenient. That is also another blathering for another time.

I had originally intended to make a video of the build of this, to include the installation process, but after reviewing the video and being bored out of my mind watching it, I have kicked that to the curb and will maybe turn that into an 1980s sitcom montage to music or something.

Final Thoughts

Although this computer has only been up and running for about two months, I am slowly adding more services and functions to it. For now, it is pretty light, but in a few short months, that will most certainly start growing. I am very happy happy with the sub-$700 build for a computer system that has met or exceeded my expectations. It was a fun first complete, from ground up, scrap-together assembly that really was a gamble. I am pleased with how well openSUSE Tumbleweed runs on it and that I have had no disturbances with any operating system updates.

Often, after a project, you will review it, have an “After Action Review” and ask yourself, “What would I do differently if I were doing this again.” I can honestly say, there is nothing I would change. I like everything about this machine. I would, perhaps, like more storage space as I have already gobbled up 2.5 TiB of my 5.5 TiB of storage space. Reviewing what I spent and the additional cost of the larger storage, I would have still made the same decision. So, back to would I change anything? No, I think I made the right decision. I do have upgrades planned for the future but that is a project for the fall. This machine truly fits my needs, even if much of the hardware is yester-years retired bits.

References

BTRFS Increase RAID capacity on ServerFault.com
openSUSE.org Tumbleweed Download
BTRFS wiki on Kernel.org
5.25 Media Dashboard on Newegg.com
Steam for Linux from openSUSE.org