screwdriverIf there's one thing that the Internet is not short of, it's tutorials on how to build your own PC. Hopefully, one more isn't going to hurt...

All the kit has arrived. Time to start putting everything together.  Apologies in advance for the "potato" quality of some of these pictures. While my iPhones camera isn't bad, it doesn't cope well in low light situations and my office is a bit...well...dull...

NAS Physical Build

Click to rebiginate

The SSDs  and the graphics card shouldn't be in this picture as they ended up in the ESX hosts, but not to worry...

  • Gigabyte GA-F2A88X-D3H motherboard, socket FM2+
  • AMD A4-5300, 3.4GHz dual core CPU
  • 3 x 3TB Western Digital Reds
  • DVD-ROM
  • Corsair CS450 PSU (450W, 80+ efficiency, gold certified, semi-modular)
  • 8GB Kingston Value RAM.
  • 2 x Dual Port E1000 PRO NICs (harvested from an old Dell Server, courtesy of eBay)
  • Couple of other disks I had lying around in USB drives which weren't being used (1 x 1TB Western Digital Black & 1 x 3TB Seagate)

The only thing not pictured is the Cooler Master N300 case, which for the price I was very impressed with. Quality finish, looks nice and didn't have any razor sharp metal edges for me to lacerate my hands on, which is always a bonus.

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Here is the case with the side panels removed. This thing has 8 internal 3.5″ drive bays, perfect for a NAS. You get two pairs of quick-release drive mountings for the 3.5″ bays which means you don't have to spend a long time inserting lots of tiny little annoying screws.

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As my other two machines wouldn't be housing any 3.5″ drives, I quickly liberated the spare quick-release drive mountings from the other two cases I had.

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The front bezel just pulls off the case to give easier access to the drive bays. As standard the case comes with a single intake and a single exhaust fan fitted. There doesn't appear to be any way to control the speed of these fans, but at their default speed they are almost silent.

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When building a PC, I find that the easiest approach is to install the big heavy components first; the drives and the power supply. By doing things this way around, instead of installing the motherboard first you don't have the issue of manouevering large heavy lumps of metal around a delicate circuit board.

First I installed the DVD-ROM and the hard drives...

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Next, in goes the power supply...

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Now the motherboard should be installed. Don't attach any components to it yet, such as memory or CPU. Also, be sure to lie the case on it's side to install the motherboard, don't try to do this with the case vertical, as any dropped screws may find their way inside the power supply as it has a top facing fan. I learned this the hard way after once having to void a power supply warranty to retrieve a dropped screw.

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Once the motherboard is installed, the next task is to install the CPU, cooler and memory DIMMs. Once all of the components are installed it is time to being connecting up all the wires. I usually start with the most fiddly first.

Connect the front panel wires for the power and reset switches, power and hard drive LEDs etc. Refer to your specific motherboard manual for the pinouts of these connections. One thing to bear in mind, is that most of the front panel connections will have a positive and a negative pin. To make sure you get these the correct way around, look on the connector on the end of each wire. On the back will be a small triangle on the plastic directly above one side of the connector, this designates the positive wire.

After the front panel connectors, plug in the CPU fan to the motherboard. These are normally a three or four pin connector. The pins on the motherboard will be clearly marked CPU_FAN or something similar. Connect the chassis fans to the SYS_FAN pins. Connect the main 20-pin ATX connector to the motherboard as well as the CPU 4-pin supply.

These should be fairly obvious as the power supply will have wires with plugs that will only fit in one place on the board. Next connect up the drive power supplies and lastly the SATA cables for the drives. Connecting SATA cables before power cables for the drives will be harder because the power connectors are further away from the opening of the case side panel.

The very last step is to install any expansion cards. In my case I had a pair of Dual Port Gigabit PCI-E x4 NICs. Although the motherboard I used doesn't have any PCI-E x4 slots, it does have a pair of PCI-E x16 slots which are intended for high-end graphics cards. All PCI-E slots are backwards compatible will smaller cards. For example, a PCI-E x1, x4, x16 card can go into a PCI-E x16 slot.

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The physical build of the NAS server is complete. I made a few adjustments afterwards, namely I found an unused 120mm case fan in a box of spares I had laying around, so I moved the Cooler Master exhaust fan to the front of the case as a second intake fan and installed the spare fan in the exhaust space. This means I've got equal airflow over all of the HDDs, which as they'll be doing a fair amount of work in this machine I reckon is a good thing.

ESX Host Physical Build

Time to start putting the ESX hosts together. The cases are the same as the one used for the NAS server so much of the build process is going to be more or less identical.

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Above are all of the components (except case) that went into each of the two ESX hosts:

  • Intel Xeon E5-2603v2 1.8GHz Quad Core CPU (80W TDP) + Basic Cooler
  • MSI X79A-GD45 Plus Socket LGA 2011 motherboard.
  • Corsair CS450M semi-modular 450W PSU (80+ Gold Efficiency)
  • 64GB (8x8GB) Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 RAM
  • LiteOn DVD-ROM
  • Pair of Dual Port Intel Gigabit NICs (PCI-E x4)
  • MSI Geforce 210 fanless graphics card.
  • Plextor 128GB SATAIII SSD.

The SSD is of course 2.5″ form factor and so a set of adapter rails were need to allow me to fit it into one of the internl 3.5″ drive bays...

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The rails don't work with the quick-release mountings provided with the N300 case, so I had to resort to good ol'fashioned screws. Same deal as before; install drive(s)...

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and PSU first...

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Motherboard goes in next. The MSI X79A-GD45 Plus is a bit of a beast, and was quite a snug fit. It took a bit of coaxing to get it into place...

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Connect the fiddly front-panel wires to the connectors on the motherboard....

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The LGA type boards frighten me to death. The CPU socket has thousands of tiny delicate pins upon which you must very gently place the CPU before clamping it into place.  The CPU mounting chassis has a number of triangluar markings in one corner as you can see on the top right corner in the next image. Be sure that when you insert the CPU, you marry up these markings with the tiny gold triangle stamped onto the corner of the CPU itself.

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Pay attention to the instructions in the motherboard manual about installing the CPU. There is a correct order in which to fasten the clamps on each side. However, don't be afraid to put a bit of force into it, these things are tight and the plate which holds the CPU onto the socket actually bends in the process of being locked into place.

Next, place the CPU cooler in such a way that there is enough slack cable for the fan power supply to reach the CPU_FAN pins on the board. The Intel cooler had four spring-loaded screws, one at each corner which pull it snugly down on top of the CPU. The cooler is pre-coated in strips of grey thermal compound in a small circle on the copper inner core of the heatsink.

When tightening the screws, be sure to do each screw a couple of turns at opposite corners. In other words, don't fully tighten one screw before moving onto the next as it will lift the fan and heatsink assembly up at a weird angle and you'll have to put a dangerous amount of pressure onto the other screws to get them to bite into the threads of the CPU socket bracket.

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Next, install the RAM DIMMS...

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Connect the CPU cooler power supply...

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...and the chassis exhaust fan...

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Now connect the main ATX 24-pin connector to the motherboard...

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Connect the 8-pin CPU auxilliary power supply...

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Finally install the PCI-E expansion cards. Into each ESX hosts I had to install the graphics card and pair of Dual-Port NICs...

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Finally, plug the machine into the mains, cross your fingers and hit the power button...

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So far, so good.

ESX Host BIOS Configuration

Obviously, the BIOS configuration will differ depending on the motherboards which are used, but generally they are fairly similar. First, select Settings...

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Set the system date and time...

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Disable Audio, usually found under Integrated Peripherals...

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Configure the NICs to enable Wake-On-LAN...

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NIC configuration differes slightly between the onboard NIC and the Dual Port Intel Pro/1000s...

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Wake-On-LAN options can be found under NIC Configuration. Under Overclocking Settings I need to enable some CPU features...

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Intel Virtualization Tech and Intel VT-D both need to be enabled...

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Save changes and reboot.