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Building the new server

Better late than never. I did receive all the server parts and they worked great. Except for one little thing that nearly ruined everything...

I kinda fell of the wagon of keeping this blog maintained for a few months but I'm back on track now! For posterity I'll write down how the build went and the one tiny hardware issue that caused me weeks of headaches.

parts testing

Most of the parts I needed arrived around the same time and once I had them all I got started with making sure that each part was working as expected.

With the major parts validated I put everything together in the case. I'm pretty happy with the case itself. It looks nice from the front and the internal layout is easy to work with thanks to the slide out drive caddys. Compared to most 4U server racks its quite small as it doesn't span the full depth of the rack so it’s basically a mid tower sized case.

assembly

As for the heat-sinks when I originally ordered them I wasn't quite sure if they would be up to the job. After a bit of testing I found they are are capable of keeping the CPUs at reasonable temps when they are under full load so long as they are cooled with fans. I realise now that while these low profile server heat-sinks are called 'passive' they are meant to run in server racks with large volumes of air being blown through them. Still putting some fans directly on top of them works just as well while being whisper quiet and lower profile than a regular tower cooler. Even accounting for the high cost of the Noctua fans they still worked out to be pretty great value because I got the heat-sinks at discounted prices.

With everything installed and a few stress tests run from a live USB I was ready to install Proxmox. This is where I ran into the showstopping issue I alluded to in the intro. I had the Proxmox installer on a USB key and it would load fine. Once booted it would detect all the installed disks and I used the super easy install wizard to install Proxmox to the SSD. Everything seemed to go fine, the installer had no issues writing to the disk and reported a successful install. Alright job done time to reboot! Except the UEFI would not detect the disk.

I immediately blamed the motherboard firmware. It was old after all and early model UEFI firmware's were supposed to be buggy. I don't really want to relive the hours spent researching bootloaders, reinstalling Proxmox, flashing different Linux images to USB keys, trying to use efibootmgr to manually insert the missing boot entry, trying to boot via rEFInd and so on.

None of those things worked and they never would have worked because the issue wasn't in software. It was the SATA cable attached to the SSD! Everything for this server was brought new or refurbished except for the HDDs and the SATA cables. Those SATA cables you see in in the photo are probably at least a decade old at this point and the yellow one plugged into the primary SSD decided to fail in the most difficult to diagnose way possible. I think what happened is some defect in the old cable caused issues when anything attempted to access the attached device and while Linux kernels seemed willing to attempt to connect the device a few times until it succeeded the UEFI didn’t and probably dropped the disc on the first issue it encountered thus it was impossible for me to get the UEFI to boot the disk.

The solution was easy. I found a much newer unopened SATA cable and used that instead. Problem solved. The fact that the disk would work fine whenever I accessed it from a Linux install booted from a USB stopped me from realising that the fault was in hardware. Now that its been so long since I solved this I don't even remember what lead me to realise that the cable was the issue.

A little while after I had all these issues solved that final two big parts showed up. The server rack and the UPS. With everything assembled together I had a really nice looking setup that makes almost no noise and has room for expansion.

installed in rack