As I referred to in my article on my home rack server project, I bought a 2U case to house my VM server. I already had a smaller rack mount case, however it would only accept a mini-ITX board and I needed the case to support a MicroATX board. This left me searching for something that was preferably around $100, would hold at least four drives, and that had reasonable air flow. I also wanted it to be black so it would match the rest of my equipment as I am picky about esthetics.
Cutting right to the chase, I will say right off that the selection of decent cases suitable for a quiet home environment is next to nothing. Further more almost every case I saw for under $200 was so badly designed that it actually made it tough to decide since most cases this size will only hold 3-4 drives. Case builders that target the home or enthusiast put allot of time in the design, but case designers that make rack mounted stuff could care less about noise, or how easy it is to work on, much less the esthetics of he case. After countless hours of searching I settled on the Ark 2U that at first glance looked like it might decent and it was less than $70.
One of the downsides of this case was that it was actually not black all the way around. The face was black but rest was unpainted steel. A trip to the local hardware store and I was able to fix that pretty quickly. Gave it a few coats of some black paint and it was like it was bought that way.
Quieting the beast
As expected, the stock fans sounded like a jet engine. A few minutes with Newegg and I found some SilentX and Enermax fans that had great airflow and very low noise (14-15 dba), Though the case came with 4 fans I only installed 3 as that was more than enough to cool a low power VM server and if left me an easier way to route wires (another oversight from rackmount case designers).
This case is actually spec’d at 6 x 3.5 drives and 2 x 5.25 inch drives. In my case, I installed two of the WD Velociraptor and 2 SSDs in one of the two 3.5 inch cages, and 1 x 3.5 inch drive in the second cage. This allowed me setup my 2 300Gig Raptors in a RAID 0, 2 SSD RAID 1 (OS) and have room left over. Final drive configuration is 2×300 in RAID 0 for VM speed, and 2 60 gig Intel SSD in a mirror configuration, and to complete the package, a 2T Caviar Black to back up the VM’s and the server.
The build is pretty straightforward and consists of a Haswell i5-4570S (low power version), 32 gigs of DDR3, and an Asus Z87M-Plus as the motherboard.
When all was said and done, I really like the end result though it was painful to assemble. Overall I found the case design to be decent (especially for $70), It held a decent amount of drives, had good air flow, and it was very quiet once I replaced the turbine engines. My only concern is that even though the case is pretty well designed, the build quality is a bit crude as it does not have the fit and finish that you might expect from a consumer case. It has a ton of sharp edges indicative of poor build quality and is a bit flimsy. Doing things like removing drives requires removal of the card cage and incertain areas near the drives, it gets a bit cramped. For the price, it is tough to go wrong with this if you need a server case, but just keep in mind that you will have to use some care when assembling you system and set asisde a couple bucks for some decent fans that do not sound like an old refrigerator.