This latest round of budget board testing has been quite a challenge. Between moving, holidays, and other distractions, I’ve fallen so far behind in my testing timeline that several of the boards I’m testing are now discontinued! I will complete the tests and post the results for posterity’s sake, but they may not be of much help to anyone.
In spite of this, I have identified one overarching success. As part of my testing, I looked into 20 Drive Budget Boards as well as the standard 15 Drive Budget Boards. I’m happy to report a winner in the 20 Drive category: the ECS A885GM-A2 (V1.1). At the time of this writing, the motherboard retails for $70 at Newegg, which I believe is a very reasonable price for a board with up to 20 Drive potential (and $10 less than I originally paid for it).
My criteria for a 20 Drive Budget Board is as follows:
- Compatible with inexpensive CPUs (such as AMD Sempron and Intel Celeron)
- Compatible with inexpensive RAM (typically DDR3 1066 or 1333)
- Two or more PCIe x4 or faster slots
- Onboard video
- Onboard Gigabit LAN with unRAID-compatible NIC
- Four or more onboard SATA ports
- Priced under $100
While researching motherboards that fit these criteria I found that the options were mighty scare. In fact, I found only a single motherboard on Newegg that met these criteria. This motherboard has an AM3 CPU socket, 4 DIMMs, 4 PCIe slots (x16, x4, x1, x1), 2 PCI slots, 5 SATA III ports, onboard video with VGA & DVI ports, and a Realtek 8111DL NIC. In short, everything I ever wished for. At least the choice was easy…I ordered the ECS A885GM-A2 (V1.1) for $80
I installed a Sempron 145 CPU and 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) of Patriot RAM (more than I generally use in test systems, but I needed to burn it in anyway). I hooked up the motherboard to a PSU on my test bench, then proceeded to run the board through all of the same tests detailed towards the end of this previous blog post. The motherboard passed every test with full marks. I’m happy to announce that the ECS A885GM-A2 (V1.1) is fully compatible with unRAID and that it is my new recommended 20 Drive Budget Board!
I will note one caveat for this board – four of the five SATA ports face sideways. In some builds in smaller server cases, this can prove to be a problem as the cables may not fit. However, any 20 drive build will necessitate a large server case (such as the Antec 1200 V3), which will have no problem accommodating the sideways SATA ports. Just be aware of this if you plan to use this motherboard in a smaller case.