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[Completed] Xserve 1,1 case mod, the "xDellver"

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Hi there everyone,

A few weeks ago I answered a local Craigslist ad about an Xserve with dual "550 series Xeons", for 150 euro. I immediately thought that it had to be a 3,1 Xserve and that they probably meant 5500 Nehalem Xeons, that can be officially be upgraded to El Capitan, and the guy didn't know what he was talking about. A gentleman showed up in a parking lot, and we sealed the deal there, as he also had an original purchase invoice which was dated back to 2007. I knew that my luck had ran out, and this was a 1,1 for sure, but the thing was in such a spotless state that I had to have it. Anyway, 150 euro was not the end of the world. The 3 drive caddies alone, that it came with, would fetch 120-140 euro any day of the week.

So, I took the baby home, set it up and found out that it had no RAM inside. Called the guy up, and he replied. "Did I ever mention, it HAD Ram?"... pfff bummer... 1,1 Xserve needs expensive Fully Buffered ECC Dimms to work. I managed to source 8x1GB modules from a guy in a neighboring city for 40 euro. I was finally able to boot it up and... was I in for a pleasant surprise. A high pitched aura spread across the room. 52-55 dB at idle, 71dB at full blast...


At that time I had read all relevant stories on the very informative MacRumors.com forum, on how much the Xserve 1,1 was almost identical to the MacPro 1,1 which could be bios flashed to support El Capitan bla bla bla.... Turned out, they are NOT that identical under the hood... The Xserve may have very similar characteristics to the MP, but it is much less upgradeable, when compared to the amazingly versatile MacPro 1,1, which many people still use today (2017) as a daily driver.

and then it struck me...

Where had I seen a similar layout to that of the Xserve? But of course to the Dell R410 I had laying around at work!

I immediately thought to myself... That would be a killer case mod for TonymacX86.
I have seen people mod R410s and Xserves by removing the lid and installing normal CPU fans and graphics cards outside the box in custom stands, but I've never come across a mod that would retain the 1u form factor.

This is work in progress but once it is done I ll post it, in the Completed Mods section.

Goals:

1) To create a self contained, ultra quiet 1u workstation that could stay fired up 24/7 in a living room without bothering my family, while maintaining the industrial Xserve looks, which I love by the way. I say workstation and not a server because I would like to use it as such.
2) Air cooled
3) Updatable with modern components
4) Able to do some light gaming
5) Maintain some HDD hot plug ability.

So let's start:

First, the Xserve was stripped from its internal components.

xservestripped.jpg



Took it to a metal smith and trimmed all standoffs, PSU housing and some parts of the top plate over the hard drive bays. I also cut a portion of the braces behind the drive bays, in order to fit Dell's hot-plug HDD back plane, which you can already see it installed.

xserve3backplane.jpg



This is were I am as I type this. I'm test fitting all parts in order to see what fits and what's in the way. I m also looking for socket 6-32 cap head screws in order to secure the heat sinks to the motherboard. Seems like the greatest challenge will be to securely mount the motherboard and heat sinks, while still maintaining the 1u clearance. Regular off the shelf standoffs are much larger than what I want.
xservetestfitting.jpg
 
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This turns out to be just a tad bit more difficult than I thought. A couple more visits to the blacksmith later, I m still trying to test fit everything. There is so much bare metal that can short this motherand out and send it up in flames that I m taking my time as much as possible, although I can't wait to finish it.

The hard drive backplate that has to be refitted and reseated properly in order to be able to maintain the two out of three hot-plug drive bays is giving me the a lot of trouble. What you are essentially trying to do, is make a 19'' pcb stand vertical, perfectly straight behind the drive bays and solid so it can withstand the force of plugging and unplugging the hard drives using the original drive caddies.
xserve5.jpg


xserve6.jpg


The blue plastic plugs you see in the picure above are the original 4-wire fan plugs. If I turned on the server as it is, it would go into an alarm mode as bios expects to find 8 tachometer signals (yellow wires), and a reading of at least 2000rpm each. Since the Noctua 12cm fans rotate at 800-1200 rpm, their signal would of course cause an alarm. My workaround for this was to "steal" the psu fan's signal which rotates at 5000rpm and share it through a common wire to the 8 tach sensors.
I have already tried that on the R410 when I unplugged 4 out of 8 fans and twisted their signal cables together. The server worked fine. I m kinda stretching it now, but hey, it's a steep learning curve.

In the picture below you kinda see where this project is right now. The 3 noctua fans will pull close to 300cfm of air out of the box. Much more than the original 120cfm total of the original setup.
I still need to reroute the usb, rj45 and vga cables to the original backplate and seal everything up at the back in order to force the air to be sucked from the front only and "hopefully" through the ram and cpu heatsinks.
xserve7.jpg


When I m finally done with all cabling, I will decide on the fans final position and drill the holes on the lid.
 
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Update no.3

The server now has been turned on and thankfully it works. I was very afraid for shorts as the main chassis has been butchered up real badly in order to (kinda) fit everything as good as I could.

One of my main goals was to keep the system running without bios flashing with custom firmware that would allow setting the fan failure thresholds set to lower values.

As I explained before, I "stole" the tachometer signal from the 40mm psu fan and shared it across all the fan sensors. (Orange cable comes from the psu fan to the yellow wires which are dell's tach signal)

xserve13.jpg


xserve14.jpg


In these pictures you can also see the positive and ground lines which through extension cables power the three main Noctua fans at the back of the system.

Although the PSU fan is supposed to run at 5000rpm without a PWM signal, when I turned on the system I saw a number of error messages concerning fan redundancy. At first I thought that it was due to poor soldering. Turns out, the PSU which by the way uses a 3-pin fan connection, alters the fan speed by altering the supplied voltage.

xserve11.jpg



It happened that the psu was cool enough and it was spinning its fan happily at 2040rpm. The failure threshold is 1920rpm for half the fans and 2640 for the the other half. Some were ok, some weren't as you can see.

I then wired the fan directly to a 12v fan supply line from the mainboard and the problem was solved. Right now the system is up and running with no alarms at all.

xserve12.jpg


I use a server rack fan to keep the CPUs cool for now. (You might also notice some Lego here and there, they provide some excellent support, while I think of a permanent solution. I have still to drill the holes on the lid and see if the airflow provided by the three 120mm Noctuas will be enough for the system. If it's not, then..... tough luck, we 'll see. I have ordered three fan covers from the Laserhive, to give my project a more professional look.

xserve15.jpg
 
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I call the project 90% ready.

The fan covers from Thelaserhive.com arrived today and at the same time I had the lid waterjet cutted to the exact dimensions.

IMG_20171031_182141.jpg


The holes were not equally spread apart on purpose since in between the 1st and 2nd, lie the two lan ports one on top of the other.

The server is up and running happily for one hour now. It is Plex streaming and purring happily at 20-21C/68-70F.
Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 19.41.13.png


... and all systems are go...

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 19.41.49.png


The noise levels I cannot measure exactly due to my 4,5 year old playing in the house but for a brief moment that there was no screaming and shouting I measured 32db on top of the server, which is pretty impressive to be honest.

Next and last phase of the project is to make the server's face liven up a little... The final part of this project is due tomorrow... till then... stay creative my friends.
 
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Late night update:

Moments after I posted the thread above, the server shut down on its own.

As you can see from the picture above there are is only a motherboard ambient temperature sensor in the Dell idrac system (Integrated Dell Remote ACcess system). The reported temp was 2-3 degress lower than what the system had with the original cooling scheme. I thought that this was a good indicator of a decent airflow through the components. Guess what. It wasn't...

Well the system thankfully shut down due to the Raid card (Perc 6i) reporting "PCI parity errors". (by thankfully, I mean that I prefer a cooked raid card, than a cooked CPU which could cause motherboard issues too. The card's heatsink was extremely hot and caused a thermal as per the system log.

I m back to the drawing board in order to create a plastic construction that will channel the airflow better over the most critical components and see where this takes me.
 
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The server mod was finally completed with a push pull configuration for the fans. The pull only scheme didn't work.

I made an imgur post with everything. Feel free to ask any questions in here!

https://imgur.com/a/Kl1Lc


Video link here:
 
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