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I am looking at a inexpensive and low power home server to run Windows Server 2012 Essentials R2. I see there are some server versions of the Atom processor that have 2 to 8 cores and clock speeds in the 1.7 to 2.4 GHz range. I am concerned because the clock speeds are below Microsoft's recommended requirements although they do exceed the minimum requirements.

Key specs for Server Essentials R2 from Microsoft's recommendations (linked above)

╔══════════════╦════════════════════════════╦════════════════════════════╗
║  Component   ║          Minimum           ║        Recommended*        ║
╠══════════════╬════════════════════════════╬════════════════════════════╣
║ CPU socket   ║ 1.3 GHz (64-bit processor) ║ 3.1 GHz (64-bit processor) ║
║ Memory (RAM) ║ 2 GB                       ║ 16 GB                      ║
╚══════════════╩════════════════════════════╩════════════════════════════╝

So for a server box that will do nothing else but acting in the Server 2012 R2 Essentials role (including Active Directory) and local DNS, is an Atom processor sufficiently powerful, or should I opt for a inexpensive processor Xeon E3 family? For Active Directory, there are only 4 people in the family, plus a handful of other machine specific accounts and an admin account (no more than 10 users). There are a total of 5 other Windows devices that are part of the domain (only 3 are actively used), plus there are a number of other devices that will connect via Wi-Fi or LAN that are not part of the domain (6 android phones and tablets and 2 work laptops that are part of corporate domains).

Ultimately, my question is what is the performance impact of the processor not meeting the recommended specs, and will looking at a 4-core or 8-core Atom make up for the slower clock speeds? I do plan on trying to hit the recommended memory requirement.

In addition to the cost factor, I am also very interested in an Atom because of the low power consumption. I already have enough higher-power hardware running 24/7 so I'd like to avoid adding more, but the power consumption is a secondary factor and is not a hard requirement.

  • Are you running it solely as a DNS server? Are you not going to use other features such as NAS or ADDS? – Peter Zhu Dec 28 '15 at 14:38
  • @PeterZhu NAS is handled separately but yes, I will be using ADDS (that is actually a requirement of Essentials). I have edited in some more details on the user and device count – psubsee2003 Dec 28 '15 at 18:16
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The Atom line of CPU's require the CPU to be permanently soldered to the motherboard, which limits choices and flexibility/upgradability. As far as I'm aware, getting a motherboard with a Atom chip built in is very hard to find and is possibly not cheap. If you can find a board with Atom built in that is cheap, it will perform about as well or just as well as a E3 in your tasks. It will also use much less electricity and produce much less heat than a E3. If you plan on upgrading later or want it to perform other more intensive tasks, then you might want to look into the E3 line.

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  • I want to upvote this because it is very true that Atom C series integrated CPU/mobo systems are hundreds of dollars usually... but it's just not true what you say about the performance of these systems. Atom's architecture is cache starved and features a stunted pipeline. They typically perform much worse than Xeons at near equivalent speeds, and they have been formally abandoned by Intel because of their longtime deficiencies. There is no space in the market for Atoms anymore. – Adam Wykes Aug 18 '16 at 4:03
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A more cost-effective, differently-powerful, and still very efficient solution might lie in the AMD AM1 platform - specifically, the ASRock AM1H-ITX. This 25W TDP platform sports quad core CPUs up to 2.2ghz and 16gb RAM, which should be enough for a family such as the one you described above as long as there isn't heavy file serving going on. As a bonus, this system can even sport better single-thread performance than the Atom CPUs you've been looking at, so that's something considering the price differential!

All told, you're looking at an outlay of under $500 for a properly-kitted AM1 system, complete with SSD boot/cache and 1tb RAID1, completely fanless. You're not getting out of there for cheaper than that with an Intel solution that's similarly performative, but if you wanted to try, the Celeron J1900 boards might be a good start.

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