This is “Part I” – as a sort of “Part II” I’ve upgraded this server some – click this link to read more about that, otherwise continue on!
Hey everyone – so for Christmas this year I wanted to build a low power ESXi box but with a lot storage preferably. The Lenovo TS140 was on sale at NewEgg on their eBay store and included the Intel Xeon E3-1225v3 (3.2GHz quad-core) with 4GB of RAM, the chassis, power supply, etc. but no disks. This is a great deal because the CPU alone is $220, which would leave you hard pressed to find a server-grade motherboard (ECC memory, Intel AMT, etc.) for <$100, and then some memory (although 4GB is not much, I’ve added more for a total of 32GB now). The Lenovo motherboard itself is actually really nice and the chassis is very high quality for a machine this price – if only it could hold more than 4 or 5 drives…
For those who would rather hear me ramble on vs. ramble on in text, check out the video I made – I cover more about the build and some minor details here and there in the video:
For those still reading, here are some images of the TS140 chassis before we dig in:
Opening the case, you’ll see a couple great features including tool-less drive caddies, isolated PWM fans, low-profile optical drive, and an overall clean case. The only thing I saw that was an actual negative, in my opinion, was that the SATA power is all through the motherboard using 4-pin ATX cables that have only 3 SATA connectors per. This means that, once you’ve discounted the optical drive and maybe a system drive (SSD, etc.) you can only power 4 additional disks. This is fine for a RAID5 with large disks, but that doesn’t leave for much redundancy and you’d have to use pretty large disks to make it worthwhile.
What you could do is transplant the whole TS140 into a 4U rackmount chassis like this one which would give you the room for more drives. Then, you could add a RAID controller like an LSI 9260-8i (or similar) and add a bunch of drives and make a big ol’ RAID array or pass the drives through to a VM for another storage setup, etc. And, if you haven’t caught on by now – that’s exactly what I am doing! I am placing the TS140 motherboard and any needed components into a Rosewill RSV-4000 4U rack case where I will then install an LSI 9260-8i controller with (8) 1TB WD SATA drives in a RAID10 for one big mass storage for VMs to live on. I will then create a Windows 2012 R2 server to act as a file server. The only thing that was a bit of an issue is, even once transplanted into the Rosewill case, I still didn’t have a way to hook up more drives to the power supply because of the proprietary Lenovo connectors. Here is the Rosewill case I’ll be using:
So, all I needed to do is figure out how to fit a standard ATX power supply and I’d be set. Well, that, and I realized that if any of the fans are left unplugged the server will complain that a fan has failed and require you to press F1 or F2 to continue – annoying. So, I’d also need to transplant the fans… so, let’s check that out.
Above, you’ll see that the small 40mm fans that are tied together with a 3-wire fan splitter. They are actually nice, quiet fans (though I can’t say that it makes much sense having them in the factory TS140…) and are mounted with isolating rubber mounts – I like these things! So, we’ll have to harvest one or both of these fans (or you could get clever and make a circuit that reports an RPM as if a fan were plugged in) and place them in the Rosewill RSV-4000. The larger fans at the front and rear of the TS140 case are PWM controlled and seem of very good quality. The Rosewill case comes with (2) 80mm dumb fans with ordinary molex connectors – the problem is that the TS140 uses a 92mm fan front and rear, so we’ll have to get creative there too! Almost doesn’t seem worth it all until you realize these are not huge feats. We’ll tackle the fans, but let’s start with the power supply issue first.
Above you’ll find the Lenovo power supply with the funky proprietary 14-pin connector. This needs to be adapted to work with the 24-pin standard ATX power supply we’ll use to hook up more drives. Fortunately, Lenovo has been doing this in their desktops for a while and people have worked it out. In all, you’ll see that the 14-pin has yellow, black, blue, purple, green, and grey wires – basically, Lenovo supplies +12v, ground, +5v, and then some PSU status wires to the motherboard. In order to get the 3.3v and other things needed, they have an on-board power supply. We could crimp on more SATA connectors to the factory Lenovo cabling, but I don’t want to overdraw the motherboard circuitry and make a mess of things. Here are the funky proprietary 4-pin SATA cables:
So, to adapt the 14-pin to a 24-pin connector we just need to cut a few pins off and re-pin the 24-pin. In doing so, I also removed the cables that won’t be used on the 24-pin to make things more straight forward. You can also buy this adapter pre-made, but what’s the fun in that? Fortunately, there are guides out there on how to make the connector so I checked them out, confirmed things, and went to town. I found this tutorial particularly useful. That guide also has a handy video for people to follow along. I went to MicroCenter and picked up the necessary 24-pin to 20-pin adapter (which we will make into a 24-pin to 16-pin adapter) and created the adapter in about 20 minutes. Below you’ll see the piece of the adapter I chopped off. It helps to have these ATX pin tools to remove the wires from the holes but you can do it with small pieces of wire, needles, whatever you can put down in there to push in the small tabs.
If you do make your own cable adapter, just note that the 24-pin ATX connector is only going to have two 12v (yellow) wires while the 14-pin Lenovo side will need three – to remedy this you’ll need to split one of the yellow wires from the 24-pin side into two – not all that difficult really.
With that done, all I had to do was install the fans and back plate. The fans required drilling two holes in the back of the chassis to fit a 92mm fan in an 80mm position. To fit the back plate you’ll need to bend the three top tabs down, insert the plate in the back of your new chassis, and then either bend the tabs back or use the motherboard to hold it in place. You can see all of this below:
Below you’ll see the LSI 9260-8i controller, Intel Pro/1000 VT 4-port NIC, and blower fan I placed between the two:
I don’t have a picture, but I installed the second 92mm fan in the front of the Rosewill RSV-4000 by utilizing the rubbery isolation mounts and pulling them through the blank 5.25″ plates in the front of the chassis. I still needed to install one of the 40mm fans, so I installed the deeper of the two (as it seemed slightly quieter) and zip-tied it to the aluminum crossbar on the chassis. The fans move almost no air, so I didn’t think there was any reason to aim it any where specific. Though, maybe I could have put it on the chipset heatsink or NIC area – whichever. You can see that in the image near the power supply, below:
You can also see I’ve got the blower, RAID controller, NIC, all the SFF fan out cables tidied up, and everything looking good. More observant viewers will notice that there’s also an SSD installed toward the top of the image on the underside of the chassis overhang. That is a Crucial MX100 256GB SSD I picked up to install ESXi to and create super fast storage for VMs that might need it.
The only other thing you’ll need to work out is the power switch, power LED, and HDD LED (if you want them). The TS140’s original chassis has a one-piece jumper header for this so I had to just trace out the wires and place them on the pin headers properly. Here’s a crappy picture of that:
After that, you’re ready to go! You’ve now got a TS140 transplanted into a rackmount case w/ an aftermarket ATX power supply so that you can run more hard drives, graphics cards, whatever. There is only one more item from the factory setup that I have omitted which is a small temperature sensor that fits on the front of the original TS140 chassis. It’s on a 4 or 5 pin connector and the system doesn’t seem to mind that it’s not moved over. I will move it over, however, just so that the system is able to monitor chassis intake temps as this may become important for PWM control over the fans. We’ll see. I’ve created my drive groups, installed ESXi, setup all my VMs (migrated them from an iSCSI target), and installed the LSI SMIS provider for ESXi 5.5 so that I can see the status of the controller and drives from within vSphere. Here’s a screenshot of that:
And that’s all there is to it! I now have a lower cost, quiet, power-efficient, modern server with all of the perks of a larger 4U chassis. Again, I go into more detail in my video I posted at the top of this post, but this is all the little details that you can graze over if interested. Thanks for reading and let me know if you guys have any questions!
Just to repeat what’s in the head of this post, I upgraded this server from an E3-1225v3 CPU to a E3-1246v3 and go in depth about that upgrade in the following post, check it out!