Using secondhand Dell servers as farmers/plotters

I’m waiting on a Dell R515 and R720 servers which I got second hand both loaded with hard drives. I have no experience of windows server operating systems but am willing to learn. My plan is for the faster 720 to do mainly plotting and the slower 515 to be the farm machine, I also intend to attach some 21 USB Sata drives to it via three banks of powered usb hubs.

Would you recommend installing server 2012 on the 515 (I don’t think it supports 2019) and 2019 on the 720? Do all the apps like Chia GUI, Swar, Harry plotter etc, run okay on these operating systems?

Would anyone recommend installing and using windows 10 (with which I am a lot more familiar?) though I would probably have to install it as a VM on the older machinery?

Grateful for any suggestions/discussion.

Both probably support win 10

Thanks. Is there any advantage to it other than familiarity for me. Would the server operating system run better? I can get whichever operating systems fairly cheaply.

I have found a fair bit on running windows 10 on the 720. Can’t find much about the 515 as its that bit older, but am willing to try it as a VM, then maybe I can try a linux install as a second VM see if its faster/easier. I have a few RPIs but am not a linux native at all.

i dont think the server/non server options make any difference for basic plotting, if u had multiple numa nodes per system, then i would still use win10 , but in the pro version if 2 numa nodes,
and the pro for workstation version for 2+ numa nodes

but linux is the better choice in general, its free, and usually faster for plotting, and rock solid, just maybe to complicated for you and could take you some time to figure it out which may make you loose money

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If you are going to the server way, I think it would be nice to just do it right the first time. Buy a rack, also purchase a 12Gbs SAS HBA (No RAID) and an external 3.5" enclosure for this rack then put in a lot of SATA drives.

I have got a rack. The 720 has 8x3TB SAS (H310) and the 515 has 12x4TB SAS (H700), then I have 22 x 2TB Sata 2.5" drives, and 3x Sabrent 60W 7 port hubs. I am 3D printing some stands for the 2.5" drives to allow them plenty of airflow. I have also got 256GB of ram modules to upgrade one or both machines if it helps (was thinking about trying some ramdrive plotting to see how fast it goes).

It’s just whether to use server operating systems as I have no familiarity (though happy to learn, all part of the fun) given that they won’t really be running as servers.

I think there’s no need to use a server operating system. Windows 10 Pro is enough if Linux is not an option. Personally, I am only using Windows 10 Pro installed on a very old Supermicro SC846 24 slots with dual Xeon. I even disabled the some cores because I only store plots in it.

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Well hopefully machines will be here today/tomorrow I will see if I can get windows 10 pro installed.

For farming, it doesn’t matter what OS you set up, Windows or Linux, Workstation or Server OS, 2012 or 2019, etc.

For the plotting, Linux is 11% faster. You shouldn’t go with Windows for the plotter if speed matters to you.


Windows 10 will work in the R720, So the assumption is that it will work on the R515 also. I’ve personally ran Windows 10 on an R720, Works perfectly. Some drivers (Several years ago) will not load automatically. So you just download them from Dell.

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Little update on this. Got my R515 deleted (12x4TB SAS plus 1TB ssd) existing raid config and set up all 12 drives as separate raid 0 drives.
Attached USB key with win10 oem on it and used F11 boot manager to boot from it. Setup windows 10 no issues. Installed it to SSD, then tested the drives and the spinning SAS drives were actually faster but this is going to be the farmer mainly so not too worried.

Got chia installed and syncing now. Happy days.

Now the R720 which has 8x3TB SAS drives.

Figuring it would be better to use an ssd I have lying around to run windows I added a PCIe sata card as the is a spare sata connector on the built in sata controller but no power for an internal sata drive.

Now I’m getting a crash on post about non maskable interrupt error in ahci.efi so I figure the PCIe card is not going to work.

I removed that and installed windows 10 on SAS drive 0. Now setting it up as a plotter to fill the space on the R515 then fill it’s own space and switch to being a farmer.

The fans on the 720 are very noisy. They were quiet when I got it but I changed modes in the system settings, it got super noisy, then I changed back and it stayed super noisy. Apparently, there is a fix via idrac but I haven’t got that connected up yet.

Went to the Dell website and found the model number. There is a huge list of drivers, select “popular” and there is a driver pack of about 100MB. This contains all the chipset drivers. There is no way to install them on mass, you have to manually update, and point to the unzipped set of drivers in the file. All installed now. Hoping since some of these are temp controllers the fans might quieten down now.

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Some info/blogging of what I’ve tried in case it helps anyone, or in case anyone feels like pointing me in the right direction.

So I have setup a 270GB ramdrive on the R720 it has 320GB ram total, and using the windows CLI plotter* began a k32 plot using it as the temp drive, and a 3TB SAS drive as the destination. 4 threads and 4GB of ram allocated. 16 hours, so not very impressive. I also ran another plot in parallel with a delay plotting to a SAS drive as temp, and it ran in 18 hours. So the ramdrive idea isn’t really worth pursuing, might sell the ram which I got pretty cheap anyway. I guess with this machine it can do 32 threads but if a single plot doesn’t benefit from using much more than 4 of them, the trick here is clearly to try to do 8 plots in parallel, or maybe 7 leaving the system 4 threads.

I have the 515 running full node and syncing now, it will be the farmer mainly but it is also now plotting 4 parallel plots using 4 different drives, as it hasn’t got any farming to do right now, and isn’t synced yet anyway. Our internet connection to my workplace (not an IT workplace btw) is terrible and my remote connection from home to the servers is horribly slow. Will have to look into alternative internet for the sake of my sanity.

Am trying some copying utilities to avoid errors copying the large plot files, trying fastcopy now and its anything but fast, using verify mode, maybe this is overkill, but I currently only have a 100Mbit switch, a 1 Gbit switch arrives on Monday.

I am monitoring power usage as I got my bosses agreement to situate the servers at work on the basis I would pay for the juice per kWh. It will be interesting to audit power usage from the start.

*I was being a bit CLI-averse intiially but in the end it is easier to just powershell one plotter job at a time manually than use the GUI. I installed swar and gave it a whirl and I can see the attraction, though its a fair bit more complicated than starting CLI plotting jobs manually. I guess when this gets old in a few days time, I will switch to swar and automate copying plots to their final resting places.