Mention servers in a conversation and most people will draw a blank. To others who work in tech, that will bring back memories of massive black metal boxes that are expensive, heavy but also powerful and love to live in groups (called server farms or data centres).
Things are however changing as more and more people are considering stand-alone servers because they offer a number of advantages compared to other tech solutions around. Here are five of them, some of which are actually quite surprising.
Servers are built to last
It won't come as a surprise that servers are solidly built machines, designed with pragmatism in mind rather than aesthetics. The resulting products (and looking at standalone servers mainly) will take more than a few knocks and bumps than consumer PCs before they give up the ghost.
Most server designs have been tweaked over decades rather than being dictated by looks, servers tend to use different, tried-and-trusted components sets as well. And just to give you that extra peace of mind, they will usually come with an option to upgrade the warranty to next business day, multi-year, onsite warranty.
Room for expansion
Because they don't look to achieve visual perfection, these workhorses tend to offer a lot of room for expansion; and that's even the case for micro-servers. Models from Lenovo, HP or Dell will often offer several PCI Express slots and vast amounts of space inside to ensure adequate air flow for cooling.
A mini tower will routinely hold four RAM slots with enough space for four standard hard disk drives, for a total of around 40TB. And because they are actually designed for easy maintenance, you will find small details like a tool-less case and a built-in tray to be surprisingly useful.
Plenty of ports
If won't come as a surprise that servers usually come with a lot of ports, far more than any desktop PCs you will come across, making them ideal for DIY projects like Digital Video Recorders (DVR) or home servers.
A lot of them will carry legacy ports (VGA, Serial and PS/2) with plenty of USB ports (about a dozen) both in front of and behind the chassis. Some, like Dell's T20, have some surprising combinations including a pair of DisplayPort ports, a connector usually found on workstations costing a thousand pounds or more.
Servers are very versatile
Most servers are built for continuous operation with little or no downtime making them ideal for a much wider range of case uses, compared to say NAS (Networked Attached Storage) devices or a classic desktop PC. Sure, they are bigger but that's the downside of offering extra flexibility.
It will require someone with reasonable technical knowledge to do any upgrades but the universal nature of the x86 ecosystem will, at least allow you to exploit the versatility of the platform. That includes changing the processor or any other components, as well as operating systems, down the line.
Great value for money
Best of all though, stand-alone servers don't have to cost the earth, the cheapest models from the big three vendors often cost under £200 once you factor in cashbacks – which are often very substantial at the entry level.
Servers are amongst the cheapest new computers on the market but bear in mind that, because of their target audiences, they don't usually come with an operating system. Nevertheless, getting Linux to boot shouldn't be an issue (check out our starter guide to Linux here).
If you plan to get a computer with plenty of expansion opportunity, on a budget and with some cracking components, then you certainly can't go wrong with a server.