Building a Xeon Workstation, lots of questions


I’m looking to build a Xeon workstation with ECC ram being a requirement, and stability being of utmost importance. I want to be able to use a large amount of RAM, preferably 128GiB+. I use Linux, and BSD, not concerned about compatibility with Windows. I use ZFS as my file system so having a large amount of memory is preferable.


I plan on using the computer as my main workstation which I do very occasional gaming on, but most of the time I am programming, running virtual machines, containers, maybe doing a little bit of video editing on, and generally just getting work done. I have fooled around with IOMMU in the past, and wouldn’t mind trying it again so having parts that work well with it would be nice.

Build Plan

I don’t have a huge amount of experience with workstation builds, but I have built servers, which I generally have more experience with. I’ve got a lot of questions about what might be the right choices for different parts.

I don’t have a plan fleshed out other than an idea of what I want out of my machine so I haven’t really picked any parts. Here is a general idea of what I want from the different parts though.

  • CPU: Xeon, single or dual. Or should I consider something else, Ryzen?
  • Motherboard: Not concerned with the form factor, should support ECC RAM. In servers I have used Supermicro and was really happy with them, I would like to use one of them but don’t think they have something that would work well as a workstation motherboard though.
  • Disks: I’ll probably start with 4 SSDs mirrored. NVME, or SATA?
  • GPU: I generally had good experience with NVIDIA on Linux.
  • RAM: 128GiB+ ECC.
  • Cooling: I’m not sure if I would want to use water cooling since it’s a fair bit of complexity but I would consider it. In the past I have used large quiet fans.


I don’t think I’d want to go much over $4k CAD / $3.2k USD max. I would consider buying used xeons to get the price down.

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I would say go for threadripper TBH. You /could/ go for a dual xeon build, but what workloads are you going to do that uses those kinds of specs? I would say get a 12c24t chip and go for it. You should be able to fit that in your budget easily. Otherwise, sure, do dual CPU’s and like 4 or 6 core xeons. I think 2670’s are still balls cheap? I don’t know anything about intel past the core duo’s and solo’s so don’t quote me on it.

Frankly, if you can get by with 128GB RAM, Ryzen is the way to go. Otherwise, ThreadRipper if you really need more than 128GB RAM.

Now is sort of a bad time to go Intel. So much expense and you get pigeonholed into certain products if you want certain things.

Also, mirrored NVMe SSDs is going to be a problem unless you do it in software only - no RSTe for NVMe IIRC.

The only thing thats going to suck is that I expect there to be some teething issues with ThreadRipper, especially in Linux. It might be a year before we see a totally solid kernel.

Also, if you plan on adding memory down the line, you need to get the same rank as what you started with. That being said, get the lowest rank you can get for your memory density. (probably single rank if you are going 128GB). Double rank will be slower if you add memory down the road, because that would be 2x double rank = quad rank effective.

I’d probably want to be able to upgrade in the future so i’d use ThreadRipper over Ryzen. I’m just a little concerned that the new AMD stuff is still a bit untested.

As I said i’ll be using ZFS so i’d mirror them using that.

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I just got TR so wait a bit and I’ll test. Used xeons are kinda crap right now imho but keep an eye out for high clock 8-12 cores in the e5 family.