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Questions on building RAID5 NAS Server

Last response: in Storage
a b V Motherboard
a b G Storage
July 8, 2008 5:50:35 PM

Hi all,

I am building a RAID 5 NAS for my home storage server. Eventually, I'll get it up to 2-3TB. Here are the specs for what I've already bought (everything except the Motherboard and the RAID cards):

Intel E6700 Processor
2GB RAM DDR2 6400
Full ATX Thermaltake Armor 11-bay case
6 Seagate 320GB SATA Drives
1 hard drive for OS
Thermaltake 750W PSU

Since this will serve really only as a NAS Server, I need some advice:

1. What are the most important things I should consider when picking the Motherboard for this purpose? Northbridge chipset? Southbridge chipset? Something else?

2. What things are not so important when picking the Motherboard?

3. Any specific recommendations on a motherboard?

4. Any specific recommendations on RAID cards?

5. What would the "optimal" RAID 5 configuration be? In other words, should I use all 6 drives in the RAID 5 array or make 2 separate arrays? I'd like at least 2TB now. Please, don't pay attention to the fact that I currently only have 6 drives for the array. If the "optimal" recommendation is to have more than 1 array, then I'll buy more drives as needed. I just don't want to build a single RAID 5 array with 10 drives if a different configuration would be better.

Thank you for your time and help : )

July 8, 2008 6:18:08 PM

A good raid controller card will be more expensive than your entire system.
2 arrays of 4 disks would be a very good setup.
Cards from Promise, Areca, LSI, Adaptec, and 3Ware would all be good.
Might I add if your data is critical, a raid 6 setup might be a better way to go with it's extra redundant parity.
If not a motherboard with the ICH9R SouthBridge and an extra raid controller card might serve you better.
July 9, 2008 9:20:27 PM

1. Chipset is important if you're going to use that as the RAID controller. Most southbridge-based (i.e. motherboard-based) RAID is not very reliable or robust. I have seen reports that the NVidia motherboard RAID implementation does not handle volumes > 2TB. If you're going to use a 3rd-party RAID card, the most important point (obviously) is to make sure the motherboard has a compatible expansion slot. If your RAID card is a PCIe x4, for example, you need a free PCIe x4, PCIe x8, or PCIe x16 slot on the motherboard that is able to accept a RAID card. (Some PCIe x16 slots on some motherboards will work with a video card only, and won't recognize a RAID card).

Chipset can also be important when considering throughput. Desktop chipsets (945/965/P35/X38/etc.) are designed with the consumer in mind, not a server. A server chipset like the Intel 3000 is better for this task. However, I have run servers on a 945/965 before and they run OK.

2. For a file server, processor speed is not very important. You can easily get away with the lowest end Core2 Duo (E4400 I think). Memory is more important, especially if you're serving large files. You should plan on 1GB, maybe 2GB.

3. I'm using an Asus P4M2 for my home server motherboard. It uses an Intel 3000 chipset, takes a Core2 Duo (rather than most server motherboards which require a Xeon), has on-board ATI video (so no video card required), can take up to 4GB of RAM, and has a PCIe x16 slot and a PCIe x8 slot (both are x8 electrically). The plain P5M2 is hard to find now, you may have to get a P5M2-E ... check the specs carefully, some are different.

4. Ask 10 people about RAID card recommendations, you'll get 10 different (and valid) answers. I like enterprise-level RAID cards from Adaptec, 3Ware, and LSI. My particular favorites are the 3Ware 9650SE series. Plan which RAID card you buy based on the number of ports you think you're likely to need in the future. i.e. You have 11 bays in your case, don't buy a 4-port card. :)  Get a 12-port (or a 16-port, if you later want to move it to a bigger case), if you can. Get the batter backup module for the RAID card as well.

5. Use all the drives in a single RAID 5. There is no reason to split your RAID into two different arrays. Plus, you lose a second drive's worth of space for parity information like that.

Use enterprise-series drives. This means Seagate Barracuda ES.2 (or older ES series). These drives have higher specs for reliability, and have server/RAID-tuned firmware. You may have problems if you attempt to use ordinary desktop drives in a RAID of this size (liek Seagate Barracuda 7200.11s).
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July 23, 2008 3:44:48 PM

Hi SomeJoe7777, bobbknight,

Thanks for your responses.

1. Could you explain a little further on problems I might have without using "enterprise-series" drives? All of the drives I have are the Seagate 7200.10's and 7200.11's.

2. If I decide to expand and purchase enterprise-series drive from now on, is it possible to mix enterprise-series drives and non-enterprise series drives in the same array or is this not recommended?

3. Can I have an array that spans multiple RAID Controller cards? For example, if I build a RAID 5 array with 6 drives, can I use a 4-port card and 2 ports on another 4-port card (obviously the cards would be identical brands/models).

4. Consider this scenario:
  • I have spare ports on a BrandX RAID Controller card and I choose to either expand my current array or create a new array
  • I buy new drives and another BrandX RAID card but with a newer model card

    Will this work? Or, should I leave the spare ports on the "older model" card and buy 2 new BrandX cards (obviously, buying 2 cards would be more expensive and not my first choice)?

    August 10, 2008 1:45:15 PM

    I have been running a 2TB RAID 5 array for just over a year with no problems. I am using a mATX motherboard, a Highpoint Rocketraid 4 port PCI-E card, and 4x 750Gb drives. I assume since you were mentioning using controller cards you do not have on-board RAID on your motherboard. If you do not, then your options are:
    1- Use a really good RAID controller card (expensive) from the makers mentioned previously (Cards from Promise, Areca, LSI, Adaptec, and 3Ware). The reason these cards are so expensive is because they use an integrated CPU on the card instead of offloading tasks onto your main CPU, and generally offer faster speeds.
    2- Standard RAID controller card (Highpoint , Rosewill, Promise, etc.) are generally slower cards that offload tasks onto your main CPU and offer speeds pretty much on par with on-board motherboard RAID. They are usually much cheaper than the cards mentioned in #1.
    What type of card you should get will be dictated by your use. What will you be using the NAS for? If you will be running a business or some application that will see lots of traffic/lots of reads/writes, then you will need a card mentioned in #1. If you want to build a NAS for your own personal or household use (for music & movies etc.) Lightning fast transfers are not required, and neither will the extra $600 you would spend on a RAID card with a integrated processor. Get a card mentioned in #2.
    I use a Highpoint Rocketraid card that belongs to category #2 because i use the NAS to store all my music, movies, files, etc. I have it networked to my HTPC over GBe, and transfer a typical 1080p movie quickly enough. (example: I transferred the movie "Transformers" [10.1Gb] from my HTPC to my NAS, at 22-23Mb/sec and it took 5-6 minutes.)
    Another reason I chose a card from #2, is that all the NAS hardware(motherboard, RAM, CPU, etc.) is used exclusively for the NAS, Meaning I don't use the machine for anything else. So I don't care if the card uses CPU resources. Hope I could help you with your decision.
    August 11, 2008 4:26:41 PM

    Hi snootch,

    Thanks for your helpful reply :) 

    A couple days ago I bought an Adaptec 5805 8-port SATA/SAS Controller. I've decided to do a RAID 6 configuration. I have 11 3.5" bays so space isn't a big deal.

    My motto is "go big or go home" and I figure I'd rather "do it right" than "do it over"...

    I lost some honeymoon video 2 years ago when I had 3 Maxtor drives fail on me within 5 weeks. :(  That was BEFORE I learned that Maxtor is a POS - IMHO. And, it was before I was consistent with my Backup schedule. Totally my fault.

    I was originally thinking of only using the server as a NAS/backup - but I'm now considering using it to host my Virtual Server environment as well. I might also run SQLServer 2005/2008 and Microsoft Groove on it. I am a Software Architect/Developer, so I use these quite a bit. Obviously, the NAS Drives/Controller would be strictly dedicated to my RAID solution. I'd have individual drives for the other apps which I'd backup to the RAID setup. Just trying to make the most of the hardware I'm putting into this server.

    Now I only have the motherboard left to buy - kinda backwards, huh? I'm looking for a recommendation on a motherboard. I'd like dual-gigabit, LGA 775, full ATX, SATA, etc. Not sure what the better brands are.

    I've done an initial "narrowing down" with NewEgg's Power Search. Link to the results is here:

    Any advice is sincerely appreciated and thank you for your time!