Green Build NAS

Greetings friends,

I know I am not alone in wanting Network Attached Storage. The initial spark for a NAS was my interest in, and now purchase of a Sonos music system. After further research and consideration, I’ve arrived at some functions, specifications, and criteria for my NAS. I’d like it to be capable of comfortably streaming audio and video (HD 1080p, Blue-Ray, etc. as a possible future use in addition to streaming audio and digital camera video), and function as a capable print server and internet server [DHCP, FTP(S), and HTTP(S)] for off-site access to my data and for a minimal number of friends with whom I may share and trade music. Am I correct in thinking that, regardless of the streaming format, be it FLAC, WAV, or 1920x1080 60fps Blue-Ray high definition video (even that is only 4.2MB/s?), all the NAS (and network) will be required of “handling” is a sufficient rate of transfer (MB/s) as it will not be doing any decoding or displaying and that other peripherals will do the intensive parts of processing the data for each appropriate use? I’m leaning towards a four drive RAID 5 with 1 TB drives as I think that 3 TB should handle my media storage needs (especially since I’m considering storing my CD music in FLAC format), and maybe an additional HD not in the RAID to backup the drives of my desktop and laptop systems.

I’ve looked into the pre-boxed options and I like the Synology CS-407 best (also the Buffalo Linkstation Quad, Netgear ReadyNAS NV+, and the Western Digital Share Space), but I’ve also been considering a home-built NAS, as I feel it will have better, longer-lived components, (my homebuilt desktop is still running like a champ 9 years later) and make use of the robust, free NAS software available, such as FreeNAS. I’ve been doing some homework into the various options. It had been some years since I built my desktop system, so I had to get up to speed. Like many people, I’d like it to be power frugal, since it will be always-on.

I’m likely to free up an Intel Pentium 550E 256k “coppermine” 0.18um 28MM, Aopen AX63 Pro VIA 133 ATX 100MHz FSB, and 640MB PC133 SDRAM to use, but regardless, while I think the Pentium 550E would be able to handle the duties and load required of my NAS, I’ve been looking into more modern, efficient alternatives. (A couple years back I intended to upgrade my desktop to an AMD Sempron 2800+ 256k “palermo” 90nm 64MM, MSI K8MM-V 800MHz FSB VIA K8M800-CE, and 1GB PC3200 400Mhz DDR SDRAM I purchased, but when I tried the swap wasn’t able to get to POST, I put the old parts back in, left it at that, and have yet to get back to it. I think/hope this might be because the PSU in my old desktop is only 250 W – that’s for another forum).

The incarnation I’ve come up with is as follows:

GREEN BUILD NAS (from scratch):
Motherboard: Intel D945GCLF2D ( $96)
Processor: (Integrated Intel Atom 330)
Memory: 1 GB DDR2-667 ( $15)
RAID Controller: Adaptec 2420SA (PCI-x: $218)
Power Supply: TBD
Case: TBD
Hard Drives: Western Digital WD10EADS 1TB 32MB (x2: $206); drive for OS

I have a few questions in regard to this system. Firstly, overall, what are your thoughts? After getting this together in the wee hours of last night, I realized this morning that the Intel D45GCLF2D only has a standard PCI slot, and the Adaptec 2420SA is PCI-x. Features I was looking for in the RAID controller were a quality manufacturer, minimum 4 ports, and support for RAID 5. I haven’t yet looked outside of Intel for Atom motherboards, but from Intel I can only find motherboards for their earliest Atom processors and only with conventional PCI. While they are not as low power, I’ve also considered the Intel Pentium M or AMD Turion 64, I know VIA makes an Atom competitor, and now I even see an article on Tom’s about an 8W AMD Athlon 64 2000+ that is more efficient (with its chipset) than the Atom 230. I know the Core 2 Duo processors are very efficient, but will the cost-benefit of the extra power required versus the ability of the dual core to multi-task (or whatever you call it) be worth it in this simple NAS system? I’ve been leaning to a smaller from factor to save power and because I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, likely just LAN, some USB ports, and some SATA ports really. Thoughts?

Second, if I were to settle on a mini-ITX board, what factors do I need to consider when selecting a power supply. Given my green slant, I want it to be efficient, ideally 80+. Are mini-ITX power interfaces compatible with mATX, uATX, or ATX or must the PSU be mini-ITX specific? While its efficiency is not 80+, I came across a Fortron FS17180 180W power supply. What are they talking about with the two options for either horizontal or vertical? I also saw a Fortron FSP220-60LE mentioned in an efficiency article on Tom’s. Would a 300W or 350W ATX 80+ efficient PSU from Silverstone or Fortron (as I understand these manufacturers to be efficient and reliable) work with a mini-ITX board? Who else makes highly efficient, reliable, quiet PSUs?

Third, many of the preboxed NAS systems have an “embedded OS”. Does this just mean that they have a separate flash module on which the OS resides and is that the same as a solid-state disk (SSD) or a disk-on-module (DOM)? I understand that is best not to have the OS residing within the RAID. Is it especially advantageous for this type of system that it be an SSD or can it just be a separate, smaller magnetic drive? If, as I mentioned, I include a HD outside the array, on the motherboard’s controller for backup of my notebook and desktop, could I install and run the OS here, or is it decidedly better on its own dedicated drive? With a little extra RAM, is it an option to have the OS load to a “RAM drive” from a conventional magnetic disk?

Fourth, is RAID 5 the way to go? I understand that it is not a backup solution and only provides drive failure and fault tolerance and that I should backup the data off-site to be truly safe. What are RAID 5EE and 1E that I see in the specs of the Adaptec controller? Are onboard RAID controllers, such as Intel’s ICH9R or the ICH10 found on the DG45FC, hardware, software, or does it depend, and are they adequate? The RAID controller I’ve selected is a third of the system cost. Is a separate RAID controller worthwhile?

Fifth, (assuming for the sake of discussion the Intel D945GCLF2D, though I now realize is not compatible Adaptec 2420SA) cost not being much different, would I be better off with DDR2-667 or DDR2-533? Will there be a notable performance benefit from the 667MHz RAM on such a NAS, or would the 533MHz be more than adequate while saving some power? How much memory will I need? Most pre-boxed NAS have less than 500MB and many under half that. I was reading that more RAM is not always better, and that it can task the system by having to find the address among too much extra space (probably not worded with technical elegance, but hopefully you get what I’m talking about).

And, lastly, to wrap up my OP questions, does onboard gigabit LAN significantly task the system processor and memory and how can virus protection be handled in a NAS? I really have enjoyed reading all the discussions on here so far and appreciate what I’ve already learned from all this community. I may be on my computer less this weekend but I hope to pop on to answer any questions you may have of me and to ask any follow up questions. I hope to settle on something and get it ordered sometime next week. Thanks so much for your time and I look forward to the discussion!

6 answers Last reply
More about green build
  1. Hi,

    Just wanted to ask what you have done in the meantime, since you posted your question. There are a few Atom 330 boards around that actually come with raid courtesy of the ICH7R chipset instead of the plain ICH7 that 98% of mobo manufacturers use.
    Then if you want, you can also get one without the ICH7R, and go for one with PCIe x1 or x4 connector and get a SCSI RAID that is available with a PCI Express x1 connector or x4 connector. Off the top of my head, I remember Adaptec having a couple of models available, but I never got in to scsi.

    An idea would be to have a look at Super Micro's Atom boards. Here is a link:

    Now if you prefer a different layout with other options, have a look at the ECS version here:
    The ECS does NOT have onboard raid, but you can put a full length PCIe x16 lane size card (but if I remember the chipset, it does not support more than x2 or x4), but also has a PCIe x1 socket for your raid.

    Some other Atom 330 have 4 SATA, of which you can run in RAID software mode, with XP Pro, and then for video, use a nVidia 9500 GT 1Gb PCI (yes, not Express). Have a look at newegg for that particular model. Just remember not to get confused with the 9400GT PCI (not express). Just remember that there is also a PCIe x1 version with only 256Mb, and also cut down, but I think this is starting to go off-topic for what you are asking.

    Or alternatively, if it is to be used ONLY for Server and HTPC then the S3 Chrome 540 GTX would be ideal for the ECS as it has plenty of PORTS and also is low power (the video card that is) Just remember that it is 256Mb, so it would be suitable only for light gaming mainly due to the CPU.
    That is my assumption having a look at the card. For info, here is the link for info on this card:
    Chrome 540 GTX. Just remember that you might need to disable the on-board audio and use the video cards 7.1 Audio decoder so you can use that with WinDVD8 that comes with the card. ;-)

    With the ECS you can go up to 4Gb Ram. DDR2 Ram is very cheap now, so you should be able to make a great system. You can use DDR2 400/533/667. Not much of a difference between them on an Atom system.

    As for performance, the ATOM is NOT handicapped!, in regards for using it for accessing HDD's. There was an article about that specific item for the Atoms HDD performance with SSD to make sure the the drive was not the bottle neck, and it was on par or close enough with much more expensive systems.

    The link for this info is here:
    ECS Atom 330 Dual Core P945GC review - HD Tach

    If power is an issue for you, you can use 2.5" drives, just get the faster ones. There was an article recently on Tom's about 7 2.5" HDD. Just remember to read the comments!
    Link is Perfect Notebook Storage: Seven 2.5” 500 GB Drives.

    So, I guess, if it is to be used as a NAS, I THINK it would be able to suit your needs in this role. If you want to make it as a HTPC, then, again, that might be possible. Also remember that this specific CPU, the ATOM 330, is dual core, and also 64bit, so you can use either win XP pro or Windows 7 64bit. I leave the Vista 64 out, since I am personally not confident that it would be adequate. Add an Adaptec adapter in PCIe 1x mode or a plain PCI socket, and "bob's your uncle".

    If anyone tries any of these suggestions, please take your time to reply :D ;)
  2. Hi again ;)

    Just a thought. I noticed that the Super Micro board states that its Raid is in Windows mode (4x SATA (3.0Gbps) Ports RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 (Windows Only)). Well having looked at Adaptec's site, they do have a few cards that are pci-e x8, you will just need to find the ones that have raid 5 also. I will go through their cards and see which one has Raid 5 on PCI-E x1 or x4 or x8. So you may want to consider one of their offerings when using this board, or when using ECS's put the raid card in one of the PCI express slots and the video card in PCI slot.

    Just a thought. I will post here again when I find a card that falls in to that category, else you can still use the 2820SA, but you will need to find a board with a PCI v2.2 or newer, it just wont run full speed, but would be ok if you do not run anything else on the bus, but some network sockets on the motherboards actually use the PCI bus, so it might slow it down.

    Here is some reading on the subject of using PCI-X cards in PCI slots. Just remember that your SPECIFIC card runs ONLY in 3.3 volts so you will need to find the board with an approriate key missing at the end of the slot. If it does have that notch, then it is an older revision slot and your card will not be able to physically go in to it.
  3. Ok, found a suitable PCI-e x4 Adaptec card. It is the Adaptec RAID 3405. It has Raid 5 and many other items too. I have found also that the 3805 & 3085 would also be suitable. The former being an 8 port PCIe x4 and the later an 8 port PCIe x8.
    Further info on these cards can be found here:
    Adaptec®SATA & SAS RAID 3405, 3805, 3085, 31205, 31605 DATA SHEET
  4. Just one more thought. There is also the Adaptec RAID 5405. This is a worthy series to consider too, besides being an x8 card, it might actually make your power consumption from your drives even less, since it puts them to idle when not in use, hence conserving some more power.
    I guess the main issue would be, what your budget is, how much energy you want to conserve and what your final usage will end up being.

    If you are interested in this Series, here is the link:
    Adaptec RAID Series 5 datasheet

    I guess this would also be a good study for toms hardware to check and tell us what they come up with ;)
  5. Great topic, too bad the OP didn't get an answer to his initial posting. This is the area where i have a special interest in, and have been trying several solutions in the past, and comparing their performance.

    The nice thing is that a dedicated box shouldn't need to run Windows. Since you won't touch it after initial configuration and administer via the network, this would work well even for users with only Windows experience. It may provide both a cheaper and more powerful solution, and a learning experience for those interested in storage.

    The exciting thing is that technologies like advanced RAID5 and ZFS are coming to mainstream users via the FreeNAS package. Although the 0.7 branch hasn't been matured yet, it does support ZFS via the web-interface which should be very easy to learn and use. Where Windows lacks many advanced storage technologies (advanced filesystems, good software raid, multithreaded I/O backend) these technologies are available in free alternatives.

    As for the Atom, its low usage is offset by the relative power-hungry chipset, where intel dumps its old stocks. Instead, a low-power AMD setup with micro-atx board would drastically lower power usage in idle conditions. Combine that with a power supply aimed at being efficient at low drain (there are few) and you would have the same power consumption as Atom in idle, but the ability to have alot more burst performance, which also means it can go to idle much quicker again.
  6. Thanks so much for your thoughtful replies. I am still interested in a build-to-spec NAS of my own. That's just my personality I guess.

    In the mean time I purchased a Synology DS-409+ and two Western Digital WD10EADS 1TB 32MB drives. I have been pleased with it, once I got the problem of a faulty SATA cable diagnosed and rectified. It is my understanding that Synology NAS systems have been shipping with less than perfect SATA cables. I can't speak to the dates or it this has been corrected. Synology support was very quick at responding, very personal, and very helpful. They shipped out a set of replacement cables (4) at no charge, though I only knew one of mine to be experiencing intermittent problems (disconnects).

    I must admit I haven't really put it through any paces, but it works fine as my Sonos music server and common file depository.
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