Dedicated NAS - Raid 6 options on the cheap?

I've been lurking for a couple of weeks now reading and researching a lot but unfortunately haven't been able to come to a conclusion for my storage requirements yet.

I have a Vista HTPC with 3TB JBOD but the hard drives are a couple of years old now so I'm starting to get leary of their longevity. All of my important stuff is backed up but there is still about 1TB of stuff that I'd like to keep but isn't mission critical.

I prefer reliability over performance, but would like to get the most storage for my buck. RAID 1 and 10 are still on the table but I'm not relishing the idea of paying double for storage. I was considering RAID5 until I read a number of articles and heard some personal accounts of RAID5 arrays failing on rebuild, plus the fact that the latest crop of low-end drives don't seem to support CCTL/TLER anymore and not all controllers support huge timeout values means that it doesn't sound like a great idea. Considering that the RAID editions are blatant attempts to extort money from the consumer for a fundamentally identical product I'm against buying them on principal.

I started with thinking of either buying a new mobo with ICH10R or going with a $150 add-in card. Benchmarks abound with information but nobody seems to have done in-depth failure tests for any of those options. I've had bad experience with the ICH10R, plus read a lot of horror stories about those solutions going awry. Still doesn't solve the RAID5 problem either. The cheapest card that I could find that supports RAID6 natively is like $500 and out of my price range.

I'm thinking that using an external box for NAS with Raid6 may be the best bet. Most benchmarks seem to show gigabit ethernet being the bottleneck despite RAID5/6's slower writes so that's not a big deal. I snagged the Intel SS4200-E on sale for $160 CDN (including free shipping) figuring that even if I can't use it I could resell it at no loss. It looks pretty promising - 256MB Flash, 512MB Ram, Celeron 420 (all of which are upgradeable) plus 4 internal and 2 external drive connections. Also has a PCIe port and 4 USB. Seems reasonable for up to 6 drives, which using Raid 6 would work perfect.

People are reporting success installing FreeNAS on it now, which is great, except FreeNAS doesn't support Raid 6 yet. Support is planned for v0.8, but considering it took them 18 months to get from 0.686 to 0.7 I'm not going to hold my breath.

OpenFiler looks interesting, but claims that it requires 1GB to install and I haven't found anything that indicates it'll work well running from flash. NASLite upsets me and is now commercial.

Others have had success getting a custom linux distro running and although I'm not adverse to that I would prefer a Ready-To-Go solution if possible.

So what would you guys recommend for Raid6 in a dedicated Box?

Thanks in advance!
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  1. The problem is that with an external, you ultimately end up paying more... But in the first place, exactly what capabilities are you looking for, storage- and speed-wise?
  2. r_manic thanks for the reply but I'm not sure what else you'd like to know that I didn't already write.

    While I care more about safety of the data than speed, I'd also like to get as much storage for my buck as possible which is why I think RAID6 is the way to go. With 6 drives I can have any two fail and still have access to all my data with only a 50% increase in price. Even with 4 drives it's better than RAID1/0 because with that after any single failure there's a 50% chance that another failure would take out my array. Especially considering that I'll be using consumer grade drives with automatic error correction (yet another reason to stick away from HWRaid) if one drive goes AWOL but is still usable and my system decides to drop it from the RAID I don't want to have another drive failure during the rebuild toast everything (so RAID5 is out).

    There seem to be a lot of NAS options out there that look fully hackable/customizable for about the same price as a low-end dedicated RAID card - and those RAID cards can't do RAID6 either. The cheapest card I could find that does RAID6 is $400 which is why I think dedicated may be the way to go.
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