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FreeNAS build help (hardware questions)

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January 19, 2010 5:26:19 AM

Just want to say Hi first off, this is my first post here

I just have a few questions regarding the hardware needed to adequately run a FreeNAS setup. I am looking to run a Raid 5 NAS using FreeNAS, it will be a software raid (no dedicated controller). Currently am expanding to 6 TB and want to make sure that his will be able to sustain the pairty calculations

I`m wondering if I need something duo or quad core, I see many places suggesting a basement processor, but many of those also involve a dedicated raid card?

Obviously I don`t want to build it and find out that my processor isn`t powerful enough for it, but I would like to keep it as cheap as possible.

I was looking at an AMD II X4 620 quad core, 2 GB ram, mobo that supports 6 sata2 with 4 pci-e x16 expansion slots (for dirt cheap video card and possible sata expansion cards)

Does the motherboard even need to support raid for FreeNAS to configure Raid 5, or is that done completely within FreeNAS?

Ultimately I will be sending it out over gigabit to my desktop pc so the speeds of dedicated raid card are not required, but I do want to make sure I`m building something adequate for the storage capacity

Thanks, feel free to suggestion some hardware for me!

(P.S. I have searched and couldn`t find anything to answer my question directly)
a b G Storage
January 19, 2010 2:12:31 PM

rust0r said:
Just want to say Hi first off, this is my first post here
Welcome to the forums! I've been running FreeNAS for over two years, so hopefully I can provide some info and insight you will find useful. Please note that FreeNAS is extremely light and quite literally can be run off a USB thumb drive or Compact Flash card with the crappiest of hardware. Also, if you have not already, visit www.freenas.org and read up on all the documentation, faq's, and hardware compatibility lists. To some extent, you are actually better off going with last gen parts when running FreeNAS as the latest and greatest hardware may not be supported, yet. I also mention that because when you are deciding on the hardware, you do not need the latest and greatest to enjoy the full functionality of FreeNAS. My favorite thing about FreeNAS is that after you configure it to your liking, it just works, it sits there like furniture, it just runs without issue.

rust0r said:
I just have a few questions regarding the hardware needed to adequately run a FreeNAS setup. I am looking to run a Raid 5 NAS using FreeNAS, it will be a software raid (no dedicated controller). Currently am expanding to 6 TB and want to make sure that his will be able to sustain the pairty calculations

I`m wondering if I need something duo or quad core, I see many places suggesting a basement processor, but many of those also involve a dedicated raid card?

Obviously I don`t want to build it and find out that my processor isn`t powerful enough for it, but I would like to keep it as cheap as possible.

I was looking at an AMD II X4 620 quad core, 2 GB ram, mobo that supports 6 sata2 with 4 pci-e x16 expansion slots (for dirt cheap video card and possible sata expansion cards)
A quad core is very much overkill, a fast dual core (2.4GHZ and above) will be more than enough even with software RAID. Something like an Athlon X2 5400 or a Celeron E3300 (both are $45+/-) would fill the need. Anything over 1GB RAM for FreeNAS is a waste. FreeNAS will perform flawlessly with only 512MB of single channel RAM, let alone dual channel. Being that most motherboards support dual channel, 1GB (2-512MB DIMMS) of DDR2-667 (about $25) is more than enough. But, given the low prices of RAM these days, if you happen to get 2GB (2-1GB DIMMS) of DDR2-800 at a good price; just be aware that FreeNAS will not really use more than 1GB and the extra 1GB is, more or less, wasted on FreeNAS. You would seriously have to be running multiple services in FreeNAS like the CIFS, FTP, iSCSI, BitTorrent, iTunes server, and software RAID all at the same time and all running almost to capacity to to use all 2GB RAM. Yes, FreeNAS is that light and efficient.

rust0r said:
Does the motherboard even need to support raid for FreeNAS to configure Raid 5, or is that done completely within FreeNAS?
No, the motherboard only needs to have the number of SATA ports you want to build the size array you are looking for. If you are building a 6TB array, then for a RAID5 array, providing you are using at least 1.5TB drives, you need at least 5 SATA ports on the mobo that are running off the same controller; do not mix mobo SATA controllers when creating your software array in FreeNAS. Example, some mobos offer multiple SATA ports with some running off the southbridge controller (Intel or AMD branded) and other SATA ports running off a 3rd party (Marvel, SiS) controller, and to minimize issues it is best to keep the drives assigned to the software array on the same controller.

rust0r said:
Ultimately I will be sending it out over gigabit to my desktop pc so the speeds of dedicated raid card are not required, but I do want to make sure I`m building something adequate for the storage capacity
Actually, if using gigabit, a dedicated RAID controller is preferred because of the speed it offers compared to an onboard controller. But given that you will be using the software RAID5 feature built into FreeNAS and considering at least a fast dual core, having FreeNAS calulate parity should not be an issue. Again, I highly suggest reading up on the faq's and user forums at www.freenas.org to gain some insight to other user's experiences with the software RAID5 built into FreeNAS.

Back when I first dl'd FreeNAS, it was on version 0.68 (which I am still using) and the write-ups and opinions on the RAID5 implementation were not very good. However, the latest version .70, has implemented improved RAID support, so those issues may have gone away. Version .70 also implemented ZFS support which, if you haven't, I highly recommend reading up on and determining if using the ZFS file system instead of RAID5 would meet your needs. I am considering rebuilding my NAS and upgrading to FreeNAS .70 because of ZFS.

Here is a list of the hardware I am currently using in my NAS, hopefully it offers a baseline or inspires your own ideas:
Motherboard - ASRock Conroe-1333-DVI/H (Intel 945G chipset and ICH7 southbridge)
CPU - Celeron 420 (single core 35W @ 1.6GHz)
RAM - 1GB DDR2-667 (Corsair generic)
OS Drive - AData 1GB Compact Flash card (plugged into IDE/CF adapter in the Primary IDE slot)
RAID Controller - 3Ware 8506-8LP with 5-320GB drives in RAID5 (1.2TB)
Case: Cheap Rosewill
PSU: Corsair 450W

rust0r said:
Thanks, feel free to suggestion some hardware for me!
Understand that any parts you get for a computer running FreeNAS are not meant for high performance or overclocking, given FreeNAS's footprint, there is absolutely no point in overclocking or getting high end parts. The primary focus of this is to select parts that will be cheap and reliable. Here's some basic hardware recommended all taken from www.newegg.com:
Motherboard - ASRock G43Twins-FullHD
CPU - Celeron E3300
RAM - G-Skill DDR2-667 (F2-5400PHU2-2GBNT)
Case - COOLER MASTER Elite RC-310 Mid-Tower
PSU - Corsair 450W

Whether you choose to use a USB thumb drive or CF card to load FreeNAS onto is your choice. But if you have an old hard drive laying around, that will also work. Do not load FreeNAS onto the RAID array you plan on loading your data onto. Do not! It is highly recommended that you use a drive solely to load FreeNAS onto and a seperate drive/array for your storage.

Hope this helps!
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January 19, 2010 2:53:40 PM

Wow, thank you for taking the time to write up such a detailed response; that really answered many of my questions that I couldn`t find answers to elsewhere

I knew that the actual FreeNAS software didn`t use much resources but wasn`t sure about the software raid parity taxing the system. A friend tried explaining to me (I am not technically challenged or anything by any means) and I just couldn`t get over that the entire thing ran off a CF or USB stick :ouch: 

My only worry is that a motherboard with only 6 sata slots will have me needing an expansion or add on pci-e card with more sata ports; many of these motherboard only have 1 pci-e x16 slot (and some seem to need to disable onboard video if you want to utilize the x16 slot from what I have heard, effectively making the x16 slot useless for anything other than a video card). I am looking at a motherboard with 6 sata slots, dual gigabit NICs (as i understand you can bond them) and 4 PCi-e x16 slots, so this would allow me to expand with an add-on card if needed in the future (or is this advised against due to crossing chipset types vs whats on the board and whats on the PCI-e card?)

Is there a better way of expanding to say 8 or 10 sata ports in total that will save me trouble down the road if I set it up now?

The other thing is that when comparing the motherboard I`m looking at, its practically the same price as the one you had suggested (or that any people seem to be using), just under $100; at that point the difference between single or duo core and a good quad core is only about $35-$40; it seems the only difference between an okay system (not in FreeBSD terms, but in terms of future longevity if I ever wanted to use it as anything else) and a great computer (minus gaming capability) is only about $40 when it`s all said and done; or am I missing something big here?

Lastly, you mentioned a hard ware raid setup for transferring over gigabit; I am aware the drastic speed increases that a dedicated card would bring (taking load off CPU), in your experience what speeds should I expect over gigabit with the proposed setup? I see many people claiming different things, with or without problems and just throwing numbers out there but am having a hard time establishing what this build would bring me (I am looking to do a direct connect or crossover cable setup to my desktop)

Again, thank you for such a great response and warm welcome to the board

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a b G Storage
January 19, 2010 7:17:47 PM

I flagged this in hopes of finding out some good information. I'm so happy that I did - I was thinking of building a home NAS and already have some parts for it.

Chunkymonster - thanks so much for all the info. I'm going to start pursuing this more seriously.
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January 21, 2010 1:36:58 PM

Can anyone answer my last round of questions ? I'm getting antsy! Haha
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a b G Storage
January 23, 2010 12:36:03 PM

rust0r said:
Wow, thank you for taking the time to write up such a detailed response; that really answered many of my questions that I couldn`t find answers to elsewhere

I knew that the actual FreeNAS software didn`t use much resources but wasn`t sure about the software raid parity taxing the system. A friend tried explaining to me (I am not technically challenged or anything by any means) and I just couldn`t get over that the entire thing ran off a CF or USB stick :ouch: 
No worries, glad to offer some help. Yep, in a pc world where Windows requires GB's just for iteself, let alone whatever additional storage space your build requires, it is almost surreal to know that there is a freeware NAS OS that so incredibly small but yet still offers full NAS/file sharing functionality.

rust0r said:
My only worry is that a motherboard with only 6 sata slots will have me needing an expansion or add on pci-e card with more sata ports; many of these motherboard only have 1 pci-e x16 slot (and some seem to need to disable onboard video if you want to utilize the x16 slot from what I have heard, effectively making the x16 slot useless for anything other than a video card). I am looking at a motherboard with 6 sata slots, dual gigabit NICs (as i understand you can bond them) and 4 PCi-e x16 slots, so this would allow me to expand with an add-on card if needed in the future (or is this advised against due to crossing chipset types vs whats on the board and whats on the PCI-e card?)
First off, 6TB of storage is a lot of space; a lot! If and when you fill 6TB of storage, you will have basically two choices, 1) increase the size of the disks in the array, or 2) add in a hardware controller and build a new storage array. For option 1) this means backing up the data, breaking the array, repurposing the old disks, rebuilding the the new array with larger disks, and then reimaging/migrating the data back to the new array. Quite the process and time consumer to say the least, let alone answering the question of where and how to back up 6TB of data. For option 2) you have to acquire a hardware controller, purchase the hard drives, add the controller and drives to the machine (assuming the case can hold the additional drives, if not, then?), build the array in the controller BIOS or in FreeNAS.

You're right in that choosing the motherboard will determine future upgrades and expandability. And as you mentioned, a mobo with multiple PCIe x16 slots offer that expandability. Using an add in hardware controller card will not cause conflicts with the existing array (on the mobo SATA ports) or have issue with the mobo chipset. This is assuming you are not attempting to combine the drives from the onboard SATA ports to drives on the controller card into a single array. As long as you keep the disks/array tied to the onboard SATA ports seperate from the array on the controller card there will be no issues with any mobo conflicts. Effectively, you will have two seperate and stand alone arrays, one assigned to the onboard SATA ports and another to the controller card. FreeNAS won't care, it's just another mount point and share.

One thing about this scenario and using an add in controller is that you will then have the option of using the RAID utility built into the controller card's BIOS to set the RAID level, or still use FreeNAS's software RAID solution with the controller card just presenting the drives for FreeNAS to use. My opinion in this case would be to use the controller card to set the RAID level offloading the parity to the card rather than the cpu. But then again, if you monitor FreeNAS cpu usage using the software RAID solution during heavy file read/writes, the cpu usage may be so small as to where using the software RAID solution for the drives in the controller card may not be an issue.

rust0r said:
Is there a better way of expanding to say 8 or 10 sata ports in total that will save me trouble down the road if I set it up now?
No really no better way than mentioned above to add actuial SATA ports, an add in hardware controller card is the best option if you need more storage. Well, there is one way, but it just adds storage space and not SATA ports, the super cost effective way, which would be to get an external eSATA/USB drive like the WD My Book and present that to FreeNAS as a mount point and share. Not robust or as elegant as a hardware controller but it does the job of offering more storage space. In my opinion, external drive like the My Book are best left for archiving and last resort data back up

rust0r said:
The other thing is that when comparing the motherboard I`m looking at, its practically the same price as the one you had suggested (or that any people seem to be using), just under $100; at that point the difference between single or duo core and a good quad core is only about $35-$40; it seems the only difference between an okay system (not in FreeBSD terms, but in terms of future longevity if I ever wanted to use it as anything else) and a great computer (minus gaming capability) is only about $40 when it`s all said and done; or am I missing something big here?
You are not missing anything. With the economy being in the state it is in, electronics are cheap, and if the costs difference between motherboards, cpu. and memory is negligible to you, then why the heck not get the quad core, better mobo, or faster RAM! It is a good time to be a computer enthusiasts, you can build a quad core machine that trumps any top of the line computer from 4 years ago for a fraction of the cost. Gotta love it...but I digress...

rust0r said:
Lastly, you mentioned a hard ware raid setup for transferring over gigabit; I am aware the drastic speed increases that a dedicated card would bring (taking load off CPU), in your experience what speeds should I expect over gigabit with the proposed setup? I see many people claiming different things, with or without problems and just throwing numbers out there but am having a hard time establishing what this build would bring me (I am looking to do a direct connect or crossover cable setup to my desktop)
Not sure I can answer this because I am still using megabit for my home LAN. However as a comparison, I max out my megabit connection at 80Mbps when performing file transfers from my workstation/gaming machine (in my signature below) to my NAS; which are wired connections. When streaming media wirelessly on 802.11G to my HTPC, I do not experience any lag or stuttering issues when watching movies or listening to music, even if I am transferring files in the background. Me personally, for streaming media from my NAS to my HTPC, a megabit LAN and 802.11G still has headroom.

But the issue isn't so much how fast gigabit will actually be as it is the hard drives being able to read/write as fast as the LAN can transfer the data. At this point, the physical spin speed of the hard drives becomes the limiting factor in the speed of gigabit file transfer. Another consideration is the gigabit controller itself, some just perform better than others; Intel gigabit NICs are known to be faster than say a Marvel or Realtec gigabit NIC. Another thing of note is that gigabits theoretical bandwidth limit is 125MB/s, so you will not realize anything faster than that to begin with. I am not convinced of the need to team dual gigabit NICS. Of course, gigabit will certainly be faster than megabit, with the big advantage being the time is takes to transfer large (4GB+) files. Again, sorry I can not answer the question directly, but hopefully my little diatribe offers a different perspective for the need/use of gigabit.

rust0r said:
Again, thank you for such a great response and warm welcome to the board

Tony
Hope this helps! Post back when you figure out what you're doing or to let us know what your results are. Good luck!
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a b G Storage
January 23, 2010 2:23:53 PM

Thanks again Chunkymonster - excellent insight. I've been trying to convince myself that I have the time to make a solution like this work - I'm in a similar situation - wanting to stream movies to a HTPC from a dedicated NAS.

How bad is the NAS on power? Can you configure it to spindown/idle when not in use?

Wireless G and no issues, huh? Awesome.

What kind of drives do you have in your NAS? What are the basic specs?

Thanks again for all the info.
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a b G Storage
January 23, 2010 10:50:31 PM

huron said:
Thanks again Chunkymonster - excellent insight. I've been trying to convince myself that I have the time to make a solution like this work - I'm in a similar situation - wanting to stream movies to a HTPC from a dedicated NAS.
No worries. With time, all things are possible. I like having an actual computer connected to the home theater as opposed to a network appliance or gaming console.

huron said:
How bad is the NAS on power? Can you configure it to spindown/idle when not in use?
I don't measure or track the power consumption of the NAS. However, it does have a 450W psu if that's any indication. FreeNAS allows you to configure the disk performance from the Disk Management console. You can control the transfer mode, standby time, power management, etc...

huron said:
Wireless G and no issues, huh? Awesome.
Depending in your living space, wireless may or may not be the best solution. I have friends that live in a city and given the steel and concrete, wireless doesn't perform well; they ended up installing CAT5e behind the floor trim. However, another option is to add access points to increase the wireless range. My living space is open and the 9db high gain antennas on the wireless router don't hurt.

huron said:
What kind of drives do you have in your NAS? What are the basic specs?
The array is of 5-320GB WD 8MB Cache WD3200AAJD. I didn't realize how dated they are compared to the 640GB 32MB Cache WD6401AALS drive that are the same price point I paid for the 320GB drives. Check out http://www.storagereview.com if you haven't already.

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January 24, 2010 11:54:19 PM

This thread is incredibly well timed for me because I am about to do the exact same thing. I have some hardware that I am planning on re-purposing into a NAS, as I move toward a No-Windows household.

My question has to do with NICs. Other threads have indicated that Intel NICs have significant performance advantages over most on-board NICs. In particular, the Intel PWLA8391GT gets high marks.

I don't have a gigabit network and much of what goes on here is done wirelessly, but the long-term plan is to up the speeds all around. Nevertheless, I don't want the NIC to be a limiting factor when streaming video from the server.
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a b G Storage
January 26, 2010 5:38:26 PM

Interesting - I thought that Intel had some advantages, but hadn't heard about specific models. Is it a driver thing? Is it worth purchasing NICs instead of repurposing something I already own?
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a b G Storage
January 26, 2010 11:10:33 PM

captclaude said:
My question has to do with NICs. Other threads have indicated that Intel NICs have significant performance advantages over most on-board NICs. In particular, the Intel PWLA8391GT gets high marks.

huron said:
Interesting - I thought that Intel had some advantages, but hadn't heard about specific models. Is it a driver thing? Is it worth purchasing NICs instead of repurposing something I already own?


If I remember correctly, Intel actually fabs their own NIC chips. Also, some software vendors only certify certain hardware so, being Intel, they get the nod. So it isn't strictly a driver thing as it is a combination of fabbing the chips and then writing the drivers for them; much like Intel does with their chipsets.

IMO, a NIC is a NIC. For a home LAN, I do not see any advantage to a dedicated NIC compared to an onboard NIC, gigabit is gigabit, and as long as it's a name brand NIC (Marvell, Realtec) they should perform about the same.

Of course, if you have a specific NIC and want to be sure that it will be compatible with FreeNAS, check the hardware compatibility list; chances are that it is supported by FreeNAS.

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a c 127 G Storage
January 27, 2010 9:42:48 PM

Hello there :) 

Some notes i'd like to add:

1) I would encourage use of ZFS filesystem which has its own RAID, as it provides many benefits. It does require you to read about what ZFS is and how it works. It also requires a healthy pool of RAM. If you intend to use a serious ZFS setup, you should not have less than 2GB RAM. The amount of RAM you need depends on how much you can put load on the filesystem; not the size of the filesystem or the chosen RAID type.

2) Hardware RAID doesn't have to be faster than Software RAID at all. For sequential tansfers, software RAID should be the same as hardware RAID. If you do intend to use geom raid5 driver, its sequential speeds both read and write would likely surpass that of the gigabit bandwidth. You can test this out quite easily by locally testing on the FreeNAS machine with some SSH access. The reason many people do not get optimal speeds is because they use SMB/CIFS aka Windows File Sharing, provided by Samba. And these protocols just don't perform well in home environments (high bandwidth, single user). Also Samba appears to perform worse on BSD - so FreeNAS is particularly hit. Avoid Samba; use NFS/iSCSI/AoE/FTP/SFTP if possible.

3. Mixing controllers (chipset + PCI-express addon) for software RAID should be no problem. Ive been doing it for years. Do avoid PCI at all cost - PCI is evil! PCI will ruin your software RAID. PCI-express is fine though, a simple PCIe x1 card providing two SATA ports is cheap and should work fine - both geom raid and ZFS. If you need more ports, i suggest looking into this SuperMicro product:
http://www.supermicro.com/products/accessories/addon/AO...
It should be supported by newer BSD kernels - not sure on FreeNAS as its still in 7.x while BSD is 8.x now. You have to remove the bracket to make it fit; as its an Inverted PCI-express x8 slot; but it should work. The 2 connectors are Mini-SAS; they split into 4 SATA connectors each; providing capability to connect up to 8 drives as normal SATA controller (HBA), suitable for ZFS or geom raid. It offers 2GB/s full-duplex bandwidth.

4. Onboard NIC is fine; but sometimes not supported or some bugs due to driver issues. If it works, and supports Jumbo Frames (MTU 9k), then onboard NIC would be just as fine as an add-on card. The em intel driver had issues too; so i would just try onboard gigabit first.
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February 9, 2010 12:34:14 PM

fantastic read.
btw just to point out some nics are better than the average nic.
look up TOE and jumbo frames if you're really looking to max out that gigabit network of yours.
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March 17, 2010 3:56:59 PM

all right guys...
i am about to build a crazy freenas... ordering parts today actually.

i am really concerned about using a hardware raid.

this is the raid i am using
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
filled with 8 X 2tb drives in raid 5.

i guess my first ? is, has anyone tried this hardware before?

and #2, do you guys know anything about link aggregation?

a plan on doing 2 or 4 ports from the nas to the switch, and our mac pros have 2 gigabit ports built in. is that going to work like i expect? or is it going to be a huge pain?

thanks!
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a b G Storage
March 17, 2010 6:04:32 PM

I thought that system was primarily used as a port multiplier and not a standalone - maybe I misunderstood it previously.

For $300, I'd be more likely to build a cheap dual-core system, but that's me - I like to build.
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June 5, 2010 3:09:54 AM

This is truly an outstanding thread.

Chunkymonkey: Thank You for your detailed answers, big-picture advice, and eloquent prose. It's not lost on me the time you invested. rust0r's questions (well-explained, too) nailed it better than I could have. sub mesa, great brass tacks guidance.

All told, I'm coming away with a solid fishing lesson, rather than a spoon feeding (no pun intended).


Thank You.
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a b G Storage
June 8, 2010 4:07:39 PM

Hi Huron. Did you build it? Just wondering about the status of this thread.

Just to qualify; one of the first replies states that freenas runs well on any old cheap hardware with 512mb or 1gb ram being overkill. That may be true but ZFS is recommended over raid 5 (even better than geom raid 5) and it likes RAM. The hardware you use may eventually limit your speeds. The question is what are you expecting from your gigabit LAN nas? 30MB/s or 100MB/s

Here's a thread talking about ...speed...

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/258578-14-raid-spee...

imho the original problem was using the 'full' version of freenas which reads and writes constantly to the hdd it is running on. The 'embedded' version can use any media but on startup it 'embeds' the OS in RAM (only about 64MB i believe). Any changes to the OS will be saved to the media during shutdown. So, watch for this during your build.

As to power consumption. Tom's has some great articles but over and over he states the PSU is the most important component in low power use. Clearly if you are pushing 10 hdds the style of drive will affect this too (ie green vs black WDs).

As to the ongoing discussion about buying a $45 chip and a $50 board. For less than $200 you can build an i3 530, chip and board, with more than 6 sata ports and likely lower power consumption overall. Certainly its overkill but the price point is so close and the future is coming. Check my thread if you are interested in cost of components at/or near, April 2010. It's called something like "help me max gigabit lan for less than $1000"


Good Luck and Good Computing

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a b G Storage
June 8, 2010 4:10:01 PM

Oh, it was rust0r building. Well... did you?
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!