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A discussion / build for a multi-purpose storage device

Last response: in Systems
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February 20, 2009 4:32:14 PM

Intro
I’ve been toying around with the idea of building a storage device that would fit several criterias. I know of external hard drives, NAS, tv-box, htpc, etc but none fulfills exactly my needs. Talking about requirements, here’s a shortlist:

1- Large storage capacity / Easy to add storage
2- Easy to maintain
3- Fast connections (1000mbps, eSATA, usb 2.0, maybe even wireless .N)
4- Low noise
5- Low power
6- Small footprint
7- Can connect with windows/os x/linux/HDTV (through ftp, smb, rdp, itunes, etc) easily

That being said, some of you could probably right away point me towards expensive business solutions. Where is the fun in that? I found a NAS that sort of did what I wanted but it costed 2000$ without disks…pfft. Therefore, let’s begin with some component selection :D 

HDD / Raid choices

What about the hdd configuration you’ll ask? I obviously mean this box to last me a while so some kind of RAID would be welcome. The obvious choices are raid1, raid5 and raid 1+0 as a personal favourite. Let’s discuss this aspect in a bit more depth.

Raid1 = I double my hdd count for the same capacity and am protected if half the disks fail. Doesn’t increase my performance that much, doesn’t protect me against viruses/user errors (well, I don’t make any, obviously, but someone else could…)

Raid5 = I’d run this with a minimum of 3 disks to begin with. This protects my data slightly less well than a raid1 at 4 disks and more. The speed benefits are there for reads, not so much for writes.

Raid 1+0 = The speediest solution at the highest cost. I’d need to start with 4 disks right away, increasing my initial cost. It would perform better than 0+1 in terms of reliability and give me more speed, at an added cost.

I personally prefer raid 1+0 for a desktop machine (if I was to raid at all on a desktop, which I find useless anyway) but in this case, a raid5 might make more sense in a backup/server machine.

Let’s go to a parts list right away (with prices in Canadian dollars as of feb 20th 2009):

Cpu: E7300 – 160$ - Cheap, can be OC if need be, low TDP.
Mobo: P5Q Pro – 137$ (2x pcie x16 for a potential raid card upgrade)
Ram: 4gig kingston – 45$ - Cheapest 2x2gig out there atm
Psu: HX520 – 120$ - Very silent and efficient
Video: HD4550 - 512mb - fanless – 61$ - can stream HD
Optical: GH20NS15 – 27$ - Cheapest dvd burner I could find
Sound: integrated
Chassis: LC10B-E – 127$ - Small form factor, I’ve had a good experience with Silverstone
Cpu cooler: nt01-e – 64$ - Silent / fanless cpu cooler suggested by Silverstone
Extra case fans: noctua nf-b9-1600 – 11$/ea, 22$ total – very quiet, I had a good exp with Noctua’s 120mm
Hard drives: WD GP 1tb x 3-6 – 125$ each, 750$ for 6 (best $/gb, noise, heat, speed criterias)

Total: 1512$

Silly big
For the fun of it, here’s the biggest raid controller I could find:

Raid card: 24 port areca – 1426$

24 * 1tb drives = 3000$; 2tb = 7728$ (for a total of 48tb, at 16cents per gb). With that kind of controller, you could technically fit 48tb TWICE on that p5q pro, with an extra 12tb for the ICH10R controller, bringing you up to 108tb or 108 000gb. That’d cost you along the lines of 19000$ in hdds and controllers. Still, if you were to ask IBM / Dell / whatever to build you a 108tb array, chances are it would cost you more than that :p 

Discussion

Silly stuff aside, let’s discuss this build seriously. First of all, this thing should run warm but very silent, satisfying my criterias relatively easily. In terms of space, I should be able to store all of my data just fine and when comes the time to add more, I’ll have plenty of upgradability with the empty pcie slot giving me access to controllers going up to 24 disks. Also, I have eSATA support for external drives (if I want to do a backup of a backup, or connect to a friend’s disk) as well as USB 2.0 and 10/100/1000mbps support. The small form factor box is sleek and elegant while being compact. In other words, I won’t be ashamed to put it in the living room if I ever need to take it out of the closet. The box could be used to stream content straight to an avr receiver with a dvi-hdmi and optical cable so it can fulfill the role of a DVR box. If I want to stream content straight from satellite / cable into the machine, there is room for an additional pci video capture card as well.

The only kink left to sort out is which OS is best suited for this multipurpose box. MythTV seems like an obvious choice for the media part, so I might as well go for a linux distro like Fedora. For playback, MythTV should work with windows and osx clients with minor tweaks. With Fedora/Ubuntu/whatever, I can setup an ftp/http/samba/remote desktop/vnc/younameit server without any issues, making this box the perfect solution for my problems.

At this point, the only issue I might have is to find a way to synchronise a windows desktop image/incremental backup/versioning system with the box. I’m open to suggestions here. My first guess is to use Acronis and to store an image of my machine that I’d keep relatively up-to-date. This is sort of not optimal because I need to do it myself, which I will forget at least once. I’m thinking that there might be a way to setup something viable with Rsynch.

Conclusion

There you go, I hope you enjoyed this post and will be able to use the information I gathered to make your own multi-purpose storage device. I certainly had fun researching and putting together all this information. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share!


NOTE: I have an excel file with all the links to those components and a nicely tabulated price list. I'll try to see if I can put that up on google docs or something so that you can have a better idea of where to buy those parts in Canada.

NOTE2: www.shopbot.ca is very useful.
February 20, 2009 4:59:35 PM

How about an actual server board and chassis/PSU?
February 20, 2009 5:05:17 PM

I looked into getting a server board (a 2 socket board) and the total cost ended up higher than this option. As for a server chassis/PSU, it is a good option if I wanted to expand right away to a large raid controller and more than 6 hdds. Unfortunately, it would not have fit my need for a small footprint (I basically want to hide this thing under my bed or in the closet). As for server PSU's, they are noisier than this HX520 unit (which I picked based on a recommendation from silentpcreview.com).
Related resources
February 21, 2009 8:17:35 PM

good suggestions as usual :) 

I worked with a rack case before and they are sturdy and durable. I would actually use one of those if I had a rack for my A/V equipment, so that I'd have a single spot with all the electronics. Atm, I don't but in a future upgrade, I sure as hell am going to consider it :) 
!