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Toaster RAID Returns, Better Than Ever

A Little Bit Of Background

The idea for RAID 5 in a toaster came up when I was working at ApplianceWare in Fremont, Calif., back in 2001, when terms like "information appliance" were all the rage. Since then, the company’s main product has continued to be a slimmed-down Linux distribution that lets you turn a computer into a file server. 

I had an old retro-toaster at the time and we were doing compatibility tests with various system boards. For fun, I stuffed a small system board into an old toaster. This gave the marketing teams something more interesting than a 1U whitebox to use at trade shows and sales presentations. It also made for some good laughs when visiting customers.

The first toaster RAID used a 5.25" AMI motherboard with two on-board SCSI adapters. The system had three 3.5" SCSI drives, each of which sported an impressive 8 GB capacity. The whole system, including the 250 W power supply, fit into an old 1970s vintage General Electric four-slice toaster.

The SCSI drives made one heck of a racket. The CPU was a Pentium MMX and there was a whopping 128 MB of memory on board. ApplianceWare and AMI custom-designed the motherboard.

Toaster RAID #1 was a bit heavy and bulky and admittedly not my finest piece of artwork. So Toaster RAID #2, which was half the size, was built soon after Toaster RAID #1 during the summer of 2001. The motherboard was another non-standard form factor, measuring about 6" by 8". The CPU clock speed was 200 MHz and there were 32 MB of memory in the SODIMM (laptop-style) form factor. Storage consisted of a pair of mirrored 8 GB 5,400 RPM parallel IDE drives.

From left to right, Toaster RAIDs #2, #3, and #4.

  • #2–September 2001, 8 GB mirrored, 200 MHz processor, 100 Mb Ethernet
  • #3–December 2005, 20 GB mirrored, same 200 MHz processor, 100 Mb Ethernet
  • #4–January 2009, 1,280 GB RAID 5, 2.4 GHz dual-core processor, 1 Gb Ethernet.

Toaster RAID #3 was built in late 2005 with the same system board as Toaster RAID #2, but with a pair of mirrored 20 GB 3.5" parallel IDE hard drives. At that time two drives were all that would fit in a small toaster and that was with an external laptop style power supply (see photo).

  • From left to right this picture shows an exposed view the same three Toaster RAID systems; #2 (Sept. 2001), #3 (Dec. 2005), and #4 (Jan. 2009).