Bounding Unicorns

2017 NAS setup

My current NAS box is an Asus E45M1-M Pro dating back a couple of years, which itself is a replacement for Asus E35M1-M Pro. These are CPU/mainboard combos equipped with AMD E-450/E-350 processors, respectively. They come with 5 SATA ports, 1 PCE-E x16 slot, 1 PCE-E x1 slot and two PCI slots.

When I initially bought these boards they were intended to be usable in both NAS and firewall/gateway capacities. In the NAS capacity they support 5 hard drives, and in the gateway capacity they support up to four Intel gigabit network cards (this was back when I was buying single port PCI network cards, prior to me discovering Intel Pro/1000 quad port cards on eBay).

The processors, being dual-core 1.6/1.7 GHz AMD units, are decent for a NAS.

These boards can function with passive cooling only with open cases in typical NAS workloads. If performing CPU-intensive work on the machines for extended periods of time they need some airflow. I found a rear-mounted case fan to be sufficient.

As I am looking to expand the provisioned capacity yet again to accommodate my track day video storage, I initially looked for a new CPU/mainboard combo to build a second NAS box and was pleasantly suprised to find that nowadays much more processing power is availabe for much cheaper, like an ASRock J3455-ITX. This combo offers a quad core, 1.5 GHz base frequency Intel processor that should outperform my AMD E-450 by a factor of 2x-3x in single threaded workloads and has twice as many cores, supports 16 GB RAM, uses SODIMM DDR3 sticks which I have several in lower capacities from my various Thinkpads and 4 SATA ports, for $75 as of this writing.

The SATA port count is somewhat low for a NAS though, and as I kept researching I came across this post on Reddit suggesting the following alternative setup:

These RAID controllers require a PCI-E 8x slot which my E35M-1M/E45M1-M Pro boards have, thus I could add one to my existing NAS and gain additional 8 drives worth of capacity.

I've done some research on the LSI board in particular and found these two relevant and interesting articles explaining these cards. An alternate adapter is an LSI 9240-8i which is a bit cheaper but needs to be reflashed to operate in non-RAID (JBOD) mode, allowing the operating system direct access to the disks.

Also, using one of these RAID controllers lifts the requirement of the mainboard having a large number of SATA ports, meaning a wider variety of mainboards can be used in the NAS - achieving either a cost reduction or higher performance.

As far as the hard drives are concerned, my most recent purchases were whitelabeled hard drives on eBay and 6TB WD Blues removed from enclosures, also on eBay. An alternative that I've come across but have not yet personally used is getting a WD EasyStore 8TB from BestBuy. These do come in enclosures and it seems that some drives are not 100% operational, as well as some having issues being operated outside of their enclosure.

Another interesting alternative is a SAS disk like HP 6TB on eBay coupled with a SFF-8087 to SFF-8482 cable like this. These disks would require a RAID controller like the MegaRAID/LSI ones mentioned above.