Setup Impressions and Platform Analysis

The setup process for the file server included assembling the hardware as well as installing the operating system and configuring the shares. The install process on the motherboard side was quite simple - the ASRock Rack C2750D4I (already reviewed by Ian last year) is not a socketed motherboard and the SoC as well as the heat sink come pre-installed. I won't go too much into the motherboard itself, as it has been already covered in detail in our review. The gallery below presents some photos of the motherboard during the setup process.

We decided to use the U-NAS NSC-800 for our build. The U-NAS NSC-800 comes with eight drive bays in front of a hot-swappable back-plane (both SAS and SATA ones are available, and our chassis came equipped with the latter) and a compact size that can accommodate a mini-ITX motherboard. There are three internal 2.5" drive bays (which can be used for SSD cache drives) and / or for OS drives). There is space for a 1U power supply. There are two 120mm chassis fans just behind the drive bays. The drive sleds can accommodate both 3.5" and 2.5" disks, and the overall construction feels solid.

Compatible PSUs can be ordered from U-NAS itself. The 1U PSU that came bundled with our chassis was the 400W ASPOWER U1A-C20400-D. The PSU carries a 80 PLUS GOLD rating. It must be noted that the 5V and 3.3V outputs should not be subject to a load of more than 150W.

Pretty much the only downside of the chassis for a modern build is the absence of a front USB 3.0 port, but, given that the ASRock Rack C2750D4I doesn't have a USB 3.0 header, this is a non-issue in our build. The chassis comes with the cables from the backplane neatly laid out to enable easy connection to the motherboard. The challenge in assembling the build was actually routing all the wires from the PSU to the motherboard connectors while keeping it managed enough to place the chassis cover unhindered. Despite being a very compact 8-bay unit, the chassis supports a single slot PCIe card. The ASRock Rack C2750D4I does have a spare PCIe slot, and we populated it with an Intel ESA I340-T4 just for the purpose of the build (not used in the benchmarking). The gallery below presents some photographs taken during our assembly process.

The ASRock Rack C2750D4I platform has already been extensively analyzed in our dedicated review. However, I will reproduce the SoC diagram and how the motherboard components are laid out below.

It is important to have an idea of the platform during the assembly of the NAS. Instead of just choosing eight ports at random to connect the backplane to, the layout analysis allows us to select the proper ports. The configuration mentioned in the table in the previous page ensures that the Avoton SoC can talk to the drives of the system with maximum possible bandwidth.

Introduction and Testing Methodology Performance Metrics - Phoronix Test Suite
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  • nevenstien - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    An excellent article on a cost effective File Server/NAS DIY build with a good choice of hardware. After struggling with the dedicated NAS vs. File server question for over a year I decided on FreeNAS using jails for whatever service I wanted to run. I was not a FreeNAS fan before the latest versions which I found very opaque and confused. My experience in the past with how painful hardware failures can be on storage systems even at a PC level convinced me the ZFS file system is the file system of choice for storage systems. The portability of the file system trumps everything else in my opinion. Whether you install FreeNAS or ZFS based Linux the ZFS file system should be the one that is used. When a disk fails its easy and when the hardware fails it’s just a matter of moving the disks to hardware that is not vendor dependent which means basically any hardware with enough storage ports. The software packages of the commercial NAS vendors is great but the main priority for me is the data integrity, reliability portability than the other services like serving video, web hosting or personal cloud services.
  • tchief - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Synology uses mdadm for their arrays along with ext4 for the filesystem. It's quite simple to move the drives to any hardware that runs linux and remount and recover the array.
  • ZeDestructor - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    If you virtualize, even the "hardware" becomes portable :)
  • xicaque - Monday, November 23, 2015 - link

    are you pretty good with Freenas? I am not a programmer and there are things that the freenas manual does not address in a clearer way to me. I have a few questions that I like to ask offline. Thanks.
  • thewishy - Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - link

    Agreed, after data corrupting following a disk failure on my synology, it's either a FS with checksum or go home.

    Based on those requirements, it's ZFS or BRTFS. ZFS disk expansion isn't ideal, but I can live with it. BRTFS is "getting there" for RAID5/6, but it's not there yet.

    The choice of board for the cost comparison is about 2.5x the price of the CPU (Skylake pentium) and Motherboard (B150) I decided on. Add a PCI-E SATA card and life is good.
    Granted, it doesn't support ECC, but nor do a lot of mid-range COTS NAS units.
  • Navvie - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Any NAS or Fileserver which isn't using ZFS is a non-starter for me. Likewise a review of such a system which doesn't include some ZFS numbers is of little value.

    I appreciate ZFS is 'new' but people not using it are missing a trick and AnandTech not covering it are doing a disservice to their readers.

    All IMO of course.
  • tchief - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Until you can expand a vdev without having to double the drive count, ZFS is a non starter for many NAS appliance users.
  • extide - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    You can ... you can add drives one at a time if you really want (although I wouldn't suggest doing that...)
  • jb510 - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Or one could use BtrFS. Which could stand for better pool resizing (it doesn't, that's just a joke people).

    Check out RockStor, it's no where near as mature as FreeNAS but it's catching up fast. Personally I'd much rather deal with Limux and docker containers than BSD and jails.
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    If there're major gotchas involved it's a major regression compared to other alternatives out there.

    I'm currently running WHS2011 + StableBit DrivePool. I initially setup with 2x 3GB drives in mirrored storage (raid 1ish equivalent). About a month ago, my array was almost completely full. Not wanting to spend more than I had to at this point (I intend to have a replacement running by December so I can run in parallel for a few months before WHS is EOL) I slapped in an old 1.5GB drive into the server. After adding to the array and rebalancing it I had an extra 750GB of mirrored storage available; it's not a ton but should be plenty to keep the server going until I stand it down. I don't want to lose that level of flexibility in being able to add un-matched drives into my array at need with whatever I use to replace my current setup with.

    If the gotcha is that by adding a single drive I end up with an array that's effectively a 2 drive not-raid1 not-raid0ed with a single drive, it'd be a larger regression in a feature I know I've needed than I'm confortable just to gain a bunch of improvements for what amount to what-if scenarios I've never encountered yet.

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