Introduction and Testing Methodology

Small businesses and power users in a home setting have begun to face challenges with managing large amounts of data. These are generated either as part of day-to-day business operations or backing up of multimedia files from phones / tablets / TV recordings etc. One option is to use a dedicated COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) NAS from a vendor such as Synology or QNAP. Sometimes, it is also necessary to have a file server that is much more flexible with respect to programs that can be run on it. This is where storage servers based on Microsoft's offerings or even units based on Linux distributions such as Red Hat and Ubuntu come into play. These servers can either be bought as an appliance or assembled in a DIY fashion. Today, we will be looking at a system based on the latter approach.

A DIY approach involves selection of an appropriate motherboard and a chassis to place it in. Depending on the requirements and motherboard characteristics, one can opt for ECC or ordinary RAM. The platform choice and the number of drives would dictate the PSU capacity. The file server being discussed today uses the ASRock C2750D4I mini-ITX motherboard in a U-NAS NSC 800 chassis. 8 GB of ECC DRAM and a 400 W PSU round up the barebones components. The table below lists the components of the system.

ASRock C2750D4I + U-NAS NSC-800
Form Factor 8-bay mini-tower / mITX motherboard
Platform Intel Avoton C2750
CPU Configuration 8C/8T Silvermont x86 Cores
4 MB L2, 20W TDP
2.4 GHz (Turbo: 2.6 GHz)
SoC SATA Ports 2x SATA III (for two hot-swap bays)
4x SATA II (for one OS drive)
Additional SATA Ports Marvell SE9172 (2x) (for two hot-swap bays)
Marvell SE9230 (4x) (for four hot-swap bays)
I/O Ports 3x USB 2.0
1x D-Sub
2x RJ-45 GbE LAN
1x COM1 Serial Port
Expansion Slots 1x PCIe 2.0 x8 (Unused)
Memory 2x 4GB DDR3-1333 ECC UDIMM
Samsung M391B5273DH0-YH9
Data Drives 8x OCZ Vector 128 GB
Chassis Dimensions 316mm x 254mm x 180mm
Power Supply 400W Internal PSU
Diskless Price (when built) USD 845

Evaluation Methodology

A file server can be used for multiple purposes, unlike a dedicated NAS. Evaluating a file server with our standard NAS testing methodology wouldn't do justice to the eventual use-cases and would tell only a part of the story to the reader. Hence, we adopt a hybrid approach in which the evaluation is divided into two parts - one, as a standalone computing system and another as a storage device on a network.

In order to get an idea of the performance of the file server as a standalone computing system, we boot up the unit with a USB key containing a Ubuntu-on-the-go installation. The drives in the bays are configured in a mdadm RAID-5 array. Selected benchmarks from the Phoronix Test Suite (i.e, those benchmarks relevant to the usage of a system as a file server) are processed after ensuring that any test utilizing local storage (disk benchmarks, in particular) point to the mdadm RAID-5 array. Usage of the Phoronix Test Suite allows readers to have comparison points for the file server against multiple systems (even those that haven't been benchmarked by us).

As a storage device on a network, there are multiple ways to determine the performance. One option would be to repeat all our NAS benchmarks on the system, but that would be take too much time to process for a given system that we are already testing as a standalone computer. On the other hand, it is also important to look beyond numbers from artificial benchmarks and see how a system performs in terms of business metrics. SPEC SFS 2014 comes to our help here. The benchmark tool is best used for evaluation of SANs. However, it also helps us here to see the effectiveness of the file server as a storage node in a network. The SPEC SFS 2014 has been developed by the IOZone folks, and covers evaluation of the filer in specific application scenarios like the number of virtual machines that can be run off the filer, number of simultaneous databases, number of video streams that can be simultaneously recorded and the number of simultaneous software builds that can be processed.

Our SPEC SFS 2014 setup consists of a SMB share on the file server under test connected over an Ethernet network to our NAS evaluation testbed outlined below. Further details about the SPEC SFS 2014 workloads will be provided in the appropriate section.

AnandTech NAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard Asus Z9PE-D8 WS Dual LGA2011 SSI-EEB
CPU 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630L
Coolers 2 x Dynatron R17
Memory G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-12800CL10Q2-64GBZL (8x8GB) CAS 10-10-10-30
OS Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Secondary Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Tertiary Drive OCZ Z-Drive R4 CM88 (1.6TB PCIe SSD)
Other Drives 12 x OCZ Technology Vertex 4 64GB (Offline in the Host OS)
Network Cards 6 x Intel ESA I-340 Quad-GbE Port Network Adapter
Chassis SilverStoneTek Raven RV03
PSU SilverStoneTek Strider Plus Gold Evolution 850W
OS Windows Server 2008 R2
Network Switch Netgear ProSafe GSM7352S-200

The above testbed runs 10 Windows 7 VMs simultaneously, each with a dedicated 1 Gbps network interface. This simulates a real-life workload of up to 10 clients for the NAS being evaluated. All the VMs connect to the network switch to which the NAS is also connected (with link aggregation, as applicable). The VMs generate the NAS traffic for performance evaluation.

Thank You!

We thank the following companies for helping us out with our NAS testbed:

Setup Impressions and Platform Analysis
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  • ethebubbeth - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Your proposed setup does not support ECC memory, which is essential for any sort of software RAID style configuration. The system in the article does. I would not want to run a NAS without ECC memory unless I were using a hardware RAID card with cache battery backup.
  • brbubba - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    This system is quite capable of running Plex transcoding, check the cpu benchmark scores. If you want even more power grab a E3C226D2I and throw in an i7.
  • HideOut - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    All this power an d still USB 2.0 ?
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    It's a 2013 SoC, so no native support on Intel's support. I'm not sure if ASRock deliberately decided not to support it; or just ran out of PCIe lanes. It looks like they should have a few still available but I might be missing something. The SoC has 16 total; 8 go to the PCIe slot, 2 go to sata controllers, 3 to lan controllers, the GPU is a single lane PCIe model. That leaves 2 lanes unaccounted for...
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Also, it was never intended for use in consumer systems. USB3 primarily matters for backing a NAS to an external HD (or pulling files off of one); Avonton was intended for higher end business class NASes, that whether rackmount or standalone would be primarily accessed over the network.
  • brbubba - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Glad to see more mainstream sites posting these types of reviews. I was seriously considering the U-NAS boxes, but they aren't exactly what I call mainstream and I have yet to see any US retailers stocking their products.
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    It appears you can order their cases direct from the manufacturer and pay in USD, so the lack of 3rd party resellers is not a major problem. For my location in the US northeast, they wanted $16.66 to ship the 4bay case. No indication of shipping time was given; so if they don't have a US distribution point they're either shipping slowboat or eating the cost of airmail.
  • Paul357 - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    A great system for a NAS/Plex Media server. Still though, I'd wait to see what Denverton brings to the table. If it even is announced this year....
  • bobbozzo - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link


    1. would like to have seen more discussion about the power supply quality and other possible choices; will most 1U PSUs work, or is cabling going to be a problem? Would an SFX PSU fit?

    2. I didn't notice any mention of noise levels.

    3. any idea why the VDI performance was poor?

  • mdw9604 - Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - link

    Would like to see an option for redundant power supplies, even it means a bigger chassis.

    I have a couple of Synology DS1813+ and like them, but my next NAS will need to be beefier and will want some enterprise features, so looking at ZFS, redundant power supplies & possibly an iLO/Drac /Remote Console Card, as it will be located in a data center.

    This one doesn't quite make the cut.

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