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The Components

Building this from pretty much scratch, we need to buy most major components. For each component I’ll provide our criteria, our selection and the price we ended up with. Price was always a foremost criterion throughout and hitting our $1K target does require some compromises. We have budgeted $700 for the NAS array portion of this project.


The motherboard was probably our most important buy, as it determined what other components, and the specs of those components, were going to be needed. We wanted as much functionality built into the motherboard as possible, with networking and SATA support as the more integrated, the less we’d have to buy, or worry about compatibility. The baseline requirements were:

  • Three PCI-X slots, preferably all running at 133MHz: one slot for the fiber card and two slots for RAID controllers. Very high capacity RAID controllers, support for 12 plus drives, are often more than twice as expensive as those supporting fewer drives. Generally we can get two 12 port controllers for less than a single 24 port controller.
  • PCI-e slots for future expansion. Good PCI-X hardware will not be around forever, and though unlikely, we might find cheap PCIe controller cards.
  • For CPU, the latest possible generation 64-bit Xeon processor, preferably two processors. Ideally, Paxville (first dual core Xeons) or beyond.
  • Memory, easy - as much and running as quick as possible. At least 8GB.
  • Network, if possible integrated Intel Gigabit support, dual would be nice.
  • SATA, preferably support for three drives, two system drives and a DVD drive.
  • Budget: $200

What we got:  SuperMicro X6DH8-G2 Dual Xeon S604 Motherboard, with:

  • Three PCI-X, two slots at 100Mhz, one at 133Mhz
  • Three PCIe slots, 2 x8 and one x4
  • Nocona and Irwindale 64-bit Xeon Processor support
  • Up to 16 GB DDR2 400MHz memory
  • Dual integrated gigabit Lan, Intel Chipset
  • Two Integrated SATA ports

Price: Total $170 from Ebay (offer accepted), Motherboard, Processors & Memory

We got very lucky here, we were able to get a motherboard that hit most of our requirements, but also included two Xeon Irwindale 3.8GHz processors installed. Additionally, the same helpful folks had 8x 1Gig DDR2 400MHz memory for $90.

What we learned is that you should ask Ebay sellers of this sort of equipment, what else they have off your shopping list that may fit your needs. Since they are often asset liquidators, they’ll have the parts you are looking for, without worry of compatibility. And you can save on shipping.

The RAID Controller

A high capacity RAID controller was key to performance, the criteria were:

  • Support for at least nine drives, to exceed the eight bay consumer NAS contender. Which may require more than one RAID controllers.
  • At least SATA II, 3.0Gbps
  • Support for RAID 5, or even better RAID 6.
  • Support for at least 2TB drives, and not be finicky about drive criteria so we can buy inexpensive 2TB drives
  • Have at least 128 MB cache, preferably upgradable
  • Industrial grade, preferably Areca, but 3Ware/LSI or Adaptec were acceptable. Need Linux support, and because the checksum is proprietary, be easy to replace if the controller goes belly up.
  • PCI-X 133 MHz or PCIe Bus Support
  • If Multilane (group cables), come with the needed cables
  • Budget: $150

What we got:  3WARE 9550SX-12 PCI-X SATA II RAID Controller Card, with

  • Support for 12 SATA II drives
  • RAID 5 Support
  • 256M Cache
  • 133Mhz PCI-X
  • Single ports, no cables
  • Support for up to just under 20 TB in RAID 5 (11x1.8 TB) with inexpensive 2 TB drives

Price: Total $101 from Ebay (winning bid)

This was a nail biter. Attempts at getting two 8 port Areca cards exceeded our budget, so we settled on the 3ware card and were quite pleased with the price.

The 3Ware 9550SX(U) controllers appear to be everywhere at a reasonable price, and one should be able to be had at around $125 (avoid the earlier, much more limited, 9500S cards). Here is a nice review, including benchmarking, of this generation of SATA RAID cards.

Drive Array Chassis

The case was a bit of a search, with an interesting reveal. Our criteria:

  • Support for at least 16 drives
  • Good aesthetics, not cheap or ugly
  • Handles an EATX motherboard
  • Budget: $180

The initial supposition was that to hit the budget, Ebay was the only option. Looking for a used chassis, we encountered multiple folks selling Arrowmax cases for less than $75. Checking with the source,, we found two cold swap cases, a 4U server case that handled twenty drives, and a beer fridge-like case that handled 24 drives. Both met our criteria and were dramatically under our budget, the larger case being $80.

We were all set to push the button on the 4U case when we encountered one of those weird internet tidal eddies, an entire subculture (mostly based over on AVS Forums for HTPC builders) arguing the ins and outs of builds using the Norco 4020 hot swap SATA case.

Take a look at The Norco rackmountable RPC-4020: a pictorial odyssey. On another site, I swear I found a guy who had carved a full size teak replica of the 4020 and another who had his encrusted with jewels – a religious fervor surrounds this case.

Norco RPC-4020 case

Figure 2: Norco RPC-4020 case

Well, that was the one for us, how could a case have better mojo? It is inexpensive by hot swap case standards and supports twenty drives with a built-in backplane and drive caddies. Bonus: a community more than willing to help and opine about various optimizations.

What we got: Norco RPC-40204U Rackmount Server Hot Swap SATA Chassis, with:

  • Support for 20 SATA drives, hot swappable
  • Clean Design, acceptable appearance
  • Ability to handle numerous Motherboard form factors
  • Drive caddies and activity lamps for each drive
  • Lost cost, high utility

Price: Total $270 from NewEgg (Retail)

I recommend this case. If you read the various write-ups about the case, its true virtues are its design and price. Every corner has been shaved to make this affordable: the card slots are punch out, the back fans sound like the revving engines of a passenger jet, the molex connectors are not solid. But for what you get, it is a great deal. Because less expensive options exist, the budget overage of $90 is considered an embellishment.

Power Supply

We went with a 750W single rail, modular power supply with an exceptional seven year warranty, a power supply that could handle system power needs and those of 20 drives. This was the Corsair HX750 which happened to be on sale. Less expensive PSUs at the same power rating are available.

Price: Total $120 from NewEgg (with Rebate)

Hard Drives

Though not included in our target cost of $1,000, we need nine drives for both performance testing and to reach our goal of exceeding the number of drives supported by the largest consumer NAS. We went with the least expensive Hitachi 2 TB drives we could find, across a couple vendors. They get high ratings and have a three year warranty. There were WD drives for a few dollars less, slower and with only a one year warranty, a penny-wise, pound-foolish alternative. Warning, the Green WDs have reported RAID card compatibility issues.

What we got:

6 x 2TB HITACHI Deskstar 5K3000 32MB Cache 6.0Gb/s and

3 x 2TB HITACHI Deskstar 7K3000 64MB Cache 6.0Gb/s

Price: Total $670 from Various sources

You may ask if why SATA III speeds, why not SATA II 3.0 Gbps drives? They were the cheapest. Given the age of the 3Ware card, we also couldn’t verify our drives against the last published list of compatible drives in 2009, although Hitachi and this family of drives were listed.


When buying new pristine components, you’ll find all the parts you need already included in the sealed boxes. But this is not the case when buying used. Luckily, most of the same parts pile up after several builds, or you end up with perfectly good parts that can be reused. You will probably still need to buy a few bits and bobs to pull everything together. Here is a table of other needed parts:

Slim SATA DVD Drive + Cable New, Media Drive $33, NewEgg
A-Data 32Gb SATA SSD Reused, System Drive $0
20 SATA Data Cables New, Wiring Backplane, Data $24, Local Store
Norco Molex 7-to-1 Cable New, Wiring Blackplane, Power $8, NewEgg
Molex to MB P4 Reused, Supermicro additional connector $0
IO Shield New, Supermicro MB specific $8, EBay
Table 1: Odds and Ends

Price: Total $73 from Various sources

Total Cost NAS RAID Array

Let’s add up our purchases and see how much the NAS portion of our project cost, are we still under our goal of less than $1000?

Component Paid
Motherboard, CPUs, Memory $170
RAID Controller $101
NAS/SAN Array Chassis $270
PSU $120
9 x 2TB HDD $670
Incidentals $73
Subtotal, Expended $1404
Adjustments, not against goal $760
Total $644

The total of $644 is an excellent price for 14GB+ RAID 5 high performance NAS. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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