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NAS How To

Introduction

Intel's D945GCLF Atom motherboard

In parallel with the work on the Fast NAS series, I also have been experimenting with a dual-drive RAID 1 NAS using Intel's D945GCLF Atom motherboard. There are no commercial NASes yet that are based on Intel's little wonder, so I thought this was as good a time as any to see what the future might bring.

Components

Table 1 shows the components used in the NAS. The case is a real cheapie, but has room for four 3.5" drives and two 5.25" drives.

Component Cost
Case APEX MJ-16 $46
CPU Intel Atom (included in mobo)
Motherboard Intel BOXD945GCLF $80
RAM Kingston 2GB DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) $33
Power Supply 200W (included in case)
Ethernet Intel PRO/1000 PCI $25
Data Drives Hitachi Deskstar HDS721680PLA380
80GB 7200RPM 3.0 Gb/s SATA 8MB
$80 (2 x $40)
Table 1: Atom NAS component summary

The total cost without drives was about $185 without shipping. This is $20 - $30 more than D-Link DNS-323 and almost $50 more than a DNS-321, which are the current price / performance leaders in off-the-shelf dual-drive BYOD NASes.

You could shave a bit off this by going for less RAM and the Intel board actually has gone down by $10 as I write this. But you shouldn't try to save money by not buying a gigabit NIC if you are going for the maximum performance that can be squeezed from this board. The onboard Realtek RTL8102EL onboard Ethernet is only 10/100, which will definitely limit your throughput. I also had OS install problems as you'll see shortly.

Figure 1 is a photo of the board, which, unfortunately, has a fixed-speed fan on the Intel 82945GC GMCH Northbridge. The Atom CPU is under the heatsink to the left. From what I understand from Googling around, Intel used this Northbridge for low cost and not low power. I moved the Northbridge fan from over to the variable speed case fan connector and that seemed to quiet the fan down a bit.

Intel D945GCLF Atom Board

Figure 1: Intel D945GCLF Atom Board

Speaking of power, I measured my rig with two Hitachi SATA drives at around 54 W while running iozone tests. This is over twice what I usually measure for off-the-shelf dual-drive NASes (including drives), so low power is not one of the Intel Atom board's advantages!

Figure 2 is the board's block diagram if you're interested. There is a single 240 pin DIMM socket for DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) RAM, one PCI connector, one IDE connector, two SATA connectors and six USB 2.0 slots. You also get basic onboard video and audio.

Intel D945GCLF Board Block Diagram

Figure 2: Intel D945GCLF Board Block Diagram

I have to say that the mini-ITX form factor of the board really helped to make the assembly a breeze by leaving plenty of room in the case (Figure 3). No component collisions and no cuts or skinned knuckles for me!

Atom NAS system
Click to enlarge image

Figure 3: Atom NAS system

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