How To: Budget Network Attached Raid 5 Fileserver, Part 1

I recently came to the conclusion that I need three things.

  1. More Disk Space
  2. Reliable File Backup
  3. Centrally Available File Storage for multiple machines and operating systems

There are multiple solutions to these three problems. Each can easily be tackled separately and there are a ton of good products that do each quite well. But I wanted something that provides all three. With the announcement of Apple’s Time Capsule a NAS or “Network Attached Storage” system suddenly sounded like a great idea. Unluckily Time Capsule does not have a firm ship date, and I’m not sure I wanted to invest in a new Airport Base Station too.

Turning to Google provided hundreds of links to products that were limited to only two hard drives, USB 2.0 only, or didn’t support RAID 5 or higher. Or worse of all did what I wanted but cost way too much. So eying the spare hardware pile, I decided to save some money and build my own NAS server with Raid 5 and Gigabyte network. I figured I’d save several hundred dollars and have a system that was more upgradeable and more reliable.

Tom’s Hardware Guide built one in August 2006. Looking over the list of parts used I wasn’t happy with purchasing a separate SATA RAID card as that would quickly add to the price. It would also significantly add to the complexity of the entire system, and reduce recoverability if the system went down and I had to put the hard drives into another system to recover their data. So a new requirement, Software Raid became quickly apparent.

My Hardware Requirements were pretty basic:

  1. Motherboard
  2. CPU
  3. Memory
  4. 4 Hard Drives for the Raid
  5. 1 Hard Drive for Boot
  6. Case
  7. Power Supply
  8. CDRom (for software install only)

Between various upgrades I was able to scrape together a decent older PC case the boot drive and two of the four drives for the Raid array.

I’m a big fan of the LX-104 case. These were made by a no-name Chinese company for OEM builders. Despite that they were very good construction, thick steel, a working and easy to use snap together design, rounded corners and an attractive $75 retail price. Since their main competitor at the time was first generation Enlight cases this was all pretty attractive. Plus it has two hard drive slots and two 3 1/2 inch bays so that I could install 4 hard drives there.

The original motherboard an Intel PII-233 capable Asus board would have worked well, but then I would have had to go back to a SATA Raid card of some sort. I decided to pick up the Asus M2A-VM board. Not only does it have four on board SATA slots, it had onboard Video and Gigabyte. All of which use fairly common chip sets and are thus supported by Linux and FreeBSD. It also has hardware RAID, but I didn’t want to use that for the reasons outlined above.

I also needed to pick up a new power supply. I’m not an Antec fanatic like a lot of people, but I decided that quite was a definite plus. This machine would be effectively replacing an Apple G5 system which is dead quite. The Antec TP Trio 430w supply looked like it’d do what I need.

Add in two more Western Digital 250gb hard drives, a single chip of DDR2 512mb memory, and a retail Athlon68 3800 cpu at 2.4ghz and I was under $400 total. If I didn’t have some of the other parts on hand the price would have been a lot more making something likeLacie’s Ethernet Disk Raid much more attractive.

Of course, this would also be a great use for that previous generation PC sitting in the closet. With the addition of a couple of extra hard drives it’d be easy to build a budget NAS for under $200.

The boot drive (a 40gb IDE Maxtor) went into a 5 1/4 inch to 3 1/2 inch bay adapter so that it could be master to the boot CD drive. The four SATA drives installed easily, and the entire machine booted perfectly fine.

Next Step: Install Software and Configure

3 thoughts on “How To: Budget Network Attached Raid 5 Fileserver, Part 1

  1. Island Reply

    LX-104 ? whats the name of the company or where did you buy it ?

  2. Rick Reply

    I bought it roughly 8 years ago. I've been scrounging Goodwill and used computer part stores for more of these cases. I originally bought a pallet of them from a place in San Fransisco. They were literally a no-name brand made in China for the OEM computer market. I'll post pictures of the case when I get the whole system up and running.

    Unluckily that's going a little slow due to some bugs in FreeNAS which I'll explain about in the next article.

  3. Gary Sims Reply

    Hi… Great post… FreeNAS is a great bit of software… You might be interested in my site which contains tips, tricks and tutorials about FreeNAS.

    I'm going to blog about your post there so others can find these instructions.

    Thanks, Gary.

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