Choosing The Parts & Part Pricing
Our sponsors for this project were AMD, ASRock, Kingston Technology, SilverStone Technology and Western Digital. Between them they have provided us with all the components we need for our DIY NAS project. We will now go through each of the parts we have selected, explain why we’ve chosen them and what benefits they bring to the table.
The case is possibly the most crucial element to this build – it determines how many drives you can use, how big the rest of your components can be and how discrete your NAS build will be. We opted for SilverStone’s PS09-B chassis for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a micro-ATX chassis which means it offers support for the most cost-effective motherboard form factor on the market. Secondly, it has ample space for drives. There are five 3.5 inch bays, two 5.25 inch bays and a single 2.5 inch bay. In theory you could support 6 drives in the hard drive bays and further drives in the 5.25 inch bays. Some of the options for the 5.25 inch bays include three 3.5 inch drives, two 3.5 inch drives and two 2.5 inch drives, two 3.5 inch drives and four 2.5 inch drives or two 3.5 inch drives depending on the kind of adapters you use. Our third reason for picking this case is the noise absorbing foam lining on the side panels. This is an essential feature for a NAS system that is likely to be on 24/7 – you will want minimal noise. At the incredibly attractive price point of $40 there is little else that can rival SilverStone’s PS09-B making it an ideal choice for a NAS build.
Anyone looking for a larger capacity NAS-tailored case may also want to consider the SilverStone DS380. It offers eight hotswap 3.5 inch drive bays, mini-ITX motherboard support, three cooling fans and SFX power supply support. The mini-ITX motherboard may seem limiting but ASRock offer a 12 SATA Port mini-ITX Intel Avoton motherboard, the C2750D4I. You could also add a low profile SATA PCI Express add in card to a cheaper mini-ITX motherboard for a similar effect.
Any NAS system is going to have to run close to 24/7 to be useful – there’s no point in having a unified storage solution if it isn’t accessible by everyone all the time. 24/7 operation is going to require stable, reliable and efficient power so the PSU choice is crucial. There is absolutely no scope for cheaping out on an unbranded power supply – if you want your data to remain intact then you need to make sure it is protected. SilverStone’s ST40F-ES is an ideal choice as it offers efficiency, stablility and protection. The main reason we selected it is for the combination of its price point and features. This power supply costs just $40 yet has 80 Plus certification, active PFC, multiple protection circuitry and is rated for 24 hours of continuous power at 400W. Our NAS is unlikely to ever use more than 25-75W at any given time but this 400W SilverStone PSU was by far the best value for money – most 80 Plus 250 or 350W PSUs weren’t anywhere near as affordable and if they were they tended to be in the SFX form factor which is not useful when our case has standard ATX PSU mounting.
Motherboard selection is hugely important to any NAS system because it determines how many storage drives you can run, how much RAM you can use and the speed of your network connection. This NAS system is a 6-Bay NAS primarily because it can support six SATA devices, the boot OS is a USB which leaves all six SATA ports for storage drives. More importantly this AMD A55 motherboard has support for RAID 0/1/10 whereas the equivalently priced Intel Chipset (H81) has no RAID support whatsoever – this is ideal for anyone who wants data redundancy from RAID 1. Additionally this motherboard has Gigabit ethernet which is important because the speed of data accessing will be limited by your network speed before your hard drive speed. This motherboard has six SATA II 3Gbps ports but the network connection is Gigabit (1Gbps) so there would be no advantage of going for a more expensive motherboard with SATA III ports. In terms of RAM this motherboard will support 32GB with two 16GB dimms, but we are using just a single 4GB DIMM.
A NAS system needs some processing power but broadly speaking all modern CPUs are overkill for small NAS systems designed for home use. As a result we went for the most affordable AMD APU on the FM2 socket to pair with our ASRock motherboard. The reason why we went for an APU and not a CPU is because graphics processing power is largely irrelevant so we didn’t want a discrete graphics card, however, we still need a display output so the integrated AMD HD 7480D graphics are perfect, not to mention they will consume less power than even a very basic discrete graphics card like a HD 5450 or GT 610. With two x86 Piledriver cores at 3.2 GHz the AMD A4-4000 is a powerful choice for our NAS. The TDP is 65W, which is actually quite high, but given the already high performance there is scope for underclocking and undervolting to find the best balance between performance and power consumption. For cooling we will simply be using the stock cooler as there is no need to spend money on extra cooling that isn’t needed.
RAM is very often the limiting factor to the performance of a NAS. In an ideal world you’d have as much RAM as your motherboard supports, especially when using the ZFS feature in FreeNAS, because RAM is important to caching data access which speeds up transfer times. However, we are on a budget so we’ve limited ourselves to 4GB. We chose Kingston’s KVR16LN11/4 module because it has a couple of key advantages: 1) it is low profile and 2) it is low power at just 1.35 volts. Of course the fact it can be had for as low as $39 is also a big plus for helping us stay within a tight budget. Users looking to access a higher level of performance should consider 8GB of RAM as a starting point, users looking for higher levels of data integrity should also consider getting ECC RAM.
For our NAS build we will be using the popular FreeNAS operating system based on FreeBSD. FreeNAS is best run from a USB flash drive because it is a lightweight operating system and because running it from a USB drive means you can keep your hard drives free for purely storage and keep all your SATA ports freed up for storage drives. In theory you could use any number of USB flash drives for this but we opted for Kingston’s DataTraveler SE9 8GB version. Why? Well the first reason is that it is a capless drive so there are no parts to lose. Second, is that it has a metal shell which should aid with heat dissipation and finally it is a Kingston drive – from my personal experience Kingston USB flash drives have always been exceptionally reliable and robust.
The final component to choose for our NAS build was the hard drives. There are so many different hard drives to choose from – all the major hard drive brands have at least 3 or more different product lines. Of course we are looking for drives that are capable of operating 24/7 and are suitable for NAS systems, but we don’t want to pay the premium for enterprise hard drives. Thus the obvious choice of drive for this kind of scenario is Western Digital’s WD Red series. The WD Red series is optimised for NAS-like environments thanks to WD’s custom “NASware 2.0” firmware. The WD Red “NASware 2.0” package come with tested NAS compatibility for leading NAS systems and 24/7 operating reliability. Reliability is a key aspect because with each drive you add you add more vibration, noise and heat so the fact WD Red drives have higher tolerances to vibration, noise and heat is essential. Power consumption is also important – if your NAS is operating 24/7 you do not want your hard drives spinning at full speed when no data is being accessed – that’s where Western Digital’s Intellipower design helps minimise power consumption by reducing the drive’s power consumption through a combination of RPM, caching and transfer rate tweaks.
So we’ve gone through all our components and we are left with two key figures: the price with drives and the price without. Without drives our 6-Bay NAS drive comes in at an impressive $218, this rises to $438 when we add two 2TB WD Red hard drives.
Price without drives: $215-220 | £155-175
Price with drives: $400-440 | £300-320