NAS System

Hardware

Base system: HP ProLiant MicroServer.
I have the original model with AMD Athlon II Neo N36L.

Pros

  • Cheap. $305 + shipping and tax.
  • Small. 10.5″x10.2″x8.3″. I found exactly two aftermarket cases that are close in size and can accommodate 6×3.5″ drives: Lian LiPC-Q08 and Fractal Design Array R2. Consider that Silent PC Review does not rate the latter too highly and you are left with a single choice.
  • Large enough to take in 4×3.5″ hard drives and with some ingenuity accommodating 7 drives: 6×3.5″ and 1×2.5″.
  • Quiet. See Silent PC Review.
  • Supports ECC memory. Atom boards do not support ECC. There is was no mini ITX board for a Sandy Bridge with ECC support. Looks like there is significant evidence to support usage of ECC memory in a server that pushes a lot of data around.
  • Efficient. The CPU draws 12W. (Atom d525 draws 13W) The whole system with 6 drives and two extra PCIes idles at 35W.
  • Reasonably fast. The CPU is a bit faster than the fastest Atom.
  • 2 PCIe slots for expansion. I have not seen a mini ITX board with 2 PCIes.

I did try to spec out a box myself before I went for the microserver. I could not find the necessary pieces in a package that small: Atoms do not support ECC and there was no mini ITX board for i3 with ECC support either. Even finding a good mini ITX board that has 6 SATA ports is a challenge.

Cons

  • The included memory and hard drive. HP ships them with 1GB memory stick and 1x250GB hard drive. Neither piece is useful.
  • Built-in NIC. It uses BCM5723 controller with official drivers available for Windows and Linux only. FreeBSD bge driver has problems. The OSX driver has problems as well.
  • Noisy fans. I mean, the fans are not loud, but you can definitely hear them. The main problem is the noise quality: it has this buzzing qualities that can be irritating in a quiet room.

Other hardware

  • Memory. 2x2GB ECC memory from OWC.
  • Hard drive mounting brackets. I used X-Swing Noiseblockers, but there are other alternatives.
  • Replacement fan. I used Scythe SY1225SL12HPVC recommended by Silent PC Review. It has a manual control that I can use to adjust the maximum speed. I drilled a whole for it in one of the PCIe mounting brackets. I had some concern that drives placed in the top ODD compartment would tend to overheat. The manual control gives me a chance to increase cooling effect on a hot day.
  • Hard drives. I have an odd collection of drive, some of them accumulated over the last couple years, some I bought specifically for the project. There are 6 Western Digital drives: 3x30EZRSDTL, 2x20EADS, and 1x20EARS. Plus OSZ Vertex 30GB for the OS. You can run OSX from a USB stick, but … it’s not … fast …
  • Intel Gigabit CT Desktop Adapter. Great driver support.
  • HighPoint Rocket 620 gives me extra 2 SATA ports. It supports Mac OS X out of the box and the connected drives are bootable.
  • Extra wires: 1 molex-to-3-SATA power cable and 1 short (18″) SATA cable.
  • Some air filter (Home Depot, AC section) placed inside the door to decrease dust build up.

Software

  • Flashed BIOS. Apparently HP wired both the extra SATA port on the motherboard and the eSATA port in IDE mode and they do not provide any controls for changing that. I have read reports indicating that drives connected to the ports in the default mode suffer from significant slowdown. The instructions explain how to flash the BIOS and enable menu controls for switching the ports out of the IDE mode.
  • Mac OS X 10.6.8. Using the guide as a starting point. Upgraded the kernel.
  • Modified Intel NIC kext
  • Mac ZFS. Performance Analysis.
  • smartmontools for monitoring the condition of the drives and keeping an eye on the temperature.
  • Plex Media Server for serving videos and music.
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