Sunday, November 7, 2010

WHS (sort of) and Norco Build

So I rebuilt my WHS (Windows Home Server) - sort of.

Originally (see my previous post), I was going to make a new server using the Norco 4020 (I know the post says 4220) and a Highpoint 3540. The idea was to get the lowest cost per port. The 4020 case uses SATA cabling on the backplane and the 3540 RAID card comes with a whole bunch of SATA cables, so I would have everything I need to hook it all up.

The issue is that the 3540 handles 16 drives, so I would have to do something else to handle the last 4 drives. Plus, the 3540 is almost $700 CDN.

I didn't know much about SAS Expanders, but I had heard about them. So....after more investigation, I decided to get a Highpoint 4320 raid card instead. It was $482 from and has 2 SFF-8087 Mni-SAS connectors. These connectors breakout to 4 Sata connectors each. But then you say, "I thought you wanted 20 drives?!".

True - but the 4320 can handle SAS Expanders - the 3540 can't. With SAS Expanders, the 4320 can handle up to 128 drives. I can take one of those SFF-8087 connectors and turn it into 16 (or more) drives. I just need a SAS Expander card. The Chenbro CK12803 is a compatible SAS Expander for the 4320. The Highpoint 4320 also comes with 2 SFF-8087 Mini-SAS cables.

So...I found the Chenbro at for about $280 CDN. That means the total cost of the RAID card combo is now $762 - about the same as the 3540 was going to be, but now I have more expandability, plus I am now going to use the Norco 4220 case which uses the SFF-8087 connectors on the backplane, so I will have much less cabling.

I was gonig to buy everything from, but NCIX often has sales on hard drives and they price match, so when I called them, they were willing to meet the pricing I got from Newegg on the case etc. The only thing they didn't have was the Highpoint RAID 4320 card. So here is my shopping list (prices all in Canadian):

Norco 4220 Case - NCIX - $339
3 extra SFF-8087 Mini-SAS cables (Norco brand) - NCIX - $14 each - $42 total
3 WD 2 TB hard drives - NCIX - $99 each - $297 total
Chenbrok CK12803 - NCIX - $280
Highpoint 4320 Card - Newegg - $482 - comes with 2 SFF-8087 cables
ASUS KPL5PM Socket 775 motherboard - local computer store - $60
2 GB RAM - local computer store - $40
Intel E5400 CPU - local computer store - $65
Coolmaster 750W PS - local computer store - $82

Total: $1687

I already had 3 2 TB WD hard drives, so now I have 6 total - plus I have a few 1 TB and 500 GB drives lying around.

I went cheap on the motherboard, CPU and RAM as I didn't feel I needed to worry about speed too much. Nor did I really need alot of PCI slots. And the board had built in video and a gigabit lan connection. The thing I DIDN'T want to cheap out on is the Power Supply. This is going to be my main storage unit with my only copies of files (although I do use for off-site backup). I could have bought a $14 power supply, but then it would have been the weakest link and I didn't want it to cause any issues.

After I received the gear I began putting it together.

I have built several NAS boxes before using Chenbro cases and Areca RAID cards - they are nice, but the total cost would have doubled.

I was fairly pleased with the build quality of the Norco case - considering the price. The only thing that seems a little "cheap" are the drive trays. They work ok and fit nice....I just don't think you want to be rough with them - they won't take it. The Chenbro drive trays are much more robust in comparison.

When I put the motherboard in, it looked very small in the space - you could easily fit a much bigger motherboard with many more slots.

The Highpoint 4320 needs a PCI-E x8 slot and is compatible with the x16 slot usually reserved for the video card, so I used that. The Chenbro CK12803 fits in any slot. It doesn't really use the PCI bus at all - the slot is just to hold it in place. It gets power from a standard power plug.

The space between the fans and the hard drive backplane is fairly tight, so getting the power plugs in was a little bit of a challenge.

Everything else fit nicely and I had no issues plugging everything else in.

I had read a number of comments that the fans in this case are really loud - so I was prepared. As I indicated above, I have built a number of NAS boxes before and they can be quite loud.

However, when I powered on the machine, I was pleasantly surprised. It didn't seem that loud to me. I checked it with a DB meter and at 1 meter (3 feet), the rating was 58 db. I am putting all my stuff in my heated garage anyway, so I didn't really care - I can't hear any of it.

Next I installed 2 500 GB drives in a mirror to use for boot drives. I decided to go with a standard Windows 2008 install instead of a WHS (which is why the "sort of" in the title).

The other reason to go to Windows Server 2008 is the new SMB version 2.1 - it increases speed of transfers when going from/to a Windows 7 machine.

I am keeping the old WHS around in a much smaller capacity in order to handle backups etc.

Then I created a RAID 5 from the 3 2 TB hard drives. I set the RAID 1 Mirror as boot in both the RAID card and in the Bios, booted the machine and loaded Windows 2008. I had to have the drivers on a USB in order to load them during the installation process, but other than that, it was all smooth.

Once I had the system running and performed the standard windows updates, I enabled the guest account so that I would have no issues with sharing the folders with various machines - and Xbox 360 - around the house. Yes, that is a major security issue, but this machine is safely isolated behind my firewall and no one outside of my system has any access to it.

Next I performed some performance testing.

WOW! Was I impressed. On the Raid 5 and with only 3 drives, I was not expecting massive performance, but I got a consistent 250 MB/sec transfer rate. Yes...that is 250 megaBYTES per second. Since I only have a single gigabit lan connection, I will be liimited to a max of 100-120 MB/sec, but that is still plenty fast. I may get a dual NIC Intel card and bond the two channels together to get a 2gb lan connection later on.

Here is the output from ATTO Benchmark:

I am currently moving all my data from my old WHS to the new server and all is going well. As I move the data, I am removing the old drives from the WHS and adding them to the 2008 server. I am using ORM (Online Raid Migration) and OCE (Online Capacity Expansion) to allow me to move to a different RAID (RAID 5 to RAID 6) and to allow me to expand my disk size without taking anything down. This will take several days to complete, but I have the time.

The last thing I am doing with this is to install the free version of the Starwind Software iSCSI target. This allows me to use this box as a storage server for my small VMware ESX (vSphere) farm where I keep all my virtual machines running (SBS, Asterix PBX, Mailcleaner Spam and a Linux server that is a LAMP box).

I am going to end up with 6 2TB drives running a RAID 6 (total of 8 TB of space) and I will have 12 empty drive bays that I can use for expansion.
Overall I am extremely pleased with the result and would highly recommend this solution to anyone else looking to build an inexpensive storage server in their home or small business.


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