Building a Fast, Energy Efficient NAS box

This is the first post in a series describing my latest journey into building your own Fast, Energy Efficient NAS with GREAT looks and a small price.    You can use it as a blueprint for building your own NAS or as a springboard for your own creation.    I am planning to cover the following topics:

  • Part 1 – To buy or to build?
  • Part 2 – Chipset Selection
  • Part 3 – Finding a disk expansion module
  • Finding the right case
  • Finding the right PSU
  • Full step by step software installation divided in sub-topics.
  • Configuring automated backup to/from your new NAS.

Part-I:  To Buy or to Build?

It’s actually:  “to buy, to build or to do noghing?”.    I already have a nice home brew raid5 NAS box running on ubuntu server.  I built it  on Ubuntu server 8.04 and periodically upgraded the OS to its current 10.10 incarnation.   The box has proven extremely reliable and it was a nice little project to put together.   So why rock the boat?   Three simple resaons:  It’s BIG (a nice roomy Antec Solo case).  It sucks up more power than it should (80-85W idle).  I want a live backup system.   Ahhhh and maybe a fourth reason …. I was itching to build another fun little NAS box.


The data on my original box is becoming very valuable (all our family photos, movies, backup/ripped DVDs, ripped CD collection, PC backups etc… now passing the 3Tb mark) and the identical mobo  in my Linux desktop went belly up last summer.    That gave cause for concern about the life and accessibility of my precious data should something happen (fried mobo/sata controller/fire/theft…).   I had some manual backups but you know how those go.  You always end up with irregular backups and you never know where the most recent backup is.

I wanted something “formal“, solid, reliable, predictable and automated (cron based).  Moreover, in my ideal setup, I will have that backup unit reside off site (i.e. in my neighbor’s garage and I’ll run an Ethernet cable between hour houses… I can host his backup and he can host mine).

The old box works well:

  • Ubuntu 10.10 running mdadm software RAID
  • fairly clean and fairly high efficiency PSU (Antec – NeoHE 380, 380W)
  • Intel core duo 2 2.4Ghz
  • 2Gig of ram
  • an old Asus P5B mobo
  • boot disk:  2.5″ notebook disk
  • 3x 2tb WD20EARS Caviar green disks for the RAID 5
  • A nice bug BIG Antec SOLO case
  • that box consumes 80-85W steady  (idle or active)

Commercial NAS boxes:

While at first I was just looking for the cheapest NAS to host 4 x 3.5″ disks in a friendly, reliable and power sipper package, I gradually started considering a box that could become the replacement unit if/when the current one starts having hardware issues.    I already have a little Synology DS210j unit which is pretty user friendly, a power sipper, not particularly fast, and reasonably cheap (around $200).    So naturally, I looked into the larger Synology units supporting at least 4 disks with a desire for the ability to grow the number of disks if needed.   I also briefly looked at Qnap their products tend to be more expensive and do not provide any extra value for my needs.


Summary of 4+ disk Synology NAS box I considered purchasing:
(Note representing the current model/prices in March 2011)

DS411J 4 disks low power usage (49W/16W sleep) low performance cheap enough ($360) not expandable
DS411+ 4 disks low power usage (60W/20W sleep) good performance expensive ($630) not expandable
DS1511+ 5 disks low power usage (68W/30W sleep) very good performance Even more expensive ($950+) expandable (2x DX510)
DS1010+ Almost identical to the newer DS1511+.   Differences:
1 eSATA port vs. 2,
Atom D510 (1.67Ghz) vs. D525 (1.8Ghz).
DX510 5 disks low power usage (60W/18W sleep) eSATA Expansion Module for DS1010+/DS1511+ ($500)



DS1010+ / DS1511+

DX510 Disk Expansion


So I could spend $950+ for the high end Synology box and end this journey right there or I could have a little more fun, postpone the decision and investigate the DYI solution some more.   The home brew solutions tend to be more clunky (read UGLY) and almost always more power hungry then the slick off the shelf boxes.   Folks save a few hundred bucks and gloat over it.    From a financial standpoint a DYI NAS (without a clear blueprint such as this series of articles) is a ridiculous proposition unless your time is worth very little to you.   But if you look at it as a hobby, then it can be a lot of fun (and sometimes frustrating) hours. On this project, I decided that if I go for the DYI, I want that box to feel as good or better as an off the shelf solution. Now that’s a non-objective target if I’ve heard of one. But stay with me and I’ll see my selection process as we go along.


About admin

My name is Christian Marcotte. I live in San Diego with my wife Carolyn and our son Jeremiah. This site is a recording of my currrent ponderings, hobbies and interest.
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One Response to Building a Fast, Energy Efficient NAS box

  1. GMC says:

    Hello Christian,

    a very well put together article which hits all the marks on the subject of NAS and Home/DYI NAS solution.

    I enjoyed reading it and searching through the various links attached to your publication. Ultimately I completely agree with your choices throughout since these coincidentally fit my requirements for a NAS/DLNA storage solution, apart from perhaps the case 😉

    Interestingly my choice of Motherboard, was prior to reading your article, the X7SPA-H, on the basis of the total internal SATA ports it can support plus the ICH9R chipset. I would admit that I didnt know anything about SATA multipliers prior to reading your artcile and compatibility details are still a little sketchy in my head, but I think I understood the core point that with the right selection of hardware, the internal or onboard SATA I/O support limitations can be overcome by additional external hardware which can be interfaced with the Mobo and provide a larger overall volume.

    Now its time to delve into the world of Linux and learn what and how Ubuntu can be used to form the core of the system.

    Again, thanks for an enjoyable, well laid out and informative read.


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