Reviewing Maximum PC’s FreeNAS Mini ITX System Design
Maximum PC recently posted a build guide with some interesting hardware selections for their version of the FreeNAS Mini. Overall the system specs are reasonably good and would provide plenty of performance for a home NAS. Some of the components actually seem like overkill for a home storage server though.
In this post I’ll be taking a closer look at the components and the overall design of Maximum PC’s mini NAS design.
|Form Factor||Mini ITX|
|RAID Support||Software Raid / Raid Z|
|Component||Item||Quantity||Unit cost||Extended cost|
|Chassis||Fractal Design Array R2 Black Aluminum Mini-ITX (300W PSU Power Supply)||1||$189.99||$189.99|
|Motherboard||ASUS F1A75-I Deluxe FM1 AMD A75||1||$99.99||$99.99|
|Processor||AMD A8-3850 Llano 2.9GHz Socket FM1 100W Quad-Core||1||$84.99||$84.99|
|Heatsink||Stock AMD Cooler Included with CPU||1||$0.00||$0.00|
|Memory||G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM||2||$38.99||$77.98|
|Boot Drive||SEgoN Mini-Ding Series 8GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive||1||$8.99||$8.99|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Red WD30EFRX 3TB IntelliPower 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s||4||$169.99||$679.96|
|Drive Controller||LSI LSI00301 PCI-Express 3.0 x8 Low Profile SATA / SAS Host Controller Card||1||$299.99||$299.99|
|SAS-to-SATA cable||HighPoint Int-MS-1M4S SFF-8087 to 4 SATA Fan Out Cable||1||$24.99||$24.99|
|OS||FreeNAS 8.2 Release||1||$0.00||$0.00|
I’m not sure if Maximum PC is aware but Fractal Design has actually discontinued the Array R2 chassis. NewEgg, and all of the other vendors I checked no long stock the case so the odds of anyone building a new NAS with this chassis are pretty slim.
Fractal Design does however offer a new model called the Node 304 which is very similar to the Array R2. Hardware Secrets recently took a look at the Node 304 and gave it their golden award. The Node 304 supports either six 3.5″ or 2.5″ hard drives. The drives are mounted internally and can’t be hot swapped though which might be a downside to some people but overall this is a nice chassis.
CPU / Motherboard
The core of this NAS is powered by a 2.9GHz quad core AMD processor which should provide more than enough processing power. The ZFS file system supported by FreeNAS is fairly resource intensive and tends to perform better with faster hardware. I suspect that disk and network IO will become a bottleneck before the CPU in this build does.
The motherboard used in MPCs design is apparently also discontinued but the Asus F1A75-M Pro model is very similar and is still available. The motherboard has 2 16x PCIe expansion slots as well as one 1x PCIe slot, and a single legacy PCI slot.
Maximum PC’s NAS design uses two 8GB DDR 3 modules for a total of 16GB of ram. This configuration leaves two slots available on the motherboard for future upgrades. Looking at current memory prices it’s definitely cheaper to use a pair of 8GB modules instead of four 4GB modules.
The general rule when sizing memory for ZFS is to use about 1GB per terabyte of storage. Although it’s also recommended to use at least 8GB of memory for the best performance. So given that this build provides 12TB of storage the memory choice of 16GB in this build is more than adequate.
Most of the recent NAS build guides tend to recommend using Western Digital Caviar Red hard drives. These drives are specifically designed for small office and home NAS systems.
WD claims that red drives have a 35% MTBF improvement over standard desktop drives but the customer reviews on NewEgg seem to indicate a high rate of failure. Although a good portion of Western Digital’s other products also seem to be plagued by bad customer reviews lately.
Instead of taking a risk on a high failure rate drive I would probably purchase a Seagate 3TB drive instead.
I’m not sure why MPC decided to include a $300 SAS/SATA controller into their buid. I feel that it adds a large amount of unnecessary cost and essentially no benefit to the system. I could potentially see this as a justified addition if SAS drives were being used but with standard SATA hard drives it’s not worth the cost.
The other downside I see with this card is it’s lack of hardware RAID support, it’s nothing more than a simple host controller. Overall I think it’s a safe bet that most users are going to be fine using the onboard SATA ports on their motherboard.
If you simply have money burning a hole in your pocket and you really want to use a dedicated controller I would go all out and buy a true hardware raid controller like the 3ware 9750-4i and pair it with some quality SAS drives.
Unfortunately this build comes with a relatively high price tag of nearly $1500 for 12 terabytes of space. For the same price you might consider purchasing the pre-built FreeNAS Mini from iXsystems.
A decent portion of the cost ($300) is attributed to the decided PCIe SATA controller card used in this setup. Removing the SATA controller and associated cable drops the price down to about $1200 but it still seems a bit over priced.
For under $1000 you could build your own FreeNAS Mini appliance and still gain a couple of features like hot swap bays and an internal USB boot drive.
Sam graduated from the University of Missouri – Kansas City with a bachelors degree in Information Technology. Currently he works as a network analyst for an algorithmic trading firm. Sam enjoys the challenge of troubleshooting complex problems and is constantly experimenting with new technologies.