Hardware Update

29 03 2009

The short version is: Hardware Redux!  I’m starting over completely due to a motherboard failure.  My Via En15000G shorted out or something one day when I was working on it and the video didn’t come back up and I got some lovely beep codes.

After a rediciloious amount of testing in so many configurations I’ve claimed the motherboard retired. Dead. Toast. Unpredictable. So I moved on.  As one example of one unexplainable strangeness the mother would post and try to boot with a new stick of RAM only. Perfect. Plug in the power of a cd-rom (not even the ide cable) and it wouldn’t post again, same beep codes, until I put in a pci video card.  And more!

After fighting it for so many months that motherboard is no longer an option. So the question is what is?  My goals/needs have changed a bit since I started this project.  Originally I was going for strictly a file store on as low as power as possible.  Now, I’m looking for something more out of the box and perhaps not just file storage and not as low power as possible.  The projct has drained me from being fun and now I am mostly going for functionality. Sad but true.

I also realized/knew that the best powersaving is to turn things off when you aren’t using them so that will be my focus moving forward just as it was before.  So what is my new “plan:”


Goal: Is still to move into the Chenbro case so to keep all my parts transferrable into it.

1) Case – Standard ATX. Plenty of room for drives, mini-itx board mounts in the holes already, and I have it. Perfect.

2) Power Supply – ATX power supply with the case. Only 10 W of overhead vs the Mini-ITX case.  That is close enough for now even though it is like a 33% increase when the whole thing uses so little.  Hopefully, in the future I can move into the Chenbro and get a more efficient powersupply. If not I saw an ATX like power supply that is more efficient and designed for mini-itx applications.

3) Hard Drives – Data drives will still be WD Green Power Drives.  OS Drive will either be a PATA 2.5″ drive or a 512 MB Flash Module depending on the OS I choose.

4) 1 GB of RAM

5) Motherboard – Here is where all the drama revolves around.  When my goal was as low power box as possible I wanted a motherboard that had 4 SATA and a NIC Card that was compatible with the OS I wanted to use.  The SN18000G Via board fit the bill but was $284 dollars. More than I wanted to swallow today for a NAS motherboard.  So after lots of research I found a few things out:

A) Intel Atom chips are about the same energy usage on barebones system.
B) Most new mini-itx boards use the Intel 8111C NIC Chipset which is not compatible with FreeNAS right now. 
C) 80 GB 2.5″ PATA and SATA drives are about $45 each (needed for the one of the two OS choices outside of FreeNAS)

If I give up the ability to use FreeNAS out of the box I found the MSI Industrial IM-945GC coming out April 11ish.  Sporting:

– 2 GB NICS (Intel 8111C of course)
– 4 onboard SATA
– Low Atom Processor
– 1 IDE channel
– No multimedia output options past sound

Perfect! Also, by not being out yet it gives me some time to HAVE to walk away from the project. Not to much of a problem.  Oh and it sports all that for around $167+$10 shipping. 

So the next decision is OS.  I have two main choices right now:

1) ClarkConnect
Pros : Linux Based / FOSS – Free, Can use existing 20 GB laptop drive I have, no more costs besides motherboard NEEDED for system
Cons: Linux Based – my printer is not supported for a network shared printer via it, never used it before, don’t know many people who do

2) Windows Home Server

I know right? My coworker uses this one and is impressed by it. While the idea of being a windows shop at home is one way NOT what I want the other part of me knows I work with Windows all day at work, and coming home to system where I already know how to support it would be nice.  I love learning but I don’t want to HAVE to learn to suport a critical piece of my system at home. 

Pros: Same as work life, lots of cool plugins for things like media, backups, powersaving, easy to connect from other places besides my house, its way of managing HD’s is interesting but allows me to selective make sure all my data is on two hard drives in my apartment whether both those HD’s are in my NAS or one is in a computer and one HD in the NAS
Cons: Costs – $100 for software and $45 for an 80 GB HD WHS needs, monocolutre of MS with MS at work and home

So the decision hasn’t been made because I’m waiting for the motherboard to become available. Once I can get my hands on that I will see what the other pieces dictate as far as OS goes.

Till then!




4 responses

8 04 2009

Have you considered the picopsu? I think the Silent PC people are the ones who turned me on to it, and while I haven’t tried it yet, I’m pretty sure it will power a small NAS (depends on the drives and mobo, and probably OS).

12 04 2009

I did look at the picopsu. At the time I was trying to spec a psu for a mobo, 4 SATA drives, and 1 2.5″ PATA drive and it wasn’t going to cut it. But with the redux of plan I could probably get away with it. Interesting intermediate option…. Thanks for mentioning it.

1 06 2009

Hi, I have planned something pretty much similar to yours (and almost same hardwares)
1st those NICs used on most Atom based systems are Realtek 8111C which is not supported by FreeNAS not Intel ones.
2nd why not choose MSI-945GSE-A (also available from logicsupply for $189) which is based on power saving 945GSE chipset and Atom. What is more fantastic for this board is it uses two Intel Gigabit NICs (Intel is way much better than Realtek in performance and compatibility) Well, it is true that this one has only two sata ports.
3rd I can understand that more RAM is gonna consume more power. However, for what I have read so far online, more RAM offers larger cache when you are doing NAS jobs which means you will get a higher transfer speed experience with more RAM. Faster speed = less transfer time. For cheap memory today, I think 2GB ram might be better in this case.

1 06 2009

Hi Ryan,

The answer to why not more RAM is the easiest to answer. I had a 1 GB chip sitting around so I was just using what I had. I agree that 2 GBs will be a better choice in the long run and in fact I’ve lost my 1 GB chip and was looking at purchasing a 2 GB just today (right now it has 512 in it).

The other two questions really boil down to having to pick and choose between two things: SATA ports and NIC controller compatability. Like I’ve said in past posts I’m really eyeing the Chenbro case but the way that particular case is configurd is the 4 HD bay supports SATA drives and not IDE. So by having 4 SATA ports on board I can save my one PCI slot for something else that may or may not come along. Drivers for the Realtek NICs are something that may or may not be added to FreeNAS, etc in the future. And if in the future the RealTek’s don’t pan out for me than I still have my PCI slot open to add a card NIC and be in the same place for hardware growth than I was if I put a SATA card in it.

A large part of this project for me is practicing scalability. I’m not ready to buy the Chenbro case or commit to 4 SATA drives just yet but I want to be able to when I am ready. So to answer your question about why not the MSI-945GSE-A the lack of 4 SATA ports was its main downfall. If I was going to buy new hardware I wanted to be able to grow into it.

And lastly, you are right. Most of the boards do have the Realtek 8111C NICs which aren’t my favorite but there are more software alternatives than hardware ones right now. Unfortunatetly, a NIC issue is what sent me down this long winding road and why for the 4 SATA ports I choose the Realtek’s and go with Windows Home Server for the moment that support them.

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