Up to 24TB of storage in a 5 gallon case

A year ago I wrote a file server builder's guide, which generated more discussion than any of my other guides. Succinctly, there are a lot of options to consider when you build a file server. There are many operating system choices, from FreeBSD and FreeNAS, Ubuntu and Samba, to Windows Home Server 2011. You can read more about those software solutions in the previous file server guide, as the information remains relevant. Windows Home Server 2011 gets the nod here, simply because of its ease of use. If you're willing to spend a bit more time implementing a free file server OS, there are many compelling alternatives.

Dustin recently reviewed Fractal Design's new ITX case, the Node 304. What impresses me most about the Node 304 are its sleek styling and its ability to house six full-size 3.5" hard drives. As 4TB drives are the highest capacity models available to the mainstream market, the Node 304, which has a volume of about 5 gallons, has the ability to put up to 24TB of storage in a small footprint on your desk or on a bookshelf. My own testing indicates that the Node 304 is capable of keeping lower RPM (i.e. "green") hard drive temperatures well within comfortable operating temperatures (less than 40C) even under full, artificial load.

That said, the Node 304 is, as you might imagine, cramped when you stuff it full of six hard drives. To ameliorate this concern, we're pairing it with Silverstone's ST50F-P power supply, a 500W 80+ unit that is one of the smallest ATX power supplies available. Furthermore, we're recommending Silverstone's short cable kit, which helps with installation and cable management.

ASUS' P8H77-I is one of the few ITX motherboards with six SATA ports. As such, expansion cards aren't necessary to fill the Node 304 to its maximum hard drive capacity. This motherboard is also particularly well laid out when installed in the Node 304, which again helps with installation and cable management. It's important to note that file servers do not require powerful processors, so again the Celeron G540 gets the nod here.

Finally, Western Digital released its Red line of hard drives this year, which Ganesh reviewed. These drives are ideally suited for server use: they sip power, they're user configurable, and they run cool and quiet. Western Digital Red drives also carry a 3-year warranty, compared to the 2-year warranty of Western Digital's Green drives and many of Seagate's higher capacity storage drives. These Red series drives are available in 1TB, 2TB, and 3TB capacities; hopefully a 4GB model will be available soon. 4TB hard drives are currently available from Seagate and Hitachi. That said, the base model file server outlined below features a single 3TB Red drive as this capacity represents the best dollar per GB ratio of the three Red models. Of course, only you can determine how much storage you need, and definitely watch prices as I've seen these fluctuate wildly over the last month in terms of cost. Also keep in mind that consumers are not in a good position to judge the reliability of hard drives, and that the plural of anecdote is not data.

Component Product Price
Case Fractal Design Node 304 $90
Power supply Silverstone ST50F-P $78
Power supply accessory Silverstone short cable kit $20
CPU Intel Celeron G540 2.5GHz dual-core $45
Motherboard ASUS P8H77-I mITX $100
RAM Corsair Value Select 4GB DDR3-1333MHz $18
Hard drive Western Digital Red 3TB $155
Operating system Windows Home Server 2011 $50
  Total: $556

On the next page, we outline two SFF gaming systems.

Budget Small Form Factor Systems Gaming Small Form Factor Systems


View All Comments

  • Avendit - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    Its not so much signal issues I've had as earthing problems. Using a copper co-ax for digital out on my media PC gave a loud pop every time the audio fired up and dts sync'd. Switch to optical and the problem goes away. I could see the same thing being possible with HDMI.

    It might be something unique to systems a size down from these - I'm talking systems with laptop style power bricks, hence the earthing problem I think. But its also passive and does just enough for a media PC, albeit with most content stored over the network.

  • ender8282 - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    I took the comment to refer to better isolation of the audio system. I believe that the fear is that a a copper cable running from the computer to the audio system could introduce a ground loop and cause issues. Reply
  • Guspaz - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    HDMI is prone to interference, digital or otherwise. If you've ever suffered from interference on an HDMI cable, you'd see it as coloured snow on the image. It's hard to describe, it's like, imagine you have a large number of stuck pixels, except their location changes every frame.

    I get this from my PS3 to my U2711 when using deep colour. It requires more bandwidth, so the signal is less robust (generally, the higher bandwidth your HDMI signal, the more prone to interference). I'm using a rather thin cable (28AWG), so even though the total length of the cable run isn't very long (~15 feet total), there's some interference problems due to the high bandwidths involved.

    I have no such problems from my PS3 to my projector, despite using a much longer cable (PS3 -> HDMI switch -> U2711 or projector), because the cable going from my switch to my TV is a MUCH thicker cable.
  • Midwayman - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    Even two years ago you had to work hard not to buy a unit without HDMI. No reason to eliminate choices, but if you have to pick one or the other, HDMI is the future. Granted HDMI is a pretty crappy standard in many ways, but its what consumer gear uses for better or worse. Reply
  • Guspaz - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    HDMI cables using RedMere chips have similar thicknesses to good optical TOSLINK cables at up to 15 chips. They do cost a lot more, but they're still available at MonoPrice, so at least you know the premium isn't ripping you off.

    Normally, a typical HDMI cable uses 28AWG conductors for up to 15 feet, RedMere can use 36AWG conductors for up to the same distance. That's a pretty enormous reduction in size, and it should be more resistant to interference to boot.

    Over 15 feet, though... At 30 feet, regular HDMI is going to be something like 24AWG, while RedMere bumps it up to 28AWG.
  • HisDivineOrder - Monday, December 10, 2012 - link

    HDMI audio may be somewhat superior, if you have sources that get you "HD" codecs, but those are only on BDs anyway, so no point for most of us, who can't be bothered with BDs due to the DRM breaking free players - and just use a stand alone device.

    Pssst. AnyDVD HD+XBMC 12 Frodo.

    You're welcome.
  • lmcd - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    I'm pretty sure even an AMD A4 can do the off-frame rates more accurately than Intel's IGPs, so I'd consider an AMD build in that case. Reply
  • Metaluna - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    Personally, for HTPC I prefer a slim desktop-style microATX case, like the Antec NSK2480 or equivalent Silverstone. Plenty of room inside for a large GPU and/or tuner card, and several drives. Much easier to work in, and, unlike these wierd shoebox cases, they actually stack nicely with other HT components like receivers or BD players. Reply
  • drewpsu - Friday, December 7, 2012 - link

    Thanks to network tuners from an HDHomeRun, my HTPC is mini-ITX without having to worry about internal tuner cards. Reply
  • cyrusfox - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    When it comes to budget itx builds(media center or file server), I really think the new Celeron Mobile 847(SB) boards Rock. I got one coming to my place tomorrow to be my tv box.
    Check'er out

    Sandybridge mobile performance for $80(superbiiz), Sure it is only 1.1 GHz - 2 cores, but should be able to handle 1080p hulu or netflix streams and the TDP at 17W, tiny, perfect for those insane small ITX cases like a Wesena itx2 case or heatsink streacom case(silent media box). Goodbye brazos, its been a good 23 months.

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