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
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  • jackstar7 - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    I still build the occasional Shuttle and going Open Box from Newegg makes them often an excellent deal. Given that power needs have dropped significantly over the years, a Shuttle can stay cool and quiet these days and deliver a very solid experience.

    While folks might want to have their hands in all of the parts of a build, there's still value in what Shuttle brings to the desk. My most recent build included a 3770S and serves its owner very well so far. I also have a very minimalist Shuttle running with a 2400S for my HTPC and it runs more quietly than my PS3.
    Reply
  • marvdmartian - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    Hopefully their power supply problems have been solved by now? Last time I bought a Shuttle SFF system (~5 years ago), it ran fine for the first 2 years, then fried a power supply, which eventually led to a fried motherboard (lasted ~2 weeks, then died). Being a micro-BTX system, it was easier (and cheaper) to simply replace it with a standard micro-ATX case & motherboard. Reply
  • jackstar7 - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    They started using rated 80+ PSUs that have shown me no trouble at all. Even the ones from a few years back rarely gave me any trouble at all and I was packing the things with high-power GPUs and OC-ing my CPU.

    I use a full tower for myself these days, but I still keep an eye on Shuttle because there are times when it's just a plain good deal.
    Reply
  • roland12321 - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    I can't believe he's hammering at Shuttle there... I bought a Shuttle back in 2004 and only stopped working last year, because I accidentally damaged the motherboard because I had to replace its bios battery. Even that system was an AMD (single core, though), also using an 80mm fan and it worked fine. The only things I replaced over the years was a hard disk and a video card. Mind you, the power supply of the old Shuttle was only 250W. Maybe people were overloading their power supply without realising it, causing it to pop.

    As a matter of fact, because it ran so well, earlier this year I bought a new Shuttle SH67H3 and it still runs like a dream! I can't overclock my CPU (which is logical) but I have zero complaints. My next PC will also definitely be a Shuttle! It's powering the i5-2500 with a HD 7850 without any issues at all.

    Also, Shuttle make their own motherboards, and are WAAYYYY ahead of any other competitor on the small form factor field. Have a look at their website, all their products are quite impressive. And I agree with jackstar7, Shuttle PCs don't make any noise. I accidentally turned it off once because I didn't hear it being on. Maybe the reviewer was running his fans at 100%?

    Imo Shuttle deserves more respect...
    Reply
  • max347 - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    I think page 2 should read 4TB instead of 4GB (last paragraph) Reply
  • sligett - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    "the plural of anecdote is not data."

    Well said.
    Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    Best sentence in the entire article. Reply
  • tjcinnamon - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    I have a Synology NAS and one thing I like is that it sleeps until it's hit with a request for data. Can a fileserver be set to sleep after a set amount of activity but then awake on data request (not WOL because it's a data request).

    Thanks,
    JOe K.
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Friday, December 7, 2012 - link

    Probably not, but you can tell the OS to put the disks to sleep after a inactivity timeout. Reply
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    In my Shuttle SZ77R5, I've got an i7-3770k, a GeForce GTX 670, 16GB of RAM, two SSDs (with room for a third in mSATA format), and a BluRay burner. There is also room for an mPCIe wifi adapter if I should feel so inclined. Alternatively, I could have gone with one mSATA SSD and two 3.5" HDDs for bulk storage, but I have a big file server and so don't need bulk storage in my desktop.

    It's hard to imagine what else you might need in a typical gaming PC. I guess there could be people who have need of more than one optical drive, or more than three hard disks, or some monster dual GPU graphics card, but those people would be few and far between.

    There is one critical flaw in the system, though. The BIOS (even the latest update claiming to fix the problem) can't read the temperature properly from IvyBridge CPUs, and as such, will let the thing fry before spinning up the CPU fan. Your options are either to permanently run it on jet-engine-loud mode, or to do what I did and use something like SpeedFan to do a custom fan profile.

    Having to use SpeedFan isn't a problem for me, but someone less technically inclined may not be able to solve the problem like this, and would consider it a fatal flaw.
    Reply

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